Sanctifying Church Talk

 

As our mind is transformed to think like Christ, the language we use should become like the language of Christ. I am in the process of having my speech sanctified, and lately, I have found myself genuinely convicted over the way I speak of the church. The cultural conditioning of my “church talk” is proving a difficult obstacle to overcome, and I feel led to help others who might be dealing with the same struggle. I would also like to do my part to improve the “church talk” of my community. Perhaps this will make it a little simpler for those of us who desire a more sanctified speech life.

Here are three things I would like to see transformed in the way I and others speak of the Church.

1. The church is not a building. It is a body.

This error is so deeply engrained in our thinking that it is going to be the most difficult error to correct. When Jesus spoke of His church, he was not speaking of a building located in Jerusalem. He was talking about the body of redeemed-called-out-ones for whom He died, so why is it that we so routinely equate a building with “the church?”

I confess that I may be the worst offender on this one. Several times a week, when someone asks of my whereabouts, I will tell them I am “at the church.” I will tell my wife I need to go by “the church” to pick up something from the office. This kind of talk perverts the word that Jesus used to describe His bride. I have to be intentional about using a different phrase (“I am at the office… need to go by the building”). The problem, though, runs much deeper than just me. I have been trained by my culture to think of the church as a building. This is a tragedy that needs redeeming.

2. The Church is not a body of defense. It is redeemed body established to reach the lost.

When Jesus said, “upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). He did not mean that His redeemed people would hole themselves up beyond locked gates to keep the world from “getting them.” On the contrary, Jesus’ vision for the Church is one that would storm the gates of hell and snatch from the flames, those who are perishing. His church was established to be a launch pad for missions, rather than an underground survival bunker.

Like what is pictured in Ezekiel 37, God has raised up an army out of a field of dry bones. Ezekiel reported of His vision: “I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army” (Ez. 37:10). Later God would speak to His people saying, “You shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves. And I will put my Spirit within you and you shall live” (Ez. 37:13-14). This prophecy was partially fulfilled when He brought Judah out of captivity, and it was perfectly fulfilled at Pentecost. The Church is the army who He raised up and in whom He placed His life-giving Spirit. Jesus declared that the gates of hell cannot prevail against the advance of His army

3. My church is not my church. She belongs to Jesus.

I love First Baptist Wiggins. No I mean I really love her. My love for the local church is eclipsed only by my love for Jesus and my love for my wife and children. This is as it should be. As in love as I am with FBC, I understand that she is another man’s wife. There are boundaries that I must not cross.

When my vision for the church does not match Christ’s vision, I must be disciplined enough to say “too bad for my vision.” When my preferences and wants for FBC do not match Christ’s, then too bad for my wants and preferences. When the way I speak of her does not honor Him and point her back to Him, then too bad for my bad speaking habits. To do otherwise is to commit the worst kind of adultery.


Read more...

Can and good come from disaster?

Saturday, January 21, an EF3 tornado touched down and ripped through the Pine Belt region. The next day MEMA reported that a total of 60 people were injured. Across the four affected counties, 480 homes were damaged or destroyed. There were four deaths. Those who passed were all residents of Forest County and ranged in age from 20 to 72 years old. The historic William Carey University received a direct hit and sustained damage to every building on the campus.

 

Our church sent supplies to the area, and I had the opportunity to see the aftermath of the twister first hand. I have never seen such devastation in all my life. The neighborhood that I visited looked like a war zone.  The smell of rotting meat, chainsaw exhaust, burning diesel fuel, and busted wood combined together in what I can only describe as an olfactory assault. 

 

I cannot help but wonder what the storm victims must think about God.  There is no way around the question – “Why?” Why would God either allow or ordain such destruction? Was this a part of His plan? Is there a God at all? Those are valid questions, but first, I think it would be proper to look at the good that comes from natural disasters like this.

 

  1. Natural disasters keep us mindful of the power of God.

 

This is a reminder that we need in these last days. Human beings are a force to be reckoned with, no doubt, but God is infinitely awesome in His might. The wind, the weather, and the planets are all under His authority. When a natural disaster takes place, we see that power on display like the Israelites at Mount Sinai. This moves us to a greater respect and a healthy fear for Him.

 

  1. Natural disasters keep us reminded of our own vulnerability.

 

Good people were injured and died as a result of the storm. Hard working Christian folks had their property destroyed. They were brought to their knees. This reminds us that no one is deserving of God’s grace. Jesus taught His followers that they were as vulnerable to sudden death as the 18 good people that were killed when the tower fell in Siloam (Luke 13:1-5). Natural disasters, like the one that took place in the Pine Belt, remind us to always be ready because no one makes it off this planet alive and unscathed by the consequences of humanity’s sin.

 

  1. Natural disasters pull the community together for recovery.

 

This is the one that most people think of when they think of good coming from tragedy, and it is a proper thought. It is amazing how the walls come down in times of tragedy. People of all races and creeds come together to support those who have been adversely impacted. Differences are set aside, if only for a time, and some communities experience permanent healing as a result of their coming together as one family. In this way, a tragedy that causes so much destruction has the potential to bring healing and life back into a community that was once fractured over petty differences.

 

  1. Natural disasters provide an opportunity for the church to be the body of Christ. 

 

Last week, Baptists, Methodists, Independent, Non-denominational, Presbyterians, Pentecostal, Church of God, and every kind of Christian church you could think of came together as one. They loved on the victims. They gave generously to provide supplies. They ran chainsaws and put tarps on roofs. They came together as one body to make sure that no victim of the storm had to bear their burden alone. This was Jesus working in and through them. This was Jesus demonstrating his love for the afflicted, the poor in spirit, and the broken hearted. In this way, the storm provided am invaluable opportunity for the church to be the church.

 

While we cannot deny the pain and destruction that God allowed on January 21st, we also cannot deny the good that precipitated out of the destruction. I invite you to give thanks with me in this difficult time. Be thankful for the reminder of God’s power and our vulnerability. Give thanks for the way God brought the community together. Give thanks for the awesome opportunity that He has given us as Christians to love the least of these.

Read more...

Pure Joy

 

My 12 yr. old daughter has had one dream for the past 4 years, to play basketball on a school basketball team. When we moved to Wiggins and she started at Stone Middle School, she made it her one track goal to make the team. She played in the local recreation league last winter and practiced all Spring before trying out. She was beside herself with excitement, when she found out she made the team on the last day of school. 
 
She is a great player to have on the team. There are few players who love the game as much as her, and she has the best attitude of any athlete you will ever meet. She has great shooting technique. She has one struggle. Her coach would tell you that “she does not have a mean bone in her body.” Her hesitance to be aggressive holds her back from playing as well as the rest of the team which causes her to be unsure and insecure in her game.
 
Her heart and great attitude have stolen the hearts of her coach and her team. They have made it a point to get her into the game and get her the ball so that she could have a chance to shoot and score for the team. Before last Thursday night’s game, she had gone 0 for about 7 from the floor, and she had missed two free throws on the season. The coaches and the team decided in the fourth period of the last game of the season, up by almost 20 points, that she was going to score if it took the whole team to get it done. 
 
My heart overflowed with joy and excitement as time and again her teammates fought to get steal after steal, rebound after rebound all so that they could get the ball to my girl and give her shots. She missed several times, and she also missed a pair of free throws. Finally, in a surreal moment, she received a pass from her point guard, turned, and banked a shot into the basket.The crowd went absolutely wild. My daughter buried her face in her hands and burst into tears of pure joy. Her coaches and all of her teammates rushed to her and embraced her in their arms. You would have thought they had just won the championship at the buzzer. 
 
The joy in my heart was indescribable at that moment. Every parent wants to see their child happy, and this was the absolute happiest I had ever seen her. I asked her why she got so emotional after the shot. She said, “Dad, it wasn’t just that I scored the goal. It was that my coaches never gave up on me. It was that my teammates cared so much. They fought for me. They won that moment for me.”  
 
It reminds me of something that the Lord has taught me from His word over the years. Joy, pure joy, comes not from what we accomplish. It precipitates from the victories that are won on our behalf. The foundation for the greatest joy that we will ever know, comes not from what we have done, but what the Triune God has done for us. 
 
We were lost, dead in our trespasses and sins. At just the right time, God the Father lovingly sent the Son who came, lived a perfect life, died on our behalf, and was raised from the dead in victory. The Holy Spirit then awakened our hearts to believe on the name of Jesus. By His grace, He transported us out of the darkness and into the light, out of the grave and into life. God employed every person of His being to win the victory for us.
 

The moment we realize this truth is like the moment that my girl saw that shot pass through the hoop. You understand that God never gave up on you. Joy floods your soul because you realize that you are who you are as a result of the battle that was fought and won on your behalf. My prayer is that, by sharing this story, you would be adequately reminded of the moment you came to know pure joy. If you do not have it, I pray you would find pure joy by repenting and believing in Jesus.


Read more...

A Patriot’s Dream

 

Katherine Lee Bates penned the song America, the Beautiful in 1913. In the fourth verse, she wrote of the “patriot dream that sees beyond the years.” The patriot dream looked far into the future to an America where “alabaster cities” gleamed bright, “undimmed by human tears.” The prayer of Katherine Lee Bates and all who have proudly sung her song was that God would shed his grace upon America and crown her “good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”
 
I suspect that Bates’ optimism about the patriot dream was born out of the relative peace of the previous four decades. However, in 1914 the whole world descended into war. 116,516 American soldiers gave their lives to the cause of the allies. War broke out again less than 30 years later and claimed the lives of nearly half of a million patriots. With the many tears shed by the families of the fallen, it is safe to say that Bates dream of alabaster cities undimmed by human tears went unrealized in the short term.
 
In the year 2017, that patriot dream still lives, but, unfortunately, is still unrealized. The tears that soak the land of our cities today are not only shed over lives lost in military conflicts. Tears also stain the faces of mothers whose children are taken in gang violence. Loved ones weep for their children and siblings who are dying from drug addiction. Hatred that is deeply rooted in race and religious beliefs has led to multiple mass killings across our land in recent years. 
 
There is no way to measure the volume of American tears that have been shed since Bates penned 
America, The Beautiful in 1913. Many of those tears have fallen in our own city of Wiggins. Killings, drug and alcohol related deaths, suicides, and avoidable tragedy are happening right outside the four walls of our Stone county churches. If we extend the boundary out to Hattiesburg, Gulfport, and Biloxi, why, enough tears have been shed in the last year to fill the Mississippi Sound.
 
What may be even more detrimental to the patriot’s dream of alabaster cities undimmed by tears, are all the tears that will not be shed, tears that go unshed because their owners were never allowed life outside the womb. I have said much about the pollution of our cities with human tears, but imagine how much more the land is polluted by the more than fifty million babies that have died in their wombs since Roe v Wade. 
 
I do pray with Katherine Lee Bates, that God would shed his grace upon my country. We as a people desperately need His grace. We have no “good” to crown “with brotherhood.” We, like the rest of our global neighbors, are fallen people. We have polluted the land with blood, and the tears that stain the streets of our cities are the tell-tale symptom of our deepest and most fundamental sickness. We simply do not value life as we should. Our feet as Romans 3:15 says, “are swift to shed blood.” 
 
Understand that we are all complicit. Our collective negligence and complacency have led us to where we are today. We are fast losing sight of the patriot dream in the fog of our busyness. Every year as more tears fall, and more blood stains the ground we slide a little farther away and are a little less likely to ever realize a land where “alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears.” Our collective repentance is in order. 
 

In the Old Testament, the life of the high priest served as atonement for those who had shed blood by accident or negligence (c.f. Numbers 35). After the death of the high priest, they were allowed to go free from the cities where they had fled for refuge from their avengers. The life of the priest served as an atonement (a payment) for the life that the prisoners were responsible for taking. In the same way, the life of our High Priest, Jesus, was given as atonement for our crimes, but we must flee to Him. I suggest that we flee to Him together as one family, with our patriot dream in hand. May we long together, and realize together, the promised land that is free from tears.


Read more...

His peace He left with us

Last weekend, my wife and I stole away to celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary. To say that we had a good time would be more than an understatement. It was a precious time of intimate rediscovery of the love that is between us. We were both reminded of why we made the decision to be joined together in marriage 15 years ago.

When I think about what was the greatest thing about our weekend, it was not just that we got to spend two nights on the seventeenth floor of our favorite hotel overlooking the Mobile Bay. It was not all the great food that we ate. It was not getting to see the New Year’s Eve fireworks show from our hotel window. The greatest part of our weekend was the company we shared.

I cannot remember the last time we were able to be so carefree in our enjoyment of one another. We were off work. Our children were in good hands. Our animals were cared for, and we had saved enough money that we could go and do just about whatever we wanted. We were able to just bask in our delight of one another in perfect peace.

As I reflect back on our weekend, I am reminded of the words of our Lord, “My peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives it to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). I believe the kind of peace and joy that Jen and I experienced in one another last weekend is the same kind of peace and joy that is available to all in Christ, in every circumstance. 

Christ’s desire is for us to delight in Him and Him alone, as there is nothing and no one else in this world that can bring us true peace. He completed His work on the earth and was obedient to the point of death. He loved us with a love that was all surpassing. This was so that we might respond in faith and repentance, enter into an intimate personal relationship with Him, receive His spirit into our hearts, and ever delight in His presence in our lives.

It is His presence in our hearts and lives that gives us peace as we face the trials of this life. I am reminded that as much as I love and enjoy the company my wife, if I lost her tomorrow, I would be lonely, for sure, but I certainly would not be alone. If for some reason I found out that our marriage was not what I thought and that she really did not love me. I would be hurt, even so, I would know without a doubt that His love for me remains true. Even if I lost everything I hold dear in this world, I could still have peace because I have something in Christ that cannot be lost, namely, His love for me.

All that brings me joy in this world, my wife, my children, my job, my possessions precipitate from His great love for me. If for some reason He saw fit to end the deluge of material and relational blessings upon my life, then I would still have reason to be thankful. I would still have cause to worship and praise Him because I would still have His abiding presence. As much as I love my people and my things, He is really all I need. No matter what my future holds in the way of tribulation, I will not be troubled nor afraid. This is the peace that He has left with me. This is the peace He has given me.

If you have not already done so, I hope that you will find peace in the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. If you have found your peace in Him that comes by faith, then know that even that is a gift from God. His love for you is all surpassing. Enjoy it. Bask in it. Be ever delighted in Him. That is His desire for your life.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

– Romans 15:13 


Read more...

Three reasons you should make Colossians 3:17 your theme verse in 2017

All scripture is breathed out by God. There is no one verse in the Bible that means more than all the other verses. That said, there are some verses or passages where the timeless truth is closer to the surface. These are the types of verses that we can easily memorize and apply on a daily basis. Colossians 3:17 is one of those verses.

“And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him,” 

– Colossians 3:17

I want to encourage you to make this verse your theme in the New Year. You should commit it to memory, post it in your office, stick it on your fridge, write it on your mirror, and quote it at every opportunity. Here is why:

1.  Colossians 3:17 calls for obedience in all aspects of life. Twice in the first part of this verse, you are taught to be obedient to the Lord in “everything.” The words “whatever” and “everything” are the same Greek word. Inspired authors of Scripture often used repetition as a literary device to communicate emphasis. The first part of the verse could literally be translated, “Everything you do… do everything in the name of the Lord…”

Also, if you think about it, all that you do happens in two different realms, the realm of words and the realm of deeds. If you are going to call Jesus “Lord,” then you should make it your goal to be consistent in what you say and what you do. Jesus had a name for individuals who said one thing and did another. He called them hypocrites.  

2. Colossians 3:17 calls for obedience to the Lord alone. It says “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” What does it mean to say or do something in Jesus name? It means to say it, or do it in a way that is in agreement with Him and is consistent with His nature. For example, when we end a prayer with, “in Jesus name,” we are expressing to God our belief that our prayer is consistent with the heart of Jesus.

To say and do everything in Jesus name, is to be submitted to His Lordship in every circumstance. It is to set aside the desires of your flesh and your pride, in all your words and deeds, as a demonstration of your belief in Him as Lord of your life. To act or speak out of pride, deceit, or bitterness, however, is to demonstrate that someone or something other than Jesus is in control of your life.

3. Colossians 3:17 calls for obedience through thanksgiving. “Giving thanks to God the Father through Him,” nicely wraps up the whole thought of Colossians 3:17. We owe everything to God. He created us. He blessed us with every good thing. In fact, we can even rejoice and be thankful in our suffering knowing that He has allowed our suffering that we might find hope in growing closer to Him (cf. Romans 5:1-8). 

We have the great opportunity and privilege of giving thanks to God “through Him (Jesus).” I call it a privilege because apart from Jesus we would have no hope in approaching the throne of God the Father to give thanks. Apart from Him, we are an object of His wrath. However, because of who Jesus is and what He has done, we are able to come boldly to the throne of God (cf. Hebrews 4:16). 

What’s more, through Jesus, we have the privilege of calling Him “Father.” Just as Jacob adopted Ephraim and Manasseh (cf. Genesis 48) because they belonged to his favorite son, Joseph, so also God has also adopted all believers as His children because they belong to His only Son, Jesus. Galatians 4:6 declares to the children of God that “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying ‘Abba! Father!’”

I want to wish all of you a safe and happy New Year. I encourage you to commit the year 2017 to the Lord. Make Colossians 3:17 your aim, “and whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”


Read more...

Christmas, it’s more than the nativity.

Every adult child has that one Christmas present that they remember the most. I got mine the Christmas of 1992. It was a 1:4 model kit for a V6 Turbo Engine.
 
My parents had an ulterior motive for giving me this gift. I was taking my first 7th-grade shop class. In shop, we were learning about the internal combustion engine, and I had become fascinated and that is a dangerous thing for me. My inclination has always been to get stuck on things in which I become interested. If there is some sort of attention disorder that is like A-D-D and O-C-D all rolled into one, then I have it.
 
Long story short, prior to getting the model for Christmas, I had completely dismantled our family’s push mower. After attempting to reassemble it, there were a plethora of parts left over. My dad was furious. He did not understand that I was just wanting to see the inner-workings of an engine for myself, that the pictures in my textbook were not satisfying my curiosity. I wanted to study the pistons, valves, and cylinders in three dimensions. Getting me the model for Christmas probably saved all the small engines in our garage from utter destruction.
 
I was fascinated with my gift. As I assembled the model, I got to see all the parts and how they fit and work together. Once assembled, it also had a handle that I could crank that turned the crankshaft and put all the parts in motion. The model engine block was see-through plastic so that I could see the pistons moving through the four cycles, intake-combustion-power-exhaust, and I could see the lifters pushing the valves in and out. At last, my curiosity was satisfied because I had an exact interactive copy of the object of my interest.
 
I think about my model V6 engine when I think about what the Father did for us in sending His son. The earth receiving that baby boy into the world was much like me receiving that model. Prior to His arrival, the only way one could know God was through creation and the Old Testament. However, creation and the Old Testament was a revelation that was incomplete, disjointed, and difficult to grasp. Hebrews 1:2-3 teaches us that “in these last days,” that is now at just the right time, God the Father sent His son who is “the exact imprint of His nature.”
 
Just like my model kit served to satisfy my search for a revelation to the mystery of the inner workings of the internal combustion engine, so also Jesus reveals to perfection the mystery of who God is. No one had ever seen the glory of God, but Jesus was the manifestation of “the radiance of His glory.” He was God in flesh, one whom human beings could see, interact with, and talk to. Through His creation and what He spoke through the Old Testament prophets, mankind could know Him in part, but now through Jesus, man could know Him intimately and as completely as a fallen human can know God.
 
Friends, this is the beauty of Christmas. It is more than an angel visiting a virgin. It is more than a baby being born in a manger. It is more than the visits from the shepherds and wise men. Christmas is about all of those events, but the most important event in the Christmas story is the incarnation.
 
Jesus, who “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” and who “upholds the universe by the word of His power,” (Hebrews 1:3) took on flesh and walked among us. Men and women touched Him. They heard His teaching. They saw His miracles, and as such, they came to know Him and behold “His glory as the only son from God the Father” (John 1:14).

 

He died on the cross to make purifications for sins; He was raised from the dead, and today He lives. He lives today, still radiating the glory of God into the hearts of men and women awakening them to salvation. He lives still today, serving as our advocate before the Father. He lives today, upholding the universe by the power of His word. This is our cause for celebrating His glorious birth.

Read more...