First Presbyterian Church

302 Summit Street | Winona, Miss. | 662.283.2487

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Where No One is Worthy

Posted by Ryan on September 11, 2017 at 3:05 PM

   Recently someone said to me that he didn’t feel worthy to go to church and that his being there would be a farce, since he didn’t feel like he belonged in church. His outlook is not all that uncommon among people.

   Especially in a town such as ours with its many historic and beautiful church buildings, it is easy to fall into a line of thinking that church and worshiping God are only for people with their act together, who are worthy to sit in such awe-inspiring edifices.

   But while the grandeur of the architecture of many church buildings is designed to reflect the majesty of God who is worshiped when His people gather there, the building’s beauty says little about the people who worship in that place.

   In fact, every Christian church is filled with people who do not deserve to be there; no one who is in worship on a Lord’s Day morning or evening or midweek meeting is worthy of coming. After all, it was Jesus who said, “I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32) and “…the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

   Rather than looking within ourselves to see if we are worthy to worship, we must look to what Christ has done for His people and offers to undeserving sinners. Only when we recognize our lack of worthiness and our undeserving can we have any access to God in the first place.

   If we are looking to ourselves to try to see if we are worthy, we will never be worthy. And those who think they are worthy of worshiping are the least ready to stand before God! Jesus didn’t come to save good people or righteous people, but to save sinners who have no worthiness whatsoever. Jesus came to call unworthy sinners to leave their sin and come and worship Him in all of life: Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

   Church is not for worthy people, but for unworthy people who come because of Christ’s word of welcome, who stand only because they are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, and worship because they love the Lord who loved them first and gave himself for them.

The Message of Christ: Faith and Repentance

Posted by Ryan on November 21, 2014 at 10:05 AM

   This week in Wednesday Night Bible Study we considered Chapter 15 of the Westminster Confession of Faith: Repentance unto Life. Repentance is integral to the Christian life; Martin Luther wrote in 1517, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”


   In fact, repentance was at the heart of the message Christ proclaimed on earth. The very first words that Jesus speaks in the Gospel of Mark concern the necessity of both repentance and faith (1.14-15): “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”


   In spite of its central place in the teaching and proclamation of Jesus, many who claim to follow Jesus give little thought to the idea of repentance. Truly, repentance is not only one of the most neglected spiritual disciplines in our day, it also one of the most unpopular truths of the gospel.


   Repentance, in short, means “turning” and particularly a turning from sin and to God for grace and mercy as he offers it in Christ. Sin, as you know, doesn’t just include murder, adultery, burglary, and sodomy, but also very much includes gossip, laziness, selfishness, arrogance, pride, bitterness, lust, gluttony, and a host of other socially acceptable thoughts, attitudes, and activities.


   Repentance is not simply expressing regret for some action you may have done and/or been caught doing. Anyone, even a sociopath, can express regret! Repentance means actually turning away from sin because of a new love and affection: Christ in the gospel.


   When a person is brought to repentance, he or she, because of the New Birth and the working of the Holy Spirit, has gained a real hatred for sin and so he or she actually is able to sincerely strive for new obedience to God’s Law.


   It is important to recognize that, just like faith, repentance is a gift from God. Because of our own sin, we can’t just decide or resolve to stop sinning and start loving God. The Bible describes us as being “in bondage to sin” (Rom. 6) and “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2). As with every other grace, we are entirely dependant on God to grant the grace of repentance. Do you pray regularly for the grace of repentance? As with faith, even though it is a gift of God, repentance is something that we do actually do and is truly ours.


   Faith in and Repentance toward God are inseparable. A person that has true saving faith will indeed live a life of repentance. Faith and repentance defined Jesus’ own preaching and He commanded both be preached to every nation for the salvation of sinners (Luke 24.47-48).


   Is your own repentance visible for all to see in your life?

The Christian's Duty to the Civil Magistrate

Posted by Ryan on November 20, 2014 at 10:05 AM

   A couple of weeks ago in our adult Sunday School class we considered the Fifth Commandment, which teaches us how we are to live under all lawful authority. God in His word teaches us that He is the one who establishes and puts in place all authority and rulers. As such, he commands His people (and all people) to honor all those who are in authority.


   The Christian does not have the right to disregard or dishonor a civil ruler simply because he or she dislikes or disagrees with him or his policies. Many in Christian communities believe it is acceptable to speak rudely of a President, Governor, Senator, Judge, or other ruler simply because in that person’s estimation the ruler is not doing what he or she ought to do or obeying God’s mandates (in that person's estimation!).

   But such a position is foreign to historic Christianity and utterly opposed to the commands of God in His word.

   Consider two examples of how God commands His people to live toward their rulers:

   I Peter 2:13-17 “Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution...Fear God. Honor the emperor.”

   Romans 13.1-7 “...there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God...whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed...he is God’s servant...Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes...revenue...respect...honor...”

   We should note that respect and honor do not always entail blind obedience, for we must always obey God over men. Nonetheless, in both of these instructions the Apostles wrote of pagan governments who were actively persecuting Christ’s Church and promoting wickedness. Christ did not die so that Christians could disregard or disrespect authorities whom they don’t like.a

Beware "Forrest Gump Spirituality"

Posted by Ryan on July 21, 2014 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Most of us have probably seen the 1994 Tom Hanks hit movie, Forrest Gump in which the titular character shares his experiences and reflections on life and society with various people on a Savannah park bench.


As the story goes on, Gump often shares with us little insights and maxims from his mother, which invariably begin, “Mama always said...”


For many who have been reared in a “pseudo-Christian Culture” such as the United States, we have a tendency to assume that the values and norms that we have known, lived under, and been taught are universal and transcendent truths and “Christian.”


Sadly, this is not always the case. For instance, you may have been told that it’s okay to tell a “little white lie” if it means not hurting someone’s feelings. God’s word, by contrast, tells us that God is a God of Truth, hates liars, and demands that His people love the truth so much that they forsake lying.


Many people who call themselves Christians live out a spirituality that consists simply of what they were taught by their parents and the traditions of their society. But is that where Christians are supposed to learn how to live as His people? Yet many in our society have a religion that consists of little more than “my mama always said...”


True Christianity is found and learned from God’s word, the Bible. The Bible teaches us that every culture is imperfect, riddled with sin, and doomed to pass away. Because of this, God’s word confronts every culture with its sins, failings, and shortcomings as it calls the people of every culture to embrace Jesus Christ offered in the gospel and follow His commandments.


As Presbyterians, we must not be crippling our growth in grace by living a “Forrest Gump spirituality” that consists only of traditions and sentiments of the past. We must be constantly looking to Christ and His word to see if the traditions and values that we hold dear are actually from God or merely of man’s devising.


One of the problems that has continually dogged the Church is that as persecution dies down, the saints become increasingly comfortable with the culture and the church begins to increasingly resemble the culture. The only defense against this is a robust and disciplined love for God’s word, not simply the “idea” of God’s word, but the actual words, sentences, paragraphs, teachings and themes of the Scripture.


Do you love God’s Word? Is your Christianity, your piety founded upon a faithful study of the words of Christ? Do you make time to know your Bible? Or is your religion simply that of traditions and customs? A religion that resembles the culture is not a religion of the Christ who was crucified for offending the traditions and customs of the society in which He lived. We must each ask ourselves and evaluate is my religion based on “my mama always said” and “I always thought” or “God says in His word?”

Does the Bible Have All the Answers?

Posted by Ryan on January 17, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Recently, I received an email from the priestess at a congregation my family attended while I was growing up. In her weekly email she made the point that the Bible does not, in fact, have all the answers.

She went on to say that since the writers of the Bible didn’t know about “artificial intelligence or AIDS or the Human Genome Project or socialism or Big Box Stores,” and so on it can’t provide all the answers.

That view of the Scripture is very popular today, particularly in the mainline denominations. Such a view of God’s word is tragic and, of course, man-centered and “sub-Christian.”

As Presbyterians, we heartily believe that the Bible indeed has all of the answers to life’s questions. Our Westminster Confession of Faith states that the Scripture contains “all things necessary for [God’s] own glory, man's salvation, faith and life” as either “expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.”

When the authors of the Westminster Standards wrote those words they were making a bold stand against worldliness. They proclaimed that the Bible’s authority and teaching does not simply tell us how to “get saved,” but also how to live our daily life, as well as provides the answers to the “deep things” of life. As such, the Scripture is indispensible to a full life.

Now we are not saying that the Bible has an exhaustive index that includes a heading for every issue and topic known to man. Rather, principles of God’s Word speak to every issue and topic and instruct God’s people how to respond to and evaluate them.

Take for example, “Big Box Stores.” Doesn’t the Bible speak about materialism and the love of stuff? Jesus may not have told a parable featuring a clerk at Best Buy, but

God’s word speaks amply about the love of money, the accumulation of possessions, and concern for the poor and helpless (e.g. Chinese factory workers)?

Sometimes God’s word will give an explicit command regarding an issue (e.g. Murder, Adultery), but more often God’s word gives us principles that we must apply everyday to know how to live as His people.

It is by far much easier to simply assert that God’s word doesn’t have all the answers and then live as is fashionable than to read, study, and search God’s Word to direct your paths.

The Bible does indeed have the answers to the questions of life, but to learn the answers God gives in His word takes a lifetime of devotion and prayerful study of the Scripture.

It is worth the time and effort to know God’s Word, and it is far more rewarding than letting Bill O’Reilly and Rupert Murdoch tell you what to think!

Are You Backing the Right Horse?

Posted by Ryan on October 1, 2013 at 10:55 AM

   Throughout the world, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is persecuted. From California and Michigan to China and Mongolia to Kenya and Cornwall, Christians are targeted for oppression, violence, and harassment by those who hate God and His people.

   This has always been the case. In Gen. 4, Cain murdered Abel because Abel had saving faith in God and Cain hated him for it. The book of Esther shows - in large part - the failure of conspiracy of one man to wipe out the Church from the Persian Empire. We saw more examples of attempts to destroy the church this week in Kenya and Pakistan and Scotland and Egypt.

   In spite of millennia of persecution, the Church of Jesus Christ has outlived every empire and society that has opposed her. The empires of Babylon, Persia, Rome, Saladin, Hilter, and Stalin have collapsed.

   Here in the United States and also in Great Britain, Christians have been free from persecution by and large since the 1689 Glorious Revolution. That freedom from persecution brought on one of the greatest missionary ages since the execution of the Apostle Paul. But not all the results of this peace have been fruitful.

   One of the challenges faced by the Church in Britain and America because of freedom from persecution is an unbiblical melding of Church and Nation. In America often “God and Country” are joined together as if their goals and aims are the same.

   The goal of the Church is the salvation of sinners through proclaiming Jesus Christ and preparing the saints for heaven. The goal of the Nation is preservation of order and the enrichment of the leaders.

   The present persecution of Christians in Britain and the menacing threat of persecution here may help (and force) Christians to take stock of where their allegiance and possessions lie.

   Is your allegiance to the “state”? Are your hopes and dreams caught up in the success of an earthly empire? Or do you, like Abraham and David, long for a land of eternal rest because there is no rest for God’s people here?

   It is so important for Christian living to remember that the saint’s home is not here, but with Christ in Heaven. 

What Kind of Messiah?

Posted by Ryan on October 1, 2013 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (0)

   Last week as we finished our study of Psalm 22, I mentioned that the Jews had rejected Jesus because he was not the kind of Messiah that they wanted.

   The First Century Jews, like the “Zionists” of the last Century, were looking for a national, military hero to be their messiah. They wanted a messiah who would ride in on a big horse at the head of a great army that would “kick the bums out.” The Jews of First Century Palestine wanted most of all a restoration of their former national glory and liberation from Roman rule.

   The Jews of the First Century, like so many today, did not comprehend that their biggest problem is not political or economic, but God’s wrath. John 3:36 declares that God’s wrath “abides” or “remains” on all those who do not have faith in Jesus Christ. That is a serious problem; Jesus diagnoses the problem of everlasting wrath, and that is what He came to address.

   In Psalm 22, we read exactly how Jesus Christ dealt with the great human problem. In profound literary detail, the psalm describes the Saviour enduring the wrath that is due for your sin. We read of Him mocked and in great anguish. Yet it does not end that way.

   The psalm ends singing about an empire. Not an empire dominated and established by the conquests of one people or race, but one that includes “all the families of the nations.”

   The Messiah may not have come to establish a world-wide-Jewish Empire as His contemporaries had hoped, but Jesus Christ was indeed about the work of building an Empire, the Kingdom of God.

   Christ came to bring blessing to every tribe and nation; the blessing of peace with God through the forgiveness of sins.

   The saints of God have been looking for Christ’s Kingdom since the Old Testament. Psalm 22 is not the only place we see the promise that all the earth will worship God.

    One of the most beautiful pictures of this is in Zech. 6 in which God promises that those “who are far off” will come and build the Temple. We in the Church on this side of Calvary, inherit all the promises to Zion and Jerusalem because we - like Israel of old - are at the center of God’s redemptive purpose.

God’s redemptive purposes were never confined merely to this world, but include God making all things new, in a New Heavens and a New Earth when people from every tribe and nation shall worship God in their everlasting inheritance that Messiah has prepared.

   Is that the kind of Messiah that you want? The temptation is always to long for a political "messiah" who will do great things for an earthly nation. But Christians must be diligent to pursue their inheritance which is in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Secularism Starts at Home

Posted by Ryan on September 6, 2013 at 10:45 AM

   The world around us is changing very quickly. One of the things we often hear is people concerned because of how “secular” this country has become due to the efforts of the “ACLU” and other such organizations. Evangelicals frequently lament the removal of the Ten Commandments or Bible teaching or prayer from public schools and other government spaces. And while perhaps one might blame the ACLU for the decline in civil religion in this nation, I would like to suggest a cause that hits much closer to home. Should it surprise us that the nation we live in is becoming so secular when the lives of church-goers are nearly as “God-free” as their atheist neighbors?

   We can’t blame secularists for the removal of the Ten Commandments from public when so many Christians do not even try to live their own lives by them. It is one thing to want them displayed, another to obey them. We can’t simply blame other groups for the end of prayer in public schools when - for many Christians - the only time they pray is perhaps before a meal or when they see the “blue lights” in the rearview mirror. We can’t blame atheists for the end of Bible readings in public schools when so many Christians scarcely open their own Bibles through the week.

   If we desire to see God glorified by and in this country, it begins in our own homes, with us and the way that we live out this life. Before blaming others for the decline of civil religion in this land, consider your own spiritual disciplines. Are you reading God’s word every day? The Bible says that the man of God meditates on God’s word “day and night” (Psa. 1). If you are married, are you having family worship everyday? Are you coming before the Father regularly in prayer? God is the only One who is truly ready and able to help His children.

   Christ died so that the saints of God may enjoy these privileges, these tokens of heaven. Do not mourn be-cause the nation has become secularized; mourn because Christians have become secularized. Pray with me that God would pour out His Spirit such that we in His church would be models of godliness and the pursuit of godliness to our communities.