Merry Christmas First Baptist Church, December 2023

Christmas is one of the best times of the year. People are usually filled with joy and generosity and even people who aren’t regulars at church tend to be thinking about Jesus. Images of the nativity are visible at stores and in peoples front yards. Carols about Jesus’s birth fill the air and are entertainment at shopping venues.

People often think of Jesus as a good man or a prophet, but many people do not understand him to be the incarnate Son of God. The apostle John makes the incarnation a centerpiece in his writings.

1 John 4:1-3 says, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flash is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus, as not from God.”

The apostle John was combating the idea in his day, that Jesus was a spirit and not a real human being. They had the idea that Jesus had shown up but not in the flesh, thus they were denying the incarnation. There was a concept, which we call Gnosticism, and they believed flesh (being bad) and spirit (being good) were so divided and different that they could not coexist. In order to make Jesus deity, they had to deny his humanity.

This is the reason why John includes the words “every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.” The most common error in John’s day about Jesus was a denial of his humanity. By denying Jesus’ humanity, they also denied his birth, death, and resurrection.

Today, the most common error about Jesus is the denial of his divinity. Of course, if they accepted his divinity, they would be accepting him as Lord and Savior as well. Some are willing to accept his miracles and even his resurrection, but the biggest barrier to their acceptance of him is the question of his divinity, his divine nature. The spirit of this age rejects the divine nature of Jesus Christ.

Christmas season is a great time to invite friends and neighbors to worship. They are already familiar with the carols, images, and stories. But it is also a great moment for them to come into contact with the real Jesus. The Jesus, the Son of God, who took on flesh, who took on a human nature.

Consider who among your friends and neighbors you would like to be your guests this Christmas. Pick a Sunday when you think they would feel comfortable. Invite them to be your guest at worship. Meet them in the parking lot. Then make sure to sit together during the worship service. Let’s use this wonderful opportunity, when people are already thinking about Jesus Christ, to introduce them to our Lord and Savior, The Son of God.

Merry Christmas,

Pastor Dave

Baptism, November 2023

As we look forward to baptisms this month, it seems good for our souls to remember our own baptisms. Who was present at yours? Were you nervous? What time of day did yours take place and was it inside or outside? Did you understand what you were doing?

Let’s go over the basics again. Baptism means immerse, dip, plunge, to be overcome with transformative results. It is not used often outside of Christian communities, but the one instance that comes to mind is the description of a sunken boat as baptized. The boat was fully submerged and transformed by the process. Jesus describes his death as a baptism to undergo – it would overcome him and transform him, particularly the resurrection part would transform him. Frequently in The New Testament, receiving the Holy Spirit is called a baptism. When the Holy Spirit comes into our lives it should be transformative – changing us in very important ways – and in a spiritually real way we become immersed in Him. Christian baptism by water is a symbol of the internal and spiritual reality of faith in Christ Jesus. It shows externally the things that have and are already happening within the believer.

Baptism is an essential part of what believers do. The Great Commission…

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20

makes clear that baptism is an essential part of the purpose and work of God’s people. It is equal in importance to mis- sions and teaching. Without baptism, the church is not ful- filling the most important mandate of God. Additionally, the First Church recorded their process of evangelism and growth and as it was overseen by all the apostles it has been the model throughout history…

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. – Acts 2:41

The Early Church baptized those who accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ. First came preaching/teaching, then acceptance, and then baptism. And we also see that the church numbered its members. They had a count of believers who had turned to Jesus as Savior and Lord. Having a church membership list is very biblical.

Baptism’s symbolism is also discussed in scripture. Baptism shows externally through descending into water and reemerging above the surface that the believer is united with Christ. United in his death – his descent into the grave – and resurrection – his return to life, up from the grave, nevermore to die. Romans 6:4 picks up on this connection…

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Lastly, by administering baptism to a new believer we recognize the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s work. Faith in Jesus and proclaiming Him as Lord is evidence that the Holy Spirit is already at work in a person’s life. The Holy Spirit is a seal of ownership and promise which points to God’s ultimate purpose for our lives, eternity.

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. – Ephesians 1:13-14

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. – 2 Corinthians 1:21-22

In baptism, the church recognizes and bear’s witness (to the best of our ability) the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s work in a new believer’s life. The reality of the Spirit’s presence works itself out over time. As the new believer grows over years and decades becoming more like Christ, the Holy Spirit will be more and more evident. So by baptism, we say to the person, “We see the Spirit of God has begun to work in you.”

What has baptism meant for you over the years? Your own baptism. The baptism of a child or a spouse. The baptism of friends. Let’s be in prayer for those getting baptized this month.

God Bless, Pastor Dave

What Is Your Spiritual Gift? October 2023

What is your spiritual gift?

There are many abilities or qualities described as spiritual gifts, gifts of the Holy Spirit, in Scripture. As a result, we do not have a single authoritative list and we should expect that some gifts may not be listed either. Here is a sample list (and my own two-cent description) taken from a couple places in The New Testament. .

Apostle – desire and will to go to lost sheep, unchurch, unbelievers to evangelize or invite

Prophet – speak God’s word for spiritual change or affirmation

Teacher – teach God’s word for truth and application

Healer – mends broken parts of people through skill and prayer

Helpers – joins others to get ministry accomplished

Administrator – a manager, recorder, organizer of information or programs

Tongues – speak God’s word in other languages

Evangelists – speak the Gospel to non-believers

Miracles – effectual prayer warrior

Service – joyfully labor at important tasks

Encouragers – speak a supportive and uplifting word

Leaders – rally others to accomplish the work of God

Knowledge/Wisdom – speak information and life-truths that promote a strong faith

Mercy – promoting forgiveness and grace in the face of justice or injustice

Giving – joyfully contributing to the work of God

Faith – trust in God when one cannot see with certainty

I would encourage you to consider what could be your gifts, your top three or so.

For many Christians, finding a way to serve in the church and community is challenging. Even if there are many opportunities, we do not always advertise them well or easily include new helpers who want to get started. Using your spiritual gift often includes changing your schedule and being consistent in some- thing new and we all know how hard it is to try to make even small changes.

So let me make a few suggestions when starting a new work for Christ…
First, choose something you enjoy or someone you love. If you would enjoy working with teens, the poor, the elderly, etc… then that may give you a direction. If you already have a friend or family member who could be ministered to, would you be able to expand that to include a few others. For example… you’re already going to a nursing home to visit someone, could you visit a few others? If your kids or grandkids go to Kids’ Club would they invite a friend? If you have a neighbor who goes to the foodbank, would you consider helping there and serving others too.

Second, find a mentor. Ask someone who already loves the ministry in which you are interested if they will tell you about it, show you how to do it, and work alongside you for at least a few rounds. (Also, if you are a successful and committed user of a spiritual gift, you need to have a person you are training and preparing to expand God’s work and replace yourself as needed.) No one is successful using any gift without a mentor to mold and shape their work.

Lastly, let me know about your list of spiritual gifts. I can help you get plugged in and make connections. And furthermore, it helps me know how God is leading you and working in your life.

Finally let me add… It goes by many names – service, ministry, mission, outreach – but it is the active side of a Christian’s life. Paul says the Holy Spirit’s gifts are a “manifestation”, meaning they are how the Holy Spirit expresses and makes visible his presence and work in the Christian and the Church. They are the “activity” of the Spirit of God and without them the Holy Spirit is silent, invisible, and unrecognizable. If you don’t know, understand, or use your gift, both we and you are missing out on a wonderful blessing, a fully-functioning, fully-active body of Christ.

I would love to have a list of every attender’s spiritual gifts.

God Bless,

Pastor Dave

Holy Vessels, Spiritual/Reasonable Worship, and Three-Fold Description of God’s Will, September 2023

Romans 12:1-2 has such a deep and detailed point to make about our lives that I want to return to it in my article this month. Some of its parts, which I did not include in my sermon on Sunday, include being holy vessels, spiritual/reasonable worship, and the three-fold description of God’s will at the very end. These also are so valuable to our understanding of salvation that I would like to dive into them here.

Starting here, Paul says that our bodies are part of this salvation and mercy. God is not just concerned about our minds or thoughts or souls, but he is concerned about the whole of us, our bodies too. Specifically, our bodies are sacrifices which we offer up to the Lord as worship. Just as error, doubt, fear, and lies of the enemy can bog down a mind and make it unsuitable for approving God’s will, so a body can do the same. Moral corruption pollutes a body. Like a well is polluted by salt, bacteria, or chemicals, so also immorality is a pollutant to our bodies. What we do with our mouth, eyes, feet, hands, and every other part matters. Hebrew’s author insists we keep away from sin that so easily entangles us and holds us back from pursuing a wonderful and blessed life. (Heb. 12:1) And so Paul
says, our bodies (ourselves) are something we offer to the Lord in worship, so let us make them holy and pleasing to him.

Next, Paul speaks of the kind of worship The Lord wants. The word “spiritual” can also be translated “reasonable” or “rational” and so putting it into English is a struggle. The idea of mind and soul are mingled in this word, but it’s purpose is to amplify the importance of having holy bodies. Living a righteous life is a form of worship and we cannot say that what we do in the body is unimportant – what we do with our bodies is a fully-integrated part of ourselves and cannot be overlooked, disregarded, or rationalized away. Therefore, a holy life (body) is indeed spiritual and rational worship. Where our seat is on Sunday Mornings matters. Where our eyes hover over and lock onto matters. What our lips say matters in our relationship with God. The bodies are one of the most important things we offer to God as worship – let us give him ones that are unpolluted by the world.

Finally, we come to the last five words of the section… “good, pleasing, and perfect will.” I have heard this explained as three different wills. In that description, each is accomplishing slightly different things and sometimes in conflict with another of the wills of God. Though that view has some benefits, I suspect Paul is not describing three wills of God, but three outcomes of the singular will of the Lord. When all is said and one and the will of God is fully in force – not mitigated by sin, free will of sinful man, nor hidden from our knowledge – we will be able to look at all of God’s choices and see that it was good, pleasing, and perfect. But for now it will simply be enough to renew our minds with God’s Word and by our lives prove that God, who cannot be seen, exists and his will, which cannot be known by a fallen world, is active.

Remember to participate in our Sunday School Rally – if you are new to church or thinking about getting involved in a group (Sunday School or Small Group), this would be a great way to check it all out.

Thanks and May God Bless You and Yours,
Pastor Dave