Regardless of which point in the month you’re reading this, over the recent several weeks, our church has shared the joy of welcoming Mrs. Amber Hutchens, her husband James, and their daughters Cindy & Catherine to our family of faith! She is our new Minister of Music & Worship. Note, that these two terms are not synonyms. Often times we think of worship as something we do when we sing in “big church”. Yes, Amber will serve (Latin: minister) as she directs songs. Yes, Amber will take an increasing role in planning and coordinating our worship services. No, “music” and “worship” are not interchangeable terms.
Music is a valuable part of worship. Prayer is a valuable part of worship too. The reading of God’s Word is an equally valuable part of worship. Fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ is a valuable part of worship. Observing the ordinances (baptism & the Lord’s Supper) properly is valuable as a part of worship. Finally, giving is a valuable part of worship. All of these elements are found in the Church in the New Testament, and should be found within the First Baptist Church of Walnut Cove too.
Among our five values (through which I preached a year (or so) ago), we would all agree that we – as a church family – value worship. Since 2015 (except for 15 CoViD-19 months), I’m sure our Choir has gotten extremely tired of hearing me say this: we aren’t here to put on a show, or impress anyone, or “perform” for anybody but the Lord. When we lift high our voices, declaring biblical truths to one another, we sing TO God. When we give or pray, or go to the Table to remember, we do so to God. When we dive into His Word and meditate upon its rich truths, we do so in order to more completely give our hearts, souls, minds, and strength TO God. Is God pleased with how well we’re doing these things?
Two paragraphs ago, I mentioned the contributing parts to healthy within the Church … corporately. Yes, we worship together as a church family, but if we let it stop there, we will find ourselves in a bad place indeed. Corporate worship is a precious thing; it’s a vital thing for the over-all health of our church, but worship is much, much more than just a thing we do at 11:00 on Sundays!
For us – all of us – we must worship individually. I define “worship” this way: a RESPONSE to who God is and what God has done. Has God done anything in the life of our church family? Of course! Has He done anything in your life personally? Has He moved in your household? Has He answered your prayer? Has He saved your soul from the eternity you deserve? Our very lives should be lived as a response to these things.
Let’s assume for a moment, something I know to be false. Let’s assume God has never done anything for you personally. “I am that I AM” He says to Moses from the burning bush. Creator of the universe, He is (according to Genesis 1). Holy and righteous and just He is. Omnipotent and omniscient and omnipresent He is. Merciful and compassionate and loving He is. Good, good Father, He is. So whether or not He’s ever done anything to you or for you, don’t you reckon He is still worthy of our worship, simply because of who He is? Is He worthy of our praise in music? Sure. Is He worthy of our obedience? Is He worthy of us witnessing faithfully? Is He worthy of our hearts, all day, every day? Is worship just something we do at 11:00 on Sundays? Is responding to God, in humility, in obedience, in faithfulness something you do every day? Is God pleased with how well I’m doing it?
Is He worthy, is He worthy
of all blessing and honor and glory?
Is He worthy of this? He is.
Happy new year church!
Last fall, I unveiled our mission statement: helping broken people find healing in Christ! In the process, I articulated (I did not come up with; you have valued them for years) our values. Last month, I reminded you of how we value teaching. This month, allow me to remind you that we value fellowship. I love you. I value you. You love one another. You value one another. I have been here for fourteen years; some of you have been here twice as long; others of you have been here for over half a century. Some of us have only been around since the corona virus pandemic. Whether you have experienced brotherhood (or sisterhood) with someone across the Sanctuary for seven decades, or seven months, you understand the importance of having high-quality friends here in this church family.
Fellowship is a sweet and beautiful thing. We have laughed together on trips to the Dan’l Boone Inn; we have sweated alongside one another on a mission trip; we have attended conferences and retreats together. We’ve hidden Easter eggs together; we’ve painted V.B.S. back drops on corrugated cardboard; we’ve set up and taken down tables and chairs for special events; we’ve stirred the chicken stew pot. We’ve sat around the table studying God’s Word together; we’ve shared how it applied within our own lives; we’ve gone to the altar together and prayed over one another, and these are just the times where we’ve had fellowship around corporate or group events! Many of you have shared vacation, your kids have played on the same sports teams, you invite one another over for dinner parties, or get together for coffee just to catch up. We have laughed, swapped stories, poked fun, broken bread, and taxied one another’s children…together. Fellowship is friendship; it’s comradery; it’s also about working together toward a common mission. In doing so, we brighten each other’s life!
Fellowship most notable in the good times we share, but fellowship is most necessary in the bad times. The Greek word κοινωνια is found throughout the New Testament, and it’s this word that typically gets translated into the English “fellowship”. This Greek word (transliterated “koinonia”) has the image of shouldering a load together. When we think of a team of people, or oxen, or any other group pulling or lifting or carrying a load, we can usually think of the ability to work, the whole, being greater than the sum of its parts. This picture of shouldering a load together helps us see more clearly what biblical fellowship entails. Bearing burdens together is what makes fellowship most necessary.
We all go through bad times, but some of us have gone through exceptionally terrible times. Some of us have been abandoned by our spouse, or perhaps worse yet, have our spouse stray into infidelity. When a family is ripped apart in divorce, that is a terrible time. Others of us have lost loved ones; some of us have gone through the most unnatural of events and buried a child. Some of us have lost loved ones at their own hand. Most of us can’t even imagine this tidal wave of grief that just crashes across the lives of these friends. We have had people in the past, and we have people today, that feel like they are going to drown in a flood of grief.
Some of us have had people steal from us, others have received zero return on an investment. Some have had businesses fail, others have had mountains of debt and file bankruptcy. It’s great to have someone mail us a much needed check to help us pay a bill; it’s even better to have someone put their hand on our shoulder, pray with us and give us a word of encouragement. Some of us have opened our homes, served a hot meal, and walked a single mother through the Financial Peace program, helping her to make a budget, and stood by her for months and years as she has struggled to stick to it.
Some of our saintly widows have visited the home of a grieving mother, not to say anything, but simply to hold a hand and offer a hug. One of these precious ladies pulled me aside years ago, just to offer home as a place of refuge if a wife and her children were unsafe. How many of us are thinking even now of a hug, or a hand on our shoulder, or a word of empathy from someone that we knew had walked our road before us? This is fellowship. This is carrying burdens with and for someone, so that they won’t have to do so alone. Just this year, I have had multiple people take me to lunch, not because I was hungry, but because I needed to vent. The smallest act of encouragement can be more of a blessing to a brother or sister in Christ, than we’ll ever know. Who has helped you shoulder your load? Whose burdens have you helped to bear?
Aren’t you thankful for fellowship during your hardest days, or seasons? Aren’t you thankful for those who have come alongside you? When you share dinner with those folks today, isn’t the meal just a little richer? Aren’t the smiles a bit more genuine? Aren’t the laughs even heartier? Biblical fellowship is most necessary in the bad times. When we have experienced the love of a friend in those bad times, it certainly makes the good times better, and the fellowship of joy that much sweeter!
We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear;
and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.
Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love;
the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above!
Greetings and salutations again friends!
As I outlined this-past autumn, First Baptist Church values teaching. Teaching is but one of five values I articulated in the sermon series when I unveiled our new mission statement. As I said then, I haven’t concocted these values, or imagined them; I simply articulated that which we already value. I know that many of you freely acknowledge that we value teaching; you value teaching personally, and you want our church to be known as a body where God’s Word is rightly divided!
From mid-May through the month of June, our mid-week Adult Bible Study went through a series about Abiding, Seeking, Applying, & Planting. To put it simply, it was a bible study series about what it means to be a disciple, or Follower, of Jesus. If we claim to be Jesus Followers, we must be about the business of seeing what God’s Word would have us see, and doing what God would have us do. In doing so, we are applying scripture, and walking in obedience to it.
As I have mentioned in the past, including fairly recently, God “hard wires” us differently. Many of us are feelers, sensing the presence of the Holy Spirit strongly, and worship is very much an emotional endeavor. Many of us are thinkers, craving to learn new things and grow in the knowledge and understanding of biblical theology. Our church needs both kinds of people, and one is no “more spiritual” than the other, but for those of you that are wired like me, an off-the-chart “thinker”, let me challenge us within the context of valuing high-quality teaching.
I have recently received criticisms of our spring A.S.A.P. study, emphasizing discipleship, evangelism, and missions. To be fair, I know that white boards, Expo markers, and random visual graphical aids are not everyone cup of tea. If, however, your irritation is with the content of our Jesus Follower emphasis, I have to wonder why?
I have recently been graciously encouraged to return to the “deep things of Jesus”. This is good to do, because we must always strive to maintain balance in both explaining scripture and applying scripture. When in seminary, my preaching professor told me that I was better in biblical explanation, weaker in biblical illustration, and fairly good at biblical application. I love digging into the teachings of Jesus; I also love digging into the deep things of the Old Testament; I love to get down into the “weeds” and look the rich truths of God’s Word. We cannot afford, however, to spend so much time studying each “tree” that we lose sight of the “forest”. I follow a para-church ministry that works hard to “get the gospel right”. This is good, and in my teaching, I’ll strive to also maintain balance between studying books/passages and studying systematic theology/doctrine, but if we “get the gospel right” without getting the Good News out to a lost and dying world, it isn’t really “right” at all!
As Braydon preached so eloquently during my vacation, we must be hearing the Word AND doing the Word. We must learn the bible and understand its teaching, so that we can apply it to our lives, walk humbly in obedience, and share this great Good News with those that need to see, hear, and respond to it! If we are being the Jesus Followers that He wants us to be [individually and corporately], He wants us to be constantly learning new things, mining the rich depths of God’s Word. At the very same time, He wants these new things learned to spur us on to love and good works. To borrow a metaphor from Simon Peter and the Apostle Paul, we need to grow in spiritual maturity and eat “solid food”, not just drink “milk” as spiritually immature babes. While we grow to eat meat, we still drink milk. To our “feeler” brethren, nothing in the world should move you more than reminders of the grace of Jesus. Simple, but crucial essentials like forgiveness and mercy, God’s hatred of sin (our sin), and God’s love for us sinners, should move us like nothing else!
You value teaching; I value teaching! I love getting to teach! I am committed to maintain balance between digging into the “weeds” and keeping us aware of the 30,000-foot view of God’s Word. I will work to study the Old and New Testaments, large passages and doctrinal themes. I will also work to teach topical issues, applying God’s Word to our walk as believers, and giving us clarity as disciples within a broken world. I will work to explain the text, and find points of application too. I want to teach the thinkers and the feelers in our church, because all the different kinds of us need to have God’s Word in our hearts, minds, and souls! I want God to control the microphone, molding us into disciples, who make disciples. I want to teach new things in new ways. I want to use Wednesday evenings to try new things, but above all, I want to be as faithful to the bible as I can be. Do we hunger and thirst to walk with God daily? Do we long to abide with Him, in His Word? Do we look more like Jesus today than we did yesterday? Do our lost neighbors see that too? Do we value teaching as much as we say we do?
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine!
Greetings once again!
Braydon Turpin isn’t our “youth pastor”. Luke Long was – after we ordained him in the fall of 2019. When Luke was hired in February 2019, he was our Minister to Students & Children. This is Braydon’s role today too. Many churches like ours have been particularly unwise in the use of “youth pastor”. Other churches in our local baptist association have Associate Pastor, Executive Pastor, Worship Pastor, Discipleship Pastor, Missions Pastor, one even has a Pastor of Counseling & Visitation. I am not here to knit-pick whether or not each of these people are actually pastors; in fact, I am thankful for the days when Jim Cohn, Luke Long, and I were the three pastors of our church. I am here to highlight the looseness with which many of us use the word “pastor”.
As you probably know, “pastor” is a Latin word. The English equivalent is “shepherd”. This is one of the three New Testament words used to refer to the biblical office I hold; the other two are “over-seer” (Latin: “bishop”) and “elder”. (The only other church office mentioned in the New Testament is “deacon”.) Now, to muddy the waters a little bit more, I have mentioned relatively recently that I Corinthians mentions the types of gifts within the church: apostolic gifts, prophetic gifts, evangelistic gifts, shepherding gifts, and teaching gifts. So, is “shepherd” an office, or a giftedness? Well, yes! This is why we have to speak with clarity.
A few churches (not including us) make an argument that “elder” and “pastor” are two separate offices within the Church. I would humbly submit that there is no biblical evidence for this view. Well, to further muddy the water, some of those churches are a [rather loud, but] small minority within our Southern Baptist Convention.
As I mentioned in my July article, the week prior to my vacation was spent in New Orleans, Louisiana attending the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Going into the Convention, I was paying particular attention to four items of business: the election of the President, the task force working to address the sexual abuse scandals, a proposed by-law amendment, and the appeals of removed churches. Personally, the one I thought was most important was the presidential election. Coming out of the Convention, the item that got the most public attention was the messengers’ vote to uphold the decision of the Executive Committee, dismissing three churches from “friendly cooperation”. One of these three churches was none other than Saddleback Community Church in California. Its Pastor Emeritus is Dr. Rick Warren, a widely beloved writer, and a godly leader across many circles.
The biggest reason the Executive Committee decided to “disfellowship” Saddleback back in the spring was its move within the past two years to call a few ladies to serve as pastors within their leadership. Additionally, the proposed by-law amendment is to strengthen the ability to dismiss any church that employs, commissions, or affirms any pastor who is not a “man as qualified by scripture”. This is a reference to I Timothy 3, which describes the qualifications of an elder/overseer/shepherd.
Needless to say, this issue has evolved into a broader discussion about the role(s) of women in the Church more broadly. I look forward to having this discussion within our church family. I am also involved first-hand in a discussion being held within our Pilot Mountain Baptist Association (now being called the Triad Church Network). As you may know, I am part of the leadership team of our local association, and within the past few months, we have received a request from a member church that we establish clearer guide lines regarding what it means to be a church in “friendly cooperation”. I appreciate the letter for two reasons: first, because I agree that there should be clearer guide lines, and second, because that church isn’t telling where those lines ought to be. Should we kick out churches that have different views on the office of pastor? Should we kick out churches that have different views on the Lord’s Supper? Should we kick out churches that have different views on missions and evangelism, or the extent of the atonement, or a particular view of the end times?
I don’t know where those lines are, but I believe the lines should exist. Frankly, I have a bit of a big-tent mindset when it comes to these things. To be clear, I have already given you my opinion about the office of “pastor”. To be clearer, so long as you’ll have me serve as yours, this church will strive to be as faithful to the Word of God in all areas as we possibly know how to be. Is there, though, room in our denominational groupings (my preferred word is “tribe”) for churches that may have slightly different views than ours? I think so. Though I would be rather reluctant to cut ties with a church teaching things not 100% aligned with ours, I would at the same time encourage them to exercise clarity, wisdom, and fidelity to God’s Word, avoiding careless and foolish use of words, especially words carrying so much theological baggage.
For further information regarding the Southern Baptist Convention meeting, refer to my report that will be presented on Wednesday, August 02 at 6:30pm. If you have questions for me about any of these things, contact me anytime. Finally, pray for me regarding this: I am debating whether or not to do a study series on ecclesiology (the study of the Church). Before you roll your eyes, let me remind you that the Church is God’s Plan A to reach the world with the Good News of salvation, and there is no Plan B. With humility, it’s important that we get these things right, so that we can be the best Plan A we can be as we reach Walnut Cove, Stokes County, North Carolina, and the uttermost parts of the earth!!
The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord,
she is His new creation by Spirit and the Word.
‘til with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blessed,
and the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest!
Hello again friends,
As many of you know, we are resurrecting a form of “F.B.C. in July” that many of you may remember from 2019. By modifying some of our “regularly scheduled programming”, we are allowing several groups of people a bit of a break. In recent days I have come to appreciate the value of a break, which I’ll come back to in a moment. On the children’s ministry side of the equation, we will continue to have children’s church at 11:00 on Sundays, but all Sunday School and Wednesday evening children’s volunteers will get a break. All other Sunday School teachers will get a break. The Choir will get a break. It’s good for people who work so hard to get a bit of a reprieve! Perhaps even Ms. Leigh will get a break (if she’ll take it)!
On Sunday mornings, as you trickle in, join us in the Fellowship Hall for a time of refreshments and socialization before we worship together. On Wednesday evenings at 6:30, join us in the Fellowship Hall for fun together. The first Wednesday will be an ice cream social; the second will be a night of games; the third will be movie night; the fourth will be more games! Come on out, bring your friends, bring your kids and grandkids, and we’ll have multi-generation fun around the table together!
As many of you know, Pastor Jim and I attended the Southern Baptist Convention in Louisiana on June 12-15. [I’ll give you a full report of the Convention in another time and place.] June 16-24, I left New Orleans to vacate. By the time I returned from my two-week road trip, I’d traveled 2,800+ miles, driven through nine states, and poured ten tanks of fuel into my Jeep. Some of you know that it was my first full week of vacation since August 2021. I didn’t appreciate when I left town just how much I needed it. All this talk about giving people a break in July isn’t lost on me; the Lord spoke to me along the way about the value of retreat and rest.
Before leaving New Orleans, I visited the national World War II Museum. To say it was an eye-opening educational experience is a bit of an understatement. Like many others of us, I am way too good at taking this great country for granted. Not that I blindly think we’re perfect, but we truly are the last best hope against tyranny. I am dumbfounded at the resolve of “the greatest generation” and our ability to work together for a common end. O how I wish more of our young people could learn what I learned in that museum. It was an educational experience for me, and after I left, it was as if God whispered to my soul “it’s good for you to read, and learn, and explore, and apply biblical principles in a secular context”. I need to do a better job of stepping away from work to grow as a leader and learn new things.
While touring Vicksburg, Mississippi, I gained a bit of clarity of what it means to live under a siege. This has helped me appreciate the value in escape and retreat. I need to do a better job of “slipping out”, recharging, replenishing, and reorganizing, so that I can more strongly charge back into the fight.
While slowly winding through the mountains of Tennessee and western North Carolina, I saw shades of green I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. In stopping to take pictures at the most picturesque valleys God ever created, I breathed in the purest mountain air. I’m not sure anything has ever smelled so good in my life. In tasting fresh spring water bubbling up from pure stone, the trickle of the stream might have been the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. I need to do a better job of slowing down and smelling, and hearing, and seeing what God would have me to see, and hear, and smell. I need to spend more time beholding the beauty of God creation; it’s then that I gain appreciation for the beauty of its Creator. I need to pause more often and come to grips with how small I am, and how big He is.
While dining with friends in Louisiana and Alabama and Tennessee and Hayesville and Morganton, I was reminded of Psalm 34, which tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good”. I need to do a better job of not just eating to survive, instead I need to sit and feast with people I love. I need to enjoy the flavors of new things, and favorite dishes, which nourish my body and soul together. I need to spend more time with friends, especially when I am not sure they are saved. I need to visit my friends more, because I’m never really sure how much Jesus they see elsewhere. I need to invest in their lives, so that God gives me more opportunities to have conversations about spiritual things. I need to better appreciate friends that I may view as “projects”, because they can be a great source of encouragement to me too!
While nearing the end of the Convention meeting, we read from Revelation 5 and sang songs about heaven, eternity, and the majesty of God. I sat with my head in my hands and wept at the thoughts of what is yet to come. I need to do a better job of worship. In doing so, I’ll see more clearly the glory of God. I need to sit in His presence. I need to long for the day when I’ll be in heaven. I need to want more people, more peoples, more tribes and languages and individuals, to be there with me. I need to do more about that each and every day. I need to do a better job. I need to work harder. I need to be more wise in how I manage my time, and e-mail, and telephone. I also need to remember that I am small and frail and not-as-smart-as-I-think-I-am. I need to lean upon the almighty out-stretched arm of the God of the universe.
Isn’t rest a precious thing? It is a gift of grace. I need rest and you do too. We have work to do, important work. Take breaks occasionally, so that we can work better, harder, more effectively together! If you have an opportunity to take a break in July, what will God reveal to you along the way?
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me,
all the days, all the days of my life!
July 2020 was when we began holding in-person worship services during the pandemic. I will neither bore you with a re-hash of how we got to where we are now of strategically re-starting certain programs at staggered times, nor will I bore you with the ways in which we limited the number of people in the Sanctuary and Fellowship Hall by keeping people at a “social distance”. I simply mention July 2020 to remind you that 35 months later, we have members of our church that have not returned to worship with us in person. At this point, clearly it isn’t a virus that is keeping people away. It is a life-style pattern. For whatever reason, church involvement (and spiritual things in general?) has fallen off as a priority for many. If you are reading this and automatically laying 100% of blame at the feet of “the lazy” or “the ones who aren’t committed” or “the unfaithful”: check yourself. Though there is plenty of responsibility to go around for those yet-to-be-plugged-back-in, we as a church must own our responsibility too.
Have we maintained relevance in people’s lives as well as we should? Have we provided the spiritual nourishment that individuals need? Have we given our best effort to engage the 30-somethings that are getting married and having children? Do we have enough opportunities to provide to these families and individuals choices for study, friendship, encouragement, service to others? No. We haven’t and we don’t. Aren’t you excited!?! Clearly, we have work to do to better minister to people within our own church family. Our leaders are working hard to creatively find solutions to these issues, prioritize them, and avail new opportunities for us all in the fall.
The second reason I mentioned July 2020 is to highlight that by the end of this month, many of our people have been working incredibly hard for three straight years. We have several groups of people across our church family that haven’t had a much-needed break. Some of these are key leaders. For this reason, we are going to make a few shifts in the month of July.
Some of you may remember “F.B.C. in July” back in 2019. I think we all feel like we’ve aged a decade since then. Pastor Jim said wisely back then that “we are going to DO less church so that we can do more to BE the church!” This is the principle at play here as we prepare for next month.
“F.B.C. in July” 2023 will manifest itself most obviously on the calendar on Wednesday evenings and on Sunday mornings at 10:00. We will have NO SUNDAY SCHOOL in July. Instead, we will have social time in the Fellowship Hall as you arrive for worship. This is a great opportunity to bring a guest with you, and let me challenge you to make a point to meet someone new within our church family. If there is someone that sits in a different pew than you, who you have only ever seen from afar, make a point to introduce yourself over coffee during this social time! We will have a normal worship service in the Sanctuary at 11:00. This will include a regular Children’s Church service down stairs at 11:00 too. Our Choir will take a month off, and we will have special music each Sunday in July!
Additionally, on Wednesday evenings at 6:30, we will have four family fun nights in the Fellowship Hall. We are excited about the idea of three or four generations gathering together for snacks and games each Wednesday evening in July. This will replace all children, adult, and student bible studies throughout the month. July 05 will be an ice cream party celebrating our independence. July 12 will be a game night. July 19 will be a movie night. July 26 will be a second game night. More information about these theme nights will come out in the weeks ahead.
None of this constitutes a sweeping change, but with these subtle shifts, we are going to give a number of heavy lifters a break from their regular work. We acknowledge that many of you already have plans to vacate this summer. Let me also emphasize an important biblical principle. If you are having a break from your labors in some way, remember that we are DOING less church so that BEING the church will be better! If you don’t have to come to Choir practice, bring your neighbor, or grand-child, to game night and then go get ice cream together afterward. If you don’t have to teach Sunday School, take a friend to breakfast before bringing them to church with you. All of these events are intended to be very guest-friendly, we encourage you to bring a family member or friend with you in July. Even more importantly, make a special effort to brighten the day of a neighbor in July. I challenge each family to open their home twice in the month of July. Invite an unchurched friend over for a cold glass of lemonade; it doesn’t have to be a four-course meal! If we all make an intentional effort to be blessing to a neighbor twice in 31 days, we will truly be disciples that are making disciples!
He restoreth my soul when I’m weary, He giveth me strength day by day;
He leads me beside the still waters, He guards me each step of the way!
What do you think of when you read the word “discipleship”? If you were dyed-in-the-wool as a member of a baptist church in the 1960s – like my grand-parents, you might think it was a class you attended Sunday afternoons at 4:30. “Discipleship Training” took place before the evening worship service at my home church in Greensboro; I think during children’s choir and youth choir practices that my mother was forced against her will to attend. The older term some of you might still be familiar with: Training Union! Discipleship Training, or Training Union, was a good program of Christian education teaching the importance of a personal prayer life, bible study, and evangelism. There is nothing bad about it as a program, but it was just a program.
This is not a criticism of generations past; I am keenly aware that we stand today upon the shoulders of precious saints that have gone before us and it is them that get credit for their faithfulness to God; it is their good stewardship that caused out church to be where it is today. Though not a criticism, I do want to observe a few things about established churches like ours, and perhaps provide a gentle critique. Discipleship was a program, evangelism was a program (remember meeting to go knock on doors?), music was a program, youth and children’s ministries were programs, Sunday School was a program, Royal Ambassadors and the Girls’ Auxiliary were programs. Programs are good; if we get the right people volunteering, put them in the right room, and purchase the best curriculum, results will follow. Programs are systems that work. This is not a bad thing. We have made fine musicians, bible students that could excel at seminary tests, and kids that are excited to come to church. Programs also provide a vehicle through which we love one another. I am so thankful for my R.A. leader, and his willingness to teach me, and encourage me, and live out godly leadership.
However, programs can ring hollow when they are an end unto themselves. If young people are excited to attend events because they will be well entertained, hang out with their friends, play some games, and perhaps eat a few Goldfish crackers, that doesn’t mean we have made Christians. If young – or old – people are taught how to play instruments, or sing well, together, and the music on Sundays sounds better than the Brooklyn Tabernacle, that doesn’t mean we have made Christians. (One of my saddest experiences was to hear a Choir sing songs of the faith, but evidence suggests that they don’t believe much of what they were articulating.) If we understand the stories, know the characters, authors, timelines, and themes of all ____ books of the bible, that’s great! If you know the number in the blank, you’re well on your way toward being one of my beloved “seminary pin-heads”! Just because you would win a bible trivia game, or even pass a Systematic Theology III exam, doesn’t mean you’ve been made a Christian.
Think of this word “Christian”. Acts tells us that this word was first used in Antioch to describe folks within the Church. It was – like many terms – making fun of the ones the label was thrown upon. “Look at all those Christians (little Christs)” bullies would jeer as they hurl insults at the meek servants just trying to make the lives of others a bit better. To be “made a Christian” is to be “made a little Christ”. For us, if we’re doing it right, we are being conformed into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29) – day by day – through the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2) and the sanctification of our spirits. So, do you look more like Jesus today, or this week, or this decade, than you did last week, or last year, or when you were ten?
To be a disciple is to be a follower of Jesus. As a missionary friend once told me in Africa (because the term “Christian” carried a LOT of baggage), the natives refer to us as believers with this phrase: those who “accompany the way of the Messiah”. Do you accompany the way of the Messiah? I confess to God and to you, that if I am walking where Jesus walked, I am WAY behind Him. This expression helps me to consider what it means to be a follower of Jesus, to “accompany His way”, to be a disciple. Discipleship is not just something we do; it is who we are. We cannot afford for discipleship to be viewed as a just a program in our church. Rather than an “application” we “run”, it has to be the “operating system” upon which all the other apps run!
How do we do Sunday School, or education, or small groups, or whatever else we call it? By being disciples that make disciples of one another. How do we do evangelism? By being disciples that make disciples of our lost friends. How do we do next generation ministries? How do we do music ministry? How do we do Hope Kitchen? How do we do guest services? By being disciples that make disciples. Discipleship is a lifestyle, and it is the very foundation of what makes us a church. Why? Because we have met the Healer, and have experienced His work in our lives. He has redeemed us, cleansed us, credited us with His own righteousness, and given us the hope of eternal life. Experiencing this healing causes us to want to worship Him, obey His commands, and honor Him with our lives. One of these commands is to make disciples (Matthew 28:16). As we actively follow this mission He has given to us, we will indeed be helping broken people find healing in Christ!
Like a mighty army moves the Church of God;
brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod;
we are not divided; all one body we,
one in hope and doctrine, one in charity!
Greetings church family,
I know I speak for all of us when I express a hearty congratulations to Braydon & Caroline Turpin on their recent nuptials! After a two-week delay due to corona virus diagnoses within their families, they finally succeeded in their second attempt to marry, on March 25. As you have opportunity to do so, congratulate them in the days ahead! I know that we as a church family rejoice with them as they celebrate this time of love and gratitude, and as they begin their new life together. Some of you know already, but they purchased a house back in the fall, here in Walnut Cove, and have been working feverishly [along with Caroline’s father] to renovate much of the house so as to be able to move in together at the time their marriage begins.
As I write this, Braydon is taking a week off from work to enjoy a honey-moon with his bride. Though they hope to slip out of town for a couple of nights, I know they want to spend time in their new house together, and attempt to begin settling in. Indeed, because of their hard work – construction-wise, financially, emotionally, etc. – they have turned this house made of brick into a home filled with love. I am encouraged that the Turpins were so eager to find a home here in Walnut Cove, because they genuinely sense a call of God to this church family, and this community. It is a sign to me of Braydon’s long-term vision to serve as a part of our church. That he and his wife want to set down roots among us here in this town is a comfort to me, and I hope you are comforted too!
Many of you have been married for thirty years, or fifty. We have couples in our church that have celebrated sixty years! Others of you have buried a spouse. I do hope that you’re able to fondly remember your wedding day despite your loss. As you contemplate your own wedding day, I ask you to consider a few things…
Ephesians 5, beginning in about verse 22, gives us a beautiful portrait of marriage. In this text, the Apostle Paul writes about the parallels between the love shared between a husband and wife, and the love shared between Jesus and us, His Church. Paul gives instructions to wives [and before ladies want to take issue with the word “submit”, let’s all agree that a higher bar is set for the gentlemen] and husbands. In his instructions, he tells ladies how to treat their husbands. He also tells men to treat their wives as the Christ treats His bride! We all know that for the Bride of Christ, He laid His life down upon Calvary’s cross. When husbands faithfully do this, wives would gladly submit to this kind of high-quality leadership. Ephesians 5 clarifies an order within the home that reflects the order within creation. Husbands lead by serving in a selfless, sacrificial love. Wives have a place, children have a place, and [in Colossians] Paul even talks about how servants have a place. Order within the church should reflect order like the home also.
In addition to giving instructions to husbands and wives, Paul teaches us that the example has been set by Jesus. I am thankful that we – the Church – are the Bride of Christ, whom He redeemed at a great cost. Because of His great unconditional love for me, I want to yield to His leadership. Not only are husbands and wives taught by the example of Jesus, but by following Paul’s word of instructions, they are living out an example of Christian love! It’s a full-circle testimony.
I can’t help but to ponder the husbands and wives in my life: grand-parents, friends, parents, aunts, uncles, many within my home church family, and many of you within our First Baptist family. Though they are imperfect sinners, so many of these couples have put into practice a love that helps me see the love of Jesus a bit more clearly. Many have pointed me toward Jesus in beautiful ways. In seeing my grandmother’s way of adoring my grandfather, I am reminded of the ways Jesus is worthy of my adoration. In seeing a particular uncle’s radical sacrifice for his wife, I am reminded of the awesome way [and continued WAYS] the Messiah loves me selflessly. I am thankful for these couples and their testimony of what love can and ought to look like.
I pray for Braydon and Caroline. I pray that we might see the ways in which they care for one another and see the love of Jesus on display. I pray that they look to Jesus for their source of this love, and that they actively work to put into practice the love of Jesus as Paul clarifies to the Ephesians. I pray that 50 years from now, 25-year-old kids preparing for marriage look to the Turpins and see what a biblical marriage could look like. In so doing, may they come to better see and appreciate God’s love for us in looking at the Turpin home! I ask that you join me in this prayer also.
I’ve been picking on this one couple, but may these truths be applied to all of our marriages. May we seek to live out Ephesians 5, may we seek to bear witness in our homes, and may our very lives be a testimony of Jesus’ love within our hearts. Many of you know that Philippians 2 is one of my favorite passages. In this text, we’re called to put the needs of others ahead of our own needs. This is true of every degree of human relationship, which makes it especially true in the relationship between a husband and wife. The love with which Jesus loves us is a sacrificial love, an unconditional love, and a selfless love. May we work to love others in this way, especially our spouse. For this reason, I call marriage “a race to the bottom”. When husbands and wives strive to out-serve one another, we’ll show the world how Jesus loves us!
Let this be our prayer, when we lose our way;
lead us to a place, guide us with Your grace,
to a place where we’ll be safe,
What is lent? As a kid, when I heard “lent” I’d think about the stuff in my belly button. Lint is different, but indulge me if you will. I write this to you on Tuesday/Martes/Mardi, February 21. Our Spanish-speaking neighbors might call this Martes Gordo. Our French-speaking neighbors might call this Mardi Gras. Some of us [English speakers] call it Fat Tuesday, some refer to it as Pancake Day, still others call it Shrove Tuesday. Before we go too far, I do not intend to spend much time discussing the debaucherous, drunken orgy made infamous in several cities along the Gulf of Mexico, though thinking about it might be helpful as an exaggerated idea of a medieval theological concept.
Let’s recall from articles past, that up until beginning of the protestant reformations in Europe, illiterate Christians (nearly everyone was illiterate) were dependent upon priests to understand anything about God’s Word. They had several methods of remembering biblical concepts, including memorized liturgies, catechism, and … patterns of feasting and fasting! This included days and seasons. Advent was generally a season of fasting to prepare for Christmas, peppered with days of feasting and celebration. Christmastide (the 12 days) was generally a season of feasting, with a couple of fast days sprinkled in. Fasting, reflection, lamentation of sin, commemoration, contemplation is a biblical concept. Feasting, giving thanks, rejoicing, celebration, praise is a biblical concept too.
Some folks consider Mardi Gras to be a season of celebration, beginning after January 6 (Epiphany), culminating in Mardi Gras (the day). This day was supposed to have a two-fold concept: celebration and confession. Fat Tuesday is thought to be a blow-out day of indulgence, a last “hoorah” if you will. I love that some call it Pancake Day; if leaning in to sweets and drinking a cup of syrup (hopefully with a side of bacon) is your version of “cutting loose” then I am particularly unconcerned with you as a “wild child”. The other idea of this day is reflected by “Shrove Tuesday” (if you don’t know what this means, it might be wise to avoid using this title). To “shrive” (verb) is to hear a confession of sin (think: a priest in a box), instruct the confessor to “do penance” (I just realized I need to write an article on this concept one day), and grant absolution to the one confessing their sin. Someone can “be shriven”, and the past tense of this verb is ”shrove” (as in: the priest “shrove” me on Tuesday).
For many, tomorrow will be “Ash Wednesday”. It is the kick-off of the liturgical season known as “lent”. Many of our Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican – and by extension Wesleyan/Methodist – brethren will have ash smudged upon their foreheads in the form of a cross. Though this might seem alien to many of us raised in Baptist churches, it is a beautiful theological concept. The one dipping their finger into the ashes usually says something like “remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This reminder of the fragility of life is a humbling thought. The fact that we are insignificant, and unworthy of God’s grace is yet more humbling. Aren’t you glad that despite this fact, God lavishes His grace upon us anyway? It is pondering this undeservedness of Jesus’ death upon the cross that should drive the “lenten season” of fasting. Not only, is the ideal to give up food on certain days, but to also set aside other luxuries (perhaps syrup, or sugar altogether) for the entire 40 days leading up to the Easter season. In doing so, the thought is to supplement extra time in prayer and meditation of scripture. This – in theory – should help prepare our hearts as we approach Easter. In reflecting upon the cost of our sin, lamenting it, repenting of it, and thanking God for His mercy, we practice stillness, and allow Him to reveal Himself in fresh ways.
Because we now can read the bible personally, and just about everyone can afford to own a copy, we no longer need the seasons of feasting and fasting like the medieval Church did. Going through a particular ceremony, strictly because it’s something to do every year, is especially unhelpful to me. I kindly refuse to pick an arbitrary thing to “give up”, because it’s probably something I should do less of all the year long. However, the concept of reading God’s Word more, and spending a few extra moments in prayer each day are good for me to consider. The notion of lamentation, preparation, and expectation are good for my soul. However you choose to observe lent, or not observe lent, ask yourself: are there any ways I can deepen and strengthen my walk with Jesus during this season of life?
Just a closer walk with Thee,
grant it – Jesus – it’s my plea!
Greetings again beloved,
Tuesday, February 14, will be Saint Valentine’s Day. If you work a corporate job, someone will decorate a cubicle somewhere with red, pink, and white trim along with heart-shaped trinkets. You know how much I like “decor”, and you probably know how know my preference is to keep celebrations in their lane, rather than a month-long affair. On Sunday, February 12, Ms. Leigh will undoubtedly be disappointed that my music selections will not be enough about love, but perhaps by channeling my inner DollarTree cubicle decoration and devoting this article to Saint Valentine, I’ll make it up to her, haha!
According to Roman Catholic sources, which could always be questioned in my opinion (particularly the medieval ones), there are three different dudes named Valentine that were declared to be saints (Baptists don’t “venerate saints”) in the third century after the coming of the Christ. It is my contention that much of the Saint Valentine’s Day lore is a mish-mash of the three, but the most popular tradition is tied to a Bishop of Terni (a town in central Italy). Supposedly, Valentine practiced Christian marriage rites affecting the ability of the Roman army to conscript husbands into military service (married men couldn’t get drafted as easily or something). Despite warnings from the pagan Roman government for him to stop the practice, it is said that Valentine continued to do so. Drawing the ire of military and political leaders, he was put to death. Without objection, he is recognized as a martyr because of his commitment to Christ.
Some recognize Saint Valentine as the “patron saint” of love (have I mentioned my thankfulness that Baptists don’t venerate?). Fast forward 1800 years and add a dash of American commercialism, and you get the red-clad, overpriced meal, obligatory flowers, and mediocre candy day we all know. Though it has evolved into a day of romance, let’s all take stock of the fact that Valentine was violently put to death on February 14.
As I have stated in the past, we have a rather cheap understanding of “love” in our culture. The love that Valentine understood was less about romance, and more about sacrifice. Yes, he’s associated with performing weddings, but bear with me. This priest lived in a world where Christians were actively being persecuted by a pagan empire. This priest was faithful to the God of the bible. This priest understood what it meant to count the cost of confessing Jesus as his Savior and Lord. This priest dedicated himself to his God and served others, all the while knowing that it might cost him his life. He knew of Jesus’ sacrifice for his salvation, and he was willing to sacrifice too. This selfless love is much deeper than romance. This αγαπη (agape`) love is the holy love we learn about from God’s Word. This love is a love of God. I John 4:8 tells is that God is love. This is a love that we have for God, but the prerequisite is that this is a love that comes from God to us. John 3:16 gives us the greatest manifestation of this love. God the Father loved us; therefore God the Son died to save us.
If we want to celebrate love – and there is nothing wrong with celebrating love – let’s think through a love of God. Let’s ponder the love from God, the love that we get to experience. Let’s ponder our love for God: do we love Him with all of our heart, soul, and strength? I dare say we all have room for improvement. Third, let’s ponder our own willingness to love our neighbor as our self? Fourth, if we want to apply this godly love in a romantic context, let’s ask this question: for whom are we willing to lay down our lives, and how do we show that love every day? If you have a “sweetheart” and you two celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day, thank God for loving you first, read Philippians 2:3, and love one another better this year than you did last!
Amazing love, I know it’s true;
and it’s my joy to honor You!
Rev. Andrew J. Reynolds