Category Archives: community

Sunday Sermons (March 29, 2020)

For those of you who’d like to watch, I am attaching links to our “services” from each Sunday.

Most churches these days are streaming live on Facebook. If not there, then through things like Zoom, etc. I’m just excited that, even though we can’t meet in person as a congregation, more people than ever are able to hear the gospel due to this pandemic.

Coincidence? Hmmm.

Anyway, please watch, if you’d like, and share any comments you may have.

On Sunday morning I preached a sermon based on the Lyrics of “It Is Well,” by Horatio Spafford. The video recently released by the singers in Nashville pushed me over the edge on that one 😉

Sunday evening, from my office, I covered the first few verses of Acts 6. Also, my daughter, Katie, since she has come down to hold up with us while she has been let go from her job, assisted me with a couple of songs I know you will enjoy.

So, grab some popcorn (you can do it in this context) and pretend you’re joining me for church!

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Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Operation Re-Evaluate (Pt 2)

Funny thing, I don’t really like long titles, but what’s a guy to do?


Answering “Why?” 

In my previous post I promised that in the next I would “address ways that churches (including the one I pastor) can use this current crisis to turn us into the effective, healthy Church Body we should have been all along.”

But before I get into that, I would like to give an answer to the question I suggested many people are going to be asking: “Why do I even go to church?”

I know there have been some very well-written and scholarly responses to the above question, and, for me, it all comes down to a command from Jesus Christ. Regardless of what I can get out of it, going to church (gathering with other believers in a biblical, congregational, ecclesiastically-sufficient context, not simply a home Bible study) is an act of obedience and worship. But what is the answer going to be to this generation?

Perceived Value

One reason I believe the question will be asked is because of perceived value: “What am I really getting in return for my investment?”

When people who attend only sporadically, at best, come to discover they don’t miss much through this crisis, the likely response will be to quit going. And who could blame them? If their only reason for going was a religious one, one that satisfied their conscience and offered a visible sense of faith, then why go through all the effort to go to church and be around people they see but once or twice a month? Why not just watch online?

But when people who attend regularly begin to see very little difference between being in church and NOT being in church, what will justify going back? In other words, if while not allowed to attend corporate worship no one gives them a call, sends them a note, checks on their family, or in any way recognizes their personal worth outside of a number on an attendance roll, why be a statistic?

The reality of the human condition is that people want to be loved, respected, needed, and wanted. What I see happening is many church-goers figuring out through this absence that the relationships and friendships they thought were real were only facades meant to perpetuate an institution. Given enough time to think, many will conclude the only reason they were being asked to go to church was to fill a slot, keep up the numbers, or satisfy the ego of someone who didn’t even care to call or check on them.

Revitalizing the Value

It is in times of crisis that we find out who we really are, what we are made of. When it comes to the Church, specifically the local congregations, we have the opportunity to discover if we are more than a weekly social club with voluntary dues and free potlucks.

Go to the sixth chapter of the Book of Acts and what do you see? You see believers who walked through life together, not just on Sunday, but throughout the week. They were a community, a family, one that took care of each other OUTSIDE the walls of any structure. Did they regularly meet at the temple for instruction? Absolutely! Daily, even! But they were also there for each other through struggles, breaking bread in each other’s homes and meeting temporal, tangible needs.

And note: all of the above, as listed in Acts 6, was done BEFORE persecution came. This was the model of church life that would carry them through the truly difficult days just around the corner.

Folks, what we should have been doing all along is making sure there is a legitimate, tangible, temporal value to being a member of a local body of Christian believers. This means more than offering a nice place to sit for an hour, generic smiles, and a sweet, full-color, take-home bulletin with built-in sermon outline. It means genuine inclusion into a Family that loves you, values you, walks with you through the good and bad, and has your back when no one else will.

If we churches don’t want to lose members after this pandemic, then we need to be working overtime to do everything possible to revitalize our sense of family and our duties as a community of Believers. If we simply wait until we are allowed to gather again before we acknowledge each other, then we are hypocrites.

What Bethlehem Is Doing

In some ways we are unique, but in other ways we are well behind the curve. However, every church, to some degree or another, is having to do some new things.

Regarding questions of real and perceived value, let me share with you what we at Bethlehem Baptist are trying to do or improve.

1. Expand our social media footprint.  Long before the COVID-19 crisis erupted, I stressed to our church that we needed to make every use of social media and the internet. Some folk were a little skeptical, as you can imagine. Yet, a few others took me seriously enough to get to work on a website. Unfortunately, the initial energy waned, thereby leaving us with a handicap at this time.

However, one thing that I was able to do early on was drastically increase our presence on Facebook. This is still a work in progress, but increasing posts and promoting the content has brought a good deal of fresh attention to Bethlehem Baptist. Believe it or not, there is not a local television station in our county! Therefore, social media is the only real-time media in town. Not taking every advantage of its usefulness would be tragic.

No photo description available.

Check out the Washington County Grapevine!

Even before this crisis, I had already been posting videos to YouTube, then to our church Facebook page. So, when we couldn’t meet as a congregation, going live on Facebook was second nature to me – I’d already been doing it on my own. I even created a county-wide community Facebook page which could function as one more channel through which we could reach people.

2. Make contact with member families.  If we can shake their hands or hug their necks on Sunday (we still do those kind of things down here in middle Georgia), we’d better be sure to make a call (or visit, if possible), send a card, or do something. We’ve got to show that we appreciate people and miss them when they are not here.

The worst thing we can do to people is allow them to go unnoticed.

3. Seek out needs to be met.  There are still a lot of people down in this part of the country who don’t like to ask for help, and many of them are the elderly. However, that doesn’t remove the responsibility of the Church to care for those in need; it mandates that we should be looking for ways to serve.

Too often the complaint leveled at Christian churches is that all we want is people’s money. Of course, that is patently false. However, even though perception is NOT reality, we need to prove to our own members, at least, that it’s not what they put in the offering plate that makes them special.

Holy Lemonade

Image result for lemonade imagesLike I’ve said before, when life (or China) gives us Coronavirus-lemons, make holy lemonade. And by that I mean that we should look at this as a cutting-edge, next-generation opportunity to engage our communities with the Gospel. Even more, we should up our game and engage the world!

We used to sit around and talk about what the Church was going to look like in the future, how we would operate, and how we would maintain our cohesiveness. Then, right out of the blue (or Communist red) came this tiny little virus that has rocked the world-wide community, including Christians. Doing “church” like we’ve always done it is no longer an option and no longer up for debate.

I’m looking forward to once again gathering in our beautiful old sanctuary, but I praise God for the shock to our traditional system! And what’s even more exciting than seeing congregations stepping up to the plate and swinging is the feeling that this could be the beginning of a new era.

As we re-evaluate, God may be sending revival! 

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Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Operation Re-Evaluate

Bethlehem Baptist Church
95 Bethlehem Church Road, Warthen, GA 31094

It’s Our Time

I know I am not going to be the first person to make this observation, but as I said on Facebook this morning, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and crisis is this generation’s World War Two.

Make no mistake, this is a world war . . . a war for survival, both physically and economically, against a killer virus. But unlike wars of the past, this one is being fought on every continent – none are immune from its effects.

However, as tragic and scary as the upheaval may be, just like our forefathers did in the 1940’s, what we have is the potential to come together in ways thought impossible just weeks ago. Where less than a month ago people had no plan for how to survive a national crisis, now you see the creative minds working to solve difficult issues.

It’s not an easy thing to say, for it could be interpreted the wrong way, but as strange as it may sound, this crisis could be the best thing to happen to America since WW2. In so many ways it is forcing us to unite to fight a common enemy that cares nothing about politics, race, or religion – it just wants to destroy us. So, where petty ideological differences, even serious political and social ones have threatened to destroy our country in recent years, this virus – like Nazi German and Imperial Japan – is deadly and costly enough to force a re-evaluation of who we are.

And just think about it! What time in history would have been a better time to fight a war like this? We were created for such a time as this, and in this time we will be victorious.

It’s the Church’s Time

How often have you heard it said that the modern Church is irrelevant? How many times have you heard the complaints about living within our buildings’ four walls and never engaging people outside?

How many times has it been said that the modern, local church cares only about itself? How many churches, for real, exist only for those who walk through the door on Sunday?

COVID-19 is the wake-up call – no, more like the Pearl Harbor – that Christian churches across America have needed for a long time. We have had an Enemy waging war against us for ages, but we’ve been content living with the effects being on distant shores. Now, the fight has been brought to us, and even the old “home guard” is being activated.

Throughout the history of Israel and the Church, God has brought conflict, even foreign invaders, to shock His people out of complacency and lethargy. At times God called our enemies His “servants” to discipline us. And as we should be thankful God loves us enough to discipline us, it should not be too far of a stretch, then, to be thankful the “virus” has come at this time.

What of the Walls?

So, finally, here we are in a situation where the walls of the church don’t matter too much anymore. Oh, sure, we will get back to corporately worshiping together like we should, but what of the walls right now? Not only are they doing us little good, but they have no relevance to who and what the Church actually is or how it must operate right now.

Most local churches have operated on the model that worship, fellowship, community, bearing each other’s burdens, etc., happens only when people show up to the building, the campus, or wherever the bulk of the member choose to gather.  In other words, when you miss out on what happens at the church property, you not only miss out, but you get left out, ignored, forgotten.

All that has abruptly changed.

For the first time in the history of the Church, local congregations are being forced by a virus – not the government or a tyrant – to make “church” something other than simply attending a one-hour meeting while sitting on a pew.

For the first time in history, churches are now, for the most part, gathering online over the internet, not inside four walls.

For the first time in a a LONG time, local churches are going to have to prove their worth to the members. For if coming together on Sunday to hear a choir or listen to a pastor is all church is, many are going to wonder why they tithe or give offerings.

Frankly, this pandemic is going to open the eyes of a lot of people and make them ask the question: “Why do I even go to church?”

What is our answer going to be?


In my next post I will address ways that churches (including the one I pastor) can use this current crisis to turn us into the effective, healthy Church Body we should have been all along. 

Until then, make a phone call, do a video chat, and pray with a fellow believer. We must not forget each other, nor our need for fellowship.

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Will You Pray for Our Nation, Today?

Today is the day our President, Donald J. Trump, is calling all Americans to pray. One might find reasons to question the efficacy of those prayers, but one thing is true if nothing else is: humbling our knees before a Holy God is never a bad thing.

Today, when pride and hate are the words of the day, let this national day of prayer be a time to collectively humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and show compassion on others as we pray for the Lord to stay this pandemic.

I am very grateful to our President for admitting that we are not gods, only humans in need of help from our Creator. Even though salvation is found in Christ alone, a humbled heart is much more likely to receive forgiveness and restoration than a heart full of pride and self-sufficiency. Even if many of those who pray will not pray to the God of the Bible, at least a humble nation is less likely to suffer immediate judgment.

Will you pray today? I am going to.

Thank you for your leadership, Mr. President.

Proclamation on the National Day of Prayer for all Americans Affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic and for our National Response Efforts

In our times of greatest need, Americans have always turned to prayer to help guide us through trials and periods of uncertainty.  As we continue to face the unique challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans are unable to gather in their churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship.  But in this time we must not cease asking God for added wisdom, comfort, and strength, and we must especially pray for those who have suffered harm or who have lost loved ones.  I ask you to join me in a day of prayer for all people who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and to pray for God’s healing hand to be placed on the people of our Nation.

As your President, I ask you to pray for the health and well-being of your fellow Americans and to remember that no problem is too big for God to handle.  We should all take to heart the holy words found in 1 Peter 5:7:  “Casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you.”  Let us pray that all those affected by the virus will feel the presence of our Lord’s protection and love during this time.  With God’s help, we will overcome this threat.

On Friday, I declared a national emergency and took other bold actions to help deploy the full power of the Federal Government to assist with efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.  I now encourage all Americans to pray for those on the front lines of the response, especially our Nation’s outstanding medical professionals and public health officials who are working tirelessly to protect all of us from the coronavirus and treat patients who are infected; all of our courageous first responders, National Guard, and dedicated individuals who are working to ensure the health and safety of our communities; and our Federal, State, and local leaders.  We are confident that He will provide them with the wisdom they need to make difficult decisions and take decisive actions to protect Americans all across the country.  As we come to our Father in prayer, we remember the words found in Psalm 91:  “He is my refuge and my fortress:  my God; in him will I trust.”

As we unite in prayer, we are reminded that there is no burden too heavy for God to lift or for this country to bear with His help.  Luke 1:37 promises that “For with God nothing shall be impossible,” and those words are just as true today as they have ever been.  As one Nation under God, we are greater than the hardships we face, and through prayer and acts of compassion and love, we will rise to this challenge and emerge stronger and more united than ever before.  May God bless each of you, and may God bless the United States of America.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim March 15, 2020, as a National Day of Prayer for All Americans Affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic and for our National Response Efforts.  I urge Americans of all faiths and religious traditions and backgrounds to offer prayers for all those affected, including people who have suffered harm or lost loved ones.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fourteenth day of March, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-fourth.

DONALD J. TRUMP

https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-national-day-prayer-americans-affected-coronavirus-pandemic-national-response-efforts/?utm_source=link

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Prayers for Nashville

Tornadoes

Image result for nashville tornado

ABC News

Last night one of the most terrifying things in nature descended upon the capital of my home state of Tennessee. Destructive and deadly storms brought tornadoes right through Nashville, leaving (as of this writing) 9 people dead, possibly more. As of this moment, several of my friends have already checked in as “safe,” but a few more have not responded.

I hate tornadoes! I’ve been close to 4 or 5 and actually been in a hotel in Clarksville, TN when it was damaged by one that destroyed houses across the street. Tornadoes scare the crap out of me. I think that might be one reason why I experience feelings of panic or anxiety when I feel/hear a train (because the sound of a freight train is very similar). In a matter of seconds, everything can be gone.

I’m thankful to God that what came through Nashville last night was not as destructive as what destroyed so much of Georgia back in April of 2011. That storm, if you remember, killed nearly 300 people and decimated Ringgold, GA. But for Nashville, our prayers and thoughts are with them.

Thoughts and Prayers

What about those “thoughts and prayers”? What does that even mean?

As of late, many in the media have started to publically make fun of and shame those who say “our thoughts and prayers.” Some politicians have even been so bold (and arrogantly foolish) to stand up and declare that our prayers are worthless; we need action!

Granted, thoughts don’t do much other than say, “We’re thinking about you.” Unless that thinking leads to help in some tangible way, what good are the thoughts except to let the people who are suffering know that others know they are hurting?

And what about the prayers? First off, unless the Object of our prayers is capable of doing anything, they are actually of less value than “thoughts.” Keeping someone who is hurting on your mind might lead you to do something to alleviate the suffering. However, prayer is calling upon the aid of Another, or those whom He will send to address the need.

Yet, if the prayers are made by those whom God hears, then they are not worthless, but helpful and empowering. God moves on the backs of our prayers, and godly prayer has a tendency to become self-fulfilling (i.e., when we pray for workers to collect the harvest, we often become the workers). That’s one of the ways He works “mysteriously.”

So, my thoughts and prayers this morning concern Nashville.

Help me pray, would you?

  • Heavenly Father, nothing that happens in this world catches you by surprise – You know all things. There is nothing outside of your all-seeing, all-caring, all-judging eye. I am thankful you already know what has happened in Nashville, and even long before last night you were working in ways we will never comprehend.
  • Lord, comfort the ones who are mourning the loss of loved ones. Bring peace to them through the power of your Spirit.
  • Ease the pain of those who are wounded, and give the medical personnel added measures of endurance as they are pressed into longer shifts and greater stress.
  • Please protect those who are on the ground clearing debris, directing traffic, and protecting the most vulnerable.
  • Give a mighty voice to those who survived! Like so often is the case, send the reporters and news crews to the places where survivors give You the glory so the world may hear your name praised.
  • Jesus, as we know you have the power to calm storms, You also have the power to use storms. you know the hearts of the people of Nashville. Open their eyes to your mercy and grace.

Amen.

 

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Kumusta, Philippines!

Image result for philippines flag

I’ve never been to the Philippines, but I know people who have. As a matter of fact, my daughter was planning on going there several years ago, but then there was a tsunami.

Just recently I saw in the news that the President of the Philippines was going to kick the U.S. military out of the country, because America is “rude.” I hate that. I hope it doesn’t happen. Think of all our nations have been through together! Our military and our people still think of the sacrifices you made during WW2. Thank you!

I don’t know who in the Philippines reads my blog. Maybe they just stumble upon it. But to whomever you are, thank you for stopping by. It’s an honor.

May God bless your country with peace!

Anthony Baker (The Recovering Legalist)

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Were the Democrats Better Than Jesus and Paul?: A Look At the State of the Union Sit-Fest

Politics

You know what they say, don’t you? “A pastor should avoid politics at all costs.” Or, maybe it’s, “Never talk about politics from the pulpit…or online…or at the dinner table…or with a friend…”

The reason is because I am called to minister to people of all political persuasions. It’s foolish to alienate potentially half the people I address by offending them with an opposing political view, ESPECIALLY if that political opinion has nothing to do with the Bible, particularly the Gospel.

But what am I to do when something happens in the political realm and Scripture has something to say? Do I remain silent? Do I avoid even the least offense? Do I say, “That’s only for you people to discuss on your own, not in church, and not with me”?

What if the Bible offers advice that could radically change the negative atmosphere of politics and actually bring our nation’s leaders closer together for the sake of our nation?

Well, it does!

Broken Legs

If you had the opportunity to watch President Trump’s third State of the Union Address (the one where Nancy Pelosi ripped up the paper she fumbled with for an hour), what you saw was a sad, sad sight: nearly all the Democrats had broken legs. It’s true! Hardly any of them could stand up for anything, even news that the state of the Union was great!

Oh, the Republicans in the room were quick to leap to their feet when they heard African-American unemployment was at an all-time low, but the party of 90% of blacks remained in their seats! You KNOW that had to be painful! Broken legs, I tell you.

And what about that time it was announced that we are no longer dependent on foreign oil (the thing that nearly crippled us back in the 1970’s)? What about the news that manufacturing jobs had increased (along with factories coming back to America)? What about the news of lowered prescription drug prices and fairer trade deals with China? For each one of these bits of great news, the Democrats remained in their seats, groaning from the pain in their broken legs, unable to stand and celebrate the common good of our country.

But was it broken legs? Or, was it nothing more than hurt feelings, bitterness, anger, hatred, and spite? What if they were thinking that any good news is bad news as long as Trump is still the President? What if they were unwilling to celebrate anything, or anybody (even a 100-year-old Tuskegee airman that got promoted to General), if it meant admitting Trump was responsible? Their broken legs (or angry feelings) were more important than the people who sent them to Washington.

Jesus and Paul

But I would like to direct your attention to a couple of different instances where both the followers of Jesus and the friends of the Apostle Paul found themselves in a similar situation as the poor, crippled Democrats.

In one case, John came to Jesus upset that there was “one casting out devils” in His name (Mark 9:38-40; Luke 9:49-50). He told Jesus [paraphrased], “We told him to ‘Stop it!” because he wasn’t part of our group.” How did Jesus reply?

Forbid [him] not: for he that is not against us is for us. – Luke 9:50

Then later, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul confirmed that there were some people preaching Jesus, but with selfish motives. Did he protest? Did he let his broken legs keep him in his seat? Not hardly!

It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice. – Philippians 1:15-18 NLT

Do the Democrats think they are better than Jesus and Paul?

The Common Good

Who are these people that go to Washington, D.C.? Are they not servants of the people who sent them there? Do they represent political parties alone, or do they each take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America, the place where ALL Americans live, regardless their party affiliation?

Jesus and Paul understood that there were people out there who didn’t belong to their inner circles, some of which even had impure motives for what they were doing. Yet, both Jesus and Paul rejoiced that good was being done, nevertheless. People were being freed from demons in the name of Jesus, and people were getting saved after hearing the gospel preached by jealous, self-serving preachers.

Why is it, then, that the Democrats sat like they had broken legs when news of the common good was rampant? Why is it that they could not rejoice at an improved economy, decreased poverty, or lower drug prices that ease the burden of sick people in every political party?

The Answer?

I really don’t have an official answer; I can’t see inside their hearts. However, we could rephrase the question and ask John and the concerned Christians in Philippi why they had problems with people doing the right thing?

Maybe John thought: “Hey! That guy with the orange hair is casting out demons in Jesus’ name!

Maybe the Philippians said: “Dear Paul, there’s a guy over there who said bad things about you, even called you names, and he’s telling people about Christ!

All we know for sure is that both John and the Philippians were wrong for not clapping their hands, as both Jesus and Paul made clear.

Therefore, if the nation as a whole, both the just and the unjust, felt the rain of prosperity as the result of an orange-headed, egotistic outsider, not celebrating the common good makes the Democrats who refused to stand appear petty, childish, and motivated by something other than the people’s best interests.

Maybe they need to hate President Trump less and love our country more.

NOTE: If you don’t like what I just wrote, simply print it off and rip it in two.

Image result for pelosi rips

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