Tag Archives: Church

Coronavirus Sunday: Turning a Virus Into Evangelism

Did you wash your hands?

Good evening, everyone! What a different day this has been! How many of you went to church, despite the fear that you might get sick and die?

As I typed that, I couldn’t help but think of all those in places like Nigeria where going to church on any given Sunday could get you killed by an AK-47 or a machete. I wonder what they think of our virus protection plans? Which do you think they would prefer, a bullet-proof vest or hand sanitizer?

Anyway, many congregations across the country and around the world decided to cancel meetings this morning. Others did what we did: we encouraged the vulnerable and sick to stay home, and we streamed the service live on Facebook.

Missions

What I found so wonderful about all this, however, is that by streaming our services to Facebook, then sharing them on other media platforms, what would have been local turned into global! Think about that for a hallelujah minute!

One can’t help but wonder if Satan was at one point dying from laughter, then the next moment throwing a demon across the room in a fit of rage. I hope so!

It’s like, “Oh, look at all those churches closing their doors over some silly little virus! We are shutting them down, now!” Then it was, “OH, MY PLACE! What are they doing now? Reaching the world with the gospel??”

The Videos

So, what I want to do for this post is offer you the opportunity to watch both our ENTIRE Sunday morning service, along with a video I did from my office this evening.

But just so you don’t miss it, there’s a lot that went on this morning in our church service. So, if you want to skip to that actual sermon I delivered on St. Patrick and missions (it’s a GOOD one!), go to the 41:30 mark.

That shirt made me look HUGE! 

If you think St Patrick was Irish, or that his favorite color was green, you REALLY need to listen to this sermon 😉

God bless, and have a Christ-honoring week!

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Filed under America, baptist, Christian Unity, Christianity, Church, current events, ministry, Preaching, Southern Baptist, Witnessing, worship

I Love to Tell THE Story (w/Benny Berry)

It was 2012

Back in 2012, I was the pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in Lookout Valley, TN. I was there from August of 2008 to October of 2016.

It was a mixed bag of good, bad, joyful, and tragic. During that year I was neck-deep in finishing my master’s degree, driving a school bus, preaching 3 different sermons a week, and dealing with a sick wife. What’s more, things were happening underneath the radar that would nearly destroy my family and cost my youngest daughter her life.

I don’t know why I am telling you this right now, because it has very little to do with what I wanted to do when I sat down. Actually, all I wanted to do was give a little context to a video I was going to link. However, it just seems like the words I’m typing are being guided. Maybe they’re just what’s on my heart and I need to get them off. I don’t know.

While I was pastor at Riverside, some very bad things happened (hopefully, one day, I’ll have the freedom to share more details). But one of the most painful aspects was finding out – at least being accused – that if I had not been spending so much time studying and working I might have been a better and more attentive father… The one making that accusation was evil and simply trying to make excuses for his own actions.

Yet, in some ways, it was true, which is what makes it painful. I was focused on trying to do things FOR the family and missed some critical times WITH the family. Since then, there has been forgiveness, but scars remain. Thankfully, I serve a God who can even work miracles with scars. He has some too, you know.

Like I said, I didn’t plan on writing this, but somebody evidently needs to read it. Your #1 ministry is your family, not your community, your job, or your church. There is no success in life, whether it be earning millions or having the largest congregation, that is worth losing your children to the enemy. Let me help you put things in order:

  1. God (your personal relationship with Jesus and your obedience to the will of God)
  2. Family
    1. Your spouse
    2. Your children
  3. Providing for your family (i.e., career, vocational ministry, etc.)

If you’ll look carefully, there’s a lot NOT on that list. What about hobbies? What about community service? What about politics? What about friends?

Oh, you can have those things, but if they break the above hierarchy of priorities, you’ll one day find yourself face-down in a pillow wet with regret.

But what if you’ve already made mistakes you can’t correct? Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Delight thyself also in the LORD, and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him, and he shall bring [it] to pass. – Psalm 37:4-5

Today is a new day and the first day of the rest of your life. The race is not over, so finish well.

His grace is sufficient (2 Cor. 12:9).

Here’s the video I was going to share. It’s still my theme.

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Filed under Family, Relationships and Family

The Birthing of an 8 Year-Old: A Proper Time to Use the “Sinner’s Prayer”?

Last night I was blessed with the wonderful privilege of holding hands with an 8 year-old boy and his mother as he prayed to receive Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior! It was awesome!

The “sinner’s prayer” was involved, though. Was this a problem?

Let me describe what happened, then let’s talk about it.


It was Wednesday night, and that’s when the youth meet downstairs and the adults meet in the main sanctuary for prayer and discussion of Scripture (we are currently going through the book of Proverbs a chapter each week). After I had already gotten started, the mother and her son came in and sat in the auditorium. Frankly, I thought it was odd that they both came in…maybe he got in trouble, or something?

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting, people standing, hat, child and outdoor

Jhett and his mom, Cara, at a rodeo. It runs in his family.

Well, it was only after the meeting was finished that Cara and Jhett (Yeah, that’s his name. Cool, huh?), a young rodeo star in his own right (he’s a champion mutton rider!), walked up to me and wanted to talk.

“Jhett has something he wants to ask you,” his mother, Cara, said.

“Oh, really?” I responded. “What is it you want to talk about?”

Then, with a nervous voice, he looked up and said, “I want to be baptized.”

I said, “Oh! Well, let’s sit down and talk about it.”

I had to make sure what was going on, so we then sat down on the steps in front of the stage. I needed to know, first of all, if Jhett knew what baptism was and why it was important. I needed to know if he was even born again.

After some simple discussion, it became clear to me that Jhett had never actually become a Christian by repenting of his sin and giving his life to Jesus. If he had, he didn’t remember. However, it also became clear that he associated baptism with giving one’s life to Christ, so all I felt was needed was clarification and a little instruction.

Some people rightfully worry about false conversions when it comes to children. I’m one of them. The last thing I will ever do is preach a sermon to a bunch of children and make a blanket plea for “all who want to go to heaven come forward.”

Another thing I am very hesitant to do is ask a child to pray the “sinner’s prayer” with me.

Now, wait a minute! Haven’t I written a strong defense of the “sinner’s prayer”? Yes, I have! As a matter of fact, my dad led me through the prayer, helping me say what needed to be said, when I was only 6 years old (Sept. 27, 1973 – a Wednesday night). Why, then, would I be hesitant to lead another child through the “sinner’s prayer”?

Simple: I need to know that what they are doing is genuine and not coerced.

So, last night I explained to this wonderful young man what it meant to be a sinner, what sin was, and what God thought of it. I explained the first half of Romans 3:23, to which he responded with a look of shock. Then I told him about the “gift of God” and eternal life through faith in Jesus.

After first explaining everything in the most elementary way possible, then after asking if he understood, Jhett nodded in approval. He understood that he was NOT saved and WAS lost. He understood that he needed to be SAVED before being baptized. And when I asked if he wanted to pray to make Jesus “boss” of his life and trust Him with his soul forever, he said, “Yes.”

Why am I writing all of this? It’s important you see where I had to make an informed, wise decision where others may have either rescheduled with Jhett, or excitedly moved forward without any hesitation.

When it comes to adults, especially, I am a firm believer in: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9).  If a person is unwilling to publicly profess his/her faith in Jesus, then I highly doubt their conversion.

Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” – Jesus, Matthew 10:32-33

Therefore, I had to pause for a second after I initially prayed with the boy. The first time we prayed, I asked him to pray to God in his own words something similar to a prayer that I would say. It was a “sinner’s prayer.” But when I was done, and Cara asked him if/what he prayed, he looked a little embarrassed and shook his head. I could tell he was nervous.

His sisters had come in and were sitting on the front row, watching with expectation. That probably didn’t help.

I then asked him something like, “Why don’t you do this…why don’t you go ahead and talk to God, just like we’re talking now, and tell him you are a sinner, ask for His forgiveness, and ask Jesus to take control of your life?” He balked at the idea.

(His mom nicely and wisely asked the girls to leave the room for a few minutes.)

“Can you pray to Jesus, Jhett?” his mom asked. With a frown and a shake of his head, he replied, “I’m too nervous.”

  • Did he not want to be saved?
  • Were we pressuring him into a false conversion?

These were questions that I had to consider at this point, and doing the wrong thing could be catastrophic.

I then asked, “Would you like for me to pray aloud and say the words so that you can follow along?” His eyes lifted.

“Would that be OK?” Cara asked. He nodded with a smile.

“Then let’s pray,” I said. “And let’s all hold hands.”

Why did I go forward with the “sinner’s prayer”? Because, as I discerned, I had not made an emotional, manipulative call for Jhett to come forward to accept Jesus – he came of his own free will. Even though his understanding of baptism was initially mistaken, the fact that he wanted to be saved, even though he was confused about the process, was evident and his desire was genuine, not coerced.

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with using the “sinner’s prayer” as a tool to help someone who is already being drawn by the Holy Spirit unto Christ. I do think it’s important, however, that we use discretion when praying with children.

Now let’s go fill up that baptistery!


(My thanks to Cara and Jhett for letting me tell this story. Oh, and we may also have an up-and-coming “preacher” in the midst 🙂 )

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Filed under baptist, Prayer, salvation, Southern Baptist, Theology

8+ Ways Small Churches Could Be Better than Mega-Churches

The Survey

In a recent study conducted by the survey pro’s at TheRecoveringLegalist.com, pastors from both large and small congregations shared why they thought a small church could be better than a big one.

The survey sample was made up of pastors from various denominations, from different parts of the country, and consisted of men from my personal contact list – and my wife.

It was a VERY scientific survey – sorta.

The Question

I had my own thoughts, but I wanted to know what other pastors thought. The question I posed went something like this:

“I’m doing a quick, non-scientific survey for a blog post (no names will be mentioned). Can you give me 1 or 2 reasons why a small church could be better than a big church?”

Within moments I received multiple replies through text, email, and Messenger. It took them very little time to respond, like it was something they didn’t even have to think about.

The answers they gave were practically the same.

The Answers

If the answers from the pastors in the survey I conducted mean anything, it would seem that smaller churches are the place to be if you want to be:

  1. Known by name;
  2. Have intimate relationships with others;
  3. Have a pastor who misses you when you’re not there; and/or
  4. Experience more accountability.

Other answers suggested that in larger churches it is harder to keep track of what is being taught in “small groups,” while in smaller churches everyone is more on the same page. But overall, the most common reason given for smaller churches being better than bigger churches was knowing and being known by others in the congregation.

As a matter of fact, what the pastors in my survey said echoed the hopeful and encouraging words of Karl Vaters’ article “Why Small Churches Are the Next Big Thing.” Speaking of Millennials, he said:

“[There’s] growing evidence this new generation will bring the greatest opportunity for small church ministry in 2,000 years.

Why? Because, as the first generation with a majority born and raised outside traditional marriage, genuine relationships and intimate worshipwhat small churches do best—will matter more to them than it did to their parents.” [emphasis added]

(Note: The above article was from 2014. Vaters wrote a follow-up piece that’s worth reading.)

So you see, even though larger churches do offer a LOT – unlimited numbers of ministries in which to get involved; professional-quality childcare; servant pastors for every niche; and the best technology money can buy – many people are beginning to rediscover what makes the community of a small, loving congregation so special.

But Wait! There’s MORE!

Should you conclude that relationships, accountability, and being able to talk with your pastor without an appointment are the only qualities a small church can offer, think again!

There’s more! Much more!

Here are 8 simple ways small churches could actually be BETTER than larger ones:

1. Parking Spaces. Why should one have to search ten minutes to find a parking place within walking distance to the trolley you must ride to get to the front door?

Small churches have plenty of parking; usually no further than a hymnbook’s throw away.

2. No Auditions Necessary. Forget having to try out for the choir, the praise team, the annual play, the children’s musical, or the worship orchestra.

If you can sing, play an instrument, or read a line – or even if you can’t – there’s always a place for you in a small church, at least in the choir.

3. No Training Necessary. So, you want to run sound? You want to operate the lights? You think you have a desire to operate the recording equipment? Well, you’d better have a resume and a list of references if you want to do any of that in a big church.

Seriously, they can’t let just anyone with a desire operate a $25,000 camera or push the buttons that link to the network satellite feed.

But in a small church? HA! With just a little instruction and a few notes, you could be adjusting the mics and pressing “record” in no time!

4. The Best Seating Anywhere. If you come in late to a service at a big church, no kidding, you might need binoculars to see the holes in the pastor’s jeans.

But in a small church, well, the back row might as well be in the reserved section! Compared to a mega-church, the back row in a small church is practically within spitting distance of the preacher.

5. Genuinely-Experienced Childcare. Do you have small children? Do you care about them? Why let Buffy or Bianca watch your crumb cruncher while you worship? Why not trust them to the experienced, floppy-armed grannies that’ve raised more kids than a champion goat farmer?

Who better to make sure your young’uns act right and learn about Jesus than a few ladies who’ve washed out more than a few mouths with Ivory soap? [Disclaimer: Washing out mouths with soap is no longer approved]

6. Free Interactive Technology Museum. Bigger churches are all about the newest, most advanced technology. Smaller churches, on the other hand, rarely have the funds for regular upgrades.

Small churches are like free interactive technology museums where in some places you can listen to both the preacher AND the local radio station at the same time!

7. Food, Food, and More Food. Go to a large church and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to eat. They have Wednesday night meals, socials, finger foods, and all kinds of stuff before Sunday School (morning Bible study). Some large churches even have coffee bars and sit-down restaurants on campus!

But seriously, how does any of that compare to what a bunch of church ladies can whip up for homecoming dinner on the ground? You rarely see Mexican cornbread, turnip greens, or creamed corn in a mega-church.

8. It’s Your Community. Large churches – the ones with huge TV ministries and social programs – are made up of people from all over the place; small churches are filled with your neighbors.

It’s in the small, hometown churches where people learn to shoulder up to each other through the hard times; where a pastor will attend your child’s graduation; where the funerals and weddings are no charge; and where someone always notices when you’re not there.

Seriously, I have nothing against large churches – every pastor would love his church to be one! However, most churches average no more than 80 members, and they are where the majority of solid, faithful, salt-of-the-earth Christians still attend.

So, are small churches really “better” than big ones? That all depends on where God wants you.

But if you don’t want to get lost in the crowd – or in the parking lot – a small church might just be what you’re looking for.

May I suggest one? 

Bethlehem Baptist Church (est. 1790)
95 Bethlehem Church Road, Warthen, GA 31094 Sundays at 11 & 6, Wednesdays at 6:30

For the record, we do have a modern audio and security system. Just saying 🙂

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If Ever I Loved Thee, Tis Now

A Hymn Sermon

One of the greatest hymns, at least one of my favorites, is “My Jesus, I Love Thee.” A few years ago I preached a sermon based on the four verses from this song.

Below is a copy of the simple outline I took to the pulpit. I must admit, it got me a little wound up. (Can I get an “Amen!“)

“My Jesus I Love Thee”

My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine; (Jn 21:15-17)
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign; (2 Tim. 2:19)
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou; (Ruth 2:10)
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now. (The Place of Regeneration)

I love Thee because Thou hast first loved me, (1 John 4:19)
And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree; (1 Peter 1:18-19)
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow; (Mt 27, Mk 15, Jn 19:2)
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now. (The Place of Realization)

I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death, (Job 13:15)
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath; (Job 33:4)
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow, (Ps. 116:15)

If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now. (The Place of Resignation)

In mansions of glory and endless delight, (Jn 14:2)
I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright; (Rev 21:23)

I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow, (2 Tim 4:8)
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now. (The Place of Revelation)

-William Ralph Featherstone (1864)

Regeneration. As I read the lyrics, I began to see a logical progression through the believer’s life. First, there was the love for Jesus that comes when one is born again – that moment of regeneration, when one is “saved.” The love we have for Christ is evident by our desire to repent of our sin and turn from its “follies.” Along with that, there’s the humble heart that asks, like Ruth, “Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me?”

Realization. The second verse describes a maturing love for our Lord that, over time, gains an appreciation for what Christ actually did to save us. Our love deepens when we begin to realize all those little sins, even the pettiest, caused the sinless Son of God to have to endure unimaginable pain and humiliation, not out of obligation, but because of His love for us. His cross should have been mine, but He loved me first; therefore, I love Him.

Resignation. Thirdly, there’s that place in life when we must ultimately resign everything – our hopes, our dreams, our lives – to the One who ultimately lends us each breath. This deep, trusting love comes from a life that has witnessed the enduring faithfulness of our Savior, leading us to echo the words of Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

Revelation. Then, finally, there will be the place of revelation that will send our love for Christ soaring to infinite heights. We will know as we are known. We will have no more need of faith, for faith shall become sight. We will be eternally overwhelmed by the Love of the ages, forcing us to cry out, “If ever I loved thee, my Jesus tis now!

Just thought I’d share 😉

Sermon: “My Jesus I Love Thee!”

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Filed under Christian Maturity, Faith, God, Love of God, Preaching, salvation, worship

Just Being Honest On Facebook (and now WordPress)

Today is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I had some things to say live on Facebook.

But I do look funny without my glasses.

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Filed under America, Christian Living, Christian Unity, current events, General Observations

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Church History and #50

The History Room

Does your young, newborn of a 20th century church have a history room? Probably not.

The last church I pastored was considered “historic,” but is was only founded in 1946, not even the 1800’s. It didn’t have a “history” room, only a file cabinet.

But this church (Bethlehem Baptist) was founded in 1791! Therefore, it has a “history room” where old church records are stored. And let me tell you, reading the minutes from a church business meeting held 230 years ago is a trip!

How Times Change!

One of the things that rarely gets discussed in modern churches is church discipline. I mean, it’s very rare that a church member gets called to the carpet for sinful behavior these days, much less barred from fellowship or excommunicated. Yet, spend some time in the history room here at BBC and you will find out that things were a LOT different 200 years ago.

I hereby submit, for your edification and entertainment, selected readings from the minutes of Bethlehem Baptist Church.

  • Jan. 1, 1791:  “Excommunicated Robert.” That’s it. Nothing else was recorded!
  • May 20, 1791:  “Restored James Spratley to full fellowship.” Well, at least something positive happened.
  • June 6, 1792:  “Church met in conference . . . Stephen Renfroe is brought on trial & gains fellowship. ‘The church still seems divided concerning a pastor & 12 of the members rise & declare themselves grieved with the calling of Benjamin Thompson as pastor. Confusion & death is like to take place.‘” Ummm, that doesn’t sound good!
  • Sept. 28, 1792: “Ch. met in conf. Nothing of note came before us. Love seems to abound.Let’s hope so!
  • April 27, 1793: “[Bethlehem Baptist Church] met in conference. No business presented. Br. Baker, his wife, & negro join us by letter. (Br. Baker later becomes Pastor) Nothing unfinished. Love abounds.” It’s about time, don’t you think?
  • March 14, 1794: “David Wilborn is censured by Sister Taylor for injustice in measuring corn.” Where did the love go?
  • June 14, 1804: “Took under consideration the conduct of James Blunt & it being made plain… Alexander Smith confessed to drinking too much. Sister Little complained that Br. James Taylor had run off a part of her land. Neal, Walker, & Edmund May (Mayo?) to reconcile matter.”
  • March 18, 1815: (One month after the War of 1812) “Friday before the 3rd Sunday in April set apart as a day of thanksgiving to God for the aversion of impending danger & the return of his mercy towards us as a nation in delivering us from Wars & bloodshed & restoring peace in our country.”
  • Jan. 15, 1820: “Br. Manning & Barber to cite Jeff & wife (colored) to attend next conference to answer for some charges alleged against him viz: dishonesty & preaching without leave of the Church. Sister Molly a woman of color, dismissed by letter. She formerly belonged to David McCard.” Seems a “negro” had been preaching without permission. He justified himself by saying he’d never been told not to. Then, two months later, the church met and decided, “As to Jeff’s preaching, the ch. thinks proper for him to lay down the practice of taking texts to advance doctrine from, but recommended him to use the gift in public of singing, prayer & exhortation.” Ah, yes! Those colored people sure knew how to sing, didn’t they?

Like I said, things sure have changed in the last 200+ years, haven’t they?

And then there was #50!

So, with all this history, my curiosity got the best of me: I wanted to know where I fell in the lineage of pastors. How many had there been, and what number was I? When I figured it out, there had been 49 men who served a total of 56 tenures here at Bethlehem (a few had been asked to serve a second or third time).

That made me the 50th man to be pastor! Or as one deacon called my last night, the “golden boy.”

Portraits of pastors (mine isn’t up, yet). But this is only 20. 30 more are missing.

Yep, I’m the 50th pastor serving in the 57th tenure … and the second Baker. But THIS “Br. Baker” ain’t got no slaves!

“Love abounds.” For real.

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