Snow Day 2018

So, just when I was getting used to the idea of being back on a “normal” schedule, along comes a snowstorm (snow-cyclone?).  Looking outside my home, I have two conflicting thoughts: “I should have taken down the Christmas lights before the snow hit”, and “If I plug them back in, they’d be really pretty in all this snow.”  Of course, neither of these thoughts will cause me to take action.  Instead, I will stay inside where it is warm, and work, while watching the occasional snow plow or sliding neighbor.


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For Our 245th Year

As we rapidly approach the end of 2017, this seems like an opportune time to look at where we are as a church, and where we need to go in our 245th year, 2018.  Currently, our directory contains 59 names (children included).  Our average attendance at worship service is approximately 35-40.  Obviously, not all members can attend every service, but it would be nice to average 50 during 2018.  Attendance at Wednesday night Bible Study averages about 12; it would be nice to increase to 15 in 2018.


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Silent Night?

Have you found the Christmas season to be “too busy”.  Do you feel like you’re on a treadmill that you just can’t get off of?  Are you just trying to survive until the 26th?  It can be easy to be overcome by the events of the season.  We often try to jam too much into a few days.  There is a lot of pressure to “get it right”.


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Sit Down and Stay Awhile

A few nights ago, I had the privilege of attending a Christmas program at an elementary school.  There is a certain joy to seeing children perform, because, well, you never know what will happen.  There are inevitable technical difficulties (“the microphone was working a few minutes ago”), children who freeze on stage, children who thrive on stage, props that go sailing, etc.  Is it really a children’s program if these things don’t happen?  This particular program was set up with each grade level performing a song, with the handbell choir performing classic Christmas songs between each.  And it was a really good program, but unfortunately most people there missed it almost entirely.


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Pray for First Baptist Church Sutherland Springs

I remember on one of my Iraq deployments, either 2007 or 2008, there was a huge problem of convoys being hit by pressure-plate IEDs.  A vehicle would roll over a bomb or a land mine and set it off.  So someone came up with a plan to minimize the damage and casualties by installing a “mine roller” in front of the lead vehicle of the convoy.  This consisted of a large row of wheels several feet out, that would set off the bomb, before the vehicle itself was over it.  I remember thinking when I saw it, “Won’t they just move the pressure plate forward of the explosive to counter this?  I know that I was far from alone in this thought.  When someone is really determined to do evil, they refuse to be stopped.


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Study To Show…

I have recently come to discover my need for a personal librarian.  Since I have been a pastor, I have been blessed to receive a great number of books that are useful in my calling.  Besides the books that I acquired in school, I have several that my predecessor left in the office when he moved.  While I’m sure he took the “good” ones and left the “others” here, I found some to be quite interesting and kept them.  Ones that I would never use were rehomed, of course.

A handful of the books in my collection were given to me by very special people to me, and I treasure them dearly.  I have received several from the collections of deceased persons as their family members have gone through their belongings.  I find it interesting to look at what people studied, and the books that helped to form their opinions.  I feel like I’m getting to know them posthumously.


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How’s Your Witness?

How is your witness?  Have you even thought about the answer to this question?  When you report something as the truth, can others believe it?  Is it important to be factual?  What about on social media platforms?  I have seen some disturbing trends from believers on social media that is, quite frankly, a bad witness.  I think that it would be great if some of our fellow believers took note of the acronym used in elementary schools encouraging kids to “THINK” before they speak.  That is, is it True?  Helpful?  Inspiring?  Necessary?  Kind?  I have found several social media posts by believers that does not meet at least some of this criteria, so I suggest that before posting, one should ask these questions:

“DO I KNOW THIS TO BE FACTUAL?”  I cringe every time someone shares one of the “Let’s make this guy famous” posts.  You know the ones.  This guy beat up this woman, or this child, or he tortured his dog.  Share until he gets arrested!  After all, you have no heart if you don’t want to see justice done for his victim.  But here’s the problem:  If you share this post, you are accusing him of a crime of which you have no knowledge.  Exodus 20:16 commands that we not testify falsely against our neighbor.  You were nowhere near Oshkosh, Wisconsin where the alleged attack occurs.  When you testify falsely against someone, in the town square that is social media, you prove that you cannot be trusted to tell people the truth about anything.  The same also holds true of things that we post about public figures.  Ed Stetzer reminds us of this point in his article “Some Christians Hate Joel Osteen More Than They Love The Truth”  If you do not know the facts, do not proclaim them.  

“DOES THIS POST BRING GLORY TO CHRIST OR DETRACT FROM HIM?”  Does it show a “perfect love that casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).  Or does it contribute to a fear of those we are called to reach with the gospel, such as people of other races, religions, nationalities, and even political affiliations?  Colossians 4:5-6 reminds us how are are to treat and speak to “outsiders”, meaning those outside of the faith.  Our words and tone matter.  An old saying reminds us that you will catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  I can assure you that you will not win any Millennials to Christ by continually referring to them as “crybabies”, “snowflakes”, or other derogatory terms.  How do I know this?  Because they are unfriending you, and therefore you lose any influence you may have had with them.  Matthew 5:16 reminds us that we are to let our light shine before others so that they may glorify the Lord.  Will your post cause people to glorify God, or turn away from Him?

“DOES THIS POST SHOW WORSHIP OF THE ONE TRUE GOD, OR SOMETHING ELSE?”  Do you love the Messiah more than ‘Merica?  Do you love the Savior more than statues?  Do you love the Son of Man more than the man in the White House?  Do you love the Lamb of God more than the last man in the White House?  Do you rely on the Promises of God or the promises of men?  Do you love the Redeemer more than the Republican platform?  Or the Son of David more than the Democratic platform.  Do you love the Son of God more than the sensual desires?  As Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me more than these?” (John 21:15).  If your post, or the overall tone of your social media account points to something other than Christ, you are joining the world in pointing them in the wrong direction.  

Everyone has a public platform for proclaiming the gospel that was unavailable to us just a few years ago.  How do we use it?  For idle speech and things that do not matter in eternity?  Is this the best use of our platform while those around us enter eternity in hell?  Matthew 12:36 reminds us that we will be held accountable for every idle word we speak.  Immediately before ascending into heaven, Jesus instructed the apostles that they were to witness to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:7-8).  This command carries to us, and we have tools that can literally allow us to communicate all over the world.  Let’s use it to communicate the gospel, not steer people away from it.



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.

                 




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