Thursday, May 14, 2020

"Follow the Leader" - Why we should follow the lead of governmental officials.

Absolutely nothing prepares you to lead or shepherd a group of people through a pandemic.  The last, great pandemic in the United States was over 100 years ago, and as history reports, the United States while fighting a war, according to the CDC lost approximately 675,000 citizens because of the H1N1 virus.  Even if a pastor had written a book over 100 years ago, giving his best advice for leading a church during a pandemic, I don’t think it would have touched on America’s current polarized political landscape, an unmuzzled social media platform, or the deluge of information available on the internet.  All of these factors shape public opinion, and honestly at times, give me a headache.  For a pastor that is seeking to lead well, these public opinions, which by the way are dwelling in turmoil, are quite overwhelming.  So where have I turned during this epic event?  I have spent many hours in prayer and reflection, but with regard to wisdom, God’s Word has guided my steps.  One passage of scripture that I have leaned on heavily is Romans 13:1:7.

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.  For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.  For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.  This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.  Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
The Apostle Paul teaches in verse 1 that God has fashioned governing bodies for all people groups, and that His sovereign hand has established every authority.  For the purpose of context it is important to know that as Paul wrote this letter that early day Christians were under the authoritative government of Rome lead by a pagan, Nero Claudius Caesar.  According to history Nero burned nearly two thirds of the city of Rome and blamed it on the Christian community, igniting Romes first great persecution of Christians.  It is believed that Paul wrote the book of Romans approximately four years prior to this persecution.  God allowed this heinous ruler to govern His people, and commanded them not to rebel, but to follow the laws of Rome.  It may be hard to comprehend, but according to this scripture even Nero was God’s servant.  Furthermore, God communicates in verse 2 that if you rebel, you are rebelling against Him!  
Why has God established governmental authorities?  
#1. God desires order
Satan is the author of all chaos.  Throughout the Bible God gave His people shepherds to lead and guide them.  A body without leadership dwells in chaos, and that is not from God.
#2.  God desires justice
Justice requires rules and authorities to enforce them.  Verse 4 communicates that the authorities bear the sword for a reason, to punish those who break the rules. 
#3.  God desires public welfare
Taxes are paid to compensate public officials, provide public safety, to build infrastructure, and provide services like sanitation.
God wants what is best for us!  With this scripture in mind, I have chosen to honor our Federal and State governments by applying recommendations made with regard to our church gatherings.  When I met with our deacon body, we reviewed the Opening America Up Again criteria which was created by our Federal government, and the State guidelines given to us on May 4th by Governor Asa Hutchison.  We are blessed to live in a state in which our Governor and the Director of the State Department of Health are professed Christians.  These men even included representatives from the faith community on a state task force that penned the recommendations for reopening church buildings in Arkansas.  You and I may not agree with every rule or recommendation that is handed down to us, but I believe we have a civic and Christian duty to honor the authorities that God calls His servants.  I can’t imagine any Governor or Director of the State Department of Health that hoped for this pandemic to happen.  I believe these leaders are doing their very best to promote public welfare, and it would be wise to honor them by following their lead. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Birthday Burpees & Community

Why is community so encouraging?  Last week, Emily and I each turned a year older.  While at our morning 5:00 a.m. cross-fit class on her birthday, Emily was challenged to do 43 burpees, one for each year of her age.  Being the supportive husband I am, I positioned myself beside her and labored through 43 burpees.  She was so encouraged by my display of support.  The very next day we noticed that her ankle was swollen from an injury that she had sustained a few weeks back.  A friend instructed Emily to stay home and rest, so the next day, which was my birthday, she was not able to attend class.  I knew that my cross-fit friends were going to challenge me to do 41 burpees, one for each year of my age.  A little sad about Emily’s absence, I was prepared to tell them, “No”.  Sure enough, after the completion of the workout, one of our friends came up to me and said it was time to do my birthday burpees.  I looked at her and said, “Well, I don’t think I am going to do them today.”  She said, “Come on, I will do them with you.  Let’s go.”  Before I could drop down and do my first burpee, four of our friends had surrounded me and were doing burpees with me.  Exhausted from the workout, I lagged behind their pace, and when they finished I still had 11 burpees left.  The lady that challenged me to do my birthday burpees dropped down and completed 11 additional burpees so that I would not finish alone.  If it was not for my work out friends, I would have walked away sad that morning, but because of their support and encouragement, I left the gym crying tears of joy.  I was still sad that Emily wasn’t there to be with me, but what a joy it was to have four men and women surround me and lift me up.  

God created us to be encouraged by community.  A great example is found in Exodus chapter 17.

“Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim.  So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”  Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.  So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed.  But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set.  So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.”

What would have happened if Aaron and Hur had not been there to hold up Moses’ arms?  The Israelites would have been defeated!  God placed people in Moses’ life to support and encourage him so that he could accomplish his role as the leader of the Israelites. 

Additionally, the author of the Book of Hebrews wrote, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

This is clearly a message to believers.  God created us for community, and we naturally need the community of a church family to encourage us as we do His work.  My cross-fit friends encouraged me to overcome my sadness and fatigue so that I could complete what seemed like an insurmountable task.  Our brothers and sisters, in the church, are to encourage us as we do God’s work.  The Christian life is not easy.  If you are seeking to see people come to know Jesus, Satan is going to place a mountain of discouragement in your life, and if you are seeking to grow to be more like Jesus, he is going to do everything He can to interrupt that good work as well.  We need fellow believers to encourage us to overcome Satan’s obstacles.  We were created for Christian community.     

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Is the internet evil?

Are the internet and social media outlets, like Facebook and Twitter, evil?  This past political cycle was the nastiest, sleaziest, ugliest mess I have ever witnessed, and thousands upon thousands of people continue to spew their overbearing opinions through blogs, Facebook posts, and Tweets.  This past week two-time Grammy and Emmy winning comedian, Kathy Griffin participated in a photo shoot in which she held up a decapitated, bloody head that resembled Mr. President Trump.  When I saw the firestorm of Twitter posts related to this un-newsworthy story my stomach physically turned.  Have we lost all respect for mankind?  I cannot imagine how President Trump’s son felt when he first viewed this barbaric photo.  We are most definitely witnessing evil behavior that is being broadcast to the multitudes through these news veins.  But, are social media outlets themselves evil?
What is the definition of social media?  I made this up myself, so I don’t have to reference anyone else.  Social media is a conduit or tool used to instantly communicate information to the vastness of society.  A tool is a lifeless object that cannot take on the attributes of a human being, therefore the answer to my initial answer is no.  So, where is this evil behavior birthed? From the depths of the human heart.  The prophet Jeremiah wrote, The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”  Jeremiah 17:9.  And Jesus said, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.”  Matthew 15:18.  The heart is wicked, and every wicked thing that comes out of the mouth erupts from the heart, and every evil thing that is tweeted originates from the human heart.  It is a proven fact that most people will communicate through email, texts, and Facebook statements that they would not say to another human being face to face.  It is truly an unhealthy use of freedom of speech, but rightly used, social media outlets can be used to glorify God and advance His Kingdom.  So, before you rant about the evils of this cyber-tech world, first check your own heart.  If parasites were truly eliminated from our hearts, we would not see as many evil posts on the World Wide Web.  I love ya’ll. 

Pastor Artie   

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Walking in the Dark

What is faith?  Cruising through the book of Hebrews, I stumbled upon this verse about faith that encapsulates the complete meaning of faith.

“By faith Abraham when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he didn’t know where he was going.”  Hebrews 11:8. 
How can you not know where you are going?  I guess Abraham did not have an iPhone with access to Siri!  Siri drives me nuts.  I don’t really need two women in my life that know more than me.

To obtain a better understanding of the situation, read Genesis 12:1-4.

“The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.  He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.”

Two words jump off the page in this text: Go and went.  The Lord said go, and Abraham went.  When Abraham packed up everything and left his home, he didn’t even know exactly where he was going or what he was going to be doing.  Abraham just knew that his new home would be in a foreign land known as Canaan.  God instructed Abraham to pack, and He told him that He would later show him where to go. 
Return to Hebrews 11:8.  Abraham obeyed and went, even though He didn’t know where He was going.  When God begins a new work, He doesn’t always give us all the details up front.  Even though we don’t know exactly how the new adventure is going to work out, as believers, we are to trust Him and obediently walk in faith.  When God says go, our first response is to be obedient and leave.  Church family, it is time to Come Together for the Future and populate a Building Team.  We don’t know where the new facilities will be built, or how God is going to provide financially for our needs, but it is time to be obedient and walk in faith.  As we walk, He will faithfully reveal to us all the details.  I love you!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Yes, Lord, Yes!

Church family, I do not deserve to serve at FBC in Chuck Town, and I do not understand why God chose me to be here at this time and be a part of the huge work that He is doing.  This great work I speak of is not the idea or thought of raising up a new building, but is that of raising up a united church body.  In a world that is riddled with individuality, it is truly refreshing to serve in a body that is seeking humility.

I’m still amazed by the clear confirmation that God sent our way through the pastor search committee process.  I was told in an early meeting that I would not receive a unanimous vote of confirmation from the church body.  My response was that we just need to pray about that.  If you look at the photo above, it will remind you that my assignment was confirmed by 111 yes votes to 0 no votes.  God provided a unanimous calling.  I believe the vote was unanimous because this body’s members were willing to kneel in humility and listen to God.  God can and will powerfully move within and through a body that is unanimous.

Is it possible for a church body full of so many different personalities and opinions to move powerfully in one direction?  Read Ephesians 4:4-6.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”  The very same Spirit of God dwells in every single one of us.  We are unified through the Spirit of God.  Therefore, if we seek God’s face through congregational prayer, and if we are listening, we should here the same answer.  Each member must humbly submit to the body as a whole, and be willing give to up his or her own desires to hear with one ear.  He is not a God of confusion and will not send conflicting messages to the members of His church.

April 30th at 5:00 p.m. in the Family Life Center, we will hold a special business meeting in conjunction with our 5th Sunday pot luck dinner for the purpose of discussing and voting on a recommendation brought forth unanimously by our deacon body.  The deacon body recommends that we authorize the Ministry Recruitment Team to populate a Coming Together for the Future Team to formulate a plan to meet our facility needs.  You will have a chance to cast an audible vote for this movement.  During the month of April, I am asking you to do two things.  First, agree to bathe this recommendation in prayer.  Second, if this is truly God’s will, which I believe it is, be willing to humbly submit to the body as a whole as we seek to be unified.  It is truly time for FBC Charleston to Come Together for the Future.           

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Coming Together For The Future

I love the background image in our Coming Together for the Future prayer card.  The highway is the place where our tires meet the payment.  First Baptist Church of Charleston is entering an intersection of sorts that can direct us to the interstate of faith.  However, our bus is currently idling at a stop sign, and we do not know whether to turn left, right, or continue forward.  We need direction or a GPS unit to lead us to our destination.  The theme verse for this road trip is Psalm 127:1.  “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.”  Allow me to “Artie this up” for you.  Unless God is in this, we are wasting our time and resources. 

I am confident that our congregation must gaze ahead and determine future facility needs and map out a plan to meet those needs.  If we are not focusing our thoughts towards the future, we are in reality moving backwards.  Focusing on the future is clearly our only option.  The key is to gain an understanding of what God desires for our future.  During this journey of faith, we must allow God to chart our course.  So, how do we make sure God is guiding us?  James, the half-brother of Jesus wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”  James 1:5.  What is the difference between knowledge and wisdom?  Knowledge is a human reserve of information where wisdom is an understanding obtained from the mind of God.  Church family, we are blessed with a tremendous reservoir of man’s knowledge, but now more than ever, we need Godly wisdom.  God’s mind is greater than all of our pooled knowledge.  We cannot and will not ever understand all the ways of God.  When we need answers or Godly wisdom, we ask God for an understanding from Him of what we need to do or not do.  Through His Spirit, He unlocks in our minds an understanding of what we need to know. 

A journey of faith requires that we ask God for exactly what He wants; we listen carefully and receive His direction; then we obediently go where He leads us.  My simplified version of this statement is that we must pray, listen, and do. 

This journey of faith has absolutely nothing to do with building a worship center; it is all about His church hearing His voice and walking with Him in faith.  God is giving FBC Charleston a vision to “Come Together” and walk in faith.  Now is the time to seek His face in prayer.      

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Cut It Out!

I believe that most folks have a sin or a group of sins that they struggle with.  When I am tired and stressed, my natural bent is to overeat.  I have struggled with keeping excess weight off for almost twenty years.  When I am stressed, if offered a million dollars, alcohol, tobacco, legalized medical marijuana, or Reese’s Cups; I’m going to hammer the Reese’s Cups every single time!  For me, it is almost impossible to resist the chocolatey covered peanut butter cups.  Unfortunately, I turn to food during periods of high stress.  My choosing to over eat is wrong for two reasons.  First, I am out of control.  I have no discipline what-so-ever.  You better not leave out a bag of Nacho-Cheese Doritos.  Second, I am using food to soothe my mental pain instead of relying on God’s provision.

Because overeating is a sinful habit, I feel good for a while, but am later overwhelmed with guilt.  My heart hurts when I realize that my favorite clothes are too tight.  Hung neatly in my closet are a couple of suits that are a size too small.  I would love to wear them, but right now it is not going to happen.  The struggle is real. 
A couple of weeks ago, I once again decided to do something about my eating problem.  I asked Emily to help me measure my eating portions, and we are working out at the local fitness center.  The first few days of the workout, I thought I was going to die, but some friends encouraged me to keep going and by the fifth day, my soreness and stiffness had receded. 
The truth is, Satan knows your bents or weaknesses, and he is waiting to entice you at the perfect time and place.  That is the way he rolls.  In Matthew 5:29 Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.”  Jesus is teaching that you should take drastic measures to strategically cut sin from your life.  My drastic measure is to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and work through a crossfit routine.  Additionally, I am writing this post so that tons of folks can hold me accountable.  I do not want to turn to a coping mechanism such as food to soothe my heart.  My desire is to rely on God to provide for my every need.  Please pray with me as I seek to honor God with life change, and I would also plead with you to cut sin out of your life.  I love ya’ll.