March 2017, Pastor's Perspective

Pastor’s PERSPECTIVE

Sitting Down on the Inside:

The Gift of Peace

by Carter Featherston

Imagine that you are an old Testament saint. You live under the Law of Moses, and you feel the burden of keeping your behavior up to standards.  When it is required, you come to the priest with your sacrifice, and if you are poor, then you come with the most meager of offerings.  You hang your head as you approach the priest, the mediator who represents an Almighty and Holy God.   The priest takes your offering and places it on the altar.  You are feeling unworthy, unholy and unacceptable  to  this  God  Who  seems  distant  and,  well,  disinterested.  As  your sacrifice burns on the altar, and the smell from the fire rises up to the face of God, here’s what happens next.

The  priest  turns  to  you. You  look  up  and  see  his  face,  and  you  think    .  .  .  is that his face . . . shining like that?  With a gentle smile he says,

“The LORD bless you, and keep you; The LORD make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.” (Num 6:24)

When the children of Israel brought a sacrifice, this is what Yahweh told the priests  to say. Amazing grace! With this blessing Yahweh let the worshipers know that He loved and accepted them (the essence of blessing); that He was watching over them; that His face was beaming with delight over them; that His grace was granted to them;  and  that  the  worshiper  should  no  longer  feel  dejected  or  discouraged,  but receive the peace of God.

What a blessing indeed!

Notice that the ultimate point of this blessing is peace ; that the worshiper would  return home with peace, God’s peace.  God wanted His people to know that He was not a God of anger and wrath, but He was a God who granted peace. Apparently this has been the desire of our Father God from the beginning, that we His people would have His peace from being in His presence.

Peace is the ability to “sit down on the inside.” It is a gift from God received in His  presence (Psalm 4:6b-8; Psalm 85:8; Isa 9:6; Isa 26:12). In the Old Testament the word for this peace is shalom.  This blessed word did not mean merely “the lack of war,” but more richly it meant peace from the absence of any disturbance to a person’s  well-being.  Shalom  included material and financial  prosperity, physical health and
safety. It was spoken as the gracious ingredient in a person’s contentedness, in good relationships, for good sleep and even as a blessing for good travel. Shalom was the fullness of all the ways that God blessed you and protected you in life.

In the New Testament our peace with God is established through redemption (Eph 1:7) and affirmed in our reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18). We have peace with God through the cross of  our  Lord  Jesus  Christ  (Rom  5:1). Even further, the whole process of our sanctification and maturity serves to deepen our participation in the peace of Christ (Heb 13:20f; 2 Cor 13:11).  Indeed, Christ Himself is our peace (Eph 2:14-18); and our peace with Him brings about a new relationship with one another (Gal 6:15-16).

Yet, we live in a world today where peace is so hard to hold on to. Our busy lives, our pursuit of other idols, and our worry —-about finances, our children, our grandchildren and our elderly parents— all keep us occupied with every thought except peace.

On the retreats I lead we have wonderful Christians come to us. Many have been believers for a long time, serving in their  churches, but  there is often an absence of peace in their eyes.  The enemy has terrorized them with shame from old wounds and old sins. He tortures them with lies about their identity, and stirs up inside of them the resignation that God is really disappointed in them.

Where is our peace? In Isaiah 53 and 54 we find amazing words about a covenant of peace. In fact, most every mention of peace in the New Testament is based on what God establishes in these two chapters in Isaiah. Written 700 years before Christ these two passages reveal the gospel power of Calvary, and the peace that is available to us. Here are three applications for peace from Isaiah.

1487478424_009_036_dove_peace_world_olive_paxOur Peace includes the hope of Emotional Healing.  In Isaiah 53:4 we are told that Christ bore first, not our sin, but our sorrow and grief. He took on our pain and suffering. These are the painful emotions of our wounds, some of which came from the sins of others who hurt us. When Christ came to gather up their sins, He took notice also of our sorrow and suffering caused by their sins, and He gathered up our pain and grief. Similar sorrows have come from misunderstandings, careless words that shamed us, break-ups and betrayals, even from natural disasters and when life didn’t go the way we dreamed.  The Gospel of Peace has healing and comfort. Bring your sorrow and grief into His presence in prayer. Acknowledge your pain. Sit still, wait, and let His compassion enter your sorrow and grief (54:10c, d).

1487478424_009_036_dove_peace_world_olive_paxOur  Peace  includes the Healing of Shame.  Isaiah 53:4-5 describes the brutal cross of Christ where “it is finished!” Done. God is through punishing anyone for our sins. The completeness of our forgiveness is the clear testimony of the New Testament (Eph 1:7;  Heb 10:12; I Jn  2:2). However, on a regular basis as a counselor and retreat leader, I meet people who cannot receive forgiveness for something terrible in their past, a sin so great (in their eyes) that a place in their soul feels unworthy of His love. Instead of peace, there is shame and condemnation. But in transformational healing prayer (Eph 1:18), the Holy Spirit can open the eyes of your heart to “see” His hope, that this very sin has been forgiven and forgotten (Heb 10:17). The healing of shame is only Spirit-taught.

1487478424_009_036_dove_peace_world_olive_paxOur Peace means God is No Longer Mad at Us. What follows Isaiah 53? That’s right, Isaiah 54. After Isaiah penned the prophecy of Isaiah 53, where all of our sins would be borne away and we would be justified (53:12), Isaiah did not stop writing.  He continued with “Shout for joy!” (54:1; other versions say, “Sing, Shout aloud”) Why? Why shout and sing for joy?  Because of 53, because our sins have been carried away.  Now, feast your eyes on Isa 54:9-10. God says that the death of Christ in 53 is like the old days of Noah, when after the flood He swore that He would never flood the earth again.  Likewise, after Christ carries our sins away, God says He will never be angry with us, nor will He rebuke us. Period. Read it and live in peace.  The God of peace has sworn it! (Isa 54:9).

God has made a covenant of peace (Isa 54:10) that will not come falling down. It will not be canceled.  It has been established as an eternal covenant, because of Yahweh’s great compassion for us (Isa 54:10). His face is shining on you now. Lift up your eyes, and receive His peace.


ThoughtfulPortraitCarter Featherston, Th.M. Carter is a published writer, a pastoral-counselor and a former pastor. He is the director of Restore one, a ministry helping people make changes at the level of identity. The flagship ministry is a retreat for spiritual discovery and transformation called Pure Heart Weekend. To read more from him or to register for his retreats you can follow Carter at his blog: www.carterfeatherston.com.

 

January 2017, Pastor's Perspective

Miracles: God is Always at Work

by Rev. Thomas Howe

rev-tom-howeA few years ago a member of my church ask me if I believed in miracles. Smiling I replied, “Yes, I see them every day.”  Puzzled, the member pushed the issue, “and just what type of miracles are they?” At that moment I was simply referring to the miracle of creation, how God created the universe and the universes beyond ours. It was a simple reply meant to say God is God and as such is constantly at work in creation. Each time the sun rises, the rain falls, or we take a breath, that is creation in action and thus has a miraculous nature about it. Clearly that was not what my member was asking. He was asking what many people think about and that is, is God still active in our lives today? Do miracles still happen?

The answer to the heartfelt question will differ depending on where you are on the theological spectrum. For some, it goes without saying that God is still in the miracle making business and performs miracles on a regular basis. These people of faith will pray ardently for God’s action in theirs or someone else’s life. Many hours will be spent on their knees petitioning God to act in a way that defies natural law. It is their prayer that God will hear their humble cry and act to change the direction that something is going. Others will simply say miracles belong to a time long past. They no longer see God as a hands-on active agent in our world who is willing to set aside natural laws to work his will.

In my early years of ministry, I was clearly part of the latter group as my science background had left me somewhat devoid of miraculous belief. Then one day on a hospital call I was visiting a man whom the doctors and nurses were scrambling to prepare for emergency surgery on his lung. The hole that had developed in it was increasing and they needed to act. I held Mr. Grey’s hand and prayed. I prayed for healing of his lung while having some personal doubts that my prayer would have any impact. About thirty minutes later a doctor walked in and put his stethoscope to Mr. Grey’s chest and began to mutter. Others came in and listened, then they did an x-ray. In the end they looked at Mr. Grey and said, “Someone must have been praying for you.” He pointed at me. The doctor smiled and said, “The hole seems to be healing.”  I walked out of the hospital and looked heavenward and said, “Don’t you ever do that to me again.”  Smiling, I went home. It was a new revelation in my life – God was still at work.  God can do things when we least expect.

Since that day I have allowed God to become bigger in my life. I took him out of the box I had so carefully crafted for him to stay in. Now God roams freely in my life and whatever happens, happens. I’ve learned that we have no control over God and what God will or will not do.  My counsel to those who ask about miracles is this: not everything is a miracle and perhaps miracles are few and far between. But there are many things that happen in our lives that we are too quick to dismiss or explain away. Sometimes what we need to do is simply accept something on its face value. Instead of searching hard for an explanation, just let God be God.  When we open our lives up to the possibility that God can act, we might just find ourselves surprised where we see God. If we spend all our time searching for an explanation we may just be overlooking the real explanation, God is at work!

 

About Rev. Howe: The Rev. Tom Howe was born in Galveston, Texas, and grew up in Corpus Christi. He attended Texas A&M University where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.  He also attended St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo., where he earned his Master of Divinity with a specialization in Christian Education.

In 1982, Rev. Howe transferred to the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. Since then he has served churches in Slidell, Thibodeaux, Minden, Shreveport and now in Baton Rouge where he is the pastor at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church.  Rev. Howe has three sons, Travis, Austin and Dustin, and two grandchildren. He is active in the outdoors as a sportsman enjoying hunting, fishing, camping and hiking.

 

December 2016, Pastor's Perspective

God’s True North

by Steve Elworth
Steve Elworth is the International Outreach Director at The Chapel. He and his wife, Amber, have a passion to see the nations worship God through Jesus and to equip the church to join God in that mission.
Steve Elworth is the International Outreach Director at The Chapel. He and his wife, Amber, have a passion to see the nations worship God through Jesus and to equip the church to join God in that mission.

What is the Bible? That might be a strange question to start off asking in an article written by a pastor. However, the answer to this question determines how we live our lives as Christians, and how we do church. From what I have seen, there are two general ways to answer this question. The Bible is either a book about me, or a book about God. One way to approach the Bible is to come looking for me and me alone, answers to my questions and problems, for comfort, for guidance, for the next steps for my life. This first way uses the Bible like a map, seeking clear and tangible landmarks, turns, mountains and valleys in my life, and trying to follow the path laid out for me to find the ‘X.’ There are very few people who would say the Bible is a book about them, but actions speak louder than words.

The other way to approach the Bible is to come looking for God. Who is He? What is He doing? How can I join Him? This is looking at the Bible like a compass, not asking for each step, but rather a direction. Looking at the Bible this way still gives us answers for our lives, but those answers are grounded ultimately in him and his eternal purposes. This is the way most Christians would say they approach the Bible, but do they know where the compass is pointing? If the Bible points to God’s eternal purposes, do we know what those purposes are? Do we know how our short lives fit into his grand story? My desire and prayer is that every church and every person would not only know where the compass of God’s Word points, but also how to navigate his or her life by it.

Steve Hawthorne, editor of the “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” course, once wrote: “The story of God accomplishing His mission is the plot of the entire Bible. God’s mission is the backbone upon which the Bible is built and is best understood. Therefore, God’s mission is the reason there is a Bible at all.” The mission he speaks of, as we will see, is God’s plan to be worshipped by all the peoples of the world. That quote might come as a shock. Mission is often something we see as, “one of the ministries of the church,” that certain people are “called” into. It all comes down to how we really view the Bible. The Bible is clear that God is on a mission, and His mission encompasses the whole world. If we view the Bible like map, the obvious question that arises is, “is God’s mission on my map?” “Is God’s mission something I’m supposed to do?” as if there is a yes or no answer. But, if the Bible is a compass, only two questions follow: where does it point, and how can I follow?

A thorough study through the Bible will reveal the missional thrust of all that God does, plans and proclaims. Space will not allow such a survey, but two examples will make our point. Both are stories many are familiar with: the plagues of Egypt during the Exodus, and the story of David and Goliath.

A Quick Journey Through the Bible 

A first time reader of the book of Genesis will readily encounter the drama, intrigue and action of the patriarchs of our faith. Experiencing Abraham’s belief that God would cause him to become a great nation, and that faith counted to him as righteousness; watching that promise passing onto Isaac, then to Jacob, whose sons sold Joseph into slavery; seeing Joseph end up in leadership in Egypt to ultimately save the very brothers who sold him – these are the makings of a great Hollywood story. But the beginning of Exodus introduces us to a new king in Egypt, one that does not know Joseph and his family, and one that enslaves all his descendants. That first-time reader must be wondering, “What will God do for his chosen people? Surely he will act; surely he will make a way.” And after 400 years of slavery, God does act. With all the power in the universe, God sends 10 plagues upon the land, and we cheer, watching the classic animated movie, The Prince of Egypt. As we follow the story, we celebrate, seeing that finally God has acted for his chosen people … or at least that’s how we often read it. Looking to the text itself, however, we see something slightly different. God gives us the reason for acting in such a way in Exodus 9:16, as God speaks to Pharaoh, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”

Often, we interpret this story to say that God destroys the Hebrews’ enemies and finally sets his people free, showing how much he loves them. But what the Scriptures portray is not a God who is acting just for his people, but a God who is acting through his people, for all people. This is a story not primarily about God’s blessing of a people, but of God’s reputation among all peoples. The focus is on God, not on people. Reading the Bible as if it’s a map beckons us to draw the conclusion that God will always rescue me because he loves me, and he will always act on my behalf. But a reading of this story as a compass shows us that although God does act for those he loves, he works through his people for all people, and ultimately, for his namesake. He blesses his people in order to bless the world. The compass points toward God, not toward me.

Fast forward through the story of Israel. Read the great stories of wandering through the wilderness, taking possession of the land of promise, and the tumultuous times of the Judges. See God establish a king in Israel, despite his desire to govern his people. And see the little shepherd boy and future king, David. Many of us will recall the Sunday School stories of the courage and faith of David as he confronts Goliath. We celebrate as children and adults alike as David fells the giant with one smooth stone from his sling. We thank God for an example that if we will only have faith like little David, God will fell the giants in our lives. Looking at this story through the lens of a map would call us to apply this story in just that way. And of course, God is able to topple any giant at any time. But as we read the Bible as a compass, we see the reason the Scripture itself gives for this encounter. David himself exclaims in 1 Samuel 17:46: “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand … that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel …”

Again, the compass points to God’s ultimate purpose. Yes, he will save those that trust in him. Yes, he will act on behalf of the little guy. Yes, there is no giant that he cannot conquer, but it doesn’t end there. God blesses David with strength to defeat the giant SO THAT the whole world would know of this God. God blesses His people SO THAT the whole world would be blessed. These are not two isolated incidents, but part of a grand story of God’s plan to bring his message everywhere in the world for his name to be worshiped.

Lay Down Your Map – Follow God’s Compass

The Bible as a compass is a worldview that will radically change every Christian, every family and every church. God does not exist for me. I am not the center of the story. God is not working to give me the best life possible. God is not doling out blessings just so that we can enjoy them. God is, and has always been, working for his glory in every corner of the globe. We are blessed to be a blessing. The goal is not for us just to live an acceptable Christian life and enjoy our blessings in the process; it’s to join God in his mission to be loved and worshipped by all peoples. This does not mean that God does not love us and delight in us. He has come to offer life and life abundant, but that is only half of the story. He wants us to live a joyful Christian life so that I can be used for his glory, to be part of his story to redeem people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.

This worldview changes the way we pray – for God and his glory rather than for me and mine. This lens changes the way we give – sacrificially, because we’ve been blessed to bless others rather than trying to squeeze more enjoyment out of our blessings. This compass gives direction to every aspect of our lives showing us what God is up to and inviting us to join him. The best way to find our place in this world is not to look within ourselves and what we want and desire, but rather to look at God and his Word to find out what he wants and what he desires. So pick up your Bible, find the true north of God’s compass, and follow it wherever he leads you.

October 2016, Pastor's Perspective

A Pastor’s Perspective on the Flood

by Steve Foster
Mayor Kip Holden with Martin Rangel and two other members of Centro Biblico.
Mayor Kip Holden with Martin Rangel and two other members of Centro Biblico.

From August 12-13, life pressed “pause” in Louisiana.

Two and a half feet of rain fell in two days. More than 110,000 homes and businesses flooded. Lives were interrupted. Neighborhoods were devastated. Families were displaced. Possessions were lost.

It was the storm with no name. A storm that statistically only has a .1 percent chance of happening in any given year; the proverbial “thousand-year storm.”

Numerous families in our church were directly impacted by the flood.  All of us felt it in some way.

Life pressed “pause.”

And in the pause, God reminded us of at least four things:

  1. We are not in control. Despite all of our radars, weather forecastsand impressive technology, we are powerless to stop a storm or a flood of waters. We are not as strong as we think we are.
  1. Things in this world are temporal.God has given us all things richly to enjoy(1 Tim. 6:17), but we can’t clutch onto any of them. They can be swept away in an instant.
  1. We need a firm foundation in life. Jesus reminded us that storms in life are to be expected (Matt. 7:24-27).The question is,“What foundation is your life built upon?” The only eternal foundation— the only true refuge, fortress and source of stability—is the Rock, Jesus Christ.
  1. We need a supportive familyaround usThe flood reminded us that we can’t live this life on our own. We were designed for relationship and we need one another. The church is to be the spiritual family that bears one another’s burdensin times of crisis (Gal. 6:2). Like a physical family, we often fail but there is still nothing like having a body of committed, Spirit-filled, authentically-flawed-but-growing believers around you in the midst of a trial.
The Mexican consulate at Centro Biblico.
The Mexican consulate at Centro Biblico.

We have experienced that in our own local church. The flood has awakened us to our need for one another. As we have wept together, prayed together and worked together, we have seen some relational barriers removed and new relational bonds formed. In the midst of the mud, mold, sweat and stench, we have ironically tasted the sweetness of fellowship.

We have seen the greater body of Christ respond as well. As the floodwaters receded, churches and Christian charities came flooding in to help. Since the days of Katrina, the body of Christ has learned to mobilize into action whenever a disaster hits.

A member of our church, Steve Grantham, lost everything in the flood. I talked to him two weeks later and asked him how he was doing. His response?

“God is good and faithful. We often don’t know where life is going to take us, but we do know that the steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand [Psalm 37:23-24].”

People lining up to receive assistance at Centro Biblico.
People lining up to receive assistance at Centro Biblico.

Steve proceeded to tell me that, in addition to our own local church, he has had believers from all over the nation helping at his house—people from Louisiana, Mississippi, California, North Carolina, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Missouri. Times of work often transformed into times of worship. And the outpouring of love has sustained and refreshed his soul.

The flood has not only drawn us closer to one another in the church but also expanded us further out into the community.

Centro Biblico, a Hispanic church plant supported by our church, has become a hub for ministry in the Hispanic community. Though it is located right in the heart of an area that flooded (Millerville and Old Hammond Hwy), amazingly it did not flood. This allowed the church to focus on the immediate needs of those around them.

Hundreds of people have come to Centro Biblico daily seeking physical assistance from FEMA, the Mexican and Honduran consulates, and the Red Cross. At the same time, their hearts have been opened to their spiritual need for Jesus Christ.

Pastors Jose Wing and Martin Rangel have expressed their amazement at how God has used their small fellowship to minister to so many.

A group from Community Bible Church serving at Caring to Love Ministries.
A group from Community Bible Church serving at Caring to Love Ministries.

“God has given us a lot of opportunities to give Him glory. It is not about us but about Him. You can feel frustrated about all that happened unless you focus on Him.”

As Jose and Martin counsel and pray with people, they often hear, “We have lost everything.” They often reply, “You have lost a lot, but you haven’t lost everything. You still have your family. You still have life. You still have hope. And though you may have lost some valuable things, you can find what is most important, Jesus Christ.”

None of us were expecting the flood. Few were prepared for it. All of us wish that it never happened. But God is a redemptive God. He can use trials and suffering in this world not only to transform our character but also to surprise us with unexpected blessings.

We just have to keep our hearts and our eyes open.

It is often in the “pause” that we come to experience God in ways like never before.

Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!

The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah 

Psalm 46:10-11

Pastor's Perspective, September 2016

A Call to “Life Changing” Action

A CALL TO “LIFE CHANGING” ACTION

by Elmo Winters

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Matt. 11:28, KJV 

Elmo Winters
Elmo Winters

To say that our city, state and country have faced some of the most heart-wrenching events over the past seven weeks would be an understatement. Too many have lost their lives in what can be described as an awakening of the proverbial “white elephant” in the room that no one dared to deal with. For decades we have tip-toed around the mammoth issues of race relationships, bigotry, discrimination and the like, deceiving ourselves into believing they were no longer relevant. But now we are confronted with the very things we thought had gone away or at least been minimized.  And who would have thought that our city, Baton Rouge, would be at the forefront of raising awareness of just how bad things really are?

Some would say that it all started with the tragic death of Alton Sterling on July 5, 2016, and escalated into the deaths of police officers in Dallas and subsequently in Baton Rouge.  However, the truth is, this all started a long time ago with the first murder where one brother killed another because of a bad heart condition. What happened on the streets of Baton Rouge and Dallas, and what continues to happen daily in America and throughout the world, is the result of the same bad heart condition. The prophet Jeremiah said it best in chapter 17, verse 9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (NAS). The unthinkable acts that are being played out among us everywhere are simply what happens when the hearts of people become so depraved and callous.

Now you may wonder, how then can we fix the problem?  The truth is, we can’t! Only God can fix the problem of a bad heart condition. It is obvious we cannot legislate a fix or create laws that will repair our “sick” state. People can’t be forced to have a change of heart by passing equal rights mandates or promoting activities that will bring the masses together. These things and many others have been attempted and have failed miserably. Protesting, picketing, not even boycotts will ever produce changed hearts or equality among individuals.  They simply give us a sense of feeling good until the next crisis.

Real change can never happen until there is a genuine, total regeneration of the heart.  Anything short of this is foolishness, simply a waste of time and effort. Romans 10:10 explains, “For with the heart a person believes [in Christ as Savior] resulting in his justification [that is, being made righteous  being freed of the guilt of sin and made acceptable to God],” (AMP). It is not until we truly have a heart that believes in Christ that we experience change in our behavior, mannerism and in our lives. This is an undeniable fact.

In the wake of the killings over the past few weeks, we have seen countless prayer vigils, community meetings, memorial services and other calls to action. And although these have some merit, I question rather if any of these have lead to a change of heart in those who have participated? Sure, we are all nicer to one another and we are talking more to each other, however I believe this will pass in time, and we will return to our lives as usual.  Negative race relationships, bigotry and general inequalities will soon return, even in the religious community.

I believe the time has come for life changing action to occur. I believe we are well overdue for genuine heart changes in Baton Rouge and throughout the world. If nothing changes, we will continue to decline as a people and nation. I publicly appeal to the people of this city, state and nation to take a stand for real change that must start right here in Baton Rouge. Will you join me as we start a grassroots revival for national and worldwide change for the betterment of all mankind? I speak not of church sponsored revivals, but instead of revivals that will take place in communities, in workplaces and homes. If you are seriously interested in seeing real change, call or text me today at (225) 305-3006, or email me: elmow1@att.net. An exploratory meeting is tentatively planned for late September. Will you join us?

August 2016, Pastor's Perspective

Bible Study Helps Rebuild Lives and Deepen Scriptural Understanding

by Rev. Gene Rives

GeneRivesEvery Wednesday at noon, people gather at Baker First United Methodist Church for a 15-minute worship service followed by a free community lunch. We started the worship service and lunch a few weeks after hurricane Katrina so that people could gather together and share their stories. Our intent was to do it for 6-8 weeks, but it just never stopped. As the event grew, we started adding different ministry opportunities for people to be involved in. One of those ministries is a Bible study class that starts at 1 p.m. following the lunch.

Currently, we are studying the Gospel of Matthew. There are no requirements to come to the class, no homework assigned, no outside readings necessary, attendance is not taken or mandatory and most of all, we encourage and value everyone’s opinion. Therefore, Bible commentaries (because they are someone’s written opinion) are not read aloud.

Everyone attending the study is considered to be a Bible scholar because their perspective of the Scripture matters. We know that Scripture is God’s word and that it meets us where we are. Therefore, what we have been conditioned by and experienced in life makes our perspective uniquely valuable.

For example, it is one thing to read about the poor in scripture and quite another to have Brenda at the Bible study give her opinion while currently living on the street. Let me just say that the first day she joined the group, and before she spoke, everyone gave nice benign voices to their relatively tame comments about the homeless. Brenda then said, “No one should really ever have to live this way. It is a misery beyond your comprehension. If you have never been homeless you have no understanding of what it is like. Do you think that being homeless is a choice? Do you think anybody wants to be homeless?”

It was in that moment that compassion started to pour over the conversation. It was then that moment people saw Jesus come alive in Brenda, and they now had a deeper understanding of the gospel. You see, most of the time we want to preach the gospel to others. We want to tell people about the good news. But the truth is, if we are willing to experience the word of God with the poor instead of talking about it to the poor, we will see a whole new world open up.

What about demons? Demons are in the Bible. People sometimes make fun of the language, and others don’t understand what the stories mean. How is the Bible relevant for us today? It has been through the Bible study that I have come to understand the power of addiction as being demonic – destroying lives and wrecking families. Alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex and food are just a few examples of addictions that can control and destroy one’s life.

Bob is, by his admission, a binge alcoholic. He could go for periods of time without drinking, but once he started, he couldn’t quit. He was in and out of the Bible study for a couple of years. He described his life as, “Out of control. It was like every morning I would get up and there would be this presence calling and urging me to have a drink. For a long time I had no problem beating the demon back. But slowly over time I got more and more weary and the demon seemed to be harder and harder to beat. It was like I was in a boxing match and that’s how I started every day. Finally one day the demon knocked me down. I got a DUI. I went to AA and made it six months keeping the demon back, but it finally wore me out. I couldn’t fight the demon anymore. I gave up and took the 10 count and asked God to remove this demon and show me what to do.”

Bob has been a regular attendee for several years. His journey through AA and the Bible has helped it all finally click for him.

Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name I am there among them,” Matthew 18:20.

I believe that when Bible study is done in small groups that are diverse and open, it becomes dynamic. Bible study is not about memorizing scripture or quoting propositions about Jesus. Bible study is not about us trying to change our life, it is about believing that God can change our life.

Shalom.

 

About Gene: Gene is a native of Baton Rouge and an Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. He received a calling to ministry in 1995, after 20 years owning and operating his own businesses. Gene is currently serving Baker United Methodist and Bethel United Methodist churches. Gene can be reached via email at: rivesgene@cox.net.

July 2016, Pastor's Perspective

Leading the Broken from Darkness to Light

by Chad Dinkel
Chad Dinkel - Healing Place Church
Chad Dinkel – Healing Place Church

Imagine being in a dark, dangerous place, so dark that you can’t see a way out. A series of events caused you to end up here, and now you feel completely helpless. For the longest time you just keep moving around trying to get out. You can’t seem to find a way out and it’s getting progressively more dangerous.

That’s how so many hurting people spend their lives—those battling addiction, veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder or with civilian life re-entry, women caught in human trafficking or abusive relationships, and other circumstances beyond our ability to comprehend.
For those in this dark place it seems hopeless, but there is hope. It takes those of us not in that dark place to be a guide toward the light.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you,” Hebrews 13:17 (HCSB).

I’ve spent years trying to help lead people out of the dark; some make it out and some don’t. One thing that I’ve learned is that the way out isn’t as far off as it may seem. We are all just a few good decisions from freedom, just like we are all just a few bad decisions from the dark.

In that dark dangerous place, you feel completely hopeless—what has my life come to? Then, along comes someone who is healthy, happy and whole. They are far from perfect, but they know the way out. You have two choices: take their hand and trust and submit to letting them guide you, or fight them and make it impossible for them to help you. One leads to freedom, the other ensures your remain in the pain of darkness.
If you’re in that dark place—making destructive decisions, hurting yourself and the people who love you—make the right decision today.

  • Start with a simple declaration to Jesus: 

Lord I need you in my life. Direct me to the people who will guide me in a direction that leads to light and freedom. 

  • Find a bible-believing, supportive church 

You can’t do this alone. Your commitment to Jesus is the top priority, but life-giving strong believers will be the support you need to fight the challenges you face. Once you find a life-giving church, get there early and stay late … get involved!

  • Join a support group 

This may be at your home church or through another church or organization. These groups exist and work. This is another step toward surrounding yourself with people who love and care about you too much to let you fail. Even if you mess up … KEEP GOING!

You are worth fighting for; you are valuable, and God doesn’t want you living in the dark. As long and you have breath in your lungs, you have hope. He wants you to have freedom, restoration and a life filled with purpose.

As leaders, we must care for the hurting and forgotten. Everyone has something they can contribute to this world and it is all mapped out in a plan God has for each living being. Even those in their darkest moment have God’s perfect plan waiting for them on the other side.

June 2016, Pastor's Perspective

A Father’s Discipline and His Unfailing Love

by Dr. Rene F. Brown
Dr. Rene Brown
Dr. Rene Brown

The other day I was having lunch with several friends, and we invited a lady to join our table as they were discussing politics, religion, and solutions to America’s problems. I found it interesting that in all of their discussion they were not able to apply biblical solutions to the discussion. I chose to remain silent throughout their dialogue because I wanted to see what many people think about issues that I learned early on should not be talked about in public, namely religion and politics.  On several occasions, they talked about what fathers and mothers are not doing and what schools need to do, what is wrong with the government, etc. With June being the month of Father’s day, I thought I would share in the words of what my former pastor, Dr. W. L. Templeton, calls “scattering remarks.”

My father has always been and still is my greatest hero. So many of the values he instilled in me are the things I cherish the most.  Although he suffers from Alzheimer’s now, I remember many of the talks we had as we worked side by side. I also remember the discipline I received from him growing up. I didn’t like discipline then, and I don’t care for it now. However, I remember on one particular occasion I had to go to the doctor. I have always been afraid of doctors, needles and shots. Whenever I had to go to the doctor I would really act up and so my mother would have my father take me.

On this particular occasion, the doctor was going to give me a tetanus shot because I had stepped on a nail. My father said, “Don’t look at the doctor, look at me.” He said this several times and with a stern sort of confidence, so I felt it was in my best interest to do what my father said. After all, I had experience with the kind of pain he could inflict if you disobeyed him.  The doctor was the one who was going to inflict pain, but if I stayed focused on the one who loved me and could ease my pain it would make the shot easier to take. When people or life causes us pain, if we could somehow stay focused on the heavenly father, the one who loves us and can ease the pain, things would be easier for us. Let us examine God’s word to help us expound upon the subject of a Father’s discipline and his unfailing love.

Proverbs 3:11-12 says, “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. Deuteronomy 8:4 says, “Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you. Job 5:17 says, “Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.”

In Hebrews 12:4-11 it is written, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons? It says, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.’ Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

God disciplines us because we have rebelled and need to repent, to keep us from sinning, and to prepare us for blessings. It is through discipline that we are able to mature in Godly character. No matter how much it hurts, discipline doesn’t harm us, but instead makes us stronger, giving us wisdom through learned experiences.

The proverbial writer further explains the importance of discipline in our lives. Proverbs 22:15 tells us, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” Proverbs 23:13-14, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.” And lastly, Proverbs 29:15 explains, “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.”

Looking back over my life, I could never put a price tag on the things that J. C. Brown Sr. taught me. Oh how I long to draw words of wisdom from him now, but that is difficult. However, I can always draw wisdom from the word of God. Often times we know the price of everything but don’t know the value of anything. It took me a long time to understand the value of the word of God in a person’s life. The first 25 years of my life were spent trying to please my earthly father.  It was not until I got into the word of God that I realized how much more valuable it was to please my heavenly father.

If God’s people would come back to him and seek his guidance many of our problems would be solved. We receive God’s guidance by first learning God’s truth, which is revealed in his word. And it is through his word that we gain the ultimate key to wisdom. Thus, I will close with the words of Proverbs 3:1-4, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.”

May 2016, Pastor's Perspective

On Being a Disciple

by Lee McKinzie

http://www.batonrougechristianlifemagazine.com/on-being-a-disciple/
The word “disciple” is defined as “learner.” In the church this is especially fitting since Jesus is often referred to as “teacher.” And again, in the church we think of each person as a disciple of Jesus, since it is Jesus whose message opens for us a clearer picture of God at work in our lives, and whose mission and ministry gives us a better understanding of God at work in our world. All we need do is put into practice what we are taught; indeed this is what makes us truly followers of Jesus.

Herein lies the challenge: all too often to be a learner means we are called to go where we don’t want to go. Sure, we like to talk about being disciples and all, but the truth is that for many of us being a disciple means only doing it when it is convenient for us. This is precisely why we have a savior who sacrificed for us his own life, and who understands us, and our weakness in the face of temptation.

Chief among the many powerful and motivating characteristics of Jesus is that of grace. Jesus taught about the grace of God by both his words and his actions. The early church taught that to be like Jesus was to model grace. And today, in the modern church, we teach that grace is “getting the break we don’t deserve” or “getting forgiveness we have not earned.” It follows that being a true disciple of Jesus means that we not only experience the grace of God for ourselves, but that also we are guarantors of this grace in the lives of those around us.

Now, let me ask a question: When was the last time you made sure that those not like you, maybe from a different part of the world, maybe without full bellies, maybe living in such a way as to take honor away from others, maybe unclean and unkempt and unruly — when was the last time that through your actions and words you made sure these persons knew about the grace of God?

I suspect for many of us that question leads to a qualified answer, or perhaps even more questions. I am reminded of Matthew 25, the passage where Jesus sums up his teaching on the judgment of the nations by saying, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (The Wesley Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Matthew 25:45b.)

It seems a fair interpretation that to be a disciple of Jesus truly is learning to live out God’s grace that we have experienced for ourselves by extending it to others, ALL OTHERS. Doing so requires patience on the part of God, and courage on our part. Living in such a way is not for the faint of heart.

About Lee: Lee McKinzie is retired from the Louisiana Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, although he serves part-time as the pastor of the Nesom Memorial and the Montpelier United Methodist Churches. Throughout his career he published several articles and study guides, was honored with numerous awards, and held positions of leadership in both the Annual Conference and National Church. He is married and he and his wife have one child.

April 2016, Pastor's Perspective

Living a Christian Life: The Passionate Pursuit of Jesus

by Bishop Kendrick Whaley
Bishop Whaley
Bishop Whaley

Have you ever wondered what it takes to live a Christian life or to have the life of Jesus living through you? Jesus said in Luke ‪9:23, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” I believe the Christian life is lived with a passionate pursuit of Jesus Christ. Allow me to bring attention to the words “come after,” in the passage above. When Jesus said, “come after,” He was telling us to let our thoughts and energies be consumed by our desire to be in a relationship with Him. We should be motivated to pursue a passionate relationship with Jesus Christ because He pursued one with us when we were unworthy of His love.

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” Romans 5:8. God took the initiative to “come after” us first. God put on flesh, came down to earth and died for our sins. When we understand the magnitude of His love toward us it will motivate us to pursue Him with the same kind of love. “We love him, because he first loved us,” 1 John ‪4:19.

The Christ-life does not come without getting rid of the self-life. It’s not simply about saying no to oneself, it’s about getting rid of self. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,” Galatians 2:20. We live in a culture today that says it’s all about oneself. It is impossible to “come after” without denying self.

Let’s focus on taking up our cross! Many have come to the cross but have yet to die on it. What is a cross for? It’s not just a burden to be borne; it’s an instrument of death and total sacrifice. Taking up your cross means the death of self. What you want no longer matters; what God wants with your life is what must be done with it. If you are indulging self, you are denying Christ. And if you are not acquainted with self-execution and self-denial, you are a stranger to Christ.

Stop carrying your cross and instead, get on it! Christian living is denying and dying to self, and living a life of total commitment to, and faith in, Jesus Christ. What we stand to gain in Christ is far greater than what we must lose for Christ.

About Bishop Whaley: Kendrick Whaley Sr. is married to Nicole McCoy Whaley and they have two children, Kendrick J. Whaley, Jr. and Tori A. Whaley. Kendrick attended World Harvest Bible College in Columbus, Ohio, under Pastor Rod Parsley. He continued his formal Christian education at Faith Christian University where he received an associate’s degree in Bible and theology. Under the leadership of the late Bishop J.W. Harrison and Presiding Elder, James Evans, he was appointed to serve the CCOG in various capacities including pastor in 2000, overseer in 2006, and in July 2010 he was appointed by the board to be the Bishop. He truly has a shepherd’s heart and it has shown in his care for God’s people. He desires to see souls saved and the body of Christ edified.

March 2016, Pastor's Perspective

Prophecies of Our Generation

by Rev. David Goza

DavidGozaPIC[1]There is no prophecy more important than the one found in the ninth chapter of Daniel. God sent his messenger Gabriel to explain to Daniel the consummation of the world.

I want to point out a few things about this chapter, which confound the biblical critics. They say that this book was written during the Maccabean rebellion in about 165 B.C. instead of 535 B.C. when Daniel was alive. These critics claim that this is not a prophecy concerning future history; rather it is already completed history that a forger made look like prophecy by putting Daniel’s name on it. It is supposed this would encourage Jews who were fighting for their lives during the Maccabean revolt. This is how liberal and many moderate pastors and theologians interpret Daniel. There are two things about the prophecy in chapter nine that refute this liberal position.

First, this prophecy predicts that the temple in Jerusalem is going to be destroyed. Let me ask you this, would such a prophecy encourage the Jews fighting for their lives? This is exactly what the Jews in the second century B.C. were fighting to keep from happening. Second, this same prophecy predicts that the Messiah is going to die. This was also unthinkable to the Jewish mind.

This is one of the most comprehensive yet concise prophecies to be found in the Bible. God sent Gabriel to explain to Daniel the future death of the Messiah and the later consummation of the world. In four verses all of human history is summed up, seventy sevens means 70 times 7 or 490 years.

In Daniel 9:25, “From the going forth of the command…to Messiah being cut off,” there will be 7 + 62 weeks = 69 = 483 years (360 day year). Nehemiah rebuilt the wall and city with the permission of the Persian King Artaxerxes. Thus from 444 B.C. to 33 A.D., we have exactly to the year when Jesus was crucified; “cut-off.” Sir Robert Anderson an investigator with Scotland Yard over a century ago wrote a classic book, “The Coming Prince.” In it he calculated by the use of astronomical calendars and charts that the day of the Messiah’s coming was April 6, A.D. 32.

Theologians throughout history have used this prophecy to prove the inspiration of God’s word. One of the greatest theologians in America, Jonathan Edwards wrote this:

“The Prophet Daniel is more particular in foretelling the time of Christ’s coming than ever any prophet had been before. He foretold, that it should be seventy weeks, i.e. seventy weeks of years, or seventy times seven years, which is four hundred and ninety years, from the decree to rebuild and restore the state of the Jews, till the Messiah should be crucified. This must be reckoned from the commission given to Ezra by Artaxerxes, whereby the very particular time of Christ’s crucifixion was pointed out, which never had been before.”

It is clear that Daniel’s Seventy Sevens is a sweeping prophecy that foretells the death of Jesus Christ and the coming tribulation period known as Daniel’s Seventieth Week. It is a prophecy that reveals the end of the world. When Jesus was asked how many times one should forgive a brother who wronged him . . . seven times? Jesus said, no, but, “seventy times seven,” a clear reference to Daniel chapter nine. In other words Jesus was saying, you must keep on forgiving your brother until the end of the world.

The apostle Paul went from city to city, to synagogues and he reasoned with them from the scripture. He no doubt showed them the prophecies of Daniel and the other prophets and explained how Christ fulfilled them all. That is why the church grew like it did. Only a closed-minded skeptic can deny Christ when faced with this kind of overwhelming proof.

What of our day? What of the future?

holy_bible4 unique prophecies to our generation that point to the soon return of Christ:

  1. “The Great Falling Away” (2 Thess. 2:3; 1 Tim. 4:1; Rev. 3:14-22). Most of us are already aware of the death of the church in Europe. Based on recent polls, most of us also know about the decline of Christianity in America. The great falling away has already fallen.
  2. Technology Explosion (Rev. 13:16-18). This is implied in the passage where John reveals that the Antichrist will have the ability to monitor the buying and selling of every human on earth through something called the Mark of the Beast. The advent of the computer age has made this possible for the first time in human history. No Roman emperor or middle age king or industrial age president could have accomplished this prophecy. The boat that took Xerxes to Greece to fight the Peloponnesian war was basically the same boat that brought the pilgrims to the New World 2000 years later. Today we are soon to send men to Mars!
  3. Population explosion: (Rev. 9-13-16). This again is implied in the passage where John states the King of the East will cross the Euphrates river with an army of 200 million men. For one country to field an army of 200 million there must be a much higher number in the general population. This was an outrageous claim in the first century; there were not 200 million people in the entire world. Today of course we know that China boasts of their ability to field an army of 200 million.
  4. Israel: The Bible predicts that Israel will be dispersed throughout the world and in the end times become a nation once again (Hosea 3). The Bible also predicts that Israel in the end times will be the source of the world’s problems. The whole world will gather against them. They will be like a stone around the world’s neck (Zechariah 12:3).

All four of these prophecies are unique to this generation! No other generation in human history has experienced this. Jesus said, “When you see these things begin to come to pass, then look up for your redemption draws near.” So what should we do? How should we live knowing that Christ can return at any time?

About David: Rev. Dr. David Goza, senior pastor of Jefferson Baptist Church, Baton Rouge. Dr. David Goza was born in Midwest City, Oklahoma, March 29, 1972. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Oklahoma, a Master of Divinity with emphasis in Biblical Languages from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Philosophy in Church History from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

He was licensed to the ministry by Country Estates Baptist Church, in Midwest City, Oklahoma, and ordained to the ministry by Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, Texas. He was senior pastor of Davis Boulevard Baptist Church, North Richland Hills, Texas, and also served at Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, Texas, and First Baptist Church, Euless, Texas. He has been married to Dana Campbell since 1998 and they have four children: Nathaniel, Alexander, William and Anna.

February 2016, Pastor's Perspective

A Mercy Awakening

by Brian Sleeth

FullSizeRender-1-2Grace and mercy are two words that are often used together in the Bible, but both words don’t mean the same thing. “Grace” is getting something you couldn’t earn and that you don’t deserve, which is how it works with salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Whereas grace is God giving you something you can’t earn and don’t deserve, mercy is God not giving you what you do deserve. What do we all deserve? Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death.”

According to the Bible, we are all sinners who deserve God’s judgment. By God’s mercy, we are not given the just penalty for our sin. This is because Christ took our place before God’s judgment. He bore what we deserve so that God could extend his mercy and grace to us.

But grace and mercy aren’t one-time, transformational experiences for the Christian. God intends for us to continue to be transformed by grace and mercy throughout the rest of our lives.

About three years after becoming a pastor in 1999, I went through a “grace awakening” experience. I “got grace” at a much deeper level than I did before. I understood in a fresh, liberating way that there is absolutely nothing whatsoever I can do to make God love me more than he already does in Christ.

In 2009, I went through a “mercy awakening.” I was starting a church in the Detroit area when The Great Recession began. For those of you who remember, Detroit was one of the areas of the country that felt the greatest impact. Financial support dried up, and we had to close the church. I lost everything I had, including my house. At the time, all four of my kids were very young, and I was terrified about how I would provide for them.

There are two word pictures that help describe how I felt during that time. I felt like I was standing on the edge of a cliff looking down into a bottomless abyss. I also felt like I had fallen out of an airplane and just kept falling more and more each day, never hitting bottom.

I became despondent. I stopped eating and lost a lot of weight quickly. I felt deep sorrow. I cried bitter tears. I prayed that God would take my life and end my misery.

All I had was the promises of God in the Bible and prayer. The words in many of the Psalms, that before had seemed like they had nothing to do with me, took on a deeply personal meaning as I prayed through my suffering.

Psalm 34:18 promises, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit,” and Psalm 147:3 assures us, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

God didn’t let me tumble into oblivion. He didn’t take my life. He rescued me. He healed me. He gave my family a place to live until we got back on our feet.

God wasn’t just merciful to me to a certain degree; he lavished inexhaustible, life-giving, extravagant mercy on me that transformed me and set me on a path of helping the homeless. He took my heart of compassion for others who are hurting and enlarged it exponentially.

Mercy is now burned into my soul. I am still being transformed by it, even today. As I have experienced God’s mercy toward me, it is the fuel of my turning around and helping others who need God’s mercy.

May we all grow in our experience of God’s grace and mercy and extend that same mercy to the hurting and helpless around us.

About Brian: Rev. Dr. Brian Sleeth is the Executive Director of The Christian Outreach Center of Baton Rouge, a Christ-centered homeless prevention ministry. This includes oversight of The Outreach Center itself, Christian Outreach Transitional Employment Services, and The Purple Cow thrift stores.

December 2015, Pastor's Perspective

Christmas and the Light of Christ

by R. Lee McKinzie

7ImageWaiting. All year long we have been waiting. And now we are reminded that we have to wait just a little bit longer. Will Christmas ever be here? The liturgical season is Advent, and it is that special time the church sets aside each year to prepare to celebrate the coming of the Christ child. The season of Advent proclaims that the Lord is coming, and that he will bring the light of God to the world. Let me ask you: Does your life resemble the light of Christ? Does the way you live show others that the darkness of the world is no longer “in charge,” that the light of Christ shines brightly to show the way? Many religious traditions begin their celebration of the Advent season with the lighting of the Advent Wreath. The Advent Wreath is a simple circle of evergreen branches. The circle is perhaps one of the oldest Judeo-Christian symbols, and it represents that in God there is no beginning and no ending. It is symbolic that the lives we live may be altered by our deaths, but that our lives in Christ will not end. Simply, the light of Christ shines through us. Another of the most striking and the most universal features of Christmas is the use of evergreens in churches and homes. Among ancient Romans evergreens were an emblem of peace, joy, and victory. The early Christians placed these in their windows to indicate that Christ had entered the home. Holly and ivy, along with pine, and fir are called evergreens because they never change color. They are ever – green, ever – alive, even in the midst of winter. They symbolize the unchanging nature of our God, and they remind us of the everlasting life that is ours through Christ Jesus. Under Christian thought and sentiment, holly became widely used in church celebrations. Holly was considered as the burning bush, and as a symbol of Mary whose being glows with the Holy Spirit. The red berries represented the blood drops from the cruel thorns in the crown of Jesus. In Isaiah 60:13 we find these words: “The Glory of Lebanon shall come unto you, the fir tree, the pine tree and the box together, to beautify the place of your sanctuary.” The Advent Wreath have four purple candles, all placed equidistant around the outside of the circle. (In the middle of the circle is placed a white candle, known as the Christ Candle. Lighting this candle is done on Christmas Eve and is symbolic of the light of Christ coming into the world. It is lit on Christmas Eve because this is when the season of Christmas begins.) Each of the purple candles of the Advent Wreath has a special meaning, too. The first candle represents the light of Christ as our Hope. The second Sunday the candle is symbolic of the light as Christ illuminating the way. The third candle represents the light of Christ as the bringer of our Joy. (Some religious traditions use a pink or rose colored candle in place of the third purple candle although its meaning of Christ as the bringer of Joy is the same.) And the fourth candle represents to us the light of Christ as the prince of peace. This is what we celebrate during Advent. It is a celebration that recognizes God Himself is coming. It means that when God comes, through Christ, His light will be a shining force for all the world to see. It means that we have hope for living, a model for living as God intends, joy in our lives, and peace that passes all understanding. The third verse of the favorite carol Silent Night, Holy Night, may best express it. Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light; radiant beams from thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at the birth, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth. Christmas and all it means is coming… However, first, we must wait some more. As we wait, we will patiently celebrate because we know He is coming! In the form of a baby! To bring the light of God into our world! May we pray: Our Father, we long for the simple beauty of Christmas – for all the old familiar melodies, words, and symbols that remind us of that night so long ago when the baby Jesus was born.  May the loving kindness of this Advent and the true Spirit of Christmas be found in the way we live, throughout this season and throughout all time. May we be both be assured, and the way we live be an assurance to others that the light of Christ has come into the darkness of this world. In the name of the one whose birth we celebrate, we pray. Amen. BIO: Lee McKinzie is retired from the Louisiana Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, although he serves part-time as the pastor of the Nesom Memorial and the Montpelier United Methodist Churches. Throughout his career he published several articles and study guides, was honored with numerous awards, and held positions of leadership in both the Annual Conference and National Church. He is married and he and his wife have one child.

October 2015, Pastor's Perspective

Real Men

by Mark Stermer

IMG_1224-2Where are the real men in the world; men who are not afraid to be who God has created them to be? There is confusion about this right now; we are in a culture that seeks to feminize men. It’s no wonder we see some men confused about whether they are male or female. What’s worse is that our society is accepting of this deception. Even the new line of clothing for men are made from women’s style. Men are deterred from boyhood, from being rough and rugged. What’s interesting is that our society entertains itself with heroes in the movies who are raw and tough, who fight like a bear and roar like a lion. Our society would rather keep real men trapped in Hollywood where they can control them. A real man cannot be controlled by politicians, culture, or the demonic forces that plague our society.

Let me clarify who real men really are: we are not real men because we look rugged, stand to urinate, or produce life in the world. We are real men because we have found our purpose: to glorify God in this world with our lives. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are called to march into hell and rescue as many lost souls as we can by influencing them to give their lives to Christ. A real man is a man of war on a planet doomed to judgment. We have been given a rescue mission to accomplish. We are armed with weapons of war, and we don’t understand or accept retreat or defeat. We have no fear of death and no mercy on evil. We are tender and loving, but strong and free. Our wives respect us; our children revere us; our brothers will die for us; people in need or in danger will call for us; and our enemies fear us. We are a new breed of warriors standing for the truth of God’s Word. We are the redeemed of the Lord, washed by the blood, filled with the Spirit, and favored by God. We are the Real Men of the Church of the living God, and Christ Jesus is our King.

I, Pastor Mark Stermer, as a general in my King’s army, am calling for men to burn their women’s underwear and come join an army that is bent on conquering the world for Christ. Men, rise up and be the real man God has created you to be!

About Mark: Mark Stermer served as Leadership Pastor at Healing Place Church (HPC) in Baton Rouge, LA from 1997-2004. Mark has been serving as Executive Director of The Church United for Community Development, a 501c3 nonprofit organization since 1999. He also founded and was Director of the Louisiana Pastor’s Resource Council and worked tirelessly to network pastors and government officials to influence a positive change in Louisiana. Since August 2010 Mark and his wife, Cindy, have been serving as Senior Pastors of The Church, which has multiple campuses. Every Sunday The Church sermons are broadcast on national TV speaking God’s truth into many homes. They currently have 8 children and two grandchildren.