What’s Happening this Week at FBC?

This year at Christmas we are on a journey to Activate Advent. We begin with the word “hope.” What is hope? At the root of Christmas is hope. When the prophets of the Old Testament prophesied the coming of Messiah, they did so with hope.

Be ready this Sunday morning to explore the words of the Prophet Isaiah. Followers of the One, True God, living in the time between the Prophets and the birth of Jesus, lived in a constant state of expectation for the coming of Messiah—the advent of Christ. We, who believe in Jesus, in a similar way, must live in a state of readiness for His return—His second advent. This is our great hope! But what is hope? Is hope just wishful thinking? Not at all! Christian hope is simply “faith in waiting.”

Our Christmas celebration begins this weekend with two opportunities to enjoy a Christmas Concert with Meredith Andrews. Meredith will be with us on Saturday night and Sunday night at 6:00 p.m. The admission is free, but we invite you to bring a food item with you to bless InnerFaith Prison Ministry. As you participate in sharing food, you will be providing hope to the families of those who are incarcerated this Christmas season.

Finally, make sure you download the Activate Advent app. Devotional readings and family activities will be posted each day beginning tomorrow, December 1. This is going to be a wonderful tool to help your family “activate advent” in your lives.

Southern Baptists, Lottie Moon, and Christmas

A lot has become about “Giving Tuesday,” and in this season of excess, this is a good thing. That certainly is better than “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday.” Actually, for us as Southern Baptists, Christmas has always been a season of giving.

For Southern Baptists, Christmas season and missions are inextricably linked by the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. In short, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is the major funding source for our overseas missions effort as Southern Baptists.

Lottie Moon, the missionary to China of the 1880s summed up best our reason for giving to missions at Christmas:

“Is not the festive season when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of The Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?”

As we enter the month of December, we will join with other Southern Baptists in a season of giving specific for international missions.

Please join me in giving to this year’s offering.

As you think about giving, let me suggest to you some specific ways that your gift helps.

In 2015, the last year that we have reporting numbers, through the International Mission Board…

  • 1.9 million people heard the Gospel
  • 175,290 became new believers
  • 15,058 pastors were trained
  • 6,138 new churches were started internationally

There are 3,596 missionaries depending upon our giving.

Since 1845 The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has had one goal: “Take the gospel of Jesus to the lost people of the world.”

Be a part this year of this incredible endeavor.

Praying for the Nations

On August 13, I began preaching on the subject of prayer. I have benefitted from this study. I concluded the preaching series yesterday, but I sincerely trust that we will forever be growing into a “House of Prayer.”

Yesterday, I preached from the text in Matthew that gives us this sentence:

“Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

The context is a summary of Jesus’ ministry. (Matthew 9:35-38) The specific passage also immediately precedes Jesus’ appointment of the disciples who are being tasked to go to those who need to hear about Jesus. Therefore, the summary passage at the end of Matthew 9 gives us an excellent point of view from Scripture regarding the primacy of prayer in the endeavor of preaching the Gospel to the nations.

Praying for the nations is a command.

What specifically are we to pray?

We are to pray “to the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

I find this interesting. We are not commanded to pray for the harvest. We are to pray for workers. The implication is clear. The harvest takes care of itself if the workers go.

This Prayer for the nations is…

Consistent with the Situation.

The News is Good—The Gospel is good. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But, God, in His love, loved us while we were sinners. He proved His love toward us in this way: He died for sinners. And, if we confess with our mouths, having believed in our hearts, we can be saved. We will be saved from our sin, forgiven from our sin, and saved for everlasting life to be with God forever. That is good news!

The Needs are Great—Jesus saw. He felt compassion. Real compassion always leads to action. At the least, seeing the needs ought to lead us to the action of prayer.

The Harvest is Ready—As Christian cultural commentator Jim Denison writes: More people are coming to Christ today than at any time in Christian history.

The Workers are Few—What was true when Jesus spoke these words is still true today.

Confident in the Savior.

The early disciples of Jesus understood that the missionary endeavor depended upon prayer. As a matter of fact, they understood that everything depended upon prayer. We have this example to pray. Then, in Acts 13, we have another example to pray. Before sending out the first missionary team, the Bible says that the church met, fasted and prayed, then sent the team. The first great missionary, the Apostle Paul asked the Colossian church to pray for him with these words:

Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah. (Colossians 4:2-3)

A Commitment that every Saved person can make.

We have multiple opportunities to go. This year, folks from our church have gone to Brazil, Haiti, Alaska, and Romania. We have a couple of young men who will go on our behalf in a few days to Nicaragua. We have people from our church who have been sent to the far corners of the world. We rejoice in this. Others have given. We all participate weekly when we give our offering to this local church. Not all can go. Not all can give, especially large sums of money. But here is something that every single person can do and yet few really do. We can all pray.

When Jesus cleared out the Temple that day and proclaimed, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer,” he was quoting the prophet Isaiah. For reasons that we will never know for sure, either Jesus did not give Isaiah’s whole statement or Matthew did not record that Jesus gave Isaiah’s whole statement. (This is more likely because the parallel passage of Mark 11:17 includes an additional phrase.) But, if we go to Isaiah 56:7, we learn that Isaiah had an additional phrase: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

Let it be so!

(This post is based on the message “How to Pray for the Nations” which you can watch at fbclaf.org/video)

What’s Happening This Week at FBC?

I look forward to seeing you Sunday at First Baptist Church. On August 13, I began preaching on the subject of prayer. I hope you have benefitted from this study as much as I have. I am concluding the preaching series Sunday, but I sincerely trust that we will forever be growing into a “House of Prayer.”

On Sunday, we will consider “How to Pray for the Nations.” At various times, I have reminded us of some guiding principles for us as a church. I have suggested that we adopt these four core values as a church.

1. We must preach the same Gospel.
2. We must declare this message to the next generation.
3. We must preach this same Gospel to all the nations.
4. Whatever we accomplish must be all for God’s glory.

Sunday’s message concerns that third core value—preaching the Gospel to the nations. Specifically, I want to end our series on prayer with the reminder that we must be praying for the Gospel to be made known to the nations. Sunday also begins the season that we begin praying and thinking about the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering—our annual offering for International missions.

Have you downloaded the Activate Advent app? Friday, December 1, begins the daily advent devotionals that will be posted on the app. This is going to be the only place where these devotionals are accessible daily. You will also be able to use the app to keep up with other aspects of Christmas here at First Baptist Church.

See You Sunday!

Yet, I Will Give Thanks

Habakkuk 3:17-19

17 Though the fig tree may not blossom,
      Nor fruit be on the vines;
      Though the labor of the olive may fail,
      And the fields yield no food;
      Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
      And there be no herd in the stalls—
       18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
      I will joy in the God of my salvation.
       19 The LORD God is my strength;
      He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
      And He will make me walk on my high hills.

So, ends Habakkuk’s brief prophecy.

It was gratitude that prompted an old man to visit a pier on the coast of Florida every Friday until his death in 1973. Every Friday, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker would bring a bucket of shrimp to the beach and feed the sea gulls. Out of thanksgiving, he carried out this Friday routine, because Captain Rickenbacker credited a sea gull with saving his life. Many years before, in 1942, Rickenbacker was on a mission to deliver a message to General Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea. Something went wrong and his plane went down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Rickenbacker and his crew survived on emergency rafts, but soon they would run short of food. Each day the crew would hold a devotional service. On about the eighth day, they held their devotional service and dozed off for a nap.

In Eddie’s own words:

“[Captain] Cherry read the service that afternoon, and we finished with a prayer for deliverance and a hymn of praise. There was some talk, but it tapered off in the oppressive heat. With my hat pulled down over my eyes to keep out some of the glare, I dozed off. Something landed on my head. I knew that it was a sea gull…No one said a word, but peering out from under my hat brim without moving my head, I could see the expression on their faces. They were staring at that gull. The gull meant food…if I could catch it.”

Eddie caught the gull. The crew ate the flesh, and the intestines were used as fish bait. Seven of the eight men survived having been out to sea for 22 days.

Don’t you just love stories like that? But, all stories don’t end that way. The sea gull does not always land, does it? That’s why I think Habakkuk’s story is such a powerful one. Habakkuk’s story is a story that at least for the moment has not ended. But please notice the end of the book. Habakkuk is able to say, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.”

What causes this kind of Thanksgiving? One Word: Faith!

This kind of faith believes at least three things about God.

God is always at work!

God will speak at the right time!

God will always sustain me!

Why could Habakkuk rejoice? He knew his God. He knew that his God would always sustain him. The Lord would give him strength—that’s provision, but He would also cause him not to slip—that’s protection. What else could we ask for?

So, What is our response?

We Watch!

We Wait!

We Worship!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Joy and Thanksgiving

Philippians is a book of joy. The key verse of the book is Philippians 4:4. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” In addition, throughout the book, joy is the theme. The Greek word for joy is used 9 times and various related words (with prefixes, etc.) are used approximately another 7 times.

There seems to be a connection between joy and thanksgiving. Beginning in Philippians 4:6, we read:

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

What a great formula for life! Joy, accompanied by prayer with thanksgiving, gives way to peace—the kind of peace that only Christ can give.

The Apostle Paul’s life is “Exhibit A” on this life of joy, thanksgiving, and peace. Paul had a remarkable outlook on life. Consider his circumstances as he wrote Philippians. He is under house arrest.

But his present circumstances were not the only threat to his joy, thanksgiving, and peace. Here’s what he wrote to the Corinthians.

Are they servants of Christ?
I’m talking like a madman—I’m a better one:
with far more labors,
many more imprisonments,
far worse beatings, near death many times.
24 Five times I received 39 lashes from Jews.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods by the Romans.
Once I was stoned by my enemies.
Three times I was shipwrecked.
I have spent a night and a day
in the open sea.
26 On frequent journeys, I faced
dangers from rivers,
dangers from robbers,
dangers from my own people,
dangers from the Gentiles,
dangers in the city,
dangers in the open country,
dangers on the sea,
and dangers among false brothers;
27 labor and hardship,
many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst,
often without food, cold, and lacking clothing.
28 Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)

So from Paul’s testimony, we can draw several conclusions about joy.

1. Joy is not dependent on our circumstances.
2. Joy is a choice.
3. Joy is a gift from God.
4. Joy, like peace and hope, is ultimately found in a relationship with Jesus.

Choose today to be a person of joy, and the thanksgiving that accompanies, not just for Thanksgiving Day, but every day.

The Hard Part of Being a Family

This week families will gather. It’s Thanksgiving. All across the nation, wonderful families will gather and give thanks. But, then on the other hand, our families are not always perfect. There are those children who rebel. There are those husbands and daddies and wives and mommas who rebel. And because of that, “being part of a family is sometimes hard.” And because of that, these things tend to get rather complicated around the holidays.

So, let me offer a couple of applications today from a very familiar story—the story that we call “The Prodigal Son.” I have preferred over the years to refer to the story as “The Parable of the Lost Boy” because it comes in a sequence of three stories—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost boy. In each parable, something is lost, and then found. In each story, when the “something that is lost” is found, there is great rejoicing. Jesus uses these stories to show the Pharisees that rejoicing should take place over the salvation of every lost sinner. Beyond that application, I have often found that in particular with the third parable, there are several important ways that we can apply this story to illustrate the importance of grace in our lives. Specifically, with the grace of God being our backdrop, I want to use this parable to give us a pointed application in regards to the grace we need in families. Let’s face it—being a part of a family—whether your physical family or your spiritual family of the church—is hard.

As we think about our less than perfect families and as we think about the holiday season upon us, would you consider these lessons today? They are hard, but I think we need to hear them.

1. No rebel can be allowed to ruin the rest of the home.

Certainly Jesus told this parable as a story. We ought not to assume that He had a particular family in mind or that He knew of an actual family where this had occurred. However, it is also true that the younger son in this story is rebellious. Again, more than just greedy, he is rebellious. We can further assume his rebellion by his immediate actions when he is on his own. The rebellion must be dealt with before the whole home is ruined.

I have dear friends who have experienced this very thing in their family. It is hard. You are going to feel like you are giving up. But can I help you to see something this morning? What do you want as the ultimate outcome? Do you want more rebellion? Do you want more sin? Doing nothing is going to lead to more rebellion. Taking action puts into motion the opportunity for repentance. Keep thinking about the parable.

2. If rebellion necessitates separation, let it happen.

So, and I know it is hard, but sometimes in order for repentance to occur there has to be something as serious as separation. Remember, it is not giving up; it is giving God a chance. Think about what would not have happened in the parable if there would not have been separation. The younger son would not have come to the end of himself and realized that he needed home—that he needed his father.

3. When separation happens, let go.

Did I say it is hard? It is, but remember the desired outcome. I love this part of the story of the father “seeing his son from a long way off.” He didn’t go looking for him, but then again he was constantly looking for him. And don’t forget that is the way it is with God toward us. He is always looking for our return.

4. When true repentance happens, let true grace abound.

The son’s return is the most exciting part of the story, but there is a twist. There is someone else at home that is not all that excited about this turn of events. I am reminded that showing grace is also hard.
One of the more public prodigals of all time is Franklin Graham, son of Billy and Ruth Graham. He tells his story in his autobiography, Rebel with a Cause. His rebellion started early in life. After being kicked out of a Christian high school and then later a Christian college, Franklin’s rebellion came to a crossroads. As a young adult he persuaded his parents to lend him enough money to buy a Land Rover so he could do “missionary work” in Turkey. Lying to them, instead, he went joyriding through Europe with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on a fifth of scotch, as he described it. He felt he could drive better if he was relaxed.

Finally, his father had had enough. Billy Graham told Franklin he had to decide whether he was “going to live [his] life for Christ or [himself].”

“It really ticked me off when he said that,” says Franklin, “because he was right.” About three weeks later, in a hotel room all alone, Franklin committed his life for the first time to Christ.

So, where do you find yourself in this story of the Prodigal? One of the beauties of this story is that almost everyone can find themselves somewhere in this story.

Have you rebelled? Come clean. Do you have someone rebelling? Seek God’s wisdom to be active in that which gives the greatest opportunity for repentance. Do you need to extend grace? Do it—It is what God did for us.

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How to Pray for Your Children

Luke’s Gospel records the blessing that the angel spoke concerning John the Baptist.

There will be joy and delight for you,
and many will rejoice at his birth.
For he will be great in the sight of the Lord
and will never drink wine or beer.
He will be filled with the Holy Spirit
while still in his mother’s womb.
He will turn many of the sons of Israel
to the Lord their God.

We have to be careful when applying these narrative portions of the Gospels. We have to make sure that we don’t assume on the text what was meant for a particular person or persons.

Having said that, when the angel told Zechariah that he and his wife were going to have a son (John the Baptist) the angel also pronounced a blessing upon this “soon-to-be-born” son. The nature of a blessing makes such pronouncements synonymous with prayer. We can use the angel’s blessing as a basis of how to pray for our children.

Beth Moore in her book, Jesus, the One and Only, suggests this about the angel’s blessing: “We breathe a huge sigh of relief over a sonogram showing all the right appendages. What we’d give for a few guarantees about their character?” Though praying this prayer produces no guarantees concerning your children or grandchildren, here is a prayer that ought to be an everyday occurrence in our communion with our Heavenly Father.

Pray for your children to be . . .

1. A reason for joy always.

Now, the first thing to note in this passage is the relationship between the announcement and thanksgiving. “There will be joy and delight for you and many will rejoice at his birth.” This is the easy part of this passage. It is easy to be thankful for children when they are born. Children are gifts from the Lord, and we are thankful.

Well, most of the time. Sometimes the joy leaves. John said, “I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (3 John 4)

We pray that we would always be able to give thanks for our children.

2. Great in the sight of the Lord.

See Luke 7:28. Jesus said, “I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John.”

What do you think of when you think of greatness? If you had a wish for your child to be great, what would that be? A great doctor? A great athlete? A great musician? Or maybe even make that request more spiritual. A great preacher? John’s greatness was the discovered God’s purpose for his life and fulfilled that purpose. The same will true for our children.

3. Able to Steer Clear of the temptations of this World.

The blessing is given in this passage that “he will drink no wine or liquor.” Based on my experiences as a pastor and my observations of those with addictions, I believe the womb is the right time for you to begin praying for your children to stay clear of alcohol. In our contemporary culture we would do well to add to that list any number of other things that Satan uses to tempt our children. Add to that list—drugs, sexual purity, pornography, gambling, and other things that Satan uses to bring our children into his grips.

4. Saved and Filled with the Spirit.

Again, the specific blessing in this passage is that John the Baptist be filled with the Spirit of God. Our theology teaches us that to be saved and to be filled with the Spirit are synonymous. The greatest prayer you will ever make and the greatest prayer that will be answered is for your children to be saved. If you don’t understand and appreciate that statement, you haven’t understood your own salvation or the will of God for your life.

5. Used by God to Point others to Him.

This goes back to greatness. Again, not a preacher, evangelist, or missionary necessarily. Just a person who walks with God and points others to Him.

Conclusion: Don’t miss verse 6. To pray is one thing, to lead by example is quite another.

Now, for some, this is a tough message because you have a child that is far away from God. You think it is too late.

One of the most heartwarming examples of our time has been the restoration of evangelist Billy Graham’s son, Franklin. Now an ordained minister, director of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Samaritan’s Purse, this young man was once a rebel—far away from God. One night while praying for her “lost lamb,” as Ruth Graham called Franklin, she slipped to her knees to once again commit him to the Lord. Ruth realized she must first “commit what was left of me to God.” She did this, then sought God’s response.

Ruth says “God impressed upon me, ‘You take care of the possible, and trust Me for the impossible.'” On the day of Franklin’s ordination, his mother shared her story and added, “Today you are seeing the impossible.”

We began by saying, “What we’d give for a few guarantees about their character?” Though there are no guarantees, should it not be our response to commit ourselves deeply to praying for our children?

Pray for you children. Pray with your children. Lead by great example.

(This post is based on the message “How to Pray for Our Children” which you can watch at fbclaf.org/video)

Three Questions to Ask about our Giving

Sunday, our church will carry out the annual exercise of approving our operating budget for 2018. This is a necessary part of the life of our church. I am always concerned that we will lose sight of the ministry reflected in the dollars. When we think of giving to the Lord and not the church, our perspective changes.

In 1 Chronicles 29, there is a wonderful passage that prompts important questions about our giving to God.

1. Who does it belong to anyway?

The first nine verses of this text are a description of the giving of David followed by a description of the giving of the people. Beginning in verse 10 is a prayer of thanksgiving for being able to make the offering. The heart of this prayer communicates “the right perspective about possessions.” Everything belongs to God. Greatness, power, glory, victory, majesty—these all belong to God.
This list of praise leads David to ask a defining question, as recorded in verse 14, “But who am I, and who are my people that we should be able to offer so willingly as this?” And then the conclusive statement at the end of verse 14, “For all things come from You, and we have given You only what comes from Your own hand.”
The only reason we have anything to give is because we have received from God.

2. What is my attitude about my giving?

The obvious truth of this passage is that we should be willing and joyful when we give. Indeed, as Paul said, “God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

3. What am I seeking to benefit from my gift?

David and his people recognized that they were giving to the construction of the Temple of which they would never personally benefit. I love this description of giving. This is true giving. Let us be mindful that we give, not to get, but instead just to give and be a blessing to God and others.

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What Does Zephaniah have to do with Me?

What do you know about the Old Testament prophet Zephaniah? Zephaniah 1:1 tells us that Zephaniah prophesied in the days of Josiah. That means something. It means that Zephaniah was born into one of the worst times in history, but he also lived to see a revival. In fact, I think we can assume that it is Zephaniah’s preaching in part that God used to bring about this revival.

Josiah was the king of Judah that had one of the most unusual resumes ever for a king. He was 8 years old when he began to reign. His father was Amon. Amon was only 22 years old when he began to reign. He lasted only two years before he was assassinated. Amon’s father was a king named Manasseh. He was only 12 years old when he began to reign, but he reigned for 55 years. Here is the first word we get about him in 2 Kings. “He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, imitating the abominations of the nations that the Lord had disposed before the Israelites.” (2 Kings 21) Later in verse 16 of 2 Kings 21 we read, “Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem with it from one end to another. This was in addition to his sin he caused Judah to commit so that they did what was evil in the Lord’s sight.”

This is the world in which Zephaniah was born. Fifty-five years of Manasseh’s reign and the two years of Amon’s reign had left Judah far away from God. Zephaniah was born to desperate times. It wasn’t as Charles Dickens wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It was just the worst of times. And these times made Zephaniah desperate for God to move. This begs several questions.

• How desperate are we?
• What is the evidence in our lives that we are desperate? In our praying? In our personal holiness?
• How difficult do things have to get before we get desperate?