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February 2016

Holy ground, special ground

 
From inside the cavernous big-city facilities in the pathway of major urban expansions to the smaller, rural churches heavily laden with our rich Mississippi Baptist history, we are amply reminded of who we are, whose we are, and from whence we came. It’s been quite a while now since Richard Curtis, the state’s first Baptist preacher, debarked his Mississippi River raft in the early 1800s and

started organizing Baptist churches in the southwest portion of what was soon to become the State of Mississippi. We no longer have to flee bellicose Native Americans or angry Catholics from Louisiana, as did Curtis, but the battle for the souls of Mississippians is just as critical today as it was back then.

In a state with nearly 2,200 Mississippi Baptist churches alone, many people have simply opted out of attending church. Others take their church attendance far too casually. Whether they realize it, many of these people have allowed their relationship to falter with Almighty God and his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Learned people have made the argument, not entirely invalid, that one needn’t go to church to be an observant Christian. That may be so, but the difficulty of practicing a true faith without being a part of a body of believers is surely more than most people can overcome in this increasing materialistic and pagan world.
 
A church is an aptly-named sanctuary from the pressures of the world, and a refuge for the spiritually downtrodden. The mere hour that it takes to attend a modern worship service can do more to restore a person’s zest for life than many hours of psychotherapy. In addition, the Sunday Schools and Discipleship classes that surround a worship service gird us for the never-ending fight against the evil one.
 
Little ones begin the process of Scripture memorization that will serve them through a lifetime. Royal Ambassadors and Girls in Action learn of missions around the world and begin the process of finding their own place in Kingdom work. Church is a lighthouse beacon for the lost. Church is the solid anchor in the storms of life.
 
Church is the refilling station for the spiritually exhausted. Church is all those good things, and much more. Church is, above all, holy ground, but in our enlightened post-Christian culture, virtually nothing is considered holy. To the world’s ears, holy is nothing more than a meaningless word to be placed for dramatic effect in front of a variety of vulgarities and suggestive phrases. Certainly, the sociopaths who dominate the American entertainment industry seldom think of using the word in any other context.
 
Christians should not be deceived. Holiness is and al-ways will be important to God. Even the simplest reference materials list more than 654 biblical instances of the use of the words holy and holiness. The latter part of Hebrews 12:14 states, “…without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
 
When we enter church, we are standing on holy ground. However the world chooses (or not) to define holy, the word should have special meaning to us when we tread the precious soil on which our houses of worship are built. We must be circumspect. As the culture’s standards of conduct continue to devolve around us, we have to maintain our standards, We cannot allow just any activity to be pursued on holy ground. We cannot allow just any event to be held on holy ground. There are many legitimate uses for holy ground. Each of those purposes should be bathed in prayer, sanctified as holy, and given over to the glory of the Father.

 

Disregarding the ways of the world, let us live by the words of Hebrews 12:14, else the true meaning of the word holy be tragically explained to us on our day of reckoning.

 

William E. Perkins

Editor, The Baptist Record

This article originally appeared in the January 14, 2016, edition of The Baptist Record.



January 2016

Happy New Year!

“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything to God’s glory.”

1 Corinthians 10:31

 
Happy New Year, Emmanuel Family! Elgen, the girls and I are so blessed to be kicking off another year with you – you all are so special to us and, as we thank God specifically for His blessings, our church family is right at the top of our list.
 
I don’t know about you, but I’m a bad New Year’s resolution keeper. I mean, REALLY bad! I always out with the best of intentions, but, by the third week or so, my need for good food, or extra time, or whatever takes my eye off the prize has usually caused me to leave my great intentions in the dust. So, this year, I’ve decided to not do resolutions. I’ve decided to make worship commitments to God to improve myself, or recommit myself, or rededicate myself to being the most productive member of the family of God that I can be. That’ll call for some realignment of thinking on some issues, but it’s worth it if my actions, or my words, or my thoughts are going to be a Christ-honoring witness– which is where we all should be.
 
I’d like to challenge you to forego the usual resolutions this year, too, and make some commitments to worship God through your life in 2015. Don’t make it something that you do just for a year, but something that you start that will become a lifestyle change.
 
Here are just a few areas to consider:

 

Commit to being more regular in worship. It’s where the family of God comes together to praise, and we are commanded to gather in

unity.

Commit to joining a Bible Study class on Sunday morning. Come on, now, it’s just an extra hour on Sunday – you can do it! And,
it’s where you will grow in friendships, and grow in Bible knowledge – it’s important!
 
Commit to being involved in a ministry – either here at the church, or in some other way. Remember, what God has done for us should give us the motivation we need to get out of our comfort zone and minister to others.
 
Commit to praying daily for Emmanuel Baptist Church – pray for our vision, our ministries, our passion, our boldness, and our leadership.
 
Commit to make tithing a priority in 2016. We’ve come a long way over the past year, but there’s more to do. Remember that our ability to reach beyond the walls of this place and make a difference for the Kingdom begins with your faithful support of the church. Join us as we go even farther in 2016!

 

Commit to giving something of yourself in service to someone else. Not only is service a command emulated in action by Christ, but it should be a basic part of our DNA as Christians. And, the joy you will receive as you meet another’s needs in Christ is beyond any-
thing you could expect.

 

So, as we kick off this New Year, let’s do it right. Let’s focus on loving, serving, and reaching in 2016! And, remember, whatever you do, do it to God’s glory. That’s our act of daily worship.
 

In His Love,

Bro. Heath

 



December 2015

The Birthday of a King!

 
I’ve already told Tyler, I love Christmas songs (and, so I hope we sing lots of them)! Hymns, to me, are great  theological lessons. They teach us about the majesty of God, the glory of our Creator, and they don’t gloss over the more difficult concepts of our understanding of who God is on their way to praise the more easy to understand ideas. They are high, as God is high. And, Christmas hymns tell the story of Jesus’ birth in a way more beautiful than simple words (with the exception of Scripture) ever could.

 

The words of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” relate to us the anticipation that the Children of Israel felt, and now we feel today, when we consider the coming of the Messiah foretold in Isaiah 6:14,“Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” When we consider Immanuel, God with us, we think about the coming of God in such a lowly, yet profound, way that even shepherds could understand and appreciate.“Silent Night,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Away in a Manger” tell the beautiful story of the birth of the Christchild. The peace conveyed in these simple words and comforting music tell the Gospel story of the night of Jesus’ birth in a way that enables us to imagine a peaceful night on which the Prince of Peace made His entry upon the earth. They’re almost lullabies, yet their words explain in no uncertain terms that God had, indeed, come to earth that night.
 
In stark contrast to these quiet songs of love denoting the birth of a baby, several hymns tell the moving and powerful story of the birth of, not only a baby, but a King. On the hillside outside Bethlehem, the silence was shattered as angels came from heaven to announce the coming of Jesus. Luke 2:13 says, “And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among
men with whom He is pleased.’”
 
Just imagine the unrestrained joy coming from heaven as the angels announced Christ’s birth! Oh, to be a shepherd on that night! But, we can feel something of that when we hear “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Angels, from the Realms of Glory,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and “Joy to the World.”The songs are triumphant, as is their subject.
 
This year, as we gather together to worship Jesus by meditating on His birth, let’s not simply sing these great songs ofour faith. Let’s really listen to their words as they call us to remember, worship, learn, hear, and experience this singu-lar event in the history of humankind. Let’s sing, with William Harold Neidlinger, these words, “Alleluia! O how the angels sang. Alleluia! How it rang! And the sky was bright with a holy light, ‘Twas the birthday of a King.”

 

In His Love,
Bro. Heath
 
 


November 2015

Thanksgiving as Worship 

“. . . seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.  For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” (2 Peter 1:3-4) 
 
I hope you’ve been enjoying our family conversation about worship over the past few weeks.  As we enter the month of November, which culminates in a national celebration of thanks, perhaps it is appropriate to take a look at the act of thanksgiving as a form of worship. 
  
It’s hard to believe it, but there was actually a time in the life of our nation when our government set aside a day to recognize how blessed we are as a country, and to honor and celebrate God for those blessings.  If we think back to the Pilgrims whose survival of that harsh and painful first year in the land that would become America, we are gripped by what those settlers were truly thankful for.  So many had not survived, so many crops had failed, and it seemed as if either the land, the elements, or starvation would exact a continuingly high toll.  But, they survived.  By God’s grace and mercy, that ragtag band of settlers began to see light at the end of a dark, cold tunnel.   
 
Thanksgiving was surely in order.  And, give thanks they did.  And, from that point forward, we began to marvel as God showered His blessing on this incredible nation.  If thanksgiving is the act of acknowledging unmerited favor, then the act of giving thanks is the highest form of worship.  We have been learning that our worship is a response to what God has done for us – not anything we have done for Him.  So, like those first Pilgrims, we gather to recognize God’s provision:  for our lives, for our blessings, for our freedoms, for our families and our friends.  We also acknowledge that without the ultimate gift – His Son, Jesus Christ, whose death on the cross paid our sin debt and gave us right standing before the Father – all of those other blessings we just mentioned would be hollow and meaningless.  We give thanks because our lives are a testimony to benevolence and mercy.  We give thanks because in doing so, we show love, which is a small example of the overwhelming love God has shown to us. 
 
In the passage above, we see that God, in His divine power, has given us everything we need to pursue and live a life of godliness, or excellence.  This isn’t something we’ve earned – it was a gift, free to us, but at an unspeakable price to God.  Why?  So we could partake in His divine nature – God created us to be so much more than just human – we have been given the precious gift of being called a child of God and co-heir with Christ of God’s kingdom.  Now, if that’s not a cause for thanksgiving, I don’t know what is! 
 
Treat thanksgiving as worship – and share the reason for this season!   
 
In His Love,
Bro. Heath


October 2015

True Worship

“But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”  (John 4:23, HCSB)  
 
Jesus said these words to the Samaritan woman at the well, but it’s just as important for us to know today.  This woman’s questions to Jesus about where and how to worship revealed something really important – she didn’t know how to worship God, or, even more important, why she was worshipping God.  Granted, she had her problems, as Jesus revealed, but, very likely, at the heart of the matter, she was living the way she was because she wasn’t worshipping God the way she needed to. 
 
So too with us.  I wonder how many of the things we endure in life are because we don’t really understand who God is, and what worshipping Him really means?    
 
Beginning Sunday, we’re going to be taking a look at worship:   why we worship, how we worship, and Whom we worship.  My prayer is that we will begin to see that worship of the Living God is about so much more than the hour we spend together on Sunday morning – as important as that is.  It’s about more than music, more than hands raised in praise, or more than just hearing His Word and being stirred by it.  Worshipping God is about all of that – but, first and foremost, it’s about living a life the other six days that matches the devotion and faithfulness we show on the seventh.  
 
Worship is about every day.  It’s about being in such total surrender to God that we are able, through our closeness to Him, worship Him in spirit and in truth.  Really, it’s about what God is doing in our lives – realizing it, accepting it, and letting it guide and motivate us on a daily basis.  So, we see that our worship of God is about what He has done, and is doing, in us, and not so much what we do.  In the end, it gets back to God, and His work in our lives.  We are merely a reflection – and our worship gives back to Him some part of Himself that He has invested in us.   
 
I hope you’ll join us on Sunday morning – after Bible Study, of course!  Another important way we worship God is through our study – making the learning of Him a priority in our lives that hauls us out of bed in time to be here by 9:45.  You can do it!  I’ll see you here! 
 
In His Love,
Bro. Heath
 
 


September 2015

Have the Right Strategy!

“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”              (Philippians 4:6-7, HCSB
 
Last night, Elgen and I – and about thirty of our church family – went to see the movie, War Room.  All I can say is – WOW!  The movie was, in the words of one dear friend who saw it, “What entertainment and truth spoken here!  Too much to absorb in one viewing!”  I can’t add anything to that review!  This was, easily, the most powerful movie I have ever seen.  The story is about Elizabeth Jordan (Priscilla Shirer) a woman struggling to save her marriage, and her family, who finds comfort, friendship and Godly instruction in an elderly lady named Clara (Karen Abercrombie) who challenges Elizabeth to create her own War Room – a place where she meets regularly with God to pray intentionally for her husband, daughter, family and marriage.  And, when she does this and, in a powerful moment of surrender, gives everything to God and kicks Satan out of her house, mountains begin to move. One of the main points of the movie is that we don’t access the real power of our prayer life.  We need to hand everything – and He means everything – over to God, and just watch how He handles it.  We need to move beyond just praying randomly and sporadically –  kind of like a shotgun blast – and pray intentionally, strategically, and specifically – like a rifle shot.  And, when we develop a strategy to our prayer life, Ms. Clara says – and I believe – God will do the heavy lifting in our lives.  We can’t keep trying to fight spiritual battles with earthly strength.  We’ve got to open up, step back and let God do what He wants to do – fight for us. 

If you haven’t seen the movie, please do.  The Kendrick brothers have come a long way in the quality of their product – all of them were good, but this one is – hands down – the best!   

And, if you haven’t given everything to God – by confessing your need for Him, seeking forgiveness and asking Him to take control of your life and direct your prayers, please do that, too.  You will open up a channel to blessing and power that you never imagined! 

In His Love,
Bro. Heath
 
 


August 2015

Someone Prayed for You!

Isn’t it nice to know that somebody prayed for you?  It kind of gives you a good feeling inside, to know that someone took the time to remember you at the Father’s throne.  But, what if that someone was Jesus?  How great is that!  Well, he did.  Just before He was to be arrested, Jesus lifted His head to heaven and prayed – first, for Himself; then the Disciples; and, finally, for each one of us:
 
“I pray not only for these (the Disciples), but also for those who believe in Me through their message.  May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me.  
 
I have given them the glory You have given Me.  May they be one as We are one.  I am in them and You are in Me.  May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me.  
 
Father, I desire those You have given Me to be with Me where I am.  Then they will see My glory, which You have given Me because You loved Me before the world’s foundation.  
 
Righteous Father!  The world has not known You.  However, I have known You, and these have known that You sent Me.  I made Your name known to them and will make it known, so the love You have loved Me with may be in them and I may be in them.” (John 17:20-26)
Jesus Christ, Savior, Messiah, Son of the Living God – prayed for you.  Then, He died for you.  Then, He rose from the grave for you.  Surely he is worthy of the best praise and worship we can offer!


July 2015

Teach Our Children

“Impress these words of Mine on your hearts and souls, bind

them as a sign on your hands, and let them be a symbol on your

foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them

when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road,

when you lie down and when you get up.”

(Deuteronomy 11:18-19)

 

God had just renewed His covenant with Israel: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear
the Lord your God by walking in all His ways, to love Him, and to worship the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul? Keep the Lords commands and statutes I am giving you today, for your own good.” (Deut. 10:12-13) Then, after laying out the terms of His covenant with His people, God told them to make sure that Israel never forgot about all that He had done for them, and all that He expected of them. How? By writing it on a tablet? No, by writing it on their hearts. By committing His incredible acts of redemption and restoration into their very souls, so it would be with them always.
 
How else? Well, God wanted to make sure that their future would be just as secure as their present, so He commanded
His people to teach their children about who God is and what He has done. He wanted the children to know, so that His relationship with Israel would be carried on generation after generation.
 
We have that same opportunity today. Emmanuel Baptist Church will have Vacation Bible School from Monday, July 13th through Friday, July 17th . This is an incredible opportunity for us to interact with our young people, and teach them about what it means to be children of God. What a fantastic chance for us to spend time with the next generation – to share something of ourselves and our faith with the future of the Church!
 
It’s kind of both exciting and overwhelming to know that we play a crucial role in making sure that those who will come
after us have the knowledge, tools, and experiences they need to one day take up the mantle of leadership in God’s Kingdom work. But, isn’t that exactly why God had the Israelites do the same thing with their kids? I mean, I imagine that Mt. Sinai Baptist Church’s VBS was something to behold! We’ve been talking for a while now in the worship service about living beyond ourselves – about living, serving, loving, and engaging with others in a way that will leave a lasting legacy on the Church, and on individuals’ lives. We never know who we will be touching by simply being willing – there are at least two families at our church who were brought to Christ through VBS – parents and children!
 
So, be a part of this exciting ministry opportunity by serving, praying, or providing resources for materials. It takes us all, doing our part, living beyond ourselves, to make sure that the message of the saving power of the Gospel is taken around the block, and around the world!
 
In His Love,
Bro. Heath


June 2015

 

Why Do We Do That?

“Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you – unless you believed to no purpose. For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.” (1 Cor. 15:1-5, HCSB)

 

I was reading the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry recently (I know, I really need to get a life!), and I came across an article by a guy I have had as a professor. He was telling a story about a time when he was interviewing before a pastor search committee, and the question came up, “What is the Gospel?” He related the above passage, thinking that he had nailed this softball, and was shocked when a member of the committee disagreed vehemently, then launched into a lengthy, theologically impressive lecture about the Gospel as he understood it. While,my professor said, this brother in Christ was not technically, doctrinally, nor theologically incorrect, he had totally missed the point of the Gospel – that it is not complicated, and it should never be.

He began to wonder, as did I while I read this great little article, how often we do the same thing. We think, to be important – to be something “of God” – a truth must be technical, deep and lengthy, full of multiple points, sub-points and layer upon layer of nuanced meaning. Truth, we are led to believe,is the stuff of seminary lectures and theological conferences – something to be studied and debated, then passed down to the masses. How could we so totally have missed the point of the Gospel?

We have spent a great deal of time talking about being “ordinary Christians.” We’ve been looking at scripture after scripture where God has called us to just love, serve and reach. There’s nothing deep or nuanced about it. The more I’ve studied, the more God has revealed to me that there’s really nothing fancy about what God wants from us. The same is true with the Gospel. It’s plain. It’s straightforward. It’s uncomplicated. And, when we share it, it is something that anybody can grasp and respond to. My professor wrote, “What are we to preach and share? Simply put, the gospel is the story of Jesus. We need not complicate it.”

He responded to this committee member by saying, “There is a serious problem with your gospel if it can only be understood by a very small percentage of the world’s population. If our gospel cannot be proclaimed and understood in the jungles of Africa, the rainforests of South America, and in the rice fields of Asia, there is a problem with our gospel.” To that, he commented, “Faithful gospeling presents the full gospel and does so with a desire to be theologically accurate, understanding that gospeling does not necessitate a discourse that feels more like a systematic theology class than a person telling another person about Jesus.”

Listen, we should be about the business of telling others about Jesus – of sharing with someone how they can be saved from their sin. Since the dawn of Christianity, the gospel has been shared by the educated and uneducated with the educated and uneducated – and it has transformed the world. Let’s just keep it simple – keep it about Jesus, and what He did for you. It’s personal, it’s unpretentious, it’s uncomplicated. We all can do it, without ever taking a theology class. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get busy!

In His love,

Bro. Heath

 


May 2015

 

 

Fabulous Faith!

 

“Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace

with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Also through Him, we have obtained

access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of

the glory of God. And, not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions,

because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces

proven character, and proven character produces hope.” Romans 5:1-4, HCSB
 
 

Oftentimes, when we think about faith, we think of Jesus’ parable about the mustard seed. If we would have just that tiny, miniscule amount of faith, we can release tremendous power – power to move mountains. But, I’d like us to just take a minute to think about the power of hope and faith’s central role in giving the kind of life-changing hope that God offers through salvation.

Paul didn’t waste too much ink on the topic, getting right to the point, as was his usual approach. In his letter to the church in Rome, he explained how faith is the root of very good thing. Look at the passage above to see all that little faith can do: first, it can declare us righteous. It can give us “right-standing” before God. This is a gift from Jesus to us at the moment we accept Him as our Lord and Savior. Without this righteousness, we cannot approach God’s throne. We’re lost, without hope. But, since the end goal is hope, we press on, through faith, which opened us to righteousness.

Second, and since we have obtained the righteousness of Christ through faith, we have peace. And, not just any kind of peace. We have the peace that surpasses all comprehension – peace with God through Christ. By faith, we have the kind of peace that those without Christ can only dream of, and hope for. There’s that word again – hope. But, let’s keep going. Third, by faith we have righteousness, and by righteousness we have peace, and, by faith, we have access to grace – that all-consuming, never ending, grace that gives our new lives meaning and purpose, and enables us to live freely a life of service in the name of Christ. Grace is freely given to us, and it should be freely shared by us to those who need it – it’s what drives us to love, and serve and reach.

Fourth, faith produces joy. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God – that God is exactly who He says He is, and that our worship, service, and very lives bring Him honor and glory. It’s the joy that cannot be created, or replicated, by the human mind or heart. It can only come from the overflowing reserves of a loving God. It also means that we can continue to have joy in the tough times as well – Paul calls these times “our afflictions.” It’s the power behind the lyrics, “I will praise You in this storm, and I will raise my hands’ that You are who You are, no matter where I am.” The true test of the maturity of our faith is the degree to which we can praise God when our circumstances call for us to retreat into doubt and darkness.

And, we have to endure afflictions, because they open up a whole new world of experiences: endurance, which produces character, which produces hope. Finally, we get to hope. How? Because it all began with faith – tiny little faith that defines the character of the believer. And, how does the faith come about? Well, Paul tells us that, too, a few pages over in Romans 10:8-10, “On the contrary, what does it say? The message is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. This is the message of faith that we proclaim: if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. With the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation.” Allbecause of faith. Try it out for yourself!
 
 

In His Love, Bro. Heath