Category Archives: Christian Maturity

Plowing the Corners In Soddy

Old VHS Tapes

Just the other day I came across a couple of old VHS tapes in my study. You do know what they are, don’t you?

The ink on the labels was so faded that I couldn’t tell what had been recorded on them. So, I took them back to the house and popped them into the old player to see what little bit of history had been archived.

To my surprise, one of the VHS tapes contained the recording of my father’s funeral back in 1991! It was a little disturbing at first, but I decided to watch some of it, especially since I didn’t remember much about what was said that day.

One of the men whom I had invited to speak was Evangelist John Mitchell, a former pastor of ours and a man who knew my dad well. During his short sermon in honor of my father, he gave an illustration that eloquently described him.

The Illustration

When describing my father, Bro. John Mitchell put it this way:

“What was Terry Baker’s real aspirations? I mean, what did he really want out of life? Well, Terry was satisfied, as few people are, with just doing little things for Jesus.

I heard the story one time of a fellow who had a couple thousand acres that he farmed, and he had these big John Deere tractors with 24-ft harrows. In other words, with one swoop with that tractor they would plow a 24-foot strip…it would take no time to get those big, huge fields done.

But there was only one problem: those fields were so big, when it turned around, it couldn’t catch the corners, and the corners were always left…and they had to get somebody to come in and do those corners because the ground was just as fertile and grew just as much in the corners as it did out in the middle.

It seemed like to me, knowing Terry 20 years, that he was satisfied in just doing the corners. He never did look for big stuff. He never was, all the time I knew him, disappointed in doing the little things for the Lord Jesus Christ. He felt like, as I do, it was just as important as that fellow out there with the big John Deere tractor…

Terry didn’t aspire to be somebody great with his name in the papers. He just wanted to do whatever he could for the Lord Jesus Christ. I would to God we had more Terry Bakers who had that type of attitude.”

In other words, my dad was content plowing the corners, for that was important, too.

My Corner

So, if my dad was here today (and I wish he was), I think he would be proud of me. Today is the 2nd anniversary of when I became pastor of a small corner in the big field of Hamilton County, Tennessee: South Soddy Baptist Church.

While others have been tasked by the Owner of the field to drive the big plows, He has entrusted me with this little spot – because the harvest is that important.

When I was younger I had aspirations of plowing larger plots of land, but that was when I thought it was MY field…my ministry, not God’s. But now that I’ve matured and learned to be more like my late father, a humble man of God, there is joy and contentment in doing the bidding of the One who called me to the work…

…even in the corners.

Photo credit: Haley Baker (visit SouthSoddyBaptist.org)

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Filed under Christian Maturity, Church, Family, Megachurch, ministry, Preaching

Are You Doing Any Quiet Construction?

Just across the street from the parsonage and the church where I pastor, there’s a house being built where an old one used to stand.

Every morning, and throughout the day, one can hear all kinds of noises coming from that direction, like hammers, saws, and a few unknown tongues. Theses are the common sounds associated with construction.

But what you will not be able to hear are the painters, the finishers, the electricians, and the plumbers doing their work. The loud noises made by the initial builders and framers might be signs something is happening, but much of what must be done before the house is usable happens on the inside … in the quiet.

Meditate on that truth for a while.

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Filed under Bible Study, Christian Maturity, General Observations, Prayer

Jesus Is More than a Crutch!

Last night I was sifting through boxes of stuff in my tiny office in the basement of our church and I came across several notebooks in which I’d maintained somewhat of a diary.

I’ll be honest with you, it’s been a pretty difficult time around here, lately. Not only has my faith been tested on an hourly basis, but my own brokenness has been made clear over and over again. When I took a few minutes to flip through the pages of those old notebooks, all from over a decade ago, the truth that my broken condition is chronic became obvious.

But there was one page I found where I had written some encouraging words. However, they weren’t words of affirmation meant to build up my ego or make me feel better about myself; they were attestations to the fact that Jesus is more, so much more, than a crutch to me.

Below is a copy of the text…

You say you don’t need Jesus because you don’t need a crutch. If you don’t think you need him, then maybe you’re crippled to high for crutches.

Jesus is more than a crutch!

Throw away Jesus and take the Devil, but I choose Jesus.

Just think about it:

The Devil tries to burden me down
    -Jesus says, “Cast your cares on me.”

“Forgiven” by Thomas Blackshear

The Devil wants me to sin.
    -Jesus bore my sin.

Satan will try to weaken me.
     -Jesus is my strength.

When Satan fires his arrows at me,
    -Jesus is my Shield.

In the midst of the storm
    -Jesus hides me in his hand.

Satan would see me defeated.
    -Jesus fights my battles.

Satan would have me fall into despair.
    -Jesus lifts me from the pit.

Satan would harm me.
    -Jesus will heal me.

When darkness is all around and Satan would blind me,
    -Jesus is my Light.

When Satan says, “There is no way,”
    -Jesus says, “I AM THE WAY”

When Satan says I’m guilty,
    -Jesus paid my debt.

When the Devil would lead me astray,
    -Jesus is my Shepherd.

When the Devil would watch me fall,
    -Jesus carries me.

“Precious Lord, take my hand. Lead me on, help me stand. I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light:
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.” – Thomas A. Dorsey

He leads; He goes before; He walks beside; He holds me; He carries me; He helps me to stand; He gives me a race to run: He’s so much more than a “crutch” to me.

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Filed under Christian Living, Christian Maturity, Depression, Faith, Jesus, worship, writing

Friday Night Thoughts of Encouragement (1/25/19)

It’s Friday night in Pigeon Forge, TN, the place where Dolly Parton is famous, there’s snow on the Smokey Mountains, and legal moonshine is a hot commodity.

It’s also the place where every year at this time bivocational pastors and their wives come together for a wonderful and critical time of fellowship – the kind that says, “I know what you’re going through…you’re not alone.”

If you follow me on Facebook, you will notice that I shared some of the music and speakers live.

Below is a link to a powerful message, more like a charge to us pastors, by Dr. Randy Davis, President and Executive Director of the TBMB. (At one point I knock over my iPad – sorry)

But if you are a bivocational pastor in the state of Tennessee and you are not here, the real question is why aren’t you here?

I know that it’s not always easy to get away for a Thursday through Saturday, maybe even the Sunday, too. But my wife and I plan for this retreat every year because it is the highlight of the year for us. There’s barely anything else like it.

Unfortunately, so many pastors are loners. They think that getting together with other pastors is a sign of weakness, unless, that is, the purpose for getting together is a time to flex their preaching muscles or do anything that doesn’t include admitting you’re less than superman.

But I’m a little bit embarrassed for our own association of Baptist churches in our county. One association of Southern Baptist churches had only 12 churches, as opposed to my county’s 100+. Yet, that little association of SBC churches reportedly had 100% participation in this event, while only 3 pastors from churches in our association came! I was one of them!

They just don’t understand what they are missing!

To be honest, I came to this retreat with a very heavy heart and beyond discouraged. I was down, stiff, a little resentful, and a tad bit skeptical of whether or not this time the retreat would benefit me, my wife, or my church.

Then came the time for the first speaker to speak (at least the first one we were able to hear, because we came in a couple of hours after the whole thing started). He asked us all to turn in our Bibles to 2 Corinthians and stand as we all read the 1st verse of chapter 4…

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. – 2 Corinthians 4:1 NKJV

Without exaggerating, I broke down into sobs before the last word of that verse was able to be read aloud. God knew exactly what I needed at that moment…and I would even bet money I wasn’t the only one.

After some more music and some more preaching to the preachers, I found myself at the front, right below the stage, in a conference room with a few hundred of my peers, on my knees before God confessing my lack of faith, my lack of wholeheartedness, and the pitiful state of my spiritual weaponry.

And I wasn’t the only one who did that; it was kneeling room only. I’m sure the carpet was damp with tears when all was said and done.

And that’s what I’m talking about: Pastors and their wives from all across the state of Tennessee, just regular folk who work jobs and pastor churches, getting real. Getting real with God, and with each other.

We are living in a time when godlessness is taking over. The last thing we need is a bunch of discouraged, downtrodden, scared shepherds trying to watch over the few sheep they do have as the wolves are emboldened.

What we really need are more ambassadors of Christ, spiritual warriors of the Cross, who realize that though they may be surrounded by an encroaching enemy, the battle is not over! Surrounded by an army nearly twice his size, the truth of King Hezekiah’s words should be an encouragement to us…

“Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid nor dismayed before the king of Assyria, nor before all the multitude that [is] with him; for [there are] more with us than with him. “With him [is] an arm of flesh; but with us [is] the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people were strengthened by the words of Hezekiah king of Judah. – 2 Chronicles 32:7-8 NKJV

Tomorrow is the final day of this retreat, and I’m looking forward to the blessing. But I’m also more encouraged than yesterday to attack hell with a water pistol when I get back home.

With me is the LORD my God to help us and to fight our battles – I am not alone!

I am unwavering!

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Filed under America, Christian Maturity, Christian Unity, Church, Faith, ministry, Preaching, worship

What Is “Organic Church”? Listen to the Sermon

Not long ago I posted the notes for this sermon. Now you can listen to the audio. 

I hope it’s a blessing and an encouragement. 

I also hope it helps encourage a more “organic” approach toward worship.

Click on the picture to listen.

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Filed under Christian Living, Christian Maturity, Christian Unity, Christianity, Church, Preaching

What Is “Organic” Church?

The following is copied directly from my notes for this Sunday morning’s sermon. I thought it would be worth sharing.

“Organic Church”

In thinking of ways to promote our little church, the word “organic” came to mind. But why? What does the word organic mean, anyway? I went to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary to find an answer. Here is the definition in four points:

Organic

adjective

1    relating to or derived from living matter.

▶   Chemistry relating to or denoting compounds containing carbon and chiefly or ultimately of biological origin. Compare with inorganic.

2    Physiology relating to a bodily organ or organs.

▶   Medicine (of a disease) affecting the structure of an organ.

3    (of food or farming) produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers or other artificial chemicals.

4    denoting a harmonious relationship between the elements of a whole.

▶   characterized by natural development.[1]

 

Thinking about the first part of this definition, what is church if not “relating to or derived from living matter”? What is the Church but the body of Christ in the earth, with Jesus as the Head (Ephesians 1:22-23)? Do we not derive our life from Him? Without a relation to a living Being, aren’t we nothing more than dead sepulchers?

Ephesians 1:22-23 – And hath put all [things] under his feet, and gave him [to be] the head over all [things] to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

Colossians 1:17-18 – And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all [things] he might have the preeminence.

I find it interesting to consider, too, that “organic” means something that is “ultimately of biological origin.” Even though the Church is a spiritual body, does it not find its origins in the actual living body of the risen Jesus Christ? YES! Jesus, God in flesh, the God-Man, is the Chief Compound from which the rest of us get our DNA.

1 Corinthians 15:14-17 – And if Christ be not risen, then [is] our preaching vain, and your faith [is] also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith [is] vain; ye are yet in your sins.

Thinking of the second part, it might be difficult at first to draw a connection. However, “relating to a bodily body of organs” is absolutely pertinent and applicable to whom we are. South Soddy Baptist is one organ in a body of organs; we are part of the Body as a whole. Even though we may have our own structure and unique characteristics, we are organically related to a larger organ, the Body of Christ.

Ephesians 4:16 – From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

Paul made it abundantly clear that not all parts of the body are the same, nor do they all function in the same way. Some are more prone to honor, while others are humble and rarely thought of. Nevertheless, each one is important and useful and needed to help with the function of the whole. Even the smallest organ in the body, if it becomes infected, can spread sickness and death, affecting other parts of the Body in ways that might not be felt until long down the road. Therefore, even though a large church in an association may serve the function of a major organ, such as the heart or the lungs, the small church, like an infected tooth, or a torn tendon, can render the collection of organs ineffective, if not worse.

1 Corinthians 12:14-16, 20, 22 –  For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? … But now [are they] many members, yet but one body. … Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:

The third part of the above definition has to do with food and farming, and that’s really where our modern society has become the most familiar with the word organic. Organic foods are sold for a premium because they are supposedly produced “without the use of chemical fertilizers or other artificial chemicals.” People want “naturally-grown” food, not the kind that needs engineered and artificial influences to produce what is assumed will appeal to the mass market.

What is organic church but the result of seed planted, rooted in doctrinally-rich soil, watered by the Spirit, and exposed to the radiance of the Son? Will it be a product that the mass market will desire? Not likely. It doesn’t usually conform to the manufactured standards and the whims of finicky consumers. Will it meet the desires of every taste? Not when the average palate has grown accustomed to added sweeteners and flavor enhancers, as opposed to the simple, wholesome sweetness of heavenly manna itself.

Numbers 11:5-6 NKJV – “We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; “but now our whole being [is] dried up; [there is] nothing at all except this manna [before] our eyes!

Psalm 19:9-10 NKJV – The fear of the LORD [is] clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD [are] true [and] righteous altogether. More to be desired [are they] than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.

The modern church, in so many cases, is nothing less than the result of market analysis and product enhancement. So often, instead of being simple, rough around the edges, oddly shaped, and maybe a little small – i.e., organic tomatoes – the many of the more well-attended churches are often dosed with unnatural additives meant to appeal to the increasingly desensitized taste buds of the average worshiper.

Psalm 119:140 – Thy word [is] very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it.

Then there is the fourth part of the above definition: “denoting a harmonious relationship between the elements of a whole,” and “characterized by natural development.” Let’s try to unpack that a little bit.

Something that is organic should have as a characteristic the tell-tale signs of everything having worked together as designed to produce a product that is typical of the original, natural design. It should also display signs of having naturally aged, matured, and ripened.

What healthy church is one that is at odds with, in contention with, or in competition with other elements within the whole? How can there be “harmonious relationship” when one branch fights with another branch of the same plant? How can a healthy church “maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” when it eats its own?

What healthy church is in conflict with the soil in which its roots take hold? What healthy church repels the water of the Spirit? What healthy church is in conflict with the light of the Son? What healthy church grows to great heights overnight? What healthy church – what organic church – produces food with empty calories that leaves the hungry fatter, yet more malnourished than when they first consumed it?

What are some additives we need to watch out for?

  • Elaborate facilities?
  • Mood enhancers, such as lighting, stage sets, pre-service promos, etc.?
  • Creative outlines and sermon series?
  • Committees on committees on committees?
  • Denominational teaching curriculum?
  • Worship times and schedules?
  • Titles and positions?
  • Social and cultural programs?
  • Celebrity status?

What does the unmodified, unaltered, heirloom-seed quality product look like?

Acts 2:42-47 – And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. [43] And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. [44] And all that believed were together, and had all things common; [45] And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all [men], as every man had need. [46] And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, [47] Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

James 1:27 – Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, [and] to keep himself unspotted from the world.

Galatians 6:14 – But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

Hebrews 10:23-25 – Let us hold fast the profession of [our] faith without wavering; (for he [is] faithful that promised;) [24] And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: [25] Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some [is]; but exhorting [one another]: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

The only kind of foods that look exactly alike, like the ones in the bins at the supermarket produce section, are the ones that have been genetically modified, chemically enhanced, and very often forced to mature and ripen earlier than nature’s schedule. They are presented that way in order to appeal to the preconceived notions and tastes of the largest number of consumers.

Organic fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, will not always look alike; they may have little flaws here and there; and size will always vary. But one thing is for sure, they will be much better for you and your family; they will require a lot more care to keep fresh; and you’ll definitely pay a higher price to obtain them.

Let’s ask God to work in us, purify us, and make us into the organic church He wants us to be.

[1] Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, eds., Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

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Filed under Christian Maturity, Christian Unity, Christianity, Church, Preaching

Things to Do In 2019: More Mercy, Compassion, and Grace

I Broke the Law

Oh, I know what you’re probably thinking. Being that I am a Christian, a preacher, and “the recovering legalist,” by breaking the law you think I’m referring to something of a spiritual or biblical nature, like eating pork, or smoking a cigar.

No, I literally broke the law! Like as in a statute recorded in a City Hall – the kind for which a police officer can arrest someone.

What did I do?

Well, this morning I drove my daughter Katie to where she is student teaching in Dayton, Tennessee. She directed me off the main highway and through a part of the town where I rarely visited.

As I came to a 4-way intersection, I looked all over for a stop sign, then up for a traffic light, but I saw nothing (which I thought was odd), so I proceeded cautiously, looking to my left, then right.

That’s when I saw the bright red light. I had just run a red light! I’m a professional driver – I don’t do that kind of thing!

And when you’re in a little 2-horse town, that’s NOT a good thing to do, especially when there’s a budget crunch!

So, why didn’t I see the light? It wasn’t where I expected it to be – nowhere close. It was on the other side of the intersection, about 6-ft off the ground. I just didn’t see it until I crossed the intersection and there it was on my right, shining at me through the passenger-side window.

Breaking Our Laws

Thankfully, there was not a police car anywhere close. I can only hope there were no traffic cameras, or else I’m going to have to pay a fine, for I did, in fact, break a law, and ignorance is no excuse.

But how often do people break OUR laws? And by that I mean the kind of regulations and legalistic standards we all have; the kind that lead us to judge others’ spirituality based on how they dress, the tattoos on their face, or what’s in their glass at the restaurant.

Even when our standards of conduct and demeanor are biblically justified, what if the other person just missed the light at the intersection? What if they never read that verse?

When you have the time, I would encourage you to read or re-read the whole chapter of Romans 14.

If the truth be known, much of the time we find ourselves judging others based on OUR laws and regulations, not the ones the Lawgiver has written. So, in reality, who are we to hold them accountable? It’s not our job.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. – Romans 14:4 ESV

This year I want to criticize less, be less judgmental, and show a little more mercy, compassion, and grace.

I know that’s what I would have wanted when I ran that red light.

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Filed under Christian Maturity, Christianity, Do not judge, grace, legalism