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Country congregations aren't what they used to be;

 

The traditional image of small rural churches is fading as their congregaitons evolve, writes one rural Kentucky pastor who has also been a journalist. "I’ve spent so much time in so many different rural churches that I’m something of a minor—and self-appointed—expert on them," Paul Prather, right, writes for the Daily Yonder. "What I mainly can say is that country congregations aren’t what they used to be." No longer are rural churches centered on farming communities, Prather writes, noting most of his congregation in Montgomery County commutes "from the towns of Mount Sterling, our county seat, and Winchester, in neighboring Clark County," on the east side of the Bluegrass Region.

The religious backgrounds of Prather's congregation at his Penecostal church are varied. "We’ve got lifelong Pentecostals, former Baptists, former Catholics, refugees from the non-instrumental Church of Christ, and people of no discernable religious heritage," he writes. He notes his congregation like most people are no longer receptive "to legalistic doctrines or fire-and- brimstone sermons." While women may have always done most of the work at rural churches, Prather writes they now do it in a more official capacity serving in leadership positions.

Smoking is now a social taboo for Prather's congregation, while drinking and swearing are much more common and accepted that he remembers as a child. While Montgomery County is traditionally made up of conservative Democrats, Prather notes his congregation has Tea Partiers, Old Glory Republicans and Barack Obama Democrats, and says he had to ban partisan discussions to prevent fistfights.

While the racial makeup of rural congregations may not have changed, the overwhelming white majority of Prather's congregation is now a more a "matter of local demographics than bigotry," writes Prather, former religion reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He concludes if you were to walk into a modern day rural congregation you would "discover they were as well-traveled and complicated and self-contradictory and holy and confused and profane and delightful and enlightened and irritating as any similar-sized group you’d stumble into in Austin or Portland." (Read more)

Posted by Jon Hale

Beloved of God,
Thank you for who you are and not merely what you do.  We are 5 weeks out from Easter as we prepare and pland for the Cantata, "My Redeemer Lives", it will be an awesome Sunday, you are warmly welcome if you are available.  If you cannot be here, please pray for us as we seek to exalt Christ, challenge the lost and encourage the saved.
Yours, in Him,
Ric

  1. STEWARDSHIP

God is the source of all blessings, all that we have and are we owe to Him. FBC, we are in debt to God and we are given a holy stewardship in the gospel. We are under obligation to serve Him with our time, talents, and material possessions; and should recognize all these as entrusted to them to use for the glory of God and for helping others. Now, as we mentioned, stewardship involves more than merely the use of money. Our doctrinal statement speaks to the reality of our stewardship of the gospel. That is, as 2 Cor 5:19 says, God has committed, or entrusted to us the word of reconciliation, or the gospel. As Christians, the greatest thing God has entrusted to us is the message of the gospel. We have been entrusted to share the GOSPEL. Among all of the things God has entrusted to our care, the gospel is by far the greatest. But when Jesus talks about stewardship, He almost always does so by using money or material wealth as an example.

First: it is something everyone can relate to, because we live in a world obsessed by money and what it can do for us. Second:, Jesus knows that how we use money, will demonstrate where we place our priorities; whether we are living for this world or the world to come. And finally, Jesus knows the love of money is the root of all kinds  of evils, He knows each of us will be tempted to misuse that which He had entrusted to us, and that this is a good measure of our devotion to Him.

I. What is Stewardship?

Stewardship is the use of God-given resources for the accomplishment of God-given goals.

Stewardship involves relations between and owner, a steward, a resource and the purpose for which that resource is to be used. That literally means: God  owns it all; and He has entrusted what is His to Christ followers to use for His benefit(our salvation, the gospel, our church, education, time, energy, the words we speak, the house we live in, the cars we drive, our children, our spouse, our finances, our job….literally, everything we have).  He has entrusted it to us for a specific purpose. What is that purpose?Matthew 6:33 “But seek first…”. Christian life is all about advancing His kingdom.

This includes missions and evangelism, benevolence, for Jesus is clear in Matthew 25 that when we help those who have nothing, it is as if we are helping Him. We Americans are obsessed with things which, in the eternal picture are a waste of time.  If we were to think on and focus on the things of God, FBC would be completely different.

II. Self-Evident Truths about Stewardship

None of this is rocket science, but it serves us well to be reminded of the fundamentals, or basics of our faith.

1. God owns it all Let’s just say that if you are a Christian, not just merely religious, but an authentic born again, person in whom the Spirit of God dwells, everything you think is yours is really God’s.  We don’t own a thing. In the system of the world you may have legal rights to those things which God has entrusted to your care, but make no mistake about it, you don’t own them, God owns them and can demonstrate that ownership at any time.

Jesus makes this point very clear in Luke 12:16-21 when He told the parable of the rich fool.  A rich man’s land was very productive. He thought, I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger, But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared – whose will they be?’ That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God.

If you have been bought, namely His blood, you belong to Him, it stands to reason that everything you have belongs to Him as well.  This is in opposition to the secular thought of our day which tells us that we are self-sufficient. But Christians must walk by faith, not by sight.

2. God  will hold us accountable for what He has trusted us with.

Jesus taught about stewardship in Mt 25, in the parable of the talents, He placed this parable right in the middle of His teaching about the second coming. The point He was making was that when He comes back He is going to hold us accountable for what He gave us to take care of, we will give account whether faithful or faithless stewards.

Luke 12:42-48. Focus on the word, “To whom much is given, much is required.” All of us will stand before Jesus someday and answer to the level of blessings He gave us, more blessing more responsibility.

3. How we use His resources reveals what’s in our hearts

In Mt 6:24-34, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches about the Christian and riches. He starts by telling us that you cannot serve God and riches. If you do, you’ll discover, enough is never enough.

He says in verse 21 that where our treasure is, there will our heart be also. In other words, whatever is of greatest value to us, whatever captivates us so that we spend our lives pursuing it will have the affection and devotion of our entire being.  Clearly the way we use or abuse our financial resources demonstrates the true nature of our heart. 

Are you saying that if I don’t prioritize my time, talents and financial resources to further the kingdom of God that I am not a good Christian? No, I’m not saying that, Jesus says that, and that’s real authority.

4. Stewardship requires faith Look around you and you will see people who do not know God who are prospering. Psa 73:2-3“But as for me, my feet almost slipped; my steps nearly went astray. For I envied the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”

How easy it is, especially in this area of stewardship, to walk by sight and not by faith!  Vs 17 says, “Until I entered God’s sanctuary, then I understood their destiny.” You see, it is easy to be tempted by the prosperity of the wicked, till we come into God’s presence and recognize that eternity is reality and that this life is temporal.

III. How can I apply biblical stewardship?

1. Evaluate how you use your, God-given, time talents and treasures Start by taking an honest look at your life. Do you really believe God owns everything you have? Can you prove it by your actions? What is the priority of your life? How have you demonstrated that priority? Is it evident to those around you? Can others, by watching how you use your time, abilities and money, clearly see that your one overwhelming desire in life is to expand the kingdom of God? If not, what would they say your primary desire is? Paul says in 2 Cor 13:5, examine themselves to see if they are in the faith. The place to start is by honest self-examination it will tell you everything you need to know.

2. Get your priorities straight

Jesus is very clear and plain. He says that we are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. What does that mean? It means in everything you do, on the job, with your family or at FBC, is your chief desire to further the Kingdom of God.

This morning my thoughts go to a Christian friend, who has spent his life in pursuit of the kingdom of God. He is involved at his church where he faithfully teaches and serves. He is involved in the Gideon’s distributing bibles around the world and he is a very successful business man. Every time I talk to him about his business, and about the possibilities which the future holds for his business, he is faithful to tell me that his purpose in making money is to further the kingdom of God. And I know it’s true because I have seen some of the eternal things He has invested in.  Where are you laying up treasures?

3. Take action

Once you realize where you are it’s time to take action. It’s time to stop saying, “Yea, I guess I need to do something about that,” and to actually do something about it, act on what you know is true. It’s time to start serving, giving and living like Jesus owns it all and you are just a steward; a steward who, when He returns, will say “Well done”.

What area of your life needs rearranging?  Where do your priorities need to be realigned with God’s priorities? Is it in the area of your time? Is it in the area of your finances? Are you giving faithfully back to God? Are you giving proportionately to what He has given you? When you stand before Him someday, what will He say?

 

I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. --Galatians 5:21


If he’d said it only once we might be inclined to give it only passing attention. That Paul conveys the notion on several occasions in many of his epistles forces us to give it greater scrutiny. To the churches in Galatia, Corinth (1 Cor 6:9), and Ephesus (5:5), the apostle makes the sobering comment that those who engage in what he calls the “desires of the flesh” shall have no part in what God is doing in this world to reclaim it for Himself. Not now and not ever. It’s a promise echoed by the author of Hebrews (12:14) and John in his Revelation to the seven churches in Asia (e.g. 21:8). Jesus, Himself, warns similarly that those whose lives are marked  by  an  absence of the character of God can expect nothing but exclusion by God (e.g. Matt 25:41–46). Hebrews 10:31 perhaps summarizes these collective warnings well: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God.”

The unambiguousness of the warnings unsettle, but they may also provoke some just  as fearful questions. Much of what Paul condemns ends up on many people’s bucket list these days; the prohibitions, rather than restrain, actually incite indulgence (Romans 7:8). But what of the Christian who upon self-examination finds evidence of enmity, strife, and jealousy within himself? Drunkenness, sorcery, or orgies may not be his struggle. But what if fits of anger and envy pockmark his soul? What do the portentous comments of the New Testament bode for him?

More importantly, how do these warnings square with the other momentous promises of God—in particular, those that speak of an inexhaustible grace that will forgive and cleanse those who confess and repent? If our very salvation is bound up with an eternal decree of God (Eph 1:4); and was predestined prior to our ever making an overture to God (Eph 1:5; 1 Jn 4:10);  and  nothing can snatch us out of His hand (Jn 10:29)—then why proclaim such dire admonitions if the basis of His favor lies in His, not our, will?

Permit me a crude analogy that may explain. If you’ve ever driven a mountain highway with its rises and falls connected by what seems like an endless set of switchbacks you may have noticed the guardrails on the outer lane. Both common sense and the presence of the guardrails confirm one clear truth: venture beyond their limits and you will almost certainly taste death. (The fall isn’t the problem, but the sudden deceleration).

Barring absolute negligence, the guardrails will be what keeps you safely on the road throughout the journey. But even with the guardrails’ restraining influence, "the very sight of of the peril beyond them is its own deterrent from testing the limits of safety." The rails are necessary for our safety but our sense of what they keep us from adds to their efficacy. So how does that image explain the purpose of God’s portentous warnings to the one predestined to obtain the inheritance (Eph 1:11; Heb 1:14, 10:14)?

Though His grace places rails upon our path that ultimately keep us fromdestruction, His  word gives us a view of the destruction “beyond the rails,” which His Spirit then persuades our souls of. And it’s that Spirit-led awareness of what destruction is like that adds a deterrent to our denying Him. The mere thought of life off His path is one means by which He keeps us persevering within His grace and purpose. That His grace will forgive and cleanse does not make His warnings empty threats. Rather they serve as what leads us to the repentance that ensures our finishing well.

His  Spirit makes us sing at the goodness of God, but He also makes us shudder at the thought of offending Him. How could we be convinced of the love of God if He did not convict us of our propensity to violate His love? So what if, in your request for God to search you and try you (Ps 139:23), He reveals the seeds, if not the bloom, of what the New Testament says excludes from His kingdom? At the risk of oversimplifying repentance, it begins with acknowledging the sin—calling it what it is and taking ownership of the choice, notwithstanding the potential host of circumstantial or historical reasons that might’ve helped prompt the sin. But then, an odd sort of accompanying  response: give thanks. Give thanks for how the conviction of your sin is an evidence of His love. It is no hyperbole of God to warn of the judgment for those who sin with impunity. But the Spirit of God ensures our entering into the inheritance of God by impressing His warnings heavily upon our souls. It is sometimes an unpleasant disciplining but only more testimony to the love that sent the Son (Heb 12:5–6).

Repentance elicited by the warnings may often be a slow, arduous task, involving more—perhaps far more—than what’s outlined here; but it will never involve less.

So hear the warnings. Invite an inspection of your heart. Confess what iscontrary to His heart and kingdom. Give thanks for the kindness that both prompts repentance and will sustain you in working through the godly grief of repentance (2 Cor 7:9).

And then drive on.

by Patrick Lafferty

 


God's Holy Fire from Heartlight

God's Holy Fire is a daily devotional about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
  • Delight of the Father's Life

    The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God's Spirit — it looked like a dove — descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: "This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life."

    Matthew 3:16-17 MESSAGE

    Key Thought

    This moment is one of incredible holiness and transcendence. The Father looks down and delights in the Son. The Spirit descends from the Father to rest on and in the Son (Luke 4:1). The Father's words are crucial for Jesus as he prepares to battle the evil one in the wilderness as he is tempted after fasting for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-11). As incredible as Jesus' baptism is, we also share in this moment of God's assurance at our baptism. We are baptized in the name and by the authority of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20) and receive the Spirit to live in us (Acts 2:38-39). We also share with the Son in his death, burial, and resurrection for us (Romans 6:3-6). The Holy Spirit works the miraculous in us (1 Corinthians 6:11) as we are reborn (John 3:3-7) by our faith in God, who raised Jesus from the dead (Colossians 2:12; Titus 3:3-7). We are born from above through the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit (John 1:12; John 3:3-6). By faith, we also know just what God thinks about us: We are his children, chosen and marked by his love, the delight of his life!

    Today's Prayer

    O Father, thank you! Thank you for the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. I believe he died for my sins and was raised so I could be made perfect and righteous in your sight. Thank you for the cleansing and transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for the example of Jesus, who though perfect and not in need of repentance or baptism, was baptized anyway to fulfill all righteousness. And thank you, dear Father, for your words to Jesus when he was baptized. Through them, I know that my baptism brought you joy and delight. I thank you for these gifts, in Jesus' name. Amen.


    Ⓒ 1996-2018 Heartlight, Inc. This material may not be reproduced in part or whole for commercial use without written consent. The Thoughts and Prayer for God's Holy Fire are written by Phil Ware.

    Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

    Scripture quotations marked MESSAGE are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

  • With Fire!

    [John the Baptizer:] "I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am — so much greater that I'm not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire."

    Matthew 3:11 NLT

    Key Thought

    There are two sides to baptism: (1) what happens to the one being baptized based on that person's intentions, and (2) what Jesus does through the Holy Spirit. While our intentions in being baptized are important, the work of Jesus in pouring out the Spirit on us to cleanse us and to live inside us is what allows us to accomplish our intended transformation (Titus 3:3-7; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18). John the Baptizer had great power as a preacher to convict people of sin, call them to repentance, and point them to Jesus. Each of these is crucial in the lives of all people intentionally preparing their hearts for Jesus. John had incredible gifts, but only Jesus can baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Only Jesus can cleanse us through the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:11) and then come and make his home in us through the Spirit (John 14:19-23). The greatest of preachers is not worthy of carrying the sandals of the Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God; he is the only one capable of baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire.

    Today's Prayer

    Righteous Father, your holiness is unattainable. But you have given it to us through the gracious gift of your Son on the cross and the cleansing, empowering, indwelling, and transforming gift of the Holy Spirit. In the name of Jesus, we praise you almighty God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


    Ⓒ 1996-2018 Heartlight, Inc. This material may not be reproduced in part or whole for commercial use without written consent. The Thoughts and Prayer for God's Holy Fire are written by Phil Ware.

    Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

    Scripture quotations marked MESSAGE are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.