Category Archives: Church

Get Jesus!

Each Wednesday night at our church I conduct what we call “Proverbs, Prayer, and Praise.” It is a unique study through Proverbs, one chapter a week.

One of the things I encourage our congregation to do is take the places where Wisdom is personified and replace the word and associated pronouns with the name of Jesus (See Col. 2:1-3 and 1 Cor. 1: 24 & 30).

This week we are working through chapter 4, so I thought I would share this example with you. When you remember that Jesus said all Scripture spoke of Him, it’s not a stretch, but a blessing!

Get JESUS! Get understanding [OF HIM]! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake HIM, and HE will preserve you; Love HIM, and HE will keep you. JESUS [is] the principal thing; [Therefore] get JESUS. And in all your getting, get understanding [OF HIM]. Exalt HIM, and HE will promote you; HE will bring you honor, when you embrace HIM. HE will place on your head an ornament of grace; A crown of glory HE will deliver to you.” – Proverbs 4:5-9 NKJV [edited]

If you would like additional information on this study, feel free to contact me.

Have a great weekend!

Anthony

 

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Filed under Bible Study, Church

What Is a “Blessing”?

Earlier this week I posted a question on Facebook:

If I could offer you your choice – if you’d just come to church just once – of either $1,000 or a blessing from God, would you come?

I got a few responses, but one friend, Michael Wheeler, decided to probe a little, asking if I could define what a “blessing” actually is.

The answer seems obvious, but how do you define “blessing”? That word is thrown around with no real meaning. – Michael Wheeler

I gave a typical tongue-in-cheek response:

True. I know a thousand dollars would surely BE a blessing right now 

Michael followed that response with how that he had asked “countless pastors and laypersons who overuse that word to define it, but have never gotten a satisfactory answer.” He then went on to say that the use of the word “sounds good,” but carries with it “no real meaning.”  “Other than salvation,” he proposed, “we have no other ‘blessings’ or promised things over what unbelievers experience.

Well, in fun I replied to Michael Wheeler’s question with:

Do you even own a box of crayons?

As expected (because Michael is usually a very serious kind of guy), he answered with:

Nope… Is that the extent of your definition of “blessing”?

That is when – after a brief distraction – I wrote the following:

No, not hardly. I got distracted by other things. I only asked that because sometimes I feel like you see things only in black and white – not as in truth claims, but in what you see. For instance, I never read fiction, but then I read “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”…it added color to the pallet of my spiritual imagination. Lewis didn’t teach me any new truth, but he added shades of color to what I could already see.

Much of what I would call “blessings” are those moments when the Spirit opens the eyes of my understanding and allows me to see the beauty of a Truth in a new shade. In some ways, it’s like God takes me into His art gallery and amazes me with a new painting of the same scene. I’m speaking in terms of spiritual imagination, of course… the box of crayons.

We are blessed every day by the goodness of God. That goes for everyone who enjoys the providential care of the Creator (it rains on the just and the unjust). But we are also blessed in that we have a Father who not only gave us salvation but continues to give us bread instead of stones. He is the one who will one day bring us close to Himself and share with us that little white stone with a name on it only the two of us will know – that’s true intimacy. So, many blessings are no less than those moments when we enter into worship – corporately or privately – and sense the real presence of the Holy Spirit reassuring us of the truth that He will never leave us or forsake us, that His grace is sufficient for every need. I could go on and on.

If I had the time to sit down do a more meticulous study of the definition of “blessing,” I’m sure you’d find the result more satisfying to your particular taste. However, what I’ve just described for you is the practical and real-world look at how I see it. Simply put, many times getting a “blessing” may be nothing more than being brought the realization of how good, merciful, and gracious our Father is. If He throws in a thousand dollars, well, that’s a bonus.

Excellent answer,” wrote Mr. Wheeler.

That’s why I thought it would be worth sharing with you!

What do you think? How would you define a “blessing”? 

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Filed under Church, Love of God, salvation

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Making a Change

Changes Take Time

If you are or have been in ministry, particularly the pastorate, you are probably very familiar with the following advice that is regularly offered to those new pastors going into an established work: “Don’t make changes too quickly.”

However, if you are unfamiliar with the above wisdom, experienced ministers are often asked by the younger ones what they should do when they start working in their first church. In response, as I remember being told me years ago, they say something like:

“Wait at least a year before you make any changes. Just spend the first year or two loving your congregation, getting to know them, and letting them come to love and trust you. Then, when they trust you, you can start making small changes and the people will go along.” – Dr. Al Goss, Pastor Emeritus, Mile Straight Baptist Church, Soddy Daisy, TN [paraphrased]

However, the above advice should be qualified. You see, Dr. Goss has been at Mile Straight Baptist for 57 years! Unfortunately, long tenures like this are practically unheard of these days. With the average pastorate lasting only 2-4 years, maybe this is one reason new pastors are so quick to get discouraged and congregations are so quick to get angry with any change.

Genuine, healthy change must be organic and occur naturally as things grow. That can’t happen overnight; it takes a little time.

I Broke the Rule

But speaking of time, I’ve been at Bethlehem Baptist Church for less than TWO MONTHS and I’ve already changed something!

What happened to following the advice of my elders? What happened to following my OWN advice?

Actually, it wasn’t a huge change, but unless I’m mistaken, I was the first pastor in 230 years to get a CLOCK put up in the sanctuary! (One of our deacons heard my plea from the pulpit a couple of weeks ago and surprised me with it last Sunday morning.)

Now, as far as I know, no one here in this congregation had a problem with the small addition above the sound board, computer monitor, and digital recording system. However, thanks to social media, I did hear from one person who thought the addition of the clock was akin to blasphemy.

“That’s the wrong thing to do putting the Lord on a time clock…”

It might already seem a little petty to even be having this discussion, but I think being able to see a clock is not only a good thing, but an important addition. Believe me, God will not be put on a “time clock.”

But since this small change did elicit a negative response, I’ll give you 3 good reasons for keeping it.

Time Is Valuable

Whether we like it or not, we live in a fast-paced world. It’s so face-paced, I doubt many readers of this article have made it to this point; they’ve already been distracted.

The key word, however, is RESPECT. Unless you know something I don’t know, each of us has a limited amount of time, and our time is valuable. Even though I love to talk, I must not love it too much. My job, my calling, is to deliver a message, not carry on a lengthy, one-sided discourse.

Sometimes we preachers forget that people often sacrifice other things to come hear us speak. They trust that what we are telling them is from God, will be useful, and the benefit far outweighs the cost of them being there. If I’m not aware of the time, I might end up wasting theirs.

Time Is Ticking

Having a clock is a reminder that time is ticking, that every man, woman, and child has an appointment with eternity (Hebrews 9:27).

Because of this, time is nothing to be wasted, for every moment that is flittered away in the pulpit with unimportant, inconsequential nonsense is one less moment available to impact souls on their way to either heaven or hell.

Time Is NOT On Our Side

In John chapter 4 Jesus asks us to look upon the fields, for they are “white unto harvest.” That only means something when you understand that harvest season is short, after that the crop can be lost.

Statistics vary, but the last one I read stated that every second 2 people in the world die. That means in one 40-minute sermon 4,800 people will go out into eternity, the majority of which are probably unsaved. The laborers need to be trained and equipped, but they are needed in the field as soon as possible.

Time is not on our side, dear friends. Wasted time behind the pulpit is wasted time in the field, and the laborers are already few.

A fellow pastor and friend in Zimbabwe shared his thoughts on Facebook, and I think they sum it up nicely:

“Having a [clock] in church is a sermon on its own. Time doesn’t stop for anyone, neither does it rewind for anyone. Leave it for Christ…” – Moses Dhaka

God is not limited by time, but we are. And since it is given to us in such limited quantity, we who ask of others their time to listen to what we have to say should be better stewards of it.

This change came right on time.

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Filed under Church, General Observations, ministry

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Not Just a Pretty Building

Precious

Do you remember the pretty pictures of the last church building where I was the pastor? It was the “little white church with the red door” that so many people in our community raved about. It was an historic edifice to a by-gone day when old-fashioned 7-day revivals were still a thing and people went to church because it was expected.

Everybody thought it was a “precious little church [building],” but they had other places to be come Sunday.

Unfortunately, because the outside of a building does not reflect what goes on inside, the admirers who drove by in their cars every day did not know that looks alone couldn’t keep the red doors open for business. The cute little building, despite desperate injections of love and effort, was destined to close.

Picturesque

Now, let’s talk about Georgia…

I didn’t intend to look mean, it was just the sun in my eyes and I was looking down at my phone 🙂

The church I now pastor gathers in one of the most beautiful structures around! Not some wedding-chapel-like building, Bethlehem Baptist Church is known all over the area as a picturesque, post-card-worthy example of 19th-century architecture. I have no idea how many times the building has been photographed, but I know of three framed pieces of art depicting the structure hanging on different walls inside!

I mean, seriously! It’s one thing to know your church building is special, but it’s a whole different level when you’ve got three paintings of the outside on the inside! Needless to say, you’re not likely to forget where you are on your way to Sunday School.

As a matter of fact, the building itself was built in 1890 as part of the church’s centennial celebration! It’s listed, as you might imagine, as a protected historical site, too.  The structure is so well known that when I tell people where I work, if they don’t immediately recognize the name, they remember the building when I describe it.

People know Bethlehem Baptist Church.

Or do they?

(To prove the point, I am sitting at McDonald’s using their WiFi to write this. I asked the lady sweeping the floor, “Do you recognize this building?” She did. She’s from New York, not been here long, but remembered seeing it when driving by – and she’s looking for a church…so I invited her.)

Whited Sepulchers 

Before I go any further, and before anyone here at Bethlehem who’s reading this gets upset with me, I think Bethlehem Baptist Church is more than a building; it’s a fantastic congregation of Jesus-followers who love each other and their community. However, somewhere along the line the fame of the building outstripped the fame of the congregation’s deeds.

Jesus said that we should let others see our good works so that the ones seeing them might glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). Jesus also said the following:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead [men’s] bones, and of all uncleanness. – Matthew 23:27

Is the building where I pastor a whitewashed tomb?? NO! It’s not! But if our church is known more for our outward beauty, more needs to be done to express the Life that is inside.

When people hear the name Bethlehem Baptist in Warthen, GA, I want the first thing to come to their mind is how much like Jesus the people inside are! I want the beauty of His grace to pop into their minds, not the memory of some architecture made with hands.

We’re NOT just a pretty building; we’re a living body of believers who gather in a pretty building. There’s a difference, and the difference is critical.

What’s in YOUR walls?

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Filed under Church, General Observations, ministry

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Listen to the Locals

“In the Middle Of…”

When I first traveled down to this part of Georgia, having no knowledge of what was around, I used a common term to describe the area. I told others it was “in the middle of nowhere.”

Since then, I have felt bad about saying that. First, unless Warthen was in the middle of nowhere – like some outpost in the middle of Antarctica – the term could be considered derogatory. Coming across as bigoted isn’t helpful.

Secondly, nowhere is actually nowhere; everywhere is somewhere because God is there. In reality, I’m right in the middle of where I’m supposed to be.

So, there’s that.

Listen to the Locals

But when it comes to getting around and finding what you need, the somewhere might not be “nowhere,” but finding anywhere when you’re there can prove difficult, if not leave you stranded with an empty gas tank and no filling station for miles. That is why before you start exploring, listen to the locals!

One of the first things that bothered me (and, I know, this is more of a first-world problem) was that there seemed to be no restaurants. My wife and I had pretty much resigned ourselves to the fact that there would be no nice place to go on a date. But what we came to find out was that if we were only willing to drive a few minutes, and if we were willing to trust our local guides, we would find exactly what we were looking for.

For example, last week a couple from our church invited us to join them for a movie and dinner. After the movie, they took us to a steak house. But if we had not trusted the suggestion of our new friends, we wouldn’t have even given the place a chance. I mean this place was the quintessential example of “hole in the wall.” It was literally a steak house.

In front of Tumpies, the “Best little steakhouse this side of Texas.” It’s not too far away in Dublin, GA. It was a house built in the 1880s, but now a great place to eat!

But the food was some of the best I have ever had – ever. It will be a destination when we host friends from out of town.

Another thing that bothered me was that I didn’t think there were any coffee shops around. Again, when I listened to the locals I found out about a great coffee place not far away from where I will be meeting a new preacher friend every week to talk shop.

So, no, my place in the middle of Georgia might not be Nashville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, or the like, but it has everything I thought I was going to miss and everything I need. I mean, come on, it’s got steak and coffee!

Been Where We’re Going

You know, the children of Israel, under the leadership of Joshua, were faced with a similar situation when they were about to cross over the Jordan River. In chapter 3, the Lord told Joshua to send the Levites and the Ark of the Covenant ahead of the people. The reason was pretty clear.

“But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between yourselves and the ark. Don’t go near it, so that you can see the way to go, for you haven’t traveled this way before.” – Joshua 3:4 (CSB)

If there is there anyone we should listen to, it’s the Lord. Do you realize there is not a place He has never walked? Do you know there is not a place, not a situation, not a wilderness, where He has not already worn the straight and narrow path?

Think how much time and effort I saved after listening to the locals who’ve lived in this little town for years and years! How much more would all of us benefit if we’d just trust the One who’s already been where we’re going?

If you can trust the locals, you can certainly trust the Lord – He knows where everything is.

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Filed under Christianity, Church, community, Faith, Food, God, ministry

I Am a Soldier. This Is My Creed.

In honor of the home-going of a godly man and combat veteran of the European campaign of WWII, W. L. “Red” Sims, I re-post the following.


Soldier’s Creed

Hearing a soldier in the United States Military recite his particular “Solder’s Creed,” whether it be with the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, or Coast Guard, is something quite stirring.

Probably inspired by the military creeds of this world, an unknown author penned the following for soldiers in God’s Army, the Church: those bought with the blood of Christ, wearing the whole armor of God, and marching onward toward victory with the Sword of the Spirit in their hands.

The sooner we come to the realization that we are most certainly engaged in a spiritual war, the better. May we all be willing to stand unashamed…”and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13).

The Christian Soldier’s Creed

I am a soldier in the Army of my God.

The Lord Jesus Christ is my commanding officer.

The Holy Bible is my code of conduct. Faith, prayer, and the Word are my weapons of warfare.

I have been taught by the Holy Spirit, trained by experience, tried by adversity, and tested by fire.

I am a volunteer in this Army, and I am enlisted for eternity.

I will either retire at the Rapture, or die in this Army; but I will not get out, sell out, be talked out, or pushed out.

I am faithful, reliable, capable, and dependable.

If my God needs me, I am there.

If He needs me in the Sunday school to teach the children, work with the youth, help adults, or just sit and learn, I’ll be there.

He can use me because I am there!

I am a soldier.

I am not a baby. I do not need to be pampered, petted, primed up, pumped up, picked up, or pepped up.

I am a soldier.

No one has to call me, remind me, write me, visit me, entice me, or lure me.

I am a soldier.

I am not a wimp.

I am in place saluting my King, obeying His orders, praising His name, and building His kingdom!

No one has to send me flowers, gifts, food, cards, candy, or give me handouts.

I do not need to be cuddled, cradled, cared for, or catered to.

I am committed.

I cannot have my feelings hurt bad enough to turn me around.

I cannot be discouraged enough to turn me aside.

I cannot lose enough to cause me to quit.

If I end up with nothing, I will still come out ahead.

I will win.

My God has, and will continue, to supply all my needs.

I am more than a conqueror.

I will always triumph.

I can do all things through Christ.

Devils cannot defeat me.

People cannot disillusion me.

Weather cannot weary me.

Sickness cannot stop me.

Battles cannot beat me.

Money cannot buy me.

Governments cannot silence me, and hell cannot handle me.

I am a soldier.

Even death cannot destroy me, for when my Commander calls me from this battlefield He will promote me to Captain and then allow me to rule with Him.

I am a soldier in the Army and I’m marching, claiming victory.

I will not give up.

I will not turn around.

I am a solder marching, heaven bound.

(Author Unknown)

Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. – 2 Timothy 2:3

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Filed under Christianity, Church, Culture Wars, Struggles and Trials

A Last and a First: Closing One Ministry and Beginning Another

As many of you know, I am now the pastor of a church down in Warthen, Georgia. You probably also know that I used to pastor South Soddy Baptist in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee.

Well, I thought it might be of interest to some of you to listen to two different sermons – one from my last day at South Soddy, and the other from my first day at Bethlehem Baptist.

But the reason I am sharing both of these back-to-back is so that hopefully you will notice a similarity between them. What I hope you will notice, despite the sadness of one and the excitement of the other, is a common thread of hope and assurance that God is still at work and the work for us to do is not done.

God bless you all, and I hope to get back to writing very soon – there sure is a lot to talk about!

Click on the pictures below for links to sermons.

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Filed under baptist, Church, Do not judge, Life/Death, ministry, Preaching, worship