Pastors’ Blog

Read weekly insights from all of our Pastors regarding the vision for First Baptist Athens.
 

A Response to Thursday in Chattanooga – Special Pastors’ Blog Entry

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You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven, for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collector do the same? Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

These are passages from Matthew 5, Romans 12, Acts 7, and Luke 23. These are not my words. These are the words of Jesus and from His Spirit. As things happened on Thursday, many of us felt the same rush of emotions, thoughts, and feelings as we had on September 11, 2001. We jump to conclusions about the person that committed these heinous crimes and his motivations for doing such. But let me ask you this—even if we are correct in our assumptions, does that change what happened? Do these thoughts, feelings, and emotions produce in us Christlikeness as we read about in the above Scriptures? What about those people that say, “Nuke them all and let’s be done with this problem”? Is that the attitude we see of Jesus? Then what does Peter mean in 1 Peter 3.18, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;” and John mean in John 3.16? Our love is to match His love because He first loved us.

So how do you hate the sin yet love those that are sinful? How do we respond to what has happened in our sister city of Chattanooga? I think we have to do 3 things as Christians:

  1. We have to be praying for people that want to do harm. Jesus says in Matthew 5 that we are to pray for those who persecute you. As Jesus was being crucified, and as Stephen was being stoned, we see our example and then our example repeated. We have to be praying for them. Why? Notice the results of Jesus’ death. People are able to be saved now. Now flash forward to Stephen’s death. Who was a witness to that? Saul. Later called Paul when God saved him from his sin. Paul was God’s instrument to reach the Gentile world. As Gentiles, we should be thankful for their prayers for Paul. Who will be thankful in the future for our prayers for terrorists?
  2. Make friends with those of races and ethnicities that are profiled for being “terrorists”. If you only make friends of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, don’t even people that work at the IRS do that? I promise you that there will NOT be a “white” section of Heaven. Every tribe, every tongue, every language will be represented there. Let’s get ready for eternity by starting to make friends with people that don’t look like us and don’t act like us. Why? Because Jesus commands us to overcome evil with good. There should be no other segment of the population as loving, caring, kind, and outreaching as Christians. We should be the first to welcome new neighbors down the street and to help the new guy or girl at work or school. No matter what they look like. Because God gave them the parents He gave them and we should love them the way He made them.
  3. Be bold in sharing the good news of Jesus with everyone. Who will you lead to life in Jesus that will be God’s instrument to the Iranians? Who will be the “Paul” to the Afghan peoples? What’s the worst that can happen? Will they kill you because of your faith or because someone you share with believes? Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.
 
-Associate Pastor Daustin
#Sundayiscoming


Growing Through Marital Conflict

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I read one time that, “In the first year of marriage the mans speaks and the woman listens. In the second year of marriage the woman speaks and the man listens. But in the third year of marriage they both speak and the neighbors listen!” Because marriage brings two sinners into the closest possible relationship with one another, it’s only natural that sparks will occasionally fly. But these conflicts provide opportunities for us to put into practice God’s Word and thus grow in our faith. For example, though James 1:19 is written for relationships within the church, it contains great application for marriage relationships. James 1:19 says “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…” In your next marital spat, try applying these lessons. First, Be quick to hear. Listen to what is upsetting your spouse. Try to understand the real issue that is causing the conflict. Listen carefully and humbly, not planning and rehearsing your next response. Second, Be slow to speak. Don’t let pride or selfishness lead you to say something you will regret later. The goal of the conversation is not to hurt one another, defend your position, or win the argument, but to work towards a resolution. Third, Be slow to anger. Psalm 4:4 says, “Be angry and do not sin.” Anger is an emotion that left unchecked can lead to unhealthy responses. Guard your heart! A great analogy to marital conflict is a “Tug of War.” When conflict arises, there is a knot that develops in the rope that connects a husband and a wife. If both spouses continue to pull, the knot gets tighter and tighter. However, if both spouses humble themselves and quit pulling against one another, they can sit down and work on the knot together. And as they do, the beauty of Christ’ love and forgiveness is displayed and each spouse becomes more like Him. Keep pressing on!

Pastor Jason



Pastors’ Blog – July 6, 2015 – Why reach out to the community?

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Why do churches want to reach out to their community?

For some this may seem like a simple question, but for others this might be a head-scratcher. The main issue is not whether or not we want to be a part of our community, but more of why do we want to show the love of Jesus in a practical way. Some people will look at Matthew 28 and claim that our goal is to baptize and teach people, not just to reach out to them. Others will look at Mark 9 and say that if we are “giving cold cups of water away” then we are doing what Jesus told us to do. Still others will say that people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. So as Christians, what are we to do about reaching out to the community? Should we just stay inside our walls and hope that people come to us that we can minister to?

Let me ask you this question. If you had the cure for cancer, what would you do with it? Would you keep it to yourself? Or would you take it and share it with others in whatever way possible? Of course you would choose the latter. As Christians, we have something much better than the cure for cancer. We know the remedy for sin and eternal separation from God. We know Jesus and His salvation! So in the same way and with the same energy as we would share the cure for cancer with others, we ought to be reaching out to our community with the good news of Jesus Christ.

This brings us back to the issue that some people have. If we are just reaching out to our community by “sharing the love of Jesus in a practical way”, aren’t we leaving out the most important part of the message of Jesus? I like to think of community outreach in the way Jesus lived in John 4 and Luke 17. With the Samaritan woman and the Leper, Jesus used a non-spiritual interaction as part of an eternal-purposed encounter. That is what we are to be doing when we have events like serving at Grace and Mercy Ministries, or handing out snacks at the Soapbox Derby, or through a Blood Drive that we are hosting in August. When we reach out to the community, we are putting ourselves in situations where we have the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus with people that we may not have come in contact with otherwise. We are modeling Jesus’ actions of loving people where they are and taking those opportunities to tell them about the greatest Love in the world.

So let me ask you this Christian…do you want to reach out to your community? Do you want to be like Jesus?

#sundayiscoming

-Associate Pastor Daustin



Celebrate Freedom.

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Happy 4th of July!

2015 is over halfway over, and there has been so much that has happened in the life of our country.

Unfortunately, many of us are not necessarily excited about the things that are happening.

A few weeks ago, a white man walked into a black church and killed several individuals who were worshipping Jesus.

Last week, there was much controversy about the Confederate flag, and whether or not it should be allowed to fly today, based on the supposed racism and other issues it represents.

And how can we forget that the Supreme Court made a decision to recognize gay marriage as a formal part of our society.

I’m sad about the world we live in. I’m sad about the state America is in, economically and socially. I’m sad that my children will grow up in very different society than what any of us knew throughout our adolescent years. I’m sad that Christians are facing persecution.

So should we even celebrate the 4th of July? I mean, look at our country? Is it worth celebrating?

Despite these things, another part of me is very happy.

James writes in James 1:2-4,  “2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

What trials were the Christians in James’ day facing?

I don’t know that they were much different from the trials we face today.

Actually I do know that they were much different. They were much WORSE.

Here’s what I want us to see, Church. Christianity was never dependent on America to get to the point where it is today. In fact, the message of Christianity and the message of America cannot entirely coexist.

God has called us to be Christians long before he has ever called us to be Americans.

God does not need America to advance the gospel. God desires Christians, not Americans.

The message of Christ and the message of America cannot coexist. One message will drive out the other.

So on the Fourth of July, what should we do?

We need to stop saying things like “Commit to God and Country” and start saying things like “10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:10)”

You see, America is not the Kingdom of heaven.

And part of me is happy, even Joyful for the trials that we shall endure.

While the church is persecuted in America today, some will fall away from the faith.

And while that happens, those who do not fall away will be strengthened by their trials.

Paul writes to Timothy in II Tim 3:12, “ Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted …”

And here’s where the good news comes in. James 1 teaches us, that while we are persecuted in our own way, that our persecution leads to steadfastness, and that steadfastness leads to perfection because of the work of Christ.

Let’s seek steadfastness, not in our political agendas, but in our biblical agendas.

So while we live in this country that still allows religious freedom, let’s take every advantage of it that we can. Let’s love our brothers and sisters in Christ unashamedly, and love our community with all the fervor and grace that Christ loved us while we were still in our sin.

America will fade from the earth, but the Kingdom of God will be forever.

On the fourth of July, while I will eat a burger and watch fireworks, I will celebrate the freedom I have here in America.

But more than that I will cling to the hope of the freedom that I have in the Kingdom of heaven where God’s perfect peace will govern all things. In the Kingdom, we will know perfect freedom.

John 16:33

“33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

 
Sunday is Coming
Jesus is Coming
The Kingdom is Coming
-Drew Byers


Pastors’ Blog – 6/25/2015 – Live from Kids Camp!

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As I write this from camp our “older” and younger children are doing things that can never be done at home. The event at Kid’s Camp known as Organized Mass Chaos (OMC) is all about water being thrown, shaving cream smeared, and all-out craziness.  To the untrained eye much of camp might appear to be continually in this state.  But the reality is that for many of the children this is the longest stretch of continuous structure they have ever experienced. It is not a week of pampering, but there are lots of hugs, smiles, belly laughs, full bellies, and tears for just about everyone. God uses camp to mold all of us more into His image.

Over the years of children and youth camp one observation I can share is:  Church camp is like a fast motion video. Some campers experience a relationship just budding on Monday that turns into a life-long friend, or memory by Friday.  Relationships grow deeper faster, hurts heal more quickly, God’s Word is given a prominent part of every day and what a difference that makes by Thursday. In just 3 and 1/2 days these guys are different. We won’t finish here, ever, but after another day we will be heading back into a world that will either encourage us in the direction God has nudged (pushed, shoved) us, or we will let ourselves be enticed to think those changes we promised God about at camp are not all that important.  Much of the world thinks childhood is about “self discovery”– I am pretty sure God intended it for training for a lifetime of service and fulfillment. These kids have served, and trained, and grown this week. “To God be the glory, Great things He has done.”
 
-Pastor Tim Ellis
Minister of Music


Pastors’ Blog 6/8/2015 – Live from New York!

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Live from New York…it’s Monday morning. This week Drew and I (Daustin) are rocking out in Rockaway, NY for a mission trip with a total of 9 team members. Our purpose in this trip is to “Glorify God By Making Disciples Of All Nations”. New York City is a strategic opportunity for the good news of Jesus to reach many nations in a single location. There is virtually every nation represented in the NY Metro and there are hundreds of languages spoken by the people here. All nations can literally be reached from this one city.
Alright, so now you are probably asking how we are making disciples. We are doing this by teaching ESL courses at a West African community center and at a South Asian community center. While we are there, we are seeking to build relationships with people and are seeking to have spiritual conversations as our relationships with these people develop. So what does this look like? It really is not that much different than back home in Athens. As we build relationships with people, we typically tell them about our families, our hobbies, and in general about our life. As Christians, we should also tell people about the most important thing that has happened in our life. It is a very easy way to have a spiritual conversation with a person and to see how the Holy Spirit is guiding you to share Jesus with them. We are also making disciples by helping the Christians that are already here doing work to keep the momentum going for them and to give them some reprieve as we come alongside them and help with some of the things they are already involved in with ministry.
God loves this stuff! He tells us throughout Scripture that He loves the nations and that He wants them for His glory. Please pray for us as we travel about the city and as we build relationships with people. Pray for Urban Nations Outreach as they are transitioning their home base from one house to another for the teams that come in the summer to help them. Pray that hearts will be prepared by the Spirit to receive the good news of the work of Jesus.
AP Daustin
#sundayiscoming


Why Short Term Missions?

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Why short term missions? 

On June 5th, myself and 8 others will load in a van and head up to the Capital of the World, New York City. At first thought, it seems like a great idea, going to a city where the gospel hasn’t been heard, and sharing the gospel with the hope of revival. We can often imagine scores of people dedicating their lives to Christ and turning from their sin. Wouldn’t it be great to hear something positive on the news about NYC? 

Often times the pendulum swings the other way, and we get a far to pessimistic point of view. The mindset can be along the lines of “Well, at least if no-one gets saved we will have the opportunity to see a broadway show or something.” This is a sad misconstruction of what missions is supposed to be. While we will see and do many things in NYC, the goal is the gospel, not the tourism.

But here is the thing, there are 8.4 million people living in NYC. There is no way the first scenario seems plausible, that NYC will be a Christian city. It seems that there is far too much darkness for the light to overcome. 

When I think of short term missions, I am reminded of Romans 10:14-17. 

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

The reason we go is to show people Christ. We go to for that 1 person. 

While we cannot manufacture disciples, we are called to share. However, there is one thing we do have control over.

Ourselves.

While renewal may not happen in NYC next week, renewal can always happen in the heart of the obedient Christian. So while we go on short term missions, the biggest change we often see is in ourselves. It is only once we are renewed ourselves that we can lead others to the satisfaction of the gospel of Christ.

The mission isn’t just out there. The mission is right here. Let’s not save obedience for the mission field, let’s live obedience to the Great Commission right here in Athens.

#SundayIsComing
-Drew Byers
Minister to Youth


Pastors’ Blog – May 25, 2015 – Vacation Bible School

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So is Vacation Bible School (VBS) really worth it?  Some may say it is an awful lot to ask—you know 15 hours of time with the children and all the preparation and teardown work?  Others may think I wish we could to this for two weeks like we did back . . .  There is a trend developing: in 1997 81% of churches in the USA conducted VBS during the summer months but in 2012 that was down to 68%.  The good news is that in  Southern Baptist churches more than 9 out of 10 hosted a VBS program in 2012.  (Stats from Barna group)

 
I don’t know of any other effort we make that touches as many impressionable lives in only 5 days as VBS.  It is critical timing when we consider that almost half of all Americans who accept Christ do so before the age of 13, and 64% by the age of 18.  We have some serious responsibilities simply because of the season of life.
 

Recently I have done some indoor painting. if you paint like me you end up getting some paint where you didn’t intend for it to be.  You have a choice when that happens. You can quickly wipe it with a wet rag and remove it from most surfaces.  But if you procrastinate it will take far greater effort to remove unwanted dried paint.  Our children’s spiritual nature is a little like that.  If when they are young, and inquisitive, and open, they are taught a biblical world view and are led to faith in Christ, their life will take an entirely different trajectory than where a secular world view will lead them.  It is not easy today “to be in the world and not of it,” and I know VBS is only one tool to that end.  But I think there is a case to be made it is one of the best tools available that allow us to model, teach, and train the children of Athens and the surrounding area who Jesus is, and how to follow Him.

 

Pastor Tim
#SundayIsComing


Pastors’ Blog – 5/18/2015 – Christians and Memorial Day

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The Christian and Memorial Day

Last spring my family and I (Pastor Jason) went to Washington D.C. over spring break.  While there we visited Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  It was a moving experience to see the changing of the guard, the placing of the wreath, and all those crosses marking the graves of people who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.   Next Monday is Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America.  It is right for us to remember.

We may not all have immediate family members who have died in combat, but we should all take time to pray for those who have.  We should also thank God for the freedoms we enjoy, freedoms that have been defended and paid for with blood.  Ultimately, we should remember the one who laid down his life on the cross so that we could be forgiven and have everlasting life.

As you gather with family and friends on Memorial Day for picnics and barbecues, don’t forget to take a moment and remember.  Remember their sacrifices.  Pray for their families.  Lead your family and friends to give worship to God and thanks to Jesus Christ who made the ultimate sacrifice.

 Pastor Jason
#SundayIsComing

 



Graduation….what’s the big deal?

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This week is a special week for so many individuals completing degrees of various sorts. From High School graduation, to College or Masters, Graduation is a big deal to so many people. Proud parents, grandparents and friends flood arenas, auditoriums, and sports stadiums to see their child, relative, or friend receive a piece of paper that says they have really accomplished something great.
However, I will never forget when I received my college degree in Music, and thought to myself…what is the big deal?
I may have received this piece of paper, but I’m not planning on doing anything with it. It might sit prominently displayed in my office or home, but it doesn’t make me a better person than I was the Friday night before I received it. I was celebrating my own accomplishments, but for no distinct purpose other than that I was done with school, at least for a little while.
However, I don’t think that is the right attitude to have. I think it is altogether appropriate that we celebrate graduation. Because while graduation is a small notion of a person’s faithfulness to complete coursework, it is a far greater example of God’s faithfulness in the Christian’s life.
There are all manner of experiences that someone has during their time in High School and College, and those experience shape and transform a student more than any textbook or schoolwork ever could. The relationships that are formed, the concepts that are grasped, the times of growth that really occur, often times don’t happen within the confines of the classroom.
However, I wonder if sometimes those moments of growth wouldn’t happen at all if it weren’t for the time spent inside of the classroom. Graduation is more than just an acknowledgement of accomplishment, it is a milestone in the formation of a person.
And for the Christian, this formation is far more than just social or academic, this formation is spiritual. As our high school students receive their diplomas this year, they will look back on the ways that they have grown, succeeded, failed, and changed over their lives. I think the diploma is a good reminder that God has been faithful through that process, and will continue to be faithful for the hard times to come.
So as we celebrate graduation with those we love and are dear to this year, we must not see it as an ending point, but rather as an entry point to a new phase of life. As we reminisce over the past years of life, one theme should ring true in the life of every Christian.
God is faithful.
He is faithful to accomplish what He begins.
He is faithful to sustain those who are His own.
He is faithful to work all things together for His glory.
I am reminded of Paul’s understanding of accomplishments in life in Philippians 3:7-8
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”
I hope this helps us gain perspective as we celebrate graduation. While our accomplishments are good things, if they are separated from the knowing of Jesus Christ, then they are the same as rubbish. We must constantly gear our eyes heavenward, concerning any accomplishment we might merit. If accomplishments are not rooted in Christ, then I think the Bible is clear that they don’t amount to much.
So find a graduate in your life this week, and encourage them! They certainly need it. Congratulate them about all they have done. However, don’t forget to remind them about all that God has done, and all that God is going to do as they start this next chapter of their life. It’s all for His glory.
#sundayiscoming
Drew Byers
Minister to Youth