Hello again brethren (= brothers & sisters),
I write this to you the week before Memorial Day, so I haven’t yet preached on May 29, but since May has five Sundays, I have gotten to deliver eight Sundays’ worth of sermons to you since April 1. I heard from many of you before April, and I have heard from several of you since, that you already knew how I preached because you have heard me many times over the past thirteen years. That being said, prior to Pastor Jim’s retirement, the closest thing I have had to a “routine” were limited to when he had his neck surgery, and when he took his sabbatic trip each spring.
In the past eight weeks, the biggest learning curve I have had in this role is to structure a weekly routine of study, meditation, writing, and [what I call] “percolating”. I confess to you, and have had to repent to the Lord, that through Easter, I spent every Friday working eight to twelve hours writing my sermons. This was a mentally taxing process because I had squandered time earlier in the week doing administrative stuff. I am slowly but deliberately working to nail down a reliable rhythm of reading on Sunday afternoons, studying on Mondays, and doing administrative stuff on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so that by Thursday evenings, much of the guts of my sermons are clear. This has taken away much stress on Fridays and Saturdays. Much more important than my calendar, however, is what God has allowed me to see about the preaching process.
Save sitting by the bed of a saint nearing their heavenly commendation, or praying with someone as they yield their life to Jesus, nothing an elder/overseer/shepherd does is as holy as opening the Word of God before the People of God and heralding the great Good News of salvation. When one of God’s men stands behind the sacred desk and exposes the truths of scripture faithfully, the Holy Spirit convicts sinners, encourages disciples, challenges believers, equips witnesses, and builds the Kingdom. I pray weekly that I never take this lightly. Because God is in the business of saving souls and transforming lives from the inside out, it is imperative for a preacher to A) recognize the weight of such a responsibility, B) hear clearly from the Lord Himself, and C) have a burden over the souls in their care. It is critical that I never position myself as to preach AT anyone else. Rather, I must humbly strive to convey whatever God has laid upon my heart for all of us to hear.
Though every preacher has a different personality, and I reject the idea of taking on a different persona in the pulpit, every good preacher should want to continually improve. Pastor Jim modeled this for all of us to see. He had a passion and drive such that he wanted to continually improve his knowledge and skills. He was never lazy, settling for what was comfortable or easy; he wrestles with difficult passages, gleans from the wisdom and experience of others, and always works to deliver what our church needs to hear, when we need to hear it. Some of you are quick to point out that he and I have very different personalities and delivery styles. I agree completely! The very ones of you that point this out, remind me that what matters is that we preach the Word! Even within one personality, different passages direct different delivery styles. Some passages require me to do more teaching and explaining, others force me to do a little less “thinking” and a bit more “feeling” (refer to what I said on Palm Sunday).
I have also been told since April that I would make a good seminary professor. That’s all find and good, but when you sit in the pews on Sundays, you aren’t a bunch of aspiring theologian pin-heads debating amillennialism or supralapsarianism! I have to work to take theological concepts that might otherwise seem academic, and shape them such that they are relevant to normal church members. Also, I need to remember that we aren’t in Vermont, or Hungary, or the inner city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I need to always allow the Holy Spirit to guide me in making my sermons to be what God has to say to OUR church, THIS week.
I will never preach because of what the news paper says. I will, however, preach knowing exactly what the news paper has said. We want to be well-informed disciples, dealing with the cultural whirlwind around us. We need to be equipped to speak the truth, with grace, directly into the issues of the day. I promise to never bring partisan political speech into God’s pulpit. However, where God’s Word speaks, I will speak. First Baptist Church shall not be afraid to call sin “sin”, neither shall she neglect to proclaim that her bridegroom died to wash that sin away.
I practice expositional preaching. As you know, I love to preach within a series of sermons. More important than the series, though, is the principle of digging into, unpacking, and mining the riches of God’s Word. You have not hired me to spew my own opinions. If it were not for the Word of God, I would have nothing to say, and ought to shut up and sit down. As Pastor Jim has done so well, I aim to treat scripture not like a diving board, but like the swimming pool itself. He handled God’s Word as such, with great fidelity and care. I very much hope that one day, you might say the same about me.
For those of you that have given me feed-back in recent weeks, thank you! My door is always open when it comes to these things. I also wish to thank y’all for the spirit with which you’ve spoken to me, not in a tone of criticism, but one of encouragement. I am thankful to God that we have such a gracious and encouraging church! I am also thankful that He has so kindly given me the opportunity to preach every week!! May He continue to show us His favor!
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say that to you He hath said,
to you who – for refuge – to Jesus have fled?
I recently had a chance to help lead chapel for the children in the New Life Center. This is such a tremendous ministry in our church. Diane Oakley is leading a ring of folks to make it possible, and we are so thankful to be back able to do it after a 24-month forced pause. It gives us an opportunity every week to have face-to-face instruction with the students. We're able to raise the overall spiritual temperature across the New Life Center, and I have it on good authority that even some of the staff are being blessed by the lessons. Many of you know that the parents / grand-parents / legal guardians of many of these children have no church to call their home. You can also infer by the way I worded the last sentence that some of these kids have less-than-completely-stable home circumstances. It is an incredible chance for us to impress upon them the truths of God's Word each week. In doing so, we hope that the relationships we're building will directly affect the "success" of Sunday and Wednesday evening programming in the days ahead.
Obviously, "success" is much more than just a high attendance number, but we always thank God when we have the chance to touch as many lives as possible. Between our recent Easter Egg Hunt out-reach event, and our renewed emphasis within the New Life Center, we hope in the weeks and months ahead to gain momentum across all of SONquest's weekly events. One of these, Wednesday bible study, is ramping-up in May. It should hopefully go without writing, but we will continue to hold a weekly bible study for children every Wednesday evening. Once per month, however, we are going to dial it up. At 6:00, we will retrieve children when the New Life Center shuts down for the day, bring them to the Fellowship Hall for supper, and at 6:30, take them back down stairs for a distilled Vacation Bible School session over the course of 90 minutes. By doing this each month, we will take a large load of preparation, stress, and physical exertion off of our volunteers WHILE expanding V.B.S. to 12 nights!! All the while, stoking the slow burn of a robust out-reach effort throughout the whole year!
I was talking about my chapel lesson before I veered so far off course. Anyway, Diane and Ann Watts couldn't teach one week recently, so Ms. Leigh played the piano and was once again saddled with me leading the study! In it, the children had an object lesson of unique tools that do specialized functions. The lesson was two-fold. First, we are all created specially when specific gifts and talents. Second, no tool will serve its purpose unless it is in the hand of someone who knows how to use it. Assuming I am a tool, who is holding the handle? Am I a vessel that is willingly allowing the Master Craftsman to use me for His good work and purposes? Am I like a screw-driver, laying on a table, unable to twist myself because I won't let His hand hold me?
In the months ahead, we as individuals, and we as a church corporately, must work to actively avail ourselves to the hand of God. As we ask God to reveal to us a vision for the future, we must be willing tools seeking His hand. We will seek His will for our future, but we must first seek His face. As we know Him, enjoy intimacy with Him, and allow Him to be our primary source of identity, we'll be much more malleable. As we ask Him to "lead, guide, and direct" us, we'll be more likely to submit to His leadership, better able to follow His direction, and more sensitive to sensing His guidance as we move forward. Lets seek the face of God, the will of God, and the hand of God. Join me in praying that He'll reveal to us a vision for the future, and a strategy for making it a reality.
I invite all church members to take part in a strategic planning process I'll be implementing in May. If you are a committee chair, ministry leader, or out-reach volunteer, you're more than just invited; you're encouraged and I'll be bugging you personally very soon! We'll meet together adjacent to May's Deacons' meeting, and we will spend time seeking the will of God. In the months ahead, we will strive to clarify a vision for the future of our church from 30,000 feet, and we'll begin to articulate some component goals as we begin to work in that direction. Whether it's sharpening our blades, strengthening our steel, reinforcing our body, making our handle more ergonomic, or even adding an electric motor, may we all be tools in the hand of the Builder that He would have us to be!
To the work, to the work! We are servants of God,
let us follow the path that our Master has trod;
with a balm of His counsel our strength to renew,
let us do with our might what our hands find to do!
An open letter to Rev. James A. Cohn
On March 27, I made a conscious decision to not speak personally at your retirement reception. I knew that we were limited on time as folks floated in and out, and I knew that I might tend to ramble. Instead, I want to speak personally, and on behalf of First Baptist Church, as I thank you now.
First and foremost, thank you for your faithfulness to the bible. You believe that it is the Word of God, and you treat it as such. You preach and teach God's people what the truths of scripture are, and how to discover them. You have helped us to mine the depths of God's Word, understand it, and apply it to life. You treat the book less like a diving board on Sunday mornings and more like the swimming pool. We as a church hold scripture highly because of your leadership. We strive to apply biblical principles [individually and corporately] because you have led from the front in walking the talk.
Second, thank you for your personal holiness. Yes, you are an unholy sinner in need of God's grace, but you actively strive toward biblical holiness personally. You are a man of honest integrity. Your character is as Paul instructs Timothy to be: above reproach. You lead with transparency. Even in difficult decision making, you pass over convenience, opting for what is right. You are quick to forgive, seek forgiveness from God and other people, take responsibility, and give praise and credit to others.
Third, thank you for loving lost sinners. Your personal burden over the eternal condition of lost people, and for the needs of the "least of these" in Stokes County has spurred our church toward love and good works. You have kept our eyes on the physical and spiritual needs of our neighbors. In doing so, you have maintained appropriate focus upon the Great Commission, preventing our church from being too inward focused, ensuring that we keep the main thing (mission/evangelism/discipleship) , the main thing! You have challenged the status quo, questioned our motives, and refused to allow traditions to stifle fidelity to God's commands!
Fourth, thank you for shepherding the flock with great care. I have had the privilege of seeing behind the curtain as you sit at the bed side of a hospice patient, visit the hospital before dawn, love a grieving family, patiently serve those that are angry, counsel those who are hurting, officiate weddings, and dedicate children. You have comforted those who mourn, and celebrated with those who rejoice. You have done these things personally, but you have also wisely leveraged your leadership so that the entire flock isn't dependent upon one man. You have equipped me and many others to do these things, so that long after you are gone, our flock is better capable of ministering to one another. If this soul care rises and falls upon the ability of one man, then a pastor would not have been very effective.
Fifth, thank you for being loving, and joyful, and an agent of peace, and patient, and kind, and good, and faithful, and gentle, and self-controlled. You have treated all of us, particularly me, in this way. You have allowed the Holy Spirit to produce great fruit in your life. We have seen it, and have a slightly clearer picture of how Jesus Himself treated others.
Sixth, on a more personal note, thank you for leading by example. Thank you for sharing paramedic and soldier stories. Thank you for opening your heart as a widower, bachelor, someone trying to put two families together, someone that has lost parents and a child. Thank you for letting me pick your brain and understand how you maintain perspective. Thank you for sharing profound wisdom, letting me be over your shoulder as you make complex decisions, and challenging me to pan out and see the lay of the land from 50,000 feet. You have been a pastor, a colleague, a brother, a partner, a boss, a mentor, and a friend to me. I have tried to keep my pencil sharpened, because I have learned as much from watching you work as I have from listening to you give instruction.
Seventh, thank you for maintaining balance in your life. Thank you for knowing that a relationship with the Christ and His Bride are not one and the same. In a world where pastors' children have been sacrificed on the altar of church work, thank you for walking with God first. Thank you for being a godly husband and father second, and for being a faithful pastor third. Thank you for helping our church set a realistic expectation of what a pastor should be, guarding your home and calendar, avoiding burn-out, therefore cultivating longevity! I have seen many a pastor stumble, even falling out of the race. I have seen others coast across the finish line lazily, just maintaining until they can retire. Few and far between are those that have worked hard to fulfill their calling through the last week. Fewer and farther between are those that view retirement as simply an employment status, knowing that no saint can ever retire from their work as a disciple! Though you cannot say it yet, I know that one day, you will be able to say as Paul said to Timothy "I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith!"
I know that I speak for the whole of First Baptist Church when I reflect upon Matthew 25:21, and know that our Master will invite you to share in His joy when He declares accurately "well done, good and faithful servant!"
Thank you again Pastor Jim, and love in Christ,
Greetings again friends,
In recent days, I have reflected back upon the second week of March in 2020. On Monday, March 9, 2020, Pastor Jim and I spent the day down in Indian Trail at a North American Mission Board workshop. We spent much of the day talking about our health and safety procedures for the coming Sunday. By Wednesday evening, my blessed Tar Heels had lost a basketball game to Syracuse University. By Thursday morning, we’d learn that Carolina’s game was the last game played in the conference tournament. As “normal” seemed to be grinding to a screeching halt, I attended a Baptist State Convention prayer gathering in Pleasant Garden, where I spent two hours on my knees with a couple of hundred other pastors across North Carolina weeping over the condition of the lost and pleading to God for revival and spiritual awakening. It’s also worth noting that this was the day Pastor Jim left town for a three-week sabbatic period on an Outer Bank. By the time Saturday’s portion of that gathering drew to a close on March 14, 2020, I had received a telephone call from Bradley Cheek. As you know, Brad wasn’t just a highly-respected Deacon, he was a chief within King’s Fire Department. He had been in a conference call with the head of our state’s Department of Health and Human Services, and within twenty minutes of speaking with him, I had made four more telephone calls, and we had made the decision to cancel a public gathering on Sunday, March 15, 2020.
Needless to say, our church changed greatly that weekend. We now know that the Church has changed – the world over – since that weekend. A three-and-a-half-month lack of public gathering forced us to bolster our technological abilities. We re-ordered ministry priorities, dividing up the directory in order to call a member of every family, every two weeks. Pastor Jim, Pastor Luke, and I spent grueling hours making decisions that had taken minutes before we’d ever heard “corona virus”. We wrestled through how to re-gather, and which elements of our church’s ministries needed to return before others. I am so thankful for the wisdom and patience of our Deacons in serving and leading our church to keep our people safe and healthy, and to keep us on the mission of advancing the Kingdom.
Over the past two years, churches have lost people because they didn’t take CoViD-19 seriously enough, endangering themselves. Others have lost people because they took CoViD-19 too seriously, allowing fear to paralyze everything, thereby neutering the churches’ ability to further the great Good News! Perhaps worse, some haven’t lost any people, but are tearing themselves apart in fights that I believe grieves our Savior. Still other churches allowed a completely septic political climate to creep into its “ministry” efforts. In hearing these horror stories from other pastors (across multiple denominations), I am profoundly thankful that God has protected the unity of our church as we have labored to navigate these past twenty-four months. I don’t think we’ve done anything perfectly, but God has graciously sowed humility, selflessness, and patience across our congregation, thereby allowing us to remain together, focused upon God’s mission, and loving one another faithfully along the way!
I saw an article from LifeWay’s research department several weeks ago highlighting trends across the Church at large, and I see it’s reality in our own expression of the Body of Christ. It read that the Church has generally been broken into thirds. It claimed that about 33% of believers had become side-lined in the past 24 months. Our attendance numbers roughly reflect this. The article gives a number of possible reasons. This could be a result of genuine reservation due to health issues. This could also be due to new habits formed (think of the people that are “back to doing everything, but church”). This could also be due to a sifting between wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30 [I have no insight here; I’m leaving this in the hand the Sovereign]). This could also be due to folks that are hurt, or even angry, due to being neglected, hurt by their church, or even actively pushed away. The next 33%, according to the article, are those that have faithfully tried to carry on through the pandemic. In some ways, they have done more and worked harder since March 2020. This third is generally tired, just hanging on, and experiencing fatigue – internal and external. The article discussed how these numbers are applicable at the level of individual believers, but also applicable at the level of churches corporately.
The final 33%, are those that have experienced true spiritual growth during the past two years. This could be a direct result of God turning their world upside down and re-ordering their priorities. This could include folks that have experienced His grace or the love of a church family during this difficult time. This includes those that have been clearly reminded of the world’s brokenness and burdened under the lostness of their neighbors. This also includes those for whom God killed their distractions, and sitting at home in silence allowed them to hear His still, small voice drawing them into His loving arms!
I believe that many of us might be in the second group, but I am fully committed to letting God move us as a church squarely into this final third. I want many of us to be in the final third! Where are you? Are you tired? Do you need to rest in the strong arms of our Creator? Have you become distracted? Is He calling you back onto the court from the side-line? Are you on your knees pleading to the God of the universe for revival and spiritual awakening? It may be two years before you can see it, but are you allowing Him to draw near to you and working to draw unto Him?
Praise the Lord, His mercy is more! Stronger than darkness,
new every morn; our sins, they are many, His mercy is more!
Salutations again brothers and sisters!
During our quarterly Business Conference on January 19, I had the opportunity to share with you a bit of my heart regarding the pastoral transition, the midst of which we are in, and I began to articulate the vision God has given me for where our church’s ministries might head in the days ahead. I continue to welcome any questions, concerns, or comments you might have for me regarding anything you heard that evening. Please contact me directly, or catch me on a Sunday or Wednesday! I will be available for another “town hall” style event on a Wednesday evening this month! I am increasingly excited about what God has allowed me to envision!
As you have heard me say in many ways in the past, I am not only passionate about discipleship, I am burdened by the Great Commission given to us by King Jesus Himself (as recorded in Matthew 28) to go and make disciples! I want First Baptist to think of disciple-making as the “operating system” upon which ALL of our ministry “applications” run. It must undergird everything we do systemically, and this mission must be THE reason behind everything we do. Why do we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and warm those that are cold? Because we want to “get in the door” so that we have opportunities in which to share the great Good News of salvation! After all, eternity is at stake for everyone of our neighbors.
One of the things I talked about during the “town hall” was church growth. Of course I would like for more people to attend on Sunday mornings. Of course I want more and more people to enter into our covenant body. Of course I want more people to be actively engaged in learning, bearing one another’s burdens, and ministering to neighbors across our community. Of course I want to experience an increase in quantity of bodies, buildings, and budgets. Of course I know that these are side effects of increases in quality and faithfulness to God and His Word. However, in the years ahead, would we willing to enact the policy of a church I have heard of in Vermont? I do not know the pastor personally, he is only an acquaintance of an acquaintance, nor do I fully understand the variables of their context, but they have an intentional size ceiling of about 125 members. When this church grows to 125, they send out a team of 25-50 to plant a new church. They send out their best and brightest, many of their leaders, and then work to reach more people that do not year know the Christ. This is a bit of a radical approach to capping a church’s size, but it’s a powerful example of prioritizing Kingdom growth over the growth of a particular church. Are we willing to make such a commitment to prioritizing the Kingdom?
I am so encouraged by the heart of Roy Busick. He wants to cultivate a culture across our Sunday School ministry where we strengthen the three components of discipleship: education/training, in-reach/fellowship, and out-reach/mission. If all of our small groups work toward health in all three of these areas, we will be forced to practice biblical multiplication. Like our friends in Vermont, the New Testament shows growth by division. This is a beautiful picture of Kingdom advancement. We want to see souls saved and lives radically transformed. We want to see the unsaved today become the Church’s leaders of tomorrow. We want to have visions come to fruition!
Are you being the disciple God wants you to be? Are you burdened by the brokenness and lostness of our neighbors? What are you doing to make disciples of these?
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done!
Happy second quarter dear friends!
I want to “cede the ground” of my monthly news-letter article to write instead a more-or-less announcement regarding SONquest, our children’s ministry! As many of you know, perhaps all too well, that I am not nearly as gifted at engaging the little ones as Luke Long is, but this is certainly an area of ministry about which I am very passionate. The “next generation” is not the future of our church; it is our very present. If we want to be a New Testament church, we should naturally strive toward a cradle-to-grave ministry ideology. Multi-generational discipleship is not just an effective strategy; it is a biblical model. We should want great-grandchildren learning, growing, maturing, and lifting high the name of their Savior in song on the very same pew as their great-grandparents! We must always invest in our senior adults, our middle adults, our young adults, and the “next generation”. Experts in christian education refer to “next generation” ministry, and I’m not certain why that is the best new term to describe everyone of not-yet-majority age, but I think the best explanation is that they are the “next generation” of leaders! I’ll devote some real estate to a discussion of IMPACT student ministry in the future, but in this space, I’ll keep it to children’s ministry.
When we stood up the SONquest brand in 2014, we did so to provide a comprehensive ministry from birth until a kid matriculates into middle school. We knew then that safety was important. Since that time, we have read of more and more churches falling victim to the work of abusers. All of our volunteers are vetted, we have secure facilities, and check-in/check-out procedures. We want parents and guardians to rest assured that their little ones are in good hands here within the First Baptist Church. Thanks to the visionary leadership of Anthony and Marchelle Brown, and their previous leadership experiences within the First Assembly of God (Winston-Salem), we very intentionally created the SONquest brand to raise up godly young people, learning how to pray, study God’s Word, serve one another, give, and worship the Lord together! Indeed God providentially sent the Browns to us at that time to help us take hold of that vision! Though we might debate upon how to define “success”, it’s pretty clear that SONquest has been incredibly successful! It would be foolish though, to think of this success as complete. We are always experimenting, re-evaluating, improving, growing, and working to improve all areas of ministry, including our ministries to children.
For clarity, I’d like to dispel a misconception of what “SONquest” is. It is not “what happens down stairs from 11:00-12:00 on Sundays.” It includes a children’s worship service, yes, but it also includes other components: Sunday School classes, Wednesday evening bible studies, special out-reach events (like Easter Egg Hunts, Trunk-r-Treat events, programs near Christmas, or Vacation Bible School), and ordinary out-reaches into the New Life Center! This includes nursery care for our littlest ones, pre-school groupings, elementary age groupings, and transitioning fourth- and fifth-grade kids into “big church”! It should go without saying, but I’ll write it anyway: this is an exciting vision to take hold of, and we want to do whatever it takes to make all of these things as robust and healthy as possible!
I very much hope that EVERYone in our church family was able to take in our Treat Night / Candle-light Service hybrid event this-past month. Did anyone else count that we had TWENTY-FIVE “next generation” leaders take part in that program!?! It is also worth noting that we did not engage the New Life Center children for that event; we made a conscious decision to specifically include our own children/grandchildren/great-grandchildren. Imagine what it might be this-coming year after we have had months of head-on engagement with the New Life Center. That’s right, in 2022, we are working to re-establish weekly chapel services with the New Life Center children as a way to intentionally draw them – and their families – into our church!
I’ve had a number of conversations with SONquest volunteers in recent months to think through some subtle changes we can make to strengthen several aspects of our ministries. If you are a volunteer, and I haven’t YET pinned you down for a discussion, come see me! We’ve begun to think through curriculum, personnel, and facilities issues, and correctly order the “dominoes” before we knock them over! If you have been sensing that perhaps God is calling you to serve in some way, and have never volunteered with our children’s ministries, please come see me about that too, because we are looking to reinforce our volunteer teams in the days ahead. Please join me in thanking God for what He is doing in our church. Join me in being excited for what the coming months will bring. Join me in prioritizing Spirit-filled, scripture-fed, worship-based discipleship across all areas of our church’s ministries. Join me in praying that God will mold and fashion these little ones into spiritually mature ladies, husbands, grandparents, and citizens that have a burning desire to share the great good news of Jesus’ salvation with a lost world!
We promise to be faithful, and teach them all Your ways;
help us to live before them lives they can only praise;
tho’ they will not remember what we have done this day,
each day we’ll shape their future by all we do and say.
Hello again folks!
I have much to be thankful for. I was challenged in seminary by this thought: what if every time we failed to be thankful for a blessing from God, He took it away. I tend to take things for granted, and not be as appreciative as I ought to be. Most of you know at this point, that my father’s father passed at the end of October. Perhaps more stressful than getting through the funeral, were the logistics of getting to and from Florida for it, haha! My family and I were so glad that he had moved assisted living facilities back in the spring, allowing us to visit him a bit more freely. I spent three days with him in early August while vacating. My father was able to get down to Florida before he passed. Being 92 years old, and in declining physical health, we have little about which to complain. Rather, we have many blessings to begin to count. In 1968, he retired from the Air Force to Orlando, so as a child, I only ever saw my father’s parents two or three times per year. He was a tough old guy, and I tended to perceive him as a bit of a grumpy curmudgeon [perhaps that’s where I get it from!]. Being a poor graduate school student, visiting family in Florida over spring break was the closest thing I could afford to a real vacation. It was during this season that I got to share man-to-man conversations. I heard about his childhood, his military career, his struggles when my grandmother got sick and had to go into a nursing home, and his sustaining faith. He told me about getting baptized alongside my father, and he told me how proud he was that I was becoming a pastor. In 2018, he happened to visit North Carolina around his birth day. It was the only time I was able to be with him on his birth day. One of the great joys of my life was when he and Pastor Jim got to meet one another over breakfast during that trip, what would be his last trip home to North Carolina. I shared a bit of his military feats during our veterans’ recognition evening this-past month. I am so grateful for God’s many blessings during this season. You didn’t start reading this article to read the biography of a man you’ve never met; I know. There’s a point, I promise!
Through this season, I am also thankful to the love I have received from my church family. I have been overwhelmed by how many cards I have received from you. I have received notes from individuals, families, small groups, and our dear Choir. It’s a heart-warming reminder to me that I am not just a “hired gun” around here, but a true part of your family too, and I thank you. I haven’t even suffered losing a first-degree relative, and you still have been so kind to me! I am so proud of how we care for one another. I look at the recent passings of U.G. Miller and Anthony Brown’s father (William). Whether a member of our church or not, we work hard to care for each other. We put our money where our mouth is when we practice the biblical principle of rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn. As a first-hand recipient of your love, let me first brag about how proud of you I am, and second, thank you for it.
Several months back, I wrote about the three key components of biblical discipleship: learning, fellowship, and missions. Roy Busick expressed the same three principles when it comes to what makes a healthy group/class. True fellowship is rooted in living life together. When we walk together as brothers and sisters in Christ, we naturally find ourselves bearing one another’s burdens. These can be physical, emotional, relational, financial, even psychological. When we care for one another, share our struggles, lift one another up in prayer, hold one another accountable, and encourage one another during difficulty, this is the kind of high-quality relationship that godly discipleship builds. I am so thankful that we do these things well, and I very much hope we can make it even better. It’ll be better as we grow in quality and quantity. May more and more souls want to be a part of the love that we share as a church family!! I hope many more will be blessed in the ways that I have been. Thank you again!
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills in this world and the next!
Greetings and salutations dear friends!
I’d like to take a moment and give us all a refresher history lesson on the reformations. That’s right, it should be plural. Some of you know that November 1 is observed as All Halloweds’ Day. Our Catholic friends know about this much better than we do, but in recent years “Halloweds” has fallen out of use and most refer to it as All Saints’ Day. It is a traditional feast day within Catholicism where all the saints that don’t have their own days (like St. Patrick, St. Nicholas, St. Valentine, etc.) are memorialized together. All Souls’ Day follows on November 2, and for our rather traditional Catholic friends (most of whom live in other countries now), it makes for quite a two-day celebration period each year.
It was on All Halloweds’ Eve (this has since been corrupted into the word “halloween”) that a German monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed an essay to a cathedral door in 1517. That night, Luther publically posted his essay and the next morning, when everyone in town gathered for a church service, they were made aware of his work. These “95 Theses” were a list of grievances that he had against the Roman Catholic church in general, and the Pope and other officials in particular. Most church history scholars boil the theses down to five main points. “Sola” is the Latin word meaning “alone” or “only”. The five solas are “sola scriptura” (scripture alone), “solus Christus” (Christ alone), “sola fide” (faith alone), “sola gratia” (grace alone), and “soli Deo gloria” (glory to God alone).
For this reason, October 31 has become known as Reformation Day, as news of Dr. Luther’s writings quickly made their way to Rome, earning him the ire of the Pope himself. Though the Swiss and Czech reformations had already begun, with varied successes, and the English reformation was yet to come, having very different reasons, it was these “solas” around which the various stripes of reformers cemented. Even though we have many different kinds of protestant denominations, networks, groups, and expressions, these central tenants are what all protestants can base their belief systems.
First, whatever we believe should be able to be articulated as a result of revelation from God through His Word. Scripture is our sole source of authority. If Pastor Jim or I preach our opinion to you, fire us. We preach because we have a book from which to preach. We proclaim the truths of God’s Word, not some secret vision He has given to us on Saturday night. The great Good News that God commissions us to tell to the world has been given to us in print. If we are not squarely grounded in scripture, we aren’t really grounded at all. By extension, if we attempt to ground ourselves in scripture AND anything else, we declare that God’s Word on its own is not good enough.
Second, the Christ, the Messiah, the man Jesus, born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, is our sole source of salvation. He lived a life, never committing a sin. This positioned Him – uniquely – to serve as an atoning sacrifice. He died, a most gruesome, painful death, bearing our sins. He was a substitution in our place, receiving the wrath of God that we deserve. Two days later, He overcame sin and its consequence, being raised to life again, HALLELUJAH! There is no other source of salvation. Not yourself, not a priest, not an institution, not a tradition, not a family heritage, not a series of good works; Jesus the Christ is the only source of salvation in this sinful world.
Third, faith is the only method for mankind to receive this salvation. To place our trust in the work of Jesus, we must remove our trust in our sin of the flesh – this is repentance. We turn from our sin and toward the Messiah. We believe that He is who the bible says He is, and we accept Him as our Savior, and we yield our life to Him as Lord. That’s it. That is the only way we receive salvation from Him. We don’t have to pray a specifically scripted prayer, or recite something a number of times. We don’t have to light a candle or be sprinkled by a holy man. No one gets to add requirements or stipulations, or anything else. It is a simple, childlike, faith that God asks for, and He freely gives us everlasting life!
Fourth, for the folks that struggle leaning into the idea that faith is some kind of “good work” that we “do”, we are reminded that salvation is by grace alone. The undeserved love of God is the only reason for salvation. We don’t earn it; He doesn’t owe it. He freely, willfully chooses to bestow salvation upon us as a free gift. How amazing is that?
Fifth, why does God save us? Why does God give us His Word? Why did God Himself choose to become a human being, born of a virgin and laid in a manger? Why doesn’t God add more strings to this process? Why doesn’t He make us clean up our own selves before we’re ready to receive His gift? Why doesn’t He punish us like we deserve? Why does He create us in the first place? All of this is solely for His glory! He makes us, He calls us, He redeems us, He makes us co-heirs with the Christ! He loves us. He wants to have a relationship with us! He makes a way for us to come back to Him, because He wants us to be His children. Nothing in the universe brings God more joy than when we love Him back! He delights in our praise and He wants us to be with Him! For this reason, our obedience is the first act of worship. We glorify Him in our lives, for we have been bought at a price. It’s all about giving Him the glory!
He is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!
Hello brethren, and Happy New Year!
It doesn’t take a high degree of biblical literacy to understand that God created us. Psalm 139 (verses 13-16 specifically) and many other passages of scripture teach us about God’s knowledge of – and love for – those not yet born. All bible-believing people can agree that life begins before a baby is born. Many of us even refer to the “sanctity of life.” If we claim that human life is sacred, we must be extremely clear and unapologetic about why we believe this to be so: because mankind, human beings, even those unborn, are made in the image of God. This is abundantly clear in Genesis 1:27. Our IMPACT students and I have had a couple of fun conversations in recent days about what this means and the implications thereof. Our middle school students do not completely understand it. I don’t completely understand it. Moses, King David, and Isaiah didn’t completely understand it. It seems to me that Adam and Eve, even before sin entered the picture, didn’t understand it either.
Though we do not, and probably can not, know exactly what it means to bear the image of God, we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt several implications of this crucial truth. One of those implications is a decidedly pro-life stance. The Church, across time, has always been a womb-to-tomb defender of the defenseless. Even under the persecution of the Roman Empire, we cared for orphans, not just our own, but orphans of our own Roman persecutors. It ought go without saying that we are a pro-life church. We choose to take part in decidedly pro-life denominational structures. I hope our church, and many others, will put our money where our mouth is and do whatever it takes to protect those in need, from the womb to their tomb!
Obviously there are many applications of being pro-life. Indeed, I believe that there are many end-of-life applications to this biblical world view that tend to get over looked. I would very much like to discuss some of these at another time, but in this article, I’d like to look at one particular pro-life application. If we may, let’s narrow our focus to the issues of aborting pregnancies. I would submit that abortion is a great scourge across our society and a great moral stain on our country. A stain for which, we will be held to account one day. I believe abortion is sinful, destructive to those committing the sin, lamentable, and though its presence might anger us, it should all the more sadden us and break our hearts.
Politically, I am no fan of out-lawing sin. I think it’s a fool’s errand to attempt to legislate my version of morality. It’s plain ol’ legalism, and it breeds a Puritanism that falls far short of changing hearts and lives. I’ve said before – from our pulpit – and I’ll say again that my goal is not to make abortion illegal, rather, my goal is to make abortion obsolete. When the love of Jesus, and the great good news of salvation in Him change people’s souls, I’m quite frankly indifferent about what laws allow them to do. That being said, I will always support legal efforts to reduce abortion in hopes of seeing it end one day. I’m sure many of you have by now heard about the new law of Texas regarding pregnancy termination. As many of you well know, I’m a consummate skeptic, and I’m more convinced that the law is a political ploy than it is a good-faith attempt to save lives. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. says it is “awkwardly worded”, and I’m very curious how the enforcement mechanism will stand the test of legal review. However, I commend Texans for making such a bold attempt to protect life!
The Supreme Court’s decision regarding Roe vs. Wade in 1973 and 1992’s Planned Parenthood vs. Casey decision are not infallible. I believe strongly that both are subject to review and could very well be over turned one day, however, assuming the so-called “Roe/Casey legal framework”, I think it’s possible for bible-believing people to affect change that will protect the lives of babies. In various evangelical circles, including within the Southern Baptist Convention, there is an ongoing discussion whether it’s better to be abolitionist or incrementalist in our thinking [please ask me about how this played out at the Convention meeting in Tennessee I attended in June!]. I would humbly submit to you that any effort, great or small, to hem in abortion is good. If any baby is saved, it’s worth the effort. Given the horrors taking place in so many states, it would be wise to quickly identify areas of public support and incrementally reign in the availability of abortion (which methods are allowed, how far along can women abort for any reason, which reasons are disallowed from the start, what happens with fetal tissues post-abortion, etc.) and cease granting incentives to providors.
I would like to commend to you the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. They have done much good work in this realm of public policy. We ought be proud of their efforts to proactively allow Christian ethics to flourish in this country, and they have a high commitment to biblical fidelity! In our own back yard, The Pregnancy Network in Greensboro and Winston-Salem is a Christ-centered non-profit organization providing free medical care to women, and actively working to give ladies alternative choices to abortion. I hope that in the months ahead, we’ll have more opportunities to partner alongside this wonderful organization. It will certainly give us a chance to walk the talk of being pro-life. From providing adoption avenues, to mentoring young mothers during and after pregnancy, to discipling parents and children, may God’s Church stand up and protect the pre-born, and those already born, regardless of age! We do this, because we bear His image, and they do too!
Rescue the perishing, duty demands it; strength for thy labor the Lord will provide;
back to the narrow way, patiently win them, tell the poor wand’rer a Savior has died!
In recent weeks, our "From Now to Eternity: the Church in the Last Days" sermon mini-series in Revelation has caused me to do some thinking. I read passages like we've preached in chapters 4 or 5, and I think to myself 'come quickly, Lord Jesus!' Couple this with the news we see, and I long even more for the Christ to make all things new. Particularly the passages containing the letters to the churches cause me to pause and realize that our Savior has left us here with a purpose, a Great Commission in fact. I think as we long to spend eternity in the glory of God, it hastens us in our mission to make disciples while we still have the chance. As we catch glimpses of an eternal ecstasy, it ought strengthen our resolve to evangelize between now and then. Here's why: if we want to share in the everlasting joy of being co-heirs with the Messiah, we should want others to join us!
It would take a pretty sorry believer to take hold of the free grace of God, turn around, and actively deny it to others. That's a pretty uncontroversial take. My next opinion might be a bit more controversial. When we gather in our holy hudles, enjoy learning and studying together, return to the comfort of our own homes, and neglect our Christian responsibility to make disciples of all nations, we are passively - and perhaps quite unintentionally - doing just what we abhorred above. May God have mercy if we aren't willing to step outside out comfort zone and serve our neighbors. May God have mercy upon us if we are too busy enjoying "doing church" to get out of the building and "be the church!"
I pray that my toes are not the only ones being stepped on right now. The Holy Spirit has convicted me recently in this issue, because of several current events. Let's think about the Great Commission in simpler and more digestable context: within Stokes County. We're a predominantly middle and upper-middle class, white church. What if God leads us to own the lostness of the poorest neighbors in our county? What if God leads us serve neighborhoods around Walnut Cove that are nearly exclusively black? I'll confess to you, I'm already outside my comfort zone in several ways. What if the federal government uses Meadows as a hub for a relocation program for refugees from Cuba? The presence of signage and businesses alone catering to Spanish speakers might drive some of us crazy! What if Dry Hollow were set up as a hub for the relocation of Afganis fleeing the Taliban? Are we willing to cater to these new neighbors, serve them, and love them, sharing the good message of salvation in Jesus' name? Even if these hypothetical refugees were American-friendly and even served our military personnel as translators, it would be a difficult blow to our comfort level.
I type these words to challenge you in your current comfort zone. These are hypothetical situations, but it may very well prove a realistic possibility in the months to come. I want to challenge us all, because I have been greatly convicted in recent days. First, I have been greatly convicted about my own willingness to take for granted the liberties we share in this great Union of states, specifically the religious liberties we are directly given in our Constitution's first amendment. We have millions of brothers and sisters across the globe that share no such liberties, and they practice faith and obedience to God's Word at tremendous personal cost. Second, I am convicted about my own neglect of King Jesus' Great Commission. It's pretty easy for me to spend a day in my office doing "church work", go home, put my feet up, and have never done anything of Kingdom value. I need to better steward my time so that I can be meeting more people, cultivating new friendships, and having conversations about spiritual things.
Third, my soul has been wrecked in this sermon series because of the cost of my own salvation. It's pretty easy for me to desire - in theory - the evangelism of our Afgan friends being tortured by the Taliban. It's a bit more difficult for me to desire the evangelism of that Islamist soldier. It's a bit more difficult for me to desire the evangelism of the communist leaders in China actively engaged in the genocide of their own countrymen. It's a bit more difficult for me to desire the evangelism of the Castros. O that I might take to heart that I am no more worthy of God's grace than these. I don't deserve to hear and respond to the good message of salvation any more than them. It is only by God's merciful love that I was born here to parents that brought be to church, taught me to pray, and instilled biblical values in our home. May we never allow our desire for biblical justice to eclipse our desire for souls to be saved and lives to be changed. May we never grow complacent thinking that God's good news is for those of us that are "better". May we never allow our love of country, or cultural comforts, to stifle our love for others, or our willingness to reach them with the great Good News!
Behold the Lamb, behold the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world.
For sinners crucified, o holy sacrifice, behold the Lamb of God, behold the Lamb!
Rev. Andrew J. Reynolds