You Are a Handcrafted Original

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27, NIV).”  Four verses later, we read, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.  (Genesis 1:31, HCSB).”  And largely, men were content to be men, and women content to be women for about 6000 years.  That is, until Olympic athlete and eternally whiny “reality” TV dad Bruce Jenner decided to grow his hair, take hormones, and wear dresses.  The world rejoiced in his decision and the subject of “gender identity” has been in the news almost incessantly ever since.

The discussion has reached fever-pitch in the last few weeks, with President Trump announcing (via Twitter, because that how policy change is dictated in 2017) that transgender persons will not be allowed to serve in the military, with its subsequent backlash.  Now, the latest to hit the news is a Transgender Day Camp for kids ages four through twelve, where a child can pick his/her preferred pronoun for the day.  The assumption appears to be that a child can reasonably decide what gender they wish to be.  Because every parent knows that children’s wants are always based in reality.

So, how do we speak truth into the discussion without being called intolerant, ignorant, and hateful?  Well, we probably don’t, but we can speak compassionately and truthfully.  Gender dysphoria is when a person’s internal feeling of gender doesn’t match the gender “assigned at birth”.  I find the term “assigned at birth” to be interesting.  The assumption behind this is that the doctor or nurse who delivered you looked at your genitals and said “boy” or “girl”.  The reality is that your gender was assigned at conception.  The DNA that is in all of our cells contains either the XX (female) chromosome or the XY (male) chromosome.  Your gender assignment  is literally stamped on all the building blocks of your body, by the One who formed you in the womb (Psalm 139:13-16).  

Having all your building blocks stamped with one gender while feeling like the other can be very distressful.  In the past, whenever someone’s internal reality differed from the external reality, we would attempt to find mental or spiritual help for them.  For instance, no case of anorexia or bulimia was ever treated with a gastric bypass surgery.  When there is a difference between one’s perception and reality, we must conclude that the problem is in the perception.  For example, I can perceive myself as a Ninja Warrior all day long, but in reality, my 5’8”, 230 pound squishy body does not agree with this perception.  And my perception will definitely not get me up the Warped Wall.

So how do we deal with a perception that does not align with reality?  First, we must recognize the deception.  We must blatantly call that which is untrue a lie.  Softening the term is not merciful, it is eternally harmful.  So, we will use the term lie.  John 8:44 tells us that Satan (the devil) is the father of lies.  As the father of lies, Satan has plenty of experience getting people to believe that which is untrue.  “Surely you shall not die” (Genesis 3:4) was the first of many.  Anything that is false comes from Satan and nowhere else.  

Many people now are trying to reconcile the difference between their perception (the aforementioned lie) and the reality by altering the reality.  While it is possible to mutilate one’s body with hormones and surgeries, it does not change the building blocks that make you, well, you.  Those pesky chromosomes, again.  I once was in a beautiful brick house that looked grand from the outside.  Once inside, I saw that it had been built around a mobile home.  Inside, at its core, it was a mobile home, complete with hollow doors and plastic doorknobs.  Changing the outside only made it fabulous on the outside.  You cannot change the essentials of who you ARE by mutilating your body.  It is possible, however, to look to the One who carefully stitched you together to find out who He intended that you be. (Isaiah 45:9)(Romans 9:21)  Would we be the ones to accuse the Maker of error?

We must remember that true, meaningful, eternal change is only possible through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  This is what we have to offer those that are hurting in this way or any other way in which people suffer.  People do not want to think that they are wrong, but we are all capable of deceiving ourselves (Jeremiah 17:9).  True change in life comes from turning away from the old self and turning toward new life in Christ.  This is how we become who we were intended to be.  Remember, you are a handcrafted original, lovingly stitched together for a purpose.  Be who God created you to be, and remember, that God makes NO mistakes.



Winter is Coming?

With less than two weeks to go until Vacation Bible School starts, we are really ramping up the preparation.  To me, this is one of the more exciting times of the year, because we focus specifically on reaching children with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Jesus wants the children to come to know Him (Luke 18:15-17).  Why?  It is certainly not because of their power, or their authority.  It is because of their faith.  Furthermore, Jesus tells us that unless we have a childlike faith, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:2-5).  So not only do we have a responsibility to help children come to know Christ, we are responsible to become like children ourselves.

Nothing makes me feel more childlike than working with children.  It is awesome to see things from their perspective, and with their enthusiasm and excitement.  This is what makes Vacation Bible School just as exciting for the leaders as it is for the children.  That, and knowing that we have impacted children’s lives for Christ.  

This year, we have chosen Operation Arctic for our theme.  Yes, a cold-weather themed VBS.  In August.  In Virginia.  It’s going to be great, I promise.  I’m looking forward to seeing the decorations, meeting the children, and getting in on the fun.  That will be the easy part for me, because I will be working the “Glacier Gap Games”, which will even include a “snowball” fight.  By the way,  if anyone has about 2 feet of snow that they’d like to donate, let me know!

Much more importantly than fun, VBS is a time when children learn about our God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, and the Creator of each of us.  They learn about His unending love for them, and they learn to appreciate His Holy Word.  The fun is ancillary to (not instead of) the learning that will take place.  They will learn scripture lessons for a lifetime.  Also, within the Southern Baptist Convention, one in every four baptisms is the direct result of VBS.  So it is not just “something to do with the kids”, it is the most important evangelistic event of the year.  If you haven’t yet planned on bringing the kids to VBS, I would highly encourage you to do so from August 14-18 (6-8:30 PM).  After all, it just may lead to the most important decision of their lives!



Will the Preacher Lie at Your Funeral?

                 I once saw a T-shirt that read, “Live your life so the preacher won’t have to lie at your funeral.”  While there is a little humor to this, there is also truth to these words.  After all, in polite society, it is considered rude to speak ill of the dead.  Which is why the obituary for Cornelia June Rogers Miller went viral prompting many of her family members to decry it as untrue.  They are still searching to find who wrote it at this time.  I’ll admit that my initial thought upon hearing about it was, “I’m so glad I didn’t get asked to do THAT funeral.”
 

                Officiating a funeral is one of the hardest duties of a pastor.  Even in the best case (hundred-year-old church member whom you know loved and served the Lord), it is emotionally trying.  The pastor must provide comfort and reassurance to the family and honor the deceased in the appropriate way.  But if the pastor knows the deceased, and is assured of this person’s salvation, the process becomes much easier.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

                The much harder funeral to do is when you get this phone call, “Hello, Reverend Dickey?  This is Amy from Duggar-Graves funeral home.  We have a family that needs a pastor to do a funeral on Tuesday.  Are you available?”  This means that the family has thought long and hard and been unable to come up with a pastor that they know.  Because even if Rae-Linda’s third cousin twice removed is a preacher at “that Holiness church” in Mount Pilot, they will ask him instead of going to a stranger from Amy’s list.  By the way, I think that I’m pretty far down Amy’s list, so if you get me, that means that six different secretaries have told her that Rev. Jones is not available that day.

                When a pastor meets a family for the first time, as they are grieving the loss of Grand-Mama, there are a few things that will inevitably be said: “She was such a good person”, “she’d give you the shirt off her back”, “I know she’s looking down from heaven and smiling at us now”, and my personal favorite, “If anyone deserves to go to heaven it’s her.”  When you meet this family, in their time of grief, they are working to convince you that she HAD to go to heaven, and therefore it’s your job as the pastor to “preach her into heaven.”  While the family is sitting there crying, making the case for Grand-Mama to go to heaven, you sit there wondering if she ever used the name of Jesus other than when yelling at her family.  And you start mentally wordsmithing things that you can say, without lying, that will give this family comfort.

                Let me just be honest for a minute.  If Grand-Mama did not know Jesus Christ as her savior, she is NOT in heaven, and there is nothing that I can say at the funeral that will get her there.  ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.  Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”  It’s really simple.  Either Grand-Mama accepted Christ while she was alive, or she rejected Him.  If she rejected Him, she will hear, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:21-23).  If Grand-Mama accepted Christ, she likely obeyed the command to “not neglect to meet together” with other believers (Hebrews 10:19-25).  Her works would be evidence of her faith (James 2:14-26).  You would not have to convince Reverend Dickey of Grand-Mama’s place in heaven, because she would be assured of it and would let others know.

                I recently attended a visitation for a church member’s sister.  What I heard, over and over, was how much she loved Jesus.  When she was placed on hospice, she was not scared.  She was ready to go be with Jesus.  Instead of flowers, she wanted people to donate to a ministry that taught her about Jesus.  Do you see a theme here?  Her family does not wonder what happened to her.  They know. 

                What about your family?  Will they have assurance of your place in heaven?  Or will they try to convince a pastor from Amy’s list that you were “good enough”?  If you have not accepted Christ, their attempts to convince the pastor will be in vain.  The good news is that you CAN be assured of a place in heaven.  Want to know how?  We’ll see you in church on Sunday.

                 



Let Freedom Ring

               Today, we celebrate Independence Day, or as some I know have taken to calling it, “Brexit 1776”.  The United States declared our independence from a corrupt and oppressive government, and became a nation.  We celebrate this every July 4

th  by grilling out, going to the beach, and blowing things up.  It’s an awesome celebration of something that we should be mindful of each day, which is that we live in a nation with unprecedented and unparalleled freedom.

                But what do we do with this freedom?  Do we misuse it?  The apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6:12 that not everything that we are free to do is beneficial.  In fact, many of the things which we are “free” to do really entrap us.  Jesus tells us in John 8:34 that everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Many people will celebrate their freedom today by overindulging in alcohol.  This particular prison entraps 15.1 million adults in the United States, according to the National Institute of Health, or 6.2 percent of the adult population of the U. S.  This is not just a health crisis, this is a spiritual crisis.

                The good news is that freedom, not only from addiction, but from sin and shame is possible.  It is not only possible, but it is available to all who believe (John 3:16).  Romans 8:1 tells us that if we are in Christ, we do not face condemnation, because we are set free from the law of sin and death.  Your freedom has already been purchased.  But you must accept it.

                Is today the day that you will accept the true freedom that has already been given?  Is today the day that you declare your independence from sin and shame and your dependence on Jesus Christ, who has the power to release you from your prison of guilt?  I pray that it is!



The Greatest Command

In Chapter 22, Matthew records one of many accounts of the Pharisees’ efforts to trap Jesus with His words.  They produced an expert in the Law, who asked the question, “What command in the law is the greatest? (Matt. 22:36, HCSB)” What they were hoping was that by giving priority to one aspect of the law, that they could prove that He ignored another important part of the law.  Instead, Jesus shut them down with these words, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and most important command.  The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

                This is all the commands of scripture summed up neatly.  If you look at every command given in scripture, it either pertains to your relationship with God or to your relationship with other people.  So, by following these two important principles, our motives can be pleasing to our Lord.  There are a couple of ways that this can go wrong, however.  The first is if we have a faulty definition of “love”, and the second is if we reverse the order of the commands.  Either of these leads us down a path that is unpleasing to the Lord.

                The faulty understanding of “love”, I feel, comes in part from the English language which allows me to use the same word to describe my adoration for my Lord, my bond with my wife, and my affinity for Rocky Road ice cream.  Obviously, some of these are more important in my life than others.  The love described in the passage in Matthew is more completely described as having the affection of God.  He has great fatherly affection for us, as His created beings.  We are to love Him wholeheartedly as He loves us.  When we love Him that completely, we will serve Him tirelessly without ceasing.  This love is not based on our feelings, but upon the recognition of God’s essence, which is love (I John 4:8), and His rightful authority over us as our Creator.

                Aside from misunderstanding what “love” actually is, we can readily find ourselves placing our affection for people ahead of our affection for God.  This leads to us having a desire to please people rather than to please God.  The opinions of others become more important in our lives than the truth spoken into our lives by our Creator.  This is what leads many well-meaning believers to compromise Biblical truth in pursuit of relationship with others.  When we put our love for others ahead of our love for God, both relationships suffer harm.  Our relationship to our Lord suffers from neglect, and our human relationships suffer from a lack of spiritual depth. 

                So how do we love properly?  First, we must know Jesus!  Without Him, any love that we may have is a bad imitation.  True love can only come from the One whose essence is love.  Any other “love” is a counterfeit.  Only when we experience the true love of Christ can we love others in the manner that we are instructed.



Should We Call Down Fire?

               In our Wednesday night study of “Journey into Following Jesus”, by Tommy Higle, we have been learning about the twelve disciples as people, and how many of us are much like one of them in some way or another.  Last night, as we discussed John, we recognized that he and his brother James may have had an anger problem.  Luke 9:51-55 tells of Jesus, on His way to Jerusalem, sending men ahead of Him to make preparations in a Samaritan village.  But the village did not welcome Him.  To put it mildly, this displeased James and John, who asked Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”  I will admit that I laughed way too hard at the suggestion, momentarily thinking, “I know people that I would like it to rain fire upon.” 

                Of course, Jesus rebuked them.  And thank God, because most of us at some point in our lives have rejected Christ.  I’m glad that the Lord did not rain fire upon me when I was rebellious!  Maybe these Samaritans would accept Him later.  Maybe they wouldn’t, and will have to answer in person at the judgment.  Either way, the Lord does not ask us to destroy those who reject Him.  The New Testament records only two destructive miracles of Jesus.  In one, He allowed demons to go into a herd of pigs that subsequently ran off a cliff.  In the other, He cursed an unfruitful fig tree.  He did not destroy people.  Note that in neither of these did He bring harm to people.  So why would we think that it is okay to harm people with our words?

                In Chapter 3, James writes, “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. (NIV)” If he were writing this today, I dare think that he would also mention the keyboard.  So many today are quick to type responses that they would never say to a person face to face.  At times, I have been guilty of this.  As a recent college graduate, I can type fast, often faster than my brain will engage.

                We, as Christians, must be careful to watch our words.  That which is said cannot be unsaid.  Colossians 3:8 reminds us that as believers, we must, “put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”  Matthew 12:36 points out that, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”  Rest assured that we will all answer for what we have spoken in anger, whether with our mouth or with our keyboard.  Words have the power to destroy, and must be careful not to destroy people. 

                This DOES NOT mean that we are not to speak the truth to people.  Ephesians 4:15 commands us to speak the truth in love.  Withholding the eternal truth of salvation from people is not loving, it is cruel, and we will answer for that.  It’s the attitude that matters.  When we love someone enough to tell them the truth, we can do so in a loving and kind manner.  Jesus loved the woman at the well (John 4) enough to tell her the truth, but He did not berate her.  He simply invited her to trust in Him.  Which is what we must do to those around us!



Ninja-weight

                Last Thursday, I attended a “National Day of Prayer” service at a larger church.  The pastor and his staff had put a lot of time and energy into preparation for the service.  They arranged special music, a service where several of the deacons spoke and prayed, and a guest speaker with a wonderful testimony.  There was even a dessert social afterward, with lots of tasty treats.  They prepared.  They decorated.  They dressed up.  They showed up.  And I watched sadly as thirty people jammed into a sanctuary built for 400.

                I have observed many such situations over the last several years.  I coordinate a monthly Ministers’ Conference for the 46 churches of our local association, and see an average attendance of less than 10.  An associational meeting that should have 92 people attending will see attendance of about 30.  Sunday morning worship services that used to be filled are now glaringly light in attendance.  This is a problem in many churches, and can be disheartening, if we let it.

                Many have endeavored to come up with a reason for the falling attendance at church and worship events.  Some will blame the fact that the stores are open on Sunday, or the ball game, or the race.  Some will note that all the young people “grew up and left”.  Some note that “people are just so much more sinful”, and “the world has gone crazy”.  While these things may APPEAR to be true, though our limited perspective, I think that there is some encouragement to be had.

                BIGGER IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER.  One of my favorite TV shows is American Ninja Warrior.  It is a fantastic obstacle course competition.  One of the things that I have noticed in watching it is that smaller, more agile people have an advantage over larger ones.  The same can be said for churches.  Often smaller, more agile churches are healthier spiritually.  Jesus reminds us in John 15:1-2 that, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper.  Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that It will produce more fruit. (HCSB)”.

                 Many of those who have disappeared from our pews were not the true followers of Christ, but were only showing up because they were expected to.  Society no longer places that expectation on people, therefore, the ones who show up tend to be true believers.  Those who were taking up the time, energy, and resources of the church without serving have largely left many of our smaller congregations.  Those good branches which produce fruit have been pruned in order that they may produce more.  Often, churches appeared full and healthy, but were severely anemic.  Many have lost excess weight, and are now small enough to be nimble and responsive.  Jesus also reminds us in verse 5 of the same passage that “The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me (HCSB).”  Our strength as a church comes from our Lord, not from our numbers, our facilities, or our political influence. 

                  So, believers, we can do one of two things.  We can be upset about the loss of the “glory days” of full sanctuaries, and a world that seemed to fit our values.  Or, we can recognize that the world always has been—and until the return will be—a place of lost people needing saved.  We can embrace our smaller, lighter, and nimbler churches, and the mission that we have been given in this day and time.  The choice is up to you.



Celebrating Baptism

This week at Sappony, we will be having a baptism service.  Since we think of each baptism as a reason for celebration, we will also have special music and a covered dish luncheon.  We’re going to have a good time of fellowship in the Lord.

                Each baptism is important, because it means that one more person has accepted Christ, and is willing to publicly identify with Him.  Baptism is not the thing that saves a person, but it is the person demonstrating to the world that he is saved.  We baptize by immersion for a couple of reasons.  One, the word translated baptize in the English language versions of Scripture implies immersion.  We believe that this is the way John the Baptist baptized Jesus, and see no need to depart from it.  This, however, is not the only reason.

                Baptism is one of two ordinances mentioned in the New Testament (the other is the Lord’s Supper, or communion).  It is given to us as a symbol.  Being immersed in the water symbolizes our Lord’s death, which paid the price for our sins, and His burial, where His body spent three days in the tomb.  As it is important that we don’t stay immersed in the water too long, it is important that Christ did not stay in the grave.  Coming out of the water symbolizes His resurrection, the proof that He was who He claimed to be, and that His payment of our penalty was enough.  For us, coming out of the water symbolizes the new life that we are raised into.  The person that we WERE (lost) is buried, and the person that we ARE (saved) is raised to start the new journey with Christ.

                We baptize publicly, in front of the assembly of believers as a testimony of the redeeming power of Jesus in our lives.  We are publicly demonstrating that we have put the old life to death, and are now living a new life, one which glorifies God.  After all, we were created in the image of God in order to glorify Him.  And when someone make the decision to do so, this gives us much reason to celebrate.



New Life

It appears that Spring has sprung.  I can tell because my allergies are in full effect.  But also, I can notice that there are plenty of signs of new life outside.  My grass is growing tall (just ask my neighbor who has been mowing since New Year’s), the azaleas are blooming, and there are birds chirping everywhere, to the chagrin of my daughter’s cat who is not allowed outside.  Life appears fresh and new, and full of possibility.

                One of the things that is often associated with Spring is Easter, which falls on April 16th this year.  For far too many, it is simply about new clothes, colored eggs, baskets, and chocolate bunnies.  While these things can be fun, they have absolutely nothing to do with the occasion that we celebrate.  Easter is a very holy day, in which we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

                Easter is about new life, but not in the manner that we think of Spring.  When we were dead in our sins, Jesus, who had never sinned, took all of our sins upon Himself, carrying them to the cross, where He willingly gave up His life to pay the price that we could not pay.  When we accept His payment, we no longer need to live as though we were dead.  He has made a brand-new life available to us, that can never be taken away. 

                Anyone who has live more than a couple of years can attest that Spring is temporary.  In a few months, we will have the hot days of Summer, followed by the Autumn leaves falling, then a cold and dreary winter again.  But the new life that we have through Christ, while it may take us through seasons, is eternal.  Those of us who have accepted this new life have a promise that is certain.  You can have this new life as well. 

                Easter Sunday at 7AM, we will host a community Sunrise Service with Concord United Methodist Church.  Come join us to learn more about this new life that is made available for you!

 



Love is…

It is a good thing that I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution to keep the blog updated better, because I would have failed big time!  If you’ve been to any store in the last couple of weeks, you may be aware that Tuesday is Valentine’s Day, the day that we celebrate love.  For Tammy and me, this Valentine’s Day marks 25 years of marriage.  I still think that she could have done better, but she chose to take me as her “awful wedded husband”.  I’m so thankful that YouTube wasn’t around back then, because we would have gone viral.  Looking back, I should have cut my hair before the wedding.  There was so much of it!  But I didn’t consider what the pictures would look like 25 years later.  Our wedding was a comedy of errors, but at the end, it didn’t matter.  We were just as married.

So, what has happened in twenty-five years?  Life.  Lots of life.  Raise two beautiful daughters into productive young adults?  Check.  Try four different careers and fail in each of them?  Check (me, not her).  Move 10 times?  Check.  Go through 15 automobiles?  Check.  Suffer the loss of a parent?  One each.  Spend countless hours in the ER for asthma attacks (her), and migraines (me)?  Check.  Care for a husband who breaks a femur and sleeps through the entire month after the surgery?  Yeah, she did that.  Finally buy a house and settle down?  Check.  Spend countless hours navigating the aisles of Wal-Mart?  Check.  Take 15 teenagers on a mission trip to Joplin?  Check.  Survive three combat deployments?  Check.  So.  Much.  Life.

So why have we stayed together when so many others who got married at the same time, had more elaborate weddings, better champagne, and bigger hair fell apart?  By the way, our champagne was called Brut, probably because it sucker-punched you in the mouth.  We didn’t even feature the most popular wedding song of the year,

Everything I Do, I Do It for You

by Bryan Adams.  So why have we stayed together?  Only by the grace of God.  Certainly, there were times that it didn’t look like our marriage would last.  Marriage is so much more than the wedding ceremony.  It’s all the life that happens afterward, and some of it has been great, and some of it, not so much.

Paul, in his first letter to the Church at Corinth, reminds them of the qualities of love.  “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Cor. 13:4-8, ESV)” He is not speaking here of romantic love; the original language has a different word for that.  He is speaking of the love that is the very nature of our Creator.  The love that He has for us.  The love that He designed us to share together when He said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). 

This Valentine’s Day, let’s remember that we do not define love.  God already has, by His nature.  And it is very good!




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