Pray for the 2020 Southern Baptist Convention

This will likely end up being a rather long prayer request, but as your pastor I feel an obligation to keep you informed on events taking place in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Today we have more reasons than ever to pray diligently for our convention. Before I get into that though, I need to give some background for the folks who may not know how the SBC works and why what I am about to tell you is so important.

 

SBC 101

 

1. The first thing you need to know is that the SBC is not a denomination in the sense that most people think about denominations.                                

 

The SBC is the entity made up of over 46,000 autonomous churches who cooperate together to do the work of the great commission. That SBC churches are autonomous means that churches are free to govern themselves without any direction from a mother organization. Autonomy allows for diversity in methodologies and church polities. SBC churches agree on the gospel as outlined in the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M), but the BF&M was developed and agreed upon by the convention and was not handed down from a higher level. In the SBC, the local church is at the top of the hierarchy, and the Great Commission is our common cause.

 

2. The Cooperative Program fuels the SBC.

Every year, our church prayerfully considers how much of our undesignated receipts to give to the Cooperative Program. Currently, FBC Wiggins forwards %10 of everything her members give that is not designated toward any other fund (i.e. Chest of Joash) to the Cooperative Program. Our Cooperative Program gifts go first to our MS Baptist Convention to fund MS Baptists’ cooperative efforts in our state. The messengers of the MS Baptist Convention also set a budget each year to determine the amount of Cooperative Program gifts to forward to national convention entities such as the North American Mission Board (NAMB), International Mission Board (IMB), and the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission (ERLC). Currently, MS Baptist Convention sends 38 percent of FBC Wiggins’ gifts to the SBC. Our gifts to Lottie Moon (IMB) and Annie Armstrong (NAMB) are over and above what we give through the Cooperative Program. (Learn more about the Cooperative Program Here)

 

3. The Southern Baptist Convention only actually exists for 2 days each year, the rest of the year the interests of the SBC are carried out through her executive committee.

The SBC convenes for two days in June of each year when messengers from some of the 46,000 churches gather to hear reports from the convention entities. The elected president of the convention presides over the meeting and has authority to recommend initiatives and appointments to certain committees. Messengers can make as well as vote on motions or resolutions from the floor. Resolutions are basically public statements adopted by the messengers, while motions call for action from one or more SBC entities or the Executive Committee. 
 

4. The SBC Pastors Conference meets each year right before the SBC in the convention hall.

The purpose of the SBC Pastors Conference is to encourage SBC pastors. Pastors do not often get to be led in worship and hear sermons from other preachers. There is a pastor’s wives conference as well as a kid’s camp alongside the Pastor’s Conference, so the pastor and his family can attend together, be refreshed and ministered to. With the 2020 convention being held in Orlando Fl, you can imagine that attendance for this pastor’s conference will be even better attended than in past years.

 

 

Now, Here’s Why You Need to Pray

 

1. A tremendous controversy has erupted over the 2020 Pastor’s Conference and the proposed lineup of speakers and musicians.

 

The Pastor’s Conference is technically a separate body from the SBC led by a president and cabinet which are all elected by conference attendees. The president of the 2020 conference is David Uth, Pastor of FBC Orlando. Uth, last week, announced the lineup of speakers and musical artists. The list has not sat well with conservative Southern Baptists.

 

The list of speakers includes bestselling author Wayne Cordeiro, pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu. New Hope is a Four Square Gospel church that does not align with the BF&M. Cordeiro’s book “Dream Releasers” touts a Christology that aligns more with the prosperity gospel movement than widely held SBC doctrine.

 

Also on the platform is Hosanna Wong, a spoken word artist, who’s slated to deliver a musical performance where she will recite a poem. Wong holds the title of “Teaching Pastor” at Eastlake Church in San Diego, Ca. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, states, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastors is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” Even though she is not “preaching” per se, Wong’s role as “pastor” has raised a lot of eyebrows among conservatives in the SBC.

 

Finally, the pastor of the famed Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City, Jim Cymbala and David Hughes, senior pastor of Church by the Glades in Florida have been asked to preach. Cymbala believes in a second baptism of the Holy Spirit. Church by the Glades borders on

Invitation to Church by the Glades Valentines Event

blasphemy by using these “Victorious Secret” calling cards and hip hop covers as worship songs to draw in crowds.

 

Reaction from conservative Southern Baptists has been fierce. Earlier this week, the Executive Committee voted to withhold the convention hall from the pastor’s conference unless changes were made to the lineup before February 24. This action sparked a debate as to whether or not the Executive Committee has any authority over the Pastor’s Conference especially since First Baptist Orlando has agreed to foot the over $100,000 bill for the use of the convention hall.

 

Pray that this conflict gets resolved in a way that honors God and reinforces the unity of the convention.

 

 

2. A group of conservatives has formed an internal network within the SBC.

 

In reaction to a perceived leftward shift in the direction of the SBC, a number pastors have joined in a grassroots movement known as the Conservative Baptist Network (CBN) in order to reverse what they believe is a downgrade of the Convention.  The number of Southern Baptists who have signed on with the CBN as well as their identities have yet to be reported. Brad Jurkovich, pastor of First Baptist Church of Bossier City, La is the group’s spokesperson. On their website, the CBN touts endorsements from Dr. Chuck Kelly, former president of New Orleans Seminary as well as several leaders of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.  

 

With the CBN announcement, the SBC now has one more “tribe.” This newest tribe is calling for another Conservative Resurgence like the one that took place in the 1980’s. I was just a child in those days, but I hear from many of my elders that though the Conservative Resurgence was necessary it was a tremendously difficult and tense season. Pray that SBC conservatives and moderates will, instead, be a model for our nation on how to come together and work through our differences.

 

 

3. The Executive Committee announced an investigation of the ERLC to determine whether or not its recent activities are in keeping with its mission as defined in the SBC Bylaws.

 

The ERLC is the ethics arm of the SBC tasked with guiding Southern Baptists in how to respond to our ever-changing culture and to seek the preservation of our religious liberty. As we all know, our culture has recently become increasingly more divided along political, social, and racial fronts. The ERLC has taken firm stands on all these issues and received a mountain of criticism for it. Dr. Russell Moore, a native of South MS, is the president of the ERLC. Moore was very critical of President Trump during the 2016 campaign when he boldly announced that he was a “never Trumper.” A combination of Moore’s criticism of President Trump along with the controversial stands taken by the ERLC led to a number of churches dialing back their Cooperative Program giving.

 

The Executive Committee voted to form a task force to investigate how the actions of the ERLC have affected Cooperative Program receipts. They will also investigate whether or not the ERLC has operated within its responsibilities as defined in the Bylaws. The Executive Committee claims that this investigation is not to take any personnel action as the Executive Committee has no authority over ERLC personnel (that would fall to the ERLC board of trustees). Regardless, whatever comes out of this investigation and the resulting report have the potential to further divide our convention. Pray for a God-honoring and Kingdom-building outcome.

 

4. Executive Committee Chairman, Ronnie Floyd has cast a 5-year vision to refocus on our mission to reach the nations.

 

The name of the initiative that will be voted on by the messengers of the 2020 convention is Vision 2025. With this initiative, the Executive Committee in conjunction with other convention entities hopes to accomplish five goals:

 

  1. Increase the total number of full-time, fully funded missionaries by a net gain of 500, giving the SBC 4,200 full-time, fully funded missionaries through the International Mission Board (IMB).

 

  1. Add 6,000 new churches to the Southern Baptist family, giving the SBC more than 50,000 churches.

 

  1. Increase the total number of workers in the field through a new emphasis on “calling out the called,” and then preparing those who are called out by the Lord.

 

  1. Turn around the ongoing decline in the SBC in reaching, baptizing and discipling 12- to 17-year-olds in the prime of their teenage years.

 

  1. Increase SBC-wide annual giving in successive years to reach and surpass $500 million given through the Cooperative Program.

 

Vision 2025 is a bold plan, and not the first long range plan to be rolled out by the Executive Committee. Pray for God’s will to be done. Pray that churches across the convention will jump on board with a renewed zeal for reaching the nations.

 


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Love is Not Rude

Over the last couple of months, I have been walking First Baptist Wiggins through a verse by verse exposition of 1 Corinthians 13, also known as “the love chapter.” We’ve made it to the first couple of words in verse 5 that teach the truth that “Love is not rude.” I want to share what we learned with you.
 
Whenever I think of what it is to be rude, I think back to something that happened to me about 30 years ago in Atlanta GA. My uncle had driven me and my cousin there for a Braves game and we were checking into our hotel. The line for check in was quite long, as it was the weekend that the Braves would play their arch-rivals the Philadelphia Phillies. The man in line behind my uncle made me uncomfortable because he was trying to stand as close as possible to keep others from breaking in line. I did not want to get separated from my adult, so I tried to squeeze in between him and my uncle, when he promptly shoved me out of the way. 
 
I have never and will never forget the day that a 40 something year old man shoved me, an 8-year-old kid, to keep me out of his space. Every time I hear or think about the word “rude,” I think about this event that happened in my life. After an in-depth study of what it is to be “rude,” the scene proves to be a very good illustration. 
 
The Greek word translated “rude” by the ESV in 1 Corinthians 13:5 means to behave “unseemly or dishonorably.” To be rude is to push someone around with your words or actions. It is to react in a way that is unbecoming of a human being. Usually, a person commits and act of rudeness in reaction to a perceived invasion of their space. 
 
If you are like me, then you have probably already thought of a time when someone was rude to you. I encourage you to search much deeper, though. The truth is that we have all been rude at times. Everyone at some point in their human experience has felt trespassed against, has had a person step into their space uninvited and unwelcomed, and has pushed back with unkind words or actions to put people back in their place. 
 
1 Corinthians 13:5 teaches us that it is never acceptable for a Christian to act with rudeness. God is love, and love is not rude, therefore God is not rude. Jesus, who is God in the flesh, and into whose image we are being formed, never reacted in a rude way when trespassed upon.  He was never triggered by other people’s behavior towards Him. He never reacted in an unseemly way. In every circumstance, He honored His Father in heaven, and He called us to do the same. 
 
Rudeness is difficult to guard against because rude reactions are difficult to see coming. We live in a world full of broken people who are bound to trespass on our space. On top of that, we are broken and prone to react in an unholy way when transgressions are committed against us. 
 
Aren’t you glad that the Lord is not like us? What if He were so easily triggered to lash out against the trespasser? He came and loved to perfection, but His loving guidance was perceived by the world as an intrusion. The world reacted rudely by murdering Him, yet He did not return evil for evil. Instead, He willingly gave up His life on the cross for those who hated Him. 
 
To love your neighbor as yourself requires a level of restraint that can only come from having a relationship with the One who is Love. By “having a relationship,” I mean that one must walk with Jesus and be in constant communion with Him to avoid being triggered by other broken people’s actions. When we recognize that we are loved infinitely more than we deserve, we are much more prone to love as we should and react to trespasses with grace and mercy.  
 
Remember today that love is not rude. It is not triggered to react in an unseemly way. Love responds to wrongdoing with gentle correction wrapped in grace. Resist reacting to trespasses by pushing people around with your words and actions. Remember, instead, how Jesus reacted to your trespasses against him. 

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Community

Community

 

My wife and I immediately fell in love with the Wiggins, Stone County community when we moved here in April of 2015. The small town reminded us of the places where we grew up in north Mississippi. The biggest difference was that Olive Garden was a 40 min drive from Wiggins vs an hour and a half drive from Duck Hill. Over the last few years, we have fallen deeper in love and have grown to cherish even more the sense of community that so characterizes Wiggins and Stone county. 

 

A little over a year after our arrival in Wiggins we saw the whole community come together in a big way. In July of 2016, racial tensions in the country were at a fever pitch. After an ambush attack on police officers in Dallas, TX, the Lord led us all to come together in Blaylock Park and pray for our country. Hundreds of people from all over the county, black people, white people, and people of all faiths came together and prayed earnestly for racial reconciliation in the nation. 

 

Sometime later, when nationally the relationships between law enforcement and the African American community were stretched thin, we were the community who came together. A dialogue between the community and local law enforcement was held at Wiggins Church of God in Christ moderated by local clergy from various church traditions. It was a productive meeting and helped everyone to better understand one another and strengthened the relationships between law enforcement and the community they serve. 

 

Then a couple of years ago, an incident happened at the high school that threatened the unity of the T4L movement. Again, we overcame our differences by coming together as one, once again, in the park for prayer. Again, we poured out our hearts for God to reconcile us together again, and He shepherded us through that difficult season.

 

Fast forward to last week. Two very tragic events occurred in our community. Tana Loose, a beloved wife, mother, sister, and friend to so many, lost her life in a devastating car accident. Then, on Saturday we learned of the passing of Cole Helveston, a Stone High Freshman, after a sudden medical emergency. Around the same time news came that Yasmine Bradford, the Lady Tomcat basketball standout, was in a medical crisis as well. This community we love was wracked with sorrow, grief, and worry.

 

Here is what I love about this place! Around 8 p.m. on Saturday night, my daughter received an Instagram message from one of her classmates. The young lady wanted my daughter to talk to me about the possibility of FBC hosting a prayer vigil for Helveston’s family and friends, as well as the Loose family, and Yasmine Bradford’s full recovery. About 18 hours later, the sanctuary of First Baptist Church was filled with students, faculty, administrators, family, friends, and complete strangers pouring their hearts out to God for comfort and healing of every kind. 

 

Today, the Loose family continues to grieve along with Cole’s family and friends. Yasmine is still hospitalized (though I hear she’s improving). Our comfort is this, thanks to the community’s coming together, no one is hurting alone. We are sharing one another’s burdens. I can’t tell you how encouraging this is to me, and it should encourage you as well.

 

I give thanks to God, and so should you, for this place we call home. I don’t know of another place like it on this earth. Sure, we have our issues. I’m not saying we are perfect. But I do propose that we seek to nurture the community we enjoy, by giving thanks to God and praising Him for keeping us together even in the most threatening of seasons. 

 

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” -Philippians 4:8


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When Your Ego Gets in the Way of Following Jesus

Not every obstacle to following Jesus is found outside of ourselves. We do have an enemy named Satan, but the Lord limits the power that Satan has over us. Also, the world in which we live is rotten and fallen, but Jesus has already overcome the world. Most often, our greatest enemy is the one we see in the mirror every day. We must be aware that the person in the mirror has the unfathomable ability to consistently overestimate himself. This propensity to think more highly of one’s self than they ought is what is known as the ego.
 
God has a way of blowing up our ego whenever we find ourselves in a losing battle with it. Simon Peter is perhaps the greatest example of this. In Jesus’ farewell discourse (John 13-16) we see Peter’s ego in full living color. In this section of Scripture, Jesus was seeking to comfort His disciples by informing them of what was to come with His betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. Peter’s ego would not let him hear the important message that Jesus was communicating. 
 
All Peter heard was that his teacher was about to leave him and go someplace where he could not follow. He asked Jesus, “Lord where are you going?” 
 
Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.’
 
If Peter had listened to what Jesus said, then he would have heard an important detail. What was Jesus really saying? – That Peter could not follow Him to the cross and the grave, but afterward Peter would indeed be able to follow the resurrected Christ. Peter’s ego blinded him though. We know this because he followed Jesus’ response with the bold declaration: ‘Lord why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you!’
 
Jesus answered Peter, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you the rooster will not crow before you have denied me three times.’ (John 13:36-38)
 
And with that, Jesus destroyed Peter’s ego in one fail swoop. After his thrice denial of even knowing Jesus, Peter realized he was not as strong as he once thought. A river of shame and self-disappointment carried him away in despair. He was so upset with himself that in John 21 we see him giving up and returning to his old profession of commercial fishing. Simply put, Peter’s ego took him out of ministry for a season. We do read that Jesus restores Peter in John 21, but my point is that we should all learn from Peter’s mistake.
 
In any and every circumstance of our lives, the Lord Jesus wants to teach us something. He communicates with us daily. However, if we cannot (or will not) humble ourselves and check our egos, then we will miss what He wants us to learn. And in the worst cases, He will humble us Himself. Having Christ destroy your ego is not a pleasant experience.
 
I am a fan of positive self-talk, but we must be careful to find our positivity and strength in Christ and not ourselves. Apart from Christ, you are not smart, strong, courageous, or powerful. You will fall short of honoring the Lord every time you set out to do something apart from His direction and strength. Peter was well-intentioned, but the good thing he intended to do was not in the will of the Lord. Peter was not strong enough to subvert the will of God, nor would the Lord grant him the strength to do such a thing. He was bound to fail.
 
Whenever you overestimate your ability to do anything apart from Christ, you are bound to fail. Your strength comes from the Lord and not yourself. God will not provide you the resources to do anything that is outside of His will. If your ego leads you to attempt the feat anyway, then you may be in for a great amount of pain. Ours is a loving Heavenly Father who disciplines His children, and His discipline can be especially unpleasant. As difficult as it is to check your ego, it’s much easier than the pain that comes with the Lord’s discipline. 
 
The real tragedy, though, is not just experiencing the Father’s discipline. At least when we experience His discipline, we learn the lesson he wants to teach us in spite of ourselves. What’s truly sad in these cases is that our ego prevented us from learning the lesson the easy way—the way Christ intended us to learn it.

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Introducing the 2020 Focus for FBC Wiggins

I’m excited to announce the theme for 2020, Reaching in with Love. As you know the mission statement for FBC Wiggins is “Reaching Up, Reaching Out, Reaching In.” Over the past two years, we have focused on the first two “reaching” goals. This year we feel it’s time to focus on the last one, namely, “Reaching In.”

 
 

By the end of 2020, we want to see members of FBC Wiggins loving one another better. We want to take seriously the words of our Savior in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.” Think about that for just a moment. Jesus commanded us to love one another just as He has loved us.

 
 

How did Jesus love us? Here are three ways:

 
 
First, He loved us with a love that was so sacrificial, it cost Him His life. He saw our need for salvation and spared no expense to meet that need. He gave all of Himself for all of us. If He laid His life down for us, shouldn’t we also lay our lives down for one another? Even if He had not given us the commandment to love one another as He loved us, it would still be the right thing for Christians to do. John wrote that the love of God cannot be in a person who, having the “world’s goods,” closes his heart to a brother in need.
 
 

We don’t mean to close our hearts to one another and hold back help for brothers and sisters in need. However, we also don’t mean to love them. We are not adept at looking for and meeting the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are outside of the circle of people we sit beside in worship and our Sunday school class. We hope to see growth in this area through Reaching In with Love.

 
 

Second, He loved us at a time when we were not particularly lovable. Paul wrote in Romans 5 concerning the reasons one person might die for another. He said, and I am paraphrasing here, “it makes sense that a person might give their life for a good person… a nice wholesome person. But who would give their life for a bad person… say a thief or a murderer?” Then he goes on to say (quoting now), “But God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

 
 

As mentioned above, we have a difficult time loving people we like, but we find it almost impossible to love people we don’t like… people with whom we disagree… people who have done us wrong. This should not be so for Christians. We all know what it is to be unlovable and yet loved. It shouldn’t be so foreign to us to love the unlovable. Through Reaching In with Love, we will seek to love our brothers and sisters especially when they are at their worst because there is no greater demonstration of the gospel and because that is how we are instructed to care for one another.

 
 

Third, He continues to love and care for us daily and moment by moment. Each day, He gives us our daily bread even without us asking or thanking Him for it. He not only sustains our lives moment by moment, but He holds the whole universe together (cf. Colossians 1:17). His love never stops reaching us… there is never a space between us and the love of God which is in Christ Jesus (cf. Romans 8:31-39). We may not always feel His presence, but His love…? Well, His love is always with us.

 
 

We, on the other hand, turn love on and off based on how we feel and what circumstances we are in at the moment. In season, we love well. Out of season, we stink at love. Our love is as unpredictable as the weather in South MS. We hope to see more consistency in our love in 2020 through this focus, Reaching In with Love.   ————-  

What will this focus look like? Below I list the three main thrusts of Reaching In with Love and the new ministries that will be launched to give legs to this movement.

 
 

THRUST #1: Reach with love to the brotherhood.

Most members only associate with the other members that they know well. It’s time to get to know more people… to broaden your circle. The Bible teaches that every member of the church is important and essential to the fellowship just like every part of your body is essential to your health and happiness. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” ( 1 Corinthians 12:21). We tend to do church like only certain members matter… like only the ones we are close to matter. In order for us to understand how much we all matter to the fellowship of the body, we must get to know one another.

 
 

To help with this thrust to love the brotherhood, we will launch a Family Friends Ministry. All families will be challenged to put their names and contact information in a basket during the month of January. On the first Sunday afternoon of February, a “Family Friends Night” will be hosted in the fellowship hall. As a part of that get-together, each participating family will draw names from the basket until they draw the name of a family with whom they are not well acquainted. Between February and July, each participating family will make an intentional effort to get acquainted with their new “family friends.” Opportunities will be provided by the church along the way that will encourage each participating family to spend time together and serve with their new Family Friends.

 
 

We will repeat the Family Friends Night on the first Sunday afternoon in August. This will allow newcomers the opportunity to join in and for those who have already participated to make even more Family Friends over the last five months of 2020. If one were to do the math, then each participating family will have the opportunity to get to know four other families over the course of eleven months in 2020.

 
 

THRUST #2: Reach with love to the forgotten.

Our church roll is thick with families who no longer attend First Baptist. Some just got out of the habit of coming. Some are wounded in some way. Some attend other churches but have never moved their membership. Regardless of the reason for their absence, FBC Wiggins has a responsibility to minister to these brothers and sisters. They need to know that we have not forgotten them. They need to know that we love them and still want them. We need to do everything we possibly can as a church family to encourage them and be reconciled with them.

 
 

To help with this effort the staff is in the process of forming an “In-reach Team.” Members of this team have demonstrated a passion for ministering to these members we have been missing. The members of the In-reach Team are also strong in the gift of hospitality. Their task will be to identify all the members who have gone inactive and help develop a way to involve the whole church family in reaching out to them. If you have a desire to be on this team and we haven’t already spoken with you, please let one of the ministerial staff know and we will get your name added.  

THRUST #3: Reach with love to the greater body of Christ.

It’s important that we go about this process of Reaching In with Love with the idea in mind that it is not just about FBC Wiggins. Just as each member makes up the local body that is FBC Wiggins so also FBC Wiggins is a member of a larger body that is the Church (with a capital C). Just as it is important for the families within our church to make connections with more families, so also it is important for our church family to make connections and develop relationships with more church families here and around the world. Our church has talents, gifts, and resources that other sister churches need and visa versa. A cursory read of Acts and the Epistles shows that this is the way God designed the Church (again with a capital C) to function from the very beginning.

 
 

With this in mind, there is a church family in Knoxville, TN that we feel the Lord is leading us to connect with. The name of the church is City View Baptist. City View is currently enrolled in the TN Baptist Convention’s church revitalization program. On a visit last fall, Larry and I learned that they are wanting to reach out to their community in much the same way that we did in Wiggins last year, but they lack the manpower and resources to do it well. That is where the Lord is calling us to come in and help our brothers and sisters. We will be making two visits to City View in 2020. One to help them conduct an evangelism conference (will consist of a smaller team for one weekend in April) and another longer trip in the summer to help them conduct a Mission Week like we did here in Wiggins last year. If you are interested in either of these trips, we invite you to attend the interest meeting after lunch on January 19th, 2020.

 
 

Thank you for taking the time to read this explanation of our 2020 theme. Please be in prayer for our whole church and the whole body of Christ. My earnest desire is to see us love one another well in 2020. I hope that is your desire too. Jesus said that this is how all people would know that we follow Him… by the love we have for one another (cf. John 13:35). May all people be introduced to Christ through our growth in loving one another in 2020.


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The Original Santa

Much consternation is expressed by 21st-Century Christians over the commercialization of Christmas and rightly so. Part of that commercialization results from the culture’s veneration of Santa Clause, the Father Christmas figure who hands out gifts to all the good little boys and girls in the world. Believe it or not, if we would look at the history of Santa, we actually get back to the real meaning of Christmas. 
 
The story begins in the 4th-Century and involves a wealthy businessman and father of three beautiful daughters. He lost his fortune when Pirates raided his merchant ship, leaving him unable to offer a dowry for his daughters. In those days, young ladies from families too poor to provide a dowry faced the danger of being forced into slavery or prostitution. 
 
The father prayed night and day for a miracle. A young Bishop heard of this man’s plight. The Bishop’s name was Nicholas. Nicholas, a wealthy man himself, thanks to an inheritance he received upon the death of his parents. He determined to be an answer to the troubled man’s prayers.
 
Late at night, Nicholas snuck up to the house and dropped a bag of gold in the window. A while later, he returned and dropped another bag of gold in the window for the second daughter. When Nicholas came the third time, the praying father was waiting and gave chase, hoping to thank his benefactor. That’s when he recognized the young Bishop. The father attempted to thank Nicholas, but Nichols directed him to give thanks to God. Nevertheless, word spread about the generosity of the Bishop, who would later be venerated by the Catholic Church as Saint Nick.
 
Saint Nick was also a participant in one of the Church’s most historic church council, the Council of Nicaea. The Council of Nicaea was convened in 325 A.D. by Constantine the Great to address the Arian controversy over the deity and eternality of Christ. The Arians (followers of Arius, an early church theologian and contemporary of Nicholas) taught that the pre-incarnate Christ was a created being and subject of God the Father.
 
History tells that Nicholas fought mightily and vigorously against this heretical doctrine. Some accounts say that Nicholas became so upset with Arius’ claim that Christ was a created being that he actually raised his hand and struck Arius in the face. (This has become my children’s favorite Christmas story. Every year I get asked to tell them about the time Santa smacked Arius for his denial of the deity of Christ, an act that would surely land them on the naughty list.)
 
I cannot think of a better figure to represent Christmas than an ancient Christian Bishop who adamantly held the doctrine of the deity of Christ and the Triune Godhead. That the baby born in the manger in Bethlehem was God in the flesh, come to live and die for His people, is the central message of Christmas. Jesus was God, our creator, who did not stay far off in heaven but drew near to us in love. He died and was raised from the dead so that we could live eternally in relationship with Him for all eternity. 
 
So when did Saint Nick become Santa? Well, shortly after the American Revolution, St. Nicholas was named the patron saint of the city of New York. In 1809, author Washington Irvin published a satirical history of the city of New York that referenced the benevolent jolly old character named St. Nick. Irving’s St. Nick resembled more of a Dutch burgher than the 4th-Century bishop from Turkey. In 1823 a poem was written by Clement Clarke Moore, a Greek and Hebrew professor at a New York seminary, that cemented the jolly old St. Nick in American culture. The original title of the poem was “A Visit from St. Nick,” but we know it today as “The Night Before Christmas.” 
 
As the St. Nick character’s fame spread throughout the 19th-Century, the culture embraced the contracted Dutch translation of St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, which was later Americanized as Santa Clause. Santa’s image developed in the late 19th and 20th Centuries when artist Thomas Nast released a series of drawings in Harper’s Weekly titled “Merry old Santa Clause.” Nast’s drawings depicted the black-belted-white-bearded-fuzzy-red-suit-wearing-jolly-old elf who visits our town every year.
 
Has Santa highjacked the celebration of our Saviors birth? Perhaps, but only because we allow him to. Why not try digging a little into history? We will find the benevolent Christian Bishop named St. Nicholas a wonderful reflection of the benevolence of God in sending His son to save us when all hope was lost.

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What do logos have to do with Christmas?

A few years ago, our church’s staff and publicity committee began working on a logo. We wanted to find a symbol that we could put on our stationery, signs, and t-shirts that would graphically represent our mission statement, “Reaching up, reaching out, and reaching in.” I never realized what an arduous task this could be.
 
We learned that to come up with a strong logo, a leader must have a comprehensive knowledge of their organization’s identity. He or she must then be able to adequately communicate that identity to someone who is even more clever. That gifted person is then able to visualize the organization as a symbol and finally put it on paper. It took a long time, but we finally were able to create our logo, and we learned a lot about ourselves in the process.
 
Why do I tell this story? Well, the word “logo” is a shortening of an older word “logotype,” which has its deepest roots in the Greek word “logos.” To the ancient Greeks, the word logos called to mind the philosophy of the 6th century B.C thinker named Heraclitus. Heraclitus held that there was one formula, one computation, one “word” as it were, that united all other formulas, computations, and words. He hypothesized that there was one overarching principle that explained all the theories of all the thinkers from the ones who wrote poems, to the ones who would later describe the theories of quantum mechanics. Heraclitus’ writings and the writings of his contemporaries shaped the Greek’s understanding of “logos,” which was the Greek word for “word.”
 
Many scholars think that Greek philosophy had shaped John’s understanding when he wrote under divine inspiration, “in the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). John could have been borrowing from Heraclitus and acknowledging that there is One that unifies the entire universe and all universal thoughts. If this were the case, then for John, Heraclitus’ logos was not a formula. No, the logos was a person, a person who was with God in the beginning and who by His nature was God.
 
Now the wheels come off in some people’s thinking when they come to that last clause, “and the Word was God.” Some wonder, if the Word (the Logos) is a person and God is a person, then how can the person of the Word be with the person of God and also be God all at the same time. It is not as difficult of a concept as it sounds when you understand that God is not just a person, but three persons in one. The Word is Jesus. He was with God before creation, and He was God in the sense that He was One of the three divine persons that made up the triune God.
 
John goes on to write in chapter 1 verse 14, that “the Word [that is the Logos, that is Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us.” Here he implies that the One that unites all the universe together, the One who was with God and who was God in the beginning, did not remain far from us. He took on flesh and dwelt with His people, His creatures. He subjected Himself to the human experience of life on a fallen earth. Why did He do this? The answer is so that they would see His glory, and thus come to know Him, “as the one and only Son of the Father full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
 
Friends, during this advent season, this is what we are celebrating- the Logos becoming flesh and dwelling among us so that we could see His glory and come to know Him as the only Son from God full of grace and truth. We sacrifice to buy gifts for those we love because He sacrificed to give us the greatest gift of all. We gather together with the ones we love because He went to great lengths to gather together with us. We reach out to the poor because He also reached out and rescued us from spiritual poverty. We celebrate because His coming in human flesh was a miracle which has profoundly reshaped our hearts and lives.

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What to do with worry.

I am often asked, “Bro. Robby, is it a sin to worry?”
 
My answer is always, “Well, that depends.” If by worry you mean to feel concerned over an issue, then no, worry is not a sin. Feelings are neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. Feelings are just feelings. God gives us feelings to help us discern what we need to ask Him for or thank Him for.
 
Your feelings are your emotional senses, not unlike your physical senses. You have the gift of taste to alert you to what is sweet or sour and even to warn you about what might be poisonous. You have the sense of touch that allows you to feel the warm embrace of a friend and also to remind you to remove your hand from a hot stove. The sense of hearing allows you to enjoy the tones and rhythms of your favorite songs on the radio and also alerts you to the ambulance in the next lane, speeding to a 9-1-1 call. Smell enables you to take in the pleasant aroma of your flower garden and helps you to know when your house is on fire.
 
Just as your physical senses help you to navigate the physical realm, your feelings help you in the emotional realm. Do you feel happy? Then you should give thanks to God. Do you feel sad? Then you should ask Him for comfort. If you are afraid, then ask for strength. If you are confused, then ask for wisdom.
 
Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). As soon as you have that feeling of concern, you should take that concern, wrap it in thanksgiving, and send it up to the Lord in prayer. Pray some form of, “Lord, I thank you for the privilege of prayer… what you are doing and what I know you will do. I thank you for being the all-powerful God that you are. Here is this thing that I am concerned about. Thank you for hearing my prayer.”
 
Praying in this way is like planting a seed. Through prayer, you plant your concern into the fertile field of faith. Then, God transforms your worry into something beautiful that bears fruit. I say this because, in the next verse, Paul says, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Do you understand? The fruit that grows out of prayer is the peace of God that goes beyond all understanding.
 
The root of the Greek verb in “Guard your hearts and minds,” comes from the word that means “to watch.” An armed security detail assigned to watch over your thoughts and your feelings is what Paul has in mind here. The peace of God will not allow you to think unhelpful thoughts, but will instead lead you to rejoice in the Lord and how He brings glory to Himself through your suffering.
 
I have a friend and a church member who raises sheep. If you ride by his sheep pen, the first thing you notice is not the sheep, but the Great Pyrenes guard dogs there to protect them. These dogs look like monsters compared to the sheep in the field. They are there to eat the predators who would want to eat the sheep. The guard dogs look like they would tear you limb from limb if you hopped over the fence into the pen.
 
The peace of God that results from thankful prayer protects the heart and the mind in the same way the Great Pyrenes protects his sheep. The peace of God is a formidable opponent against the predators of doubts and fears that threaten our faith in Jesus. We are assured beyond all understanding because the peace of God keeps the doubts at bay.
 

So what are you to do with worry? Wrap it in thanksgiving and send it up to the Lord in prayer. To pray with thanksgiving is to plant worry in the fertile field of faith where it can be transformed into something beautiful, which yields the fruit of peace. That peace then stands guard to keep you from further worry and leads you to rejoice in the Lord in the midst of your suffering.


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A New Testament model of a loving church

A short passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians reveals a model for what love looks like in the New Testament church. Paul only devoted a few lines (six verses) to telling the story, but he writes the report in a way that explains so much about the love in the Philippian church. A close study also reveals Paul’s concern for his friends in Philippi. 
 
You need a little background to better understand. The church at Philippi was the strongest and healthiest church in the New Testament known for its devotion to Paul and his mission. In Acts 16, we read how the church was founded upon glorious salvation stories and miracles of God’s deliverance from prison. Everyone from Lydia, a seller of purple goods, to the Philippian jailer and his whole family had witnessed the mighty hand of God on His church. The congregation met at the home of Lydia, the first Philippian convert.
 
The Philippian church was Paul’s favorite place to visit, and Paul was their beloved leader. He stayed in almost constant touch with them. They, in turn, supported Paul in all of his endeavors with their prayers and with financial gifts. The church at Philippi, more than anyone else, loved Paul and kept him encouraged on all his journeys. 
 
The story told in Philippians 2:25-30, had been in the making a few years before Paul’s writing this letter. The Philippians received word that Paul’s ship sank on the way to Rome. One can only imagine their despair upon hearing this news. Soon, though, the church received better news that Paul survived the shipwreck and was alive on the Island of Malta. Imagine their relief upon the reception of another letter from Paul, where He reported that he had arrived safely in Rome. Paul informed his friends that, though detained under house arrest awaiting his day in court, he was allowed to come and go and to receive visitors.
 
Upon learning of relative freedom, the Philippian church made a decision to send Paul a love offering to help support him during his detainment. They sent the gift by a brother named Epaphroditus, whom they intended to stay with Paul and help meet whatever other need he might incur. 
 
The plan to encourage and support their brother Paul began to fall apart shortly after Epaphroditus’ arrival when he fell gravely ill. He became so sick, in fact, that he nearly died. For a time, one would have had a difficult time telling who was taking care of whom as Paul became immensely concerned for Epaphroditus. Further complicating matters, when the Philippians heard about Epaphroditus’ illness, they were moved to despair. Epaphroditus, upon learning of his church’s concern for him, became worried for his friends. The whole ordeal added to Paul’s anxiety over his legal predicament. 
 
Let’s pause now, and attempt to sort out this drama. The Philippians were concerned about Paul, so they sent him Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus fell ill. His illness worried the Philippians, which worried Epaphroditus, which worried Paul. Finally, Paul decided that even though Epaphroditus’ coming was a source of encouragement, the added anxiety of having him in Rome with him was too much, so Paul determined to send Epaphroditus home.
 
Paul sent the letter to the Philippians back with Epaphroditus. In the letter, Paul instructed the church to receive Epaphroditus with joy and to honor him. Paul explained that Epaphroditus put everything on the line for the gospel, even his own life, and for that, he was worthy of honor.
 
If you ever wonder what brotherly love looks like, then look to this story of Paul, Epaphroditus, and the Philippians. This story is a model of what it means to share one another’s burdens. Here in Philippians 2:25-30, we see Christ-like sacrificial love fleshed out in living color. The sweet care shown by everyone involved shines a light on how we should care for one another.
 
I challenge you to care selflessly for someone today. Put everything on the line to demonstrate love to a brother or sister in Christ. Do you know someone under a heavy burden? Pray about how God might use you to help shoulder that burden. This is the kind of love that honors God and the kind of love that God honors. Jesus said that the world would know us by our love, so let’s love with abandon. Let’s love not just in word but also in deed.

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What happens when our love abounds?

The Apostle Paul prayed for his friends in Philippi that their “love would abound more and more…” The church in Philippi was already known for its love. They were staunch supporters of the Apostle Paul and his mission. They possessed a fellowship that was unmatched by any other church in the first century. For Paul, though, the abounding love they shared was still not enough. He prayed for their love to abound even more.  
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No matter how loving your church may be, no church is caring enough. Every body of believers can stand to grow in kindness, just as no individual Christian has arrived at the level of Christ’s compassion. Abounding love transforms the whole church body, and the lost world takes notice.
 
 
How will abounding love transform a church? According to Paul’s prayer, where love is multiplied, so is knowledge, discernment, and wisdom. Think about it, where love is lacking foolishness abounds. People act out on their emotions instead of the Spirit, which shades truth and fractures the fellowship. As love grows, the bond of love that bind us together also grows stronger. And as love abounds even more, we become more and more approving of what is excellent in the eyes of Christ. 
 
 
When abounding love gives way to wisdom and discernment, the church body begins to look more and more like the body of Christ. His word cleanses every spot, softens every rough edge, and removes every wrinkle. The local church is revealed as the pure and blameless and beautifully radiant bride of Christ in the midst of a dark and fallen world. She becomes a beacon of hope, a shining city on a hill that cannot be hidden. 
 
 
As love abounds with wisdom and discernment, leading to the church more accurately reflecting the bride of Christ, something else happens. The church bears fruit that comes through Jesus Christ. Righteousness abounds as more and more come to faith in Christ. The dark, lost, and love-starved world cannot resist true love reflected by the body of Christ. They are drawn by the extraordinarily supernatural love of Christ that shines in His follower’s affection for one another, and they just have to have it. They are won, not only by our love for them but by observing our love for one another. They know, by our love, that we are real.
 
 
What happens when love abounds in the church? Besides growth in knowledge and discernment, besides the body becoming more like Christ, besides a lot of people coming to faith in Christ, God is praised and glorified. He died for this very reason that we might know what love is and that by understanding what love is, we might also love one another. Nothing honors God more, and nothing more effectively brings a smile to his face than when our love abounds for one another. When we, His followers, love one another, we express our understanding of who He is and what He did for us. We show that we “get it.”
 
 
I pray as did the apostle Paul. I pray that “your love would abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:9-11). I hope you will make this your prayer as well, for your church and all our churches. The world desperately needs us to love one another more passionately. If we seek the glory of God and His kingdom, then we must all grow in our love for one another. 

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