New Year, Same Old You?

How many of us made New Year’s Resolutions?  Now, if we’re being honest on the fourth day of January, how many of us have already broken these resolutions?  People make resolutions to start the new year off correctly because they recognize something about themselves that is in need of change.  However, as we get back into our routines, we tend to fall back into our old bad habits.  We find it easier to live as we always have.  If you go into any gym in America on January 2, you will find the place packed with those intending to do better.  By February 2, there are fewer people.  By March 2, the only ones still there are the ones who went before January.  Desiring to make a change is easy.  Actually making a change is hard.

                Many people resolve to improve their Bible study habits or their prayer life.  Like physical fitness, spiritual fitness requires that we actually put in time and effort.  This is where most of us again fall short once we are back into our normal routine.  We find that we “do not have the time”, or the devotional we picked wasn’t that interesting, or we REALLY don’t like getting up any earlier to study.  But let’s be honest.  There is always time for the things that are genuinely important to us.  It’s a matter of priorities.  If you say that you do not have time to study the Bible, but yet you have time to watch “The Real Housewives of Tupelo”, this is an indication of skewed priorities.  If the only time that you pray is immediately before “pass the potatoes”, yet you know everything that Cousin Rae-Linda posts on Instagram, or you have time to read every political post that your high school friend shares as if it’s the truth, this is also an indication of skewed priorities.

                The hard truth is that we will not be magically transformed into Bible-quoting, devil-stomping prayer warriors because we spent the first three days of January reading the first three chapters of Genesis and recited the Lord’s Prayer.  This is like trying to win the Boston Marathon when you’ve only trained to run around the buffet at Golden Chowhall.  There is going to be work involved.  Sure, we must rely on the Holy Spirit working in us, but we cannot assume that He is going to do all the work with no effort on our part.

                Those who follow Christ were known as, and still are known as disciples.  Note how much that word looks like “discipline”.  If we are to be true followers of Christ, this is going to require DISCIPLINE on our parts.  We must study the Word.  “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11, NIV).”  You cannot claim to be a legitimate follow of Christ if you do not study His word.  We must also pray.  1 Thessalonians 5:17 commands (not suggests) that we “pray without ceasing.”  How can you claim to allegiance to someone that you never talk to?  We MUST make the spiritual disciplines a priority in our lives!

                The good news:  If you have already failed in your New Year’s Resolution to study the Word more, you do not have to wait.  You can start today.  Make a plan.  Stick with that plan, even when you are tired, or would rather do something else.  Not only will you reap the spiritual benefits, but you will benefit the Kingdom by being a knowledgeable disciple.  If being a disciple were easy, everyone would be one.  It is not easy, but do it anyway.



Well, That Escalated Quickly!

Sometimes life is funny.  And sometimes, life sucker-punches you when you’re not looking.  As one of the youngest small-town pastors that I know, I find myself working to bring my more-experienced counterparts into the twenty-first century.  No, I’m not talking about moral or social issues.  I’m talking about getting them to have an online presence.  A voice outside the church.  You know, a church website, Facebook page, a blog.  A way to reach people who may never walk into your church.  The internet can be a wonderful thing.  This is, of course, dependent on how one uses it.

                I look at Facebook a lot.  I don’t necessarily post a great deal, but I like to look at what my friends are talking about.  I have a variety of friends:  black, white, Asian, Middle Eastern, African (like Ghana), Hispanic, Republican, Democrat, straight, gay, lesbian, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, etc.  You get the idea.  I decided a long time ago that I will not “unfriend” someone just because they are not like me or believe differently than I do.  People need Christians who will invest time into their lives if they are to ever learn about the gospel.  If we “unfriend” people, we will not see what’s going on in their lives, and we potentially lose the opportunity to share the gospel with them.  If we berate non-Christians for acting unsaved, we are being counterproductive.  The Holy Spirit will work in them to change their behavior once they’re saved, not before.  So, unless someone is engaged in cyber-bullying, I stay “friends” with them.  I have compassion on them.  I pray for them.  And I love them.

                So, sometimes I forget who is on my friends list.  Teenager to octogenarian, military, civilian, rough character or very proper.  I have them all.  So when a pastor friend of mine shared a post that amused me, one which asked people to insert a photo from their phone, I thought, “Gee, this could be fun.”  This picture I shared was of the slip of paper we found inside a fortune cookie, written in Spanish, because we had laughed at it at dinner, because it was totally unexpected.  And, since I thought, “yeah, this is fun”, I shared the post to my own Facebook page.  Did I mention my friends list?  When my daughter pointed out to me that people were sharing inappropriate pictures in response to my post, I was shocked.  Because I don’t think to do this, it didn’t necessarily occur to me that others might do this.

                Then came the comments.  Someone pointed out that my friends need prayer.  Someone else thought that it was time to clean up my friends list.  Someone else couldn’t believe that someone would share those pictures in response to a pastor.  I have discovered that many people forget that they are friends with a pastor, especially one that they knew “back when”.  I deleted the post and apologized to those offended.  I will not go as far as unfriending people, because of the reasons that I mentioned above.  I will not throw stones at them, because I am not without sin.  I will get past the embarrassment, look beyond myself, and continue to love them because of the example that Jesus set.  And of course, I will be more careful what I share in the future!



The Raging Fire

Fire can be a good thing, or it can be a very dangerous and scary thing.  It is useful for cooking and keeping us warm.  But when uncontrolled, it can destroy property and take lives.  We have been watching this week as the popular Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge tourist areas have been hit hard by fire.  It is a sad thing to see the charred remains of businesses and homes and to hear of those who cannot reach their loved ones in the area.  We should commit to pray for those who affected by these fires.  Seeing the images of fires raging out of control reminds me of the Biblical imagery of fire.

In Exodus Chapter 3, God appears to Moses in a burning bush to command him to lead His people from Egypt.  Exodus 13:21 shows the Lord appearing as a pillar of cloud during the day, and a pillar of fire at night.  Doing this was not only a demonstration of His presence, but also of His power.  In Malachi 3:2-3 we read, “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who will be able to stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire and like cleansing lye.  He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver.”  Fire is used to remove all the impurities from precious metals like gold and silver, thus making them usable and valuable.

We are told in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 that our works will be tested by fire.  What endures will be rewarded, and what is useless will be burnt up.  It is important to keep this in mind when investing our time, talent, and treasure during this life.  What will be the end result?  What will happen to our works when we see Jesus face to face?  Of course, if we are not saved, the prospect is even worse.  We are told that a literal, never-ending Hell which burns for eternity waits for those who have rejected Christ.  Sadly, most people will reject Christ, and face an eternity in a fire that far surpasses anything that we’ve seen on the news.  The question is, what will you choose?



Missing the Signs?

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a senior at Liberty University.  I have been taking online classes for four years.  Not everyone knows that I didn’t necessarily take all of my classes in the correct order.  As the kids might say, “What had happened was ______.”  Fast forward four years, and now, the only thing standing between me and the degree is Math.  Specifically, a freshman level math class.  Liberty requires that I have this class in order to have a well-rounded education.  I intended to take this class earlier at community college and transfer it in, but well, never got to it.  So now, it is literally the last wall I have to climb.  And I have determined to climb it at all cost.

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand numbers.  I can add, subtract, multiply and divide.  And usually end up with the correct answer.  But of course, someone had to make it more complicated.  Recently I have had to deal with irrational numbers (surprisingly not my bank balance), and imaginary numbers (surprisingly not the federal budget).  As we have continued in the course, I have observed that for every type of problem, there is a way to solve it by following a series of steps.  Of course, one has to follow these steps carefully and precisely in order to come up with the expected result.  And even if you follow the steps exactly, if you miss a sign (such as a negative sign), your answer will be totally wrong.

The life of the Pharisees was lived much like this.  They took very careful steps to ensure that they were not doing anything wrong, and got so involved in the steps that they forgot to notice the signs.  Jesus pointed out to them in Matthew 16:2-4 that even though they could read the weather, they did not see the signs of the times.  They are not the only ones guilty of this.  Often, we get so involved in the day-to-day that we forget to observe the signs.  This is like driving south on I-95 for several hours then wondering how you got to Miami. 

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he notes that things will continually get worse for believers.  In so much of the world it has.  And yes, things are worse for Christians in America than they were 50 years ago, however, at this time we are not being executed for our faith.  That alone is reason to be grateful as we go into the Holiday season.  It’s also a reason to take action.  While we still have the freedom to act, instead of fighting for our rights (which is not a biblical mandate), let’s reach as many as we can for Christ (which IS a biblical mandate).  Use Thanksgiving as a reason to tell people WHO you thank for your life and your salvation.  Use Christmas to tell people about JESUS, who came to give His life for their sins.  Reach the LOST.  The only way to change a lost world is to introduce them to Jesus.  Take notice of the signs around you, or you will get to the end of your life and realize that you have the wrong solution.



What Now?

We have survived another contentious election season.  So what do we do now?  Fortunately, the Lord gives us some great answers in His Word:

 

  1. Pray for your leaders!  “First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim 2:1-4, HCSB).  Note that the Word commands us to pray for those in authority.  We have elected people who will make very important decisions.  Ask God grant them wisdom in their decisions.
  2. Submit to the elected leadership! “Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.” (Romans 13:1-7, HCSB).
  3. Do not fear! “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” (2 Tim. 1:7, HCSB).  “And who will harm you if you are deeply committed to what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:13-17, HCSB).
  4. The above are especially difficult if your candidate lost, but God does not give us a pass on any of this. The Lord knew the outcome of this election before anyone else.
  5. If your candidate won, do not gloat! “Do not gloat over your brother in the day of his calamity; do not rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction; do not boastfully mock in the day of distress.” (Obadiah 1:12, HCSB).  “Don’t gloat when your enemy falls, and don’t let your heart rejoice when he stumbles.” (Proverbs 24:17, HCSB).
  6. Recognize the fears and concerns of others! I was struck by the number of people in my Facebook feed who are in fear after the election results.  They see their future as threatened.  We need to show them the perfect love that casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

We must recognize that no matter what the next four or eight years brings, that ultimately all earthly governments are temporary.  As believers, we are not primarily United States citizens, but we are citizens of the Kingdom of God.  We need to ensure that we are fully submitted to Him, doing His will, while we happen to live here in America.  Let’s get to work!



Indecision 2016

If you haven’t heard, we have an election coming up.  I have watched some of the news coverage.  I have seen the debates (perhaps a cage match would have been more civilized).  I have also watched my Facebook news feed deteriorate into a meme war and normally decent people use language that would make a sailor blush.  Emotions are running high with this one as probably never before.   And the most interesting thing in the whole mess is that nobody seems to REALLY want either of the major candidates; they simply plan to vote for the one that they think will do the least damage.

People are living in fear.  And there are lots of things in this world that demand that we fear them:  war, poverty, loss of freedoms, declining civilization.  Of course we KNOW that, “There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).  But “knowing it” does not always mean “living it”.  Instead, sometimes we let our imaginations get away with us.  What do we “fear” this coming election?  Many, if honest, fear the further deterioration of religious freedoms.  Some religious leaders, in endorsing Candidate Y (a practice that I strongly recommend against), have said that Candidate X (see what I did there?) if elected will appoint Supreme Court justices who will deteriorate our freedoms.  These leaders have fallen victim to the very same fear that we preach against.

God’s people have not always lived with religious freedom.  For hundreds of years of human history, God’s people have been ruled by criminals, maniacs, and evil men.  Daniel tells the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were willing to face death other than worship the king.  He also tells of his own trip into a lion’s den for the “crime” of praying.  For the first 313 years of the church, it was illegal.  Believers were persecuted and punished in some of the worst ways imaginable.  But yet, the church grew.  It took great courage to speak of faith in Christ, knowing that it could cost you your life.  In 21

st

Century America, we hesitate to speak about Christ because He might cost us a business relationship or a friendship.  We need to get our priorities straight, and show the love of Christ to the world, instead of a fear of their behavior.

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7).  We need to remember that if God did not give us the spirit of fear, it most certainly has to come from somewhere else.  We also need to remember that no matter who gets elected, God is STILL on the throne.  And we still have our place in the Kingdom!



Entering the Digital Age

Sappony Baptist Church enjoys our long, rich history of telling “the old, old story of Jesus and His love.”  You may recognize the lyrics from “I Love to Tell the Story” by Katherine Hankey, one of the classics of the church.  When the author was born in 1834, Sappony had been going strong for 61 years.  In fact, it predates the United States by three years.  While this may seem old, we proclaim an even older truth.
 
The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ does not change.  While ways of proclaiming the truth may change, the truth itself does not.  When our sanctuary was built, there was no running water, no electricity, no automobiles, no telephones.  We have, use, and enjoy these conveniences now.  And we have the internet, which enables us to reach around the world with the message of the gospel.  
 
It is our hope and prayer that our website will help us to show Christ to others, and to show others to Christ.  The message hasn’t changed.  But the rooftop that we can shout it from has!



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