Category Archives: Weekly Reflections

Religious Liberty Sunday

Many folks are interested in Religious Liberty, especially as they wait to hear how the SCOTUS rules in Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby.  There are numerous groups that are working to protect our liberties, particularly our religious liberty.  In today’s culture, religious liberty questions are most commonly being raised in regard to the homosexual agenda and right-to-life issues.  Many have likened the homosexual movement as the new front on the Civil Rights Movement.  The inherent danger in this is that the bible never condemns on the basis skin color, BUT it is very clear on the problems of sexual sin – fornication, homosexuality, adultery, etc.  DesiringGod.org posted a fantastic article explaining why homosexuality is particularly threatening in today’s culture.  You can access that article here.

Southern Baptists have been, and I hope will continue to be, adamant defenders of Religious Liberty.  Section 17 of the Baptist Faith & Message explains the SBC’s commitment to religious liberty.

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.

If you would like to read more about religious liberty, and the fight that is taking place in the court system to defend religious liberty, I would commend the following sites to you…

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Family Research Council exists to defend a culture in which human life is valued, families flourish, and religious liberty thrives.

The Alliance Defending Freedom is a division of the FRC that helps provide legal counsel and representation to individuals and entities who are victims of religious discrimination.

ReligiousHostility.org is a database that has collected of more than 600 cases, detailing religious bigotry throughout America — most of which have occurred within the past 10 years.

Focus on the Family exists to help educate people in matters of marriage and family from a biblical perspective, and provide a biblical answer to many of the cultural problems pertaining to the family.

FamilyFacts.org is a site put together by the Heritage Foundation explaining why traditional families are critical for the upkeep of a civil society.

The Heritage Foundation is a think-tank that defends many conservative values, not just family and religious liberty.

The Institution of Faith, Work, & Economics is a Christian research group that studies the role of freedom in the marketplace.

The Acton Institute is a Catholic organization that also exists to help protect religious freedom.  Though their theology is not in alignment with Protestantism, their commitment to religious liberty is sound.

There are plenty of others, but these are a few of the groups I pay close attention to.  I have even learned that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has begun to become increasingly concerned about religious liberty.  The reality is that any person of faith – regardless of what that faith is – should be concerned about it.  If you know of other think-tanks or ministries that are keeping up the fight to defend religious liberty, post their link in a comment.  I will post the best ones.

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The Perfect Pair

One of the shows on television that has always given me the creeps is The Bachelor (and it’s girl-power counterpart, The Bachelorette).  I would be lying if I said I had never watched it.  The handful of episodes I have seen were more like opposition research rather than entertainment.  The concept of speed-dating multiple partners, ditching the less desirable ones along the way, until you find the perfect match has all the makings for a trusting and fulfilling, lifelong relationship – especially when you throw in a lot of inappropriate physical contact with those partners, and when you document the whole ordeal in front of a national television audience.  Note the sarcasm please.  There’s just no way to spin the fact that The Bachelor is about giving some dude a harem and saying, “Go get ‘em tiger.”   If you watch it because “it’s soooo romantic,” ask yourself if you would like to see your son or daughter on the show.

One problem with reality television is that it isn’t very real.  Real life doesn’t have makeup artists, wardrobe consultants, multi-million-dollar mansions, or ABC’s bottomless wallet.  Real life doesn’t have rose ceremonies where the broken-hearted can be whisked away in a limo to carry on with their lives, never to be heard from again.  All of this television magic simply serves to mask the big, ugly monster lurking in the shadows.  The biggest problem with almost all reality television is that it is a business designed to exploit human sin in order to make a profit.  The Bachelor, in particular, makes a mockery of the biblical definition of marriage and the reality is that we may not even notice.

Now deceased, Senator Dan Moynihan coined the phrase, “defining deviancy down.”  In sociological terms, if you can’t fix it, make it normal.  Divorce, pornography, adultery – these things were once seen as menaces to a community are now seen as normal by everybody except some evangelical Christians.  Enter the current push to normalize homosexuality.  The reality is that 50 years ago, the concept of The Bachelor would have been terribly offensive to the culture, and any man behaving in such a way would be considered a womanizer at best or a gigolo at worst.  Now, we see the whole thing as “romantic” and we consume it in droves.  In reality of that reality show it is simply a man acting like an animal.

It is no surprise that Genesis offers a proper foundation for our understanding of God’s design in marriage.  And as you guessed it, our current cultural trends do not reflect God’s design.  In fact, like all human sin, the are an affront to God’s design.  Genesis tells us that God created marriage to be between one man and one woman.  There’s no room for homosexuality there. Remember, God’s mandate to mankind – be fruitful and multiply.  There’s only one arrangement that makes that happen.  That’s not intolerant or hateful, just biblical.  Genesis tells us that God created man to leave their father and mother and become one flesh with his wife.  That eliminates any opportunity for fornication prior to marriage.  While the culture today believes that fornicating is completely normal, God says its beyond his design.  It also precludes adultery.  There is no way one can be one flesh with more than one person.  In marriage math, 1+1=1.  That’s why adultery and fornication are so damaging to marriage because it adds a variable to the equation that permanently skews the result.  Genesis also says that man and woman are to “hold fast.”  The divorce epidemic is also out of bounds.  Genesis does not give an exit strategy to marriage.  Oh yeah, all the other deviant behavior pertaining to marriage – all that is out of bounds too.  Chauvinism and feminism, wrong.  Emotional, verbal, physical abuse, wrong.  I could go on.

Sometimes people accuse Christians of being intolerant of homosexuals.  That’s not completely true.  Biblical Christianity must reject all behavior that is contrary to God’s design, not just the one that appears to be the most flagrant.  Perhaps we are more reluctant to treat fornication, adultery and divorce like we treat homosexuality because those are the sins with which we are the most complicit.

In Christ,

Pastor Brian

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The Consequence of Work & Rest

Hugh Welchel, executive director for The Institute of Faith, Work & Economics (www.tifwe.org), said, “God is a worker.  From the very beginning of Scriptures we are faced with the inescapable fact that work is part of God’s character and nature.”1  As image-bearers of our Creator, then we have to consider the fact that there are certain aspects of God’s character and nature that we reflect.  God certainly made it clear that the call to work is one of those shared attributes.  When we read Genesis 2, we find that work is the first task given to Man.  Genesis 2:15, “The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.”  God didn’t put man in the garden to string up a hammock between two trees and listen to the birds sing.  Eden was no doubt the epitome of pristine locations, but it wasn’t a vacation.  Perhaps we picture Eden as being the backdrop for a Jimmy Buffet song, but that simply isn’t the biblical picture.  God put man in the garden to work.  Work is one of those topics that doesn’t get brought up in church very often.  Ignoring it has clearly been to our detriment.

It is very interesting that there are three errors regarding work that plague us today.  A proper understanding of the first three chapters of Genesis corrects all three of those errors.  The first error is that of laziness.  The Bible speaks very clearly in regards to this error.  Not only do we have Adam’s commission to till and keep the garden in Genesis 2, Proverbs 13:4 says, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing.”  1 Timothy 5:8 reminds us, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  I could go on…for a LONG time.  Yet today, we are living in a day and time when laziness is widespread.  Of course, there is something to be said about helping people who are facing unexpected hardships, but as we have seen so many times, handouts and entitlements incentivize laziness for those who are prone to that error.

The second error is that of frustration and a lack fulfillment.  It is important to understand that work was not a product of the Fall in Genesis 3.  Certainly, one of the effects of the Fall is that work is often frustrating and difficult.  However, in Christ, we begin to recapture that perfect image that is marred with sin.  It is for this reason that Paul says in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”  Christians must begin to understand that work is not a means to an end, a necessary evil in a market-driven economy.  Instead, they should see their work as yet another way to worship God and partake in His mandate to those who bear his image.  Welchel said, “Work is not a curse but a gift from God.  By our work we employ useful skills to glorify God and love our neighbors.  Work is not a result of the Fall.”

The third error is when we allow work to become idolatry.  This is the polar opposite of laziness.  Always remember that after God worked for 6 days, he rested on the sabbath.  Likewise, God gave the sabbath to his image-bearers for their good.  Work can easily consume us.  Now, we can work from home.  And while that may save some commute time, it can also make it far too easy to avoid rest and reflection.  Instant communication means that our work can find us anytime, anyplace.  If we are not careful, we can allow our work to destroy our families, jeopardize our health, and distract us from our faith.  If we are to redeem work for the glory of God, then we must also understand that God desires for us to take time to rest and reflect.

Properly understanding Genesis means that we avoid these errors and begin to reclaim our work for God’s glory, not simply see it as a means to an end.  As Colossians 3:17 reminds us, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

In Christ,

Pastor Brian

 

1.  Hugh Welchel, How then Should We Work, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2012, p. 7.

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Blessing The City – How Jeremiah 29:7 Energizes a Church

There are certain passages of scripture that God uses in certain seasons to give guidance and direction to his people.  It isn’t that the rest of scripture is diminished, rather that the Holy Spirit illuminates some texts and gives them particularly relevant application.  One of those texts for our church has been Jeremiah 29:7 – “Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper.”  In writing to the Jewish exiles of Babylon, Jeremiah gave instructions for how to be a people living in a land that wasn’t home.  This is our task as well – to be strangers in a strange land, but at the same time to be good citizens and good neighbors.  Indeed, to seek the welfare of our “home away from home.”  

This has become an important plumb line for me as we evaluate the direction and functions of our church.  Are we blessing our community?  Too many times, the church is a burden on its community.  We are constantly looking for “freebies.”  We expect discounts and special favor.  There’s nothing wrong when someone wants to bless us in that respect, but we shouldn’t be offended when we pay the same price as everyone else.  When I realize that God wants his people to be a blessing to their cultural hosts and not a burden, I can’t help but change how I think about our relationship to our community. 

Over the past few weeks, God has given Northside some wonderful opportunities to bless our community.  First, we were able to host the FamilyStrong Conference.  I would like to thank BJ Cobb for his vision to plan and host this event.  The intent of this event was not to skim church members from other fellowships.  It wasn’t a bait and switch to get folks in the door and try to convert them to Northsiders.  The intent was to bless our community with good information and equip parents to do a better job parenting in a postmodern world.  If God chooses to use that conference to open our doors to other people, that’s perfectly fine, but that’s not our intent.

Secondly, we were able to continue our prison ministry at the Coweta County Prison.  The interesting thing about our county prison is that it is designed to serve our community.  I know some folks don’t like the idea of having a state prison down the road, but inmate labor saves our county millions of dollars in salaries.  When we do prison ministry, not only are we ministering to those who are often the most despised and overlooked members of our community, we are blessing those who are, in fact, working for the prosperity of our community.

Thirdly, this week our spring Upward registration got underway.  I took a phone call from a lady who was signing her son up to play football.  She told me the story of how another secular program had really disappointed their family in the fall and her son didn’t get to play.  She told me that she had heard great things about our Upward program and wanted to get him signed up.  When a parent turns to the church’s sports league because we do a better job than the secular rec league, that’s a big win.  And it is a great example of being a blessing to the community.  

Finally, our church did a tremendous job blessing our community over the Christmas holiday.  One Wednesday evening, our student ministry visited one of our more neglected nursing homes and brought joy and laughter and the love of Christ to the residents.  On a cold Sunday afternoon, the youth group set up at Ashley Park and gave out free hot chocolate to the shoppers.  No strings attached.  Then, our church was able to provide Christmas gifts to 19 children from one of our community’s poorest neighborhoods.  

I believe what Jeremiah told the exiles applies to us as well.  When our community has prosperity, we too will prosper.  So, let us continue to be a blessing and serving Coweta County to the glory of God!

In Christ,

Pastor Brian

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My Take on Phil

The Duck Commander Patriarch

The Duck Commander Patriarch

The “Phil Robertson Scandal” has garnered attention for more than a week now.  In our day and time, anytime a celebrity scandal lasts more than 72 hours, you know that you’re dealing with something significant.  In case you’ve been so overwhelmed with the Christmas holiday and had no idea that there was a scandal, let me fill in some blanks.  Phil Robertson, the founding father of a ridiculously successful manufacturer of hunting paraphernalia and one of the stars of A&E’s smash hit reality show Duck Dynasty, made some comments in a GQ interview about some issues that are, shall we say, “culturally sensitive.”  At the heart of what he said, was a biblical understanding of those issues – he just said it in such a way that might give some cause to blush.  Those comments led A&E to permanently bench Phil from the show.  To be completely honest, I read the article and was FAR more irritated by the reporter’s vile language than anything Phil said, but that’s not the point. (You can read the article here, but be warned, it has strong language that isn’t Phil’s).

What has been most interesting about this whole ordeal is how the media has handled it.  One interview, hosted by CNN’s Piers Morgan pitted Dr. Michael Brown, a well-respected Old Testament scholar and apologist against Marc Lamont Hill, one of CNN’s political commentators. During the interview Piers asked Dr. Brown if Jesus ever said anything about the cultural issue of the hour.  Dr. Brown gave him three instances where Jesus specifically spoke about these issues.  Naturally, expressing a biblical view on this issue set off the more left-leaning Hill.  He immediately began to refute Dr. Brown, claiming that the Bible never says anything about sodomy, even stating that God’s judgment against Sodom in Genesis 19 was a result of their lack of hospitality.

Welcome to 21st Century America.  This is now the land of the “Twisted Scripture.”  Now, instead of the Bible being the unchangeable plumb-line of morality, we simply look at the words and try to explain why they don’t actually mean what they say: that God didn’t judge Sodom for sodomy but because they were not very neighborly; that when God said that perversions are sinful, he surely didn’t mean my perversion.  There’s logic for you.  Our culture is more tolerant of a God who wipes a city off the face of the earth because of their hospitality problems than because of the gross and rampant perversions running wild in the streets.

Christian’s are up in arms over Phil’s departure.  To a degree, this is certainly appropriate.  I’m sure that A&E has gotten there plenty of good-natured, kind, Christian love expressed through letters, emails, and social media.  At the end of the day, I trust that Phil can take care of himself.  I suspect he wouldn’t miss a beat if the A&E production trucks rolled off his land once and for all.

What should bother us even more than Phil losing his job is the concerted effort to discredit biblical authority once and for all in our culture.  Phil Robertson has done something that few others have been able to do – he has put the Word of God right in the faces of those who chose to ignore it: the liberal-minded, culture-shapers of the media.  Now, instead of saying they don’t believe it, they try to twist it into something that it clearly isn’t.

Guess what, the Bible warned us that this would happen.  Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:16, He [Paul] speaks about these things in all his letters in which there are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable twist them to their own destruction,  as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures.”

One of the best things Christians can do in light of the ongoing Phil Robertson saga is renew their commitment to the inerrancy and relevance of the Scriptures.  The Bible is not old and stale, outdated and worn out.  As we have seen in recent days, it always has a word to speak to the culture, whether the culture likes it or not.  More and more Christians are going to need to be like Phil, willing to share it no matter how much it costs them.

Firmly Committed,

Pastor Brian

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Two Parakeets, a Cat, Two Sheriff’s Deputies, and an Old Lady in Camo

We GENERALLY have a pretty peaceful workplace here at church.  We have the occasional knock on the door from someone looking for various kinds of handouts.  We have people ask for gas money, groceries, utility bills, hotel bills, and a host of other items.  Last week, we had someone enter our world who was looking for, of all things, a police officer.  Betty was her name.  She told us that she was on her way from Alabama to Ohio and had gotten separated from her husband along the way.  She had no working cell phone, knew no phone numbers, didn’t know her address, and didn’t know the address of where she was going.  She had one son she could tell us about but didn’t know his phone number or where he lived.  She had been sleeping in her car and was dressed in camouflage coveralls.  Her only traveling companions were two parakeets and a cat.  All she could tell us was that she was separated from her husband somewhere south of Atlanta and that he was driving a green GMC pickup truck.  She was in a terrible mental condition, having driven around completely lost for more than 2 hours.  She broke out into spontaneous tears, was very jittery – not to mention that she had a pretty severe physical handicap.

Just for the record, it is really hard to help someone who doesn’t know where they’re going or where they came from.  So, we did all we knew to do – we contacted the sheriff’s department.  They quickly sent out a deputy, who, upon meeting Betty, requested help from his supervisor. The sheriff’s deputies were as helpful as they could be, but even they were unable to come up with some reasonable solution for Betty’s problems.  However, as they were talking with her, she managed to come up with a phone number to her husband’s phone.  Not sure if she had forgotten it in the stress of the situation, or if she somehow found it in terrible clutter of her automobile.  Nevertheless, she had the number now.

The sergeant called her husband (who was already in Dalton), and, in no uncertain terms, let him know that he needed to turn around and come back to Newnan and pick up his distraught wife.  His reply was shocking.  He said, “No, she’s going to have to come to me.”  When he told the officer he wasn’t coming back, he asked if he could speak to his wife.  When she got on the phone, I couldn’t hear his words, but I know from the terror in Betty’s eyes that she had just been told that he wasn’t coming back – but that she would have to come to him (through 5 o’clock Atlanta traffic).  For some unexplainable reason, she agreed to go.  We did our best to try to talk Betty out of that decision.  She was confused; had no map, cell phone, or GPS to guide her.  But she was determined.  I gave her written directions, yet somehow knew she would never make it to her destination.  The last I saw of Betty was her tail lights as she left the church parking lot.  I learned the next day that she had been admitted to Piedmont Hospital, but I was unable to get in touch with her.

I’m not 100% sure why the Lord sent Betty our way last week, but I did find an interesting Christmas parallel hidden within Betty’s story.  After all, at some point, were we not all like Betty?  We were lost, hopeless, not even knowing what our destination might be.  However, Jesus did for us what Betty’s husband refused to do.  He came to get us.  He didn’t leave us abandoned.  At our point of greatest need, the Savior, Christ the Lord, came for us.  He found us in our brokenness, he rescued us from darkness, and He promises to lead us safely to our destination, never once leaving us or forsaking us to fend for ourselves.  He didn’t say, “You’ve got to figure out how to get to me.”  He said, “I’m coming to get you. Don’t be afraid.”

That’s what the Christmas celebration really is all about.  It is a celebration of Jesus coming to our rescue.  Meeting Betty made me thankful that Jesus came to me, bridged the uncrossable divide between God and man.  And it makes me even more hopeful for Jesus’ return!  Thank you, Lord, for coming to get us!

Merry Christmas,

Pastor Brian

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Joy-Stealers

This past week, a secular group secured an ad in New York’s Times Square.  The digital billboard included the image to the right.  The activist group responsible for this advertisement, American Atheists, released a statement in conjunction with the billboard.  It said, “This season is a great time of year for a hundred reasons — none of them having to do with religion. This year, start a new tradition: Don’t go to church. You hate it, it’s boring; you probably only go because you feel guilty or obligated. Instead, spend more time with your family and friends — or volunteer. There are better uses of your time and money.”

As I thought about the image and the statement, I find that I am far more dumfounded than offended.  First of all, there aren’t any atheist activists erecting billboard to mock the Muslim celebration of Ramadan or the Hindu celebration of Krishna Janmashtami.  It seems that the celebration of anything Christian is far more offensive to secularists than any other religious observance.  I’m of the opinion that if you’re going to mock the Incarnation of Jesus, you should be just as quick to mock Muhammad and Krishna.  The Apostle Peter said that we should expect this sort of thing, “First, be aware of this: Scoffers will come in the last days to scoff.”  Mockers mocking, scoffers scoffing, merry Christmas.

I’m also dumfounded by the attitude of the atheist group about the church.  Boring, obligated?  This is coming from a group of people who have likely never darkened the doors of a loving, caring, worshipping fellowship of believers.  When worship becomes boring and our participation becomes forced, we’ve got major problems.  Then you have their suggestion of church alternatives, “Spend more time with family and friends – or volunteer.”  That sounds just like a vibrant body of believers sharing life together and impacting their community together.  Sounds to me like this atheist group needs to find an exciting, bible-believing church to visit and connect to a small-group Bible study!

The reality is that there are people in the world who believe they can steal the joy of Christmas.  What they miss, however, is that the joy of Christmas is not found in the images of the season.  Joy is not tied to our evergreen trees or our twinkling lights or all of the gifts we have set our hearts on.  Joy is tied to Jesus, plain and simple.  Joy is found in the fact that God Almighty saw fit to put on flesh.  Joy is found in the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds, “Don’t be afraid,  for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.”

Instead of taking offense that there are people out there who mock the message about Christ, let us take every opportunity to share with others the joy that we have found in Christ.  “Joy to the world, the Lord has come; let earth receive her King” is a message for all people, whether they like it or not!

Merry Christmas,

Pastor Brian

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