All posts by: Anthony Stephens

I am one that does not like to forget things. Sadly, I feel my hand on my head many times as I suddenly remember something that was to happen earlier. It is embarrassing at times. It is frustrating most of the time. 

I can remember when my wife and I got married, there was a moment that I forgot something. No, I didn’t forget the rings or to say “I do!”

No, what I forgot was so much different. I remember that I was so nervous that day.  I wanted to make sure that everything went off exactly like it should. I was looking out a window from the worship center of the church that overlooked the parking lot. I was trying to see if there was anything I had forgotten. 

As I looked out the window, I noticed that something was wrong: my truck was missing! 

I knew that I had parked it in an exact spot, but my little 2000 Chevy S-10 was nowhere to be found. I quickly felt my pockets and searched through my things, and my keys were nowhere to be found. Suddenly, I realized that I had left my keys in my truck. It didn’t take long to realize that two of my groomsmen weren’t to be found (truck thieves).  They had taken my truck and filled it with packing peanuts. 

While we laugh about that now, it reminds me that there are some things that are forgotten so easily and are not so funny. 

I just celebrated my 38th birthday on March 28th. I have been a follower of Jesus since I was about 12 years old. If my math is working right, I’m about 26 years into following Jesus. That would be twice as long as not being a follower of Jesus. 

I think that the tragedy of forgetfulness comes when a follower of Jesus forgets what it was like to not have Jesus. 

How quickly do we forget what it was like to not have any real hope? How quickly do we forget what it was like to not have peace?

I have crossed paths with many people who have been following Jesus much longer than not. There is a great temptation to forget the past and move forward. I believe keeping that past that we were delivered from in close remembrance can go a long way in helping us be faithful in the new life we’ve been given. 

How?…

When we remember what it was like to have no hope, no peace, no life, then it will drive us to share the “good news” with as many people as possible. We should want to share this wonderful gift that is far better than any sports team or grandchild (and we all loving sharing about those, don’t we?).

Let us not forget what D.T. Niles shared: “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.” 

How quickly do we forget who we were when we were rescued by God’s grace? Remember where you were… who you were… and what God did. This might just help you see others as God does. 

The Southern Baptists of Mississippi are pushing a campaign to get their members more involved in evangelism. This campaign is called “Tell Me, Tell Someone.” It is a good campaign in my opinion. It is one that any Christian can get on board with not just Southern Baptists. 

Along with this campaign, the leaders of the Mississippi Baptist Convention are hitting every county and prison in the state spreading the message of the campaign. This past Monday, the county that I live in hosted this rally. 

Dr. Jim Futral shared with the crowd that gathered at the Bruce town square about the importance of sharing our faith with others. In his message, Dr. Futral also shared some interesting stats with the crowd.

  • Mississippi has the most churches per capita of all the United States. 
  • Calhoun County has the most churches per capita of all counties in Mississippi. 

Honestly, I was not surprised at these stats. The state in which I have lived for some time now has churches scattered all over. The county in which I live has a population of around 14,000 (+\-), and there are 44 Southern Baptist churches along with many other denominations. The editor of our county paper shared that there are almost 100 active churches in our county. The joke of “a church on every corner” about rings true where I live. 

Dr. Futral also shared another stat with the crowd. I wish that I could say that this stat shocked me, but it didn’t. What was the stat?

  • No county in the state of Mississippi (including Calhoun County) has more than 1/3 of the population reached with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

The reason that this stat didn’t shock me was that I shared a similar stat with the Southern Baptists in our county a couple of years ago. I shared that a demographic study showed that 65% of our county’s population is considered “unreached with the Gospel.” 

While there may be a church on just about every corner, it doesn’t always mean that things are well. Our county has the most churches per capita over any county in the state, yet we also have over half of the population that is not being reached with the Gospel. We are really doing no better than those counties that have the fewest churches in the county. 

Just because there are groups that meet in a building and have a sign that shows their name has “church” in it doesn’t mean that things are happening. There should be an impact made on the community because of the presence of the church. I have often posed the question to our church that if our church was gone tomorrow would the community care or just go on about life as usual?

I pray that the numerous churches in our area will recognize the important task that we have to share the Gospel with those around us. A county that has close to 100 active churches should not have an unreached population of 65%. 

We have come upon one of the great seasons of the Christian faith.  The Lenten season is one that is celebrated by Christians around the world.  It is a time where Christians choose to fast from certain things in order to focus their attention more on Christ and what He has done for us through the cross and the empty grave.

Different people choose different things from which to fast (give up or not partake in for a time).  Some people choose certain types of food or drink… others may choose to lay down social media or TV…

Our family has chosen to partake in a “Daniel Fast” for the Lenten season. We are doing this to help our family not only grow closer to the Lord, but also to help clean up some of our eating habits.

Whatever one chooses to “give up” during Lent, I have learned from times before that just giving something up for a while doesn’t do what this season is intended to do.  Lent is for us to purposefully draw closer to the Lord and refocus on what He has done and is doing in our lives. This is not done by just giving up something.  We have to purposefully redirect that attention towards Christ.

While it is not necessary that a Christian partake in Lent, I would encourage any follower of Jesus to take part in this wonderful season. I would encourage you to spend some time finding out what is one thing that takes your attention away from God, and then give it to Him in this season.  Fill that time with prayer and study of the Bible.  I have found some good resources that would help one refocus on Christ as we approach the greatest season of the year.

He Reads Truth / She Reads Truth

These are some really good websites that come with Bible studies and devotionals to help followers of Jesus spend time in God’s Word.  They have apps for your smartphones or tablets also.  Some of the plans do cost (the Lent devotionals are $2.99 and well worth it), but they also have free studies.

YouVersion

YouVersion is an app for smartphones, tablets, and computers that allows you to access the Bible in just about any translation you could imagine.  It also has many devotional plans (FREE) that help followers of Jesus in their time in the Word.  They have a multitude of devotional studies for the Lenten season.

Whatever you do, my prayer for each of you is that you draw closer to Jesus and what He is wanting to do in your life this Lenten season.

John 17 is commonly known as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. It is a beautiful scene of the Son of God praying like never before. It takes place just moments before Jesus is betrayed by one of His closest followers, arrested by the mob, taken through a mock trial, and sentenced to crucifixion.

This prayer can be broken up into three sections: Jesus praying for Himself (v 1-5), Jesus praying for the disciples that had followed Him while He walked the earth (v 6-19), and Jesus praying for believers that would come as the current disciples shared the gospel (v 20-26).

It is interesting to me to think that while Jesus prayed here in the first century, He was praying for me. Not only was He praying for me, but Jesus was praying for every single person who would hear and respond to the gospel from that time forward. Long before I was a thought in my parents’ minds, I was on Jesus’ prayer list.

Another intersting point of this prayer is that it was prayed long before I became a follower of Jesus. It is easy to pray for those who are “in the family.” How do we do in praying for those who do not yet know the Lord? As followers of Jesus, we should do as our Savior did for us. We should be praying for those who do not know (or yet want to know) the Lord.

The 3 Things That Jesus Prayed For Us

1. Unity (v 21)

Jesus prays that those who place their faith in Him would be a unified people. Though they would come from different walks of life, they would have a common bond in Jesus. Just as the the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are individual in person, they are one in nature and make up the Trinity (Along with the Holy Spirit) that we know as God. Jesus prays that believers would share in this unity, and a result of this unity would be that others would see the truth of the gospel.

2.  Tools For the Mission (v 22-23)

Jesus knows that the future of the mission of God would be carried out by these believers. This mission of telling others the good news of the gospel would need tools to be carried out. Jesus prays and shares His glory with those who trust in Him. This glory is the strength that we need to carry out the mission. Every believer is given everything they need to take the gospel to those who have not heard it.

3.  Security (v 24)

Jesus prays that those who would come to believe in Him would be held and kept secure by the power of God. We do not have to worry about losing our salvation if we have truly received it. If we have been saved by God, then our lives will demonstrate it by taking part in the mission that God has given His church to do. There may be bumps in the road and moments where we fall short, but we will never fall out of the grasp of God’s gracious hand.

It should be an encouragement to us to know that Jesus Himself was praying for us before we were thought about by anyone else. If that’s not enough, then know this: Jesus is still praying for you.

Who then will condemn us? No one – for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and Hd is sitting in the place if honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. (Romans 8:34 NLT)

May we as the church be encouraged to be faithful and carry out the mission that God has given to us – to take the gospel to those who need it in word and deed.

I recently shared a message with the church I serve as pastor on Matthew 25:31-46. In this passage, Jesus tells about an event that will take place in the future. It is a wonderful event for those who have faithfully followed Christ. It is also a traumatic event for those who haven’t.

Jesus says that those who are welcomed into heaven are not just those who say that they are followers but show it by their actions. He gives some pretty specific ways that people either demonstrate their faith or don’t.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. (Matthew 25:35-36)

For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. (Matthew 25:42-43)

Jesus said that the demonstration of our faith will determine whether we are in or out. This is not to be mistaken as salvation by merits. The Bible is clear that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10).  But that faith is also one that will show itself to be true through actions in our lives (James 2:14-26).

I found this scene that Jesus talks about in Matthew 25 very sobering. We can talk a big game about believing in Jesus and being associated with Him. The truth is (from His mouth) the proof is in the fruit. We can say whatever we want, but it is only true when you can back it up.

I had wondered why this was the only place where this was talked about in such detail… that is until I read Job 31.

In Job 31, one can see this man who was having a “rough week” making a final appeal about why the trouble he was experiencing was not a result of sin in his life. In his appeal, Job exclaims…

if I have withheld anything that the poor desired, or have caused eyes if the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel alone, and the fatherless has not eaten of it (for from my youth the fatherless grew up with me as a father, and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow), if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or the needy without covering, if his body has not blessed me, and if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep… (Job 31:16-20)

The sojourner has not lodged in the street; I have opened my doors to the traveler (Job 31:32)

After reading this chapter, my mind was blown. There it was in plain sight. The ways in which Jesus said that true faith is demonstrated was done by Job in his life.

God’s standards never change.  The Bible tells us that He is an unchanging God (Hebrews 13:8; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17).  When it comes to His standards, we should not be surprised when He says that those standards do not change either. God still demands that His followers be those who are transformed by the love of God to the point where it effects their actions.