MONDAY MINUTES With Pastor Chris McCool (January 10, 2022)

This morning, I want to share with you the first part of an article by Elder Michael Ivey, regarding the Sermon on the Mount. I have often heard the Sermon on the Mount called the “Constitution of the Kingdom of God,” with good reason: it sets forth the basic principles by which the Kingdom of God – the Church – is to be governed. Bro. Mike has written extensively on this subject, and I have always found his thoughts to be sound and persuasive.

In this article, the first part of which is contained below, Bro. Mike puts the Sermon on the Mount in the context of today’s world. We need guidance in this time of turmoil, do we not? Praise the Lord, Jesus provides such guidance in particular through this Sermon. I hope you enjoy and are blessed by this writing!

May the Lord Bless you is my prayer.

Elder Chris McCool, Pastor

A Contextual Summation ofJesus’ Sermon on the Mount

By Elder Michael Ivey

Over the past two years, our nation and indeed the world has experienced terrible suffering and an inordinate number of untimely deaths owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response governments implemented many and various measures to halt this highly contagious and deadly disease. Among these measures was a prohibition or severe limitation of public assembly; which though arguably slowing the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives, also negatively impacted economies, education, quality of medical care, and religious practices. It is this last point of negative impact, of its negative effect on religious practices, I wish to address.

When State governors ordered churches be temporarily closed or else public assembly be severely restricted, most Christians complied with the mandates and stopped meeting together for public worship. Almost immediately, some churches initiated live streamed, virtual worship services via the internet, which seemed to be a reasonable “band-aid” accommodation. Other churches simply closed their doors until further notice. 

However, as public assembly prohibitions were gradually lifted churches began to experience residual negative effects from closing their doors. Some churches never re-opened. Other churches are struggling to continue meeting because of significant drops in attendance.

Some churches also are suffering ongoing issues from the effects of sequestration. Due in part to stress caused by fear of COVID and perhaps equally from a generally divisive social climate in our nation, some among us (and I fear more than a few) are struggling with heightened emotional reactions to anxiety and fear as distrust, frustration, anger, discouragement and even despair. 

Confusing and contradictory messaging from health officials and politicians coupled with pride, ignorance and plain stubbornness in many of us heightened the divisive cultural angst that for many years has been fostered and nurtured by society-at-large. Sadly and terribly, Satan has used COVID as a tool to tempt believers to bring prevalent societal divisiveness into our churches. Brothers and sisters of differing opinions concerning vaccinations, mask wearing, etc. have turned social distancing into spiritual distancing. Where fellowship is occurring, too often conversations, which prior to COVID focused on how blessings and providential mercy from God were having a positive impact on members, their families and friends, seem today to be more about political and economic problems, finding fault, assigning blame and disputes about solutions. Where once our moods and manners were seasoned with love and compassion, today, too often are measured by pride, angst, fear and/or discouragement.

In short, Satan is taking full advantage of the COVID pandemic. He has and is inflicting great harm on the LORD’s church; and, it appears we are reaping Satan’s whirlwind in the form of church closures, reduced membership and attendance, defensive and quarrelsome attitudes, discouraged pastors resigning, spiritual coldness, and a general lack of godly reaction to the preached gospel. 

As shown throughout the Old Testament, in past times when God’s people came to great harm and captivity, when in defeat their numbers were reduced by death and they were scattered by foes, their eventual response was to examine their behavior, recognize and acknowledge their sins and to repent and be converted from their sinful disobedience and spiritual coldness. They humbled themselves by sorrowing over their sins with godly sorrow and apologized to God for having offended him; and, they turned back to obeying and following God according to His moral authority. Scripture repeatedly indicates when God’s people repented in this manner and thereby were converted back to serving God with loving devotion, our merciful LORD responded by freeing those in captivity, regathering those who were scattered abroad and by his power and provision allowing them to rebuild “the walls of Jerusalem” (i.e. Nehemiah 2:13, Psalms 51:18). 

This pattern is often repeated in scripture so we, God’s people, can understand how we should respond when we are caught in the snare of the devil and suffering great harm. We must return to our first love and do again the first works as Jesus instructed the Church at Ephesus in Revelations 2. We, God’s people who lay claim to his name, must humble ourselves and repent and return to God (See 2 Chronicles 7:15 and 30:9). But to do so we each must get back to proper motivation and practices as disciples of Jesus Christ in his church.

We must turn back to God and apologize for offending him with our mostly willful but sometimes ignorant sinning. We must beg his forgiveness. We must return to personal devotion to him. We must return to practicing our love for God and love for others according to his design; which includes active church membership. 

As we consider solutions it is particularly important we accept that all attempts to address this spiritual problem with political fixes or through other worldly agencies are futile. Such efforts are a waste of time and energy. Even more, they are counter-productive. They make things worse because political and/or worldly solutions reject God. Furthermore, doing so distracts and delays us from using God’s solution. Simply stated, there are no political solutions to spiritual problems!

We can overcome Satan’s onslaught by first agreeing we have a problem; and also by agreeing the source of the problem is not the COVID pandemic; so it’s solution will not be found by the medical community. Nor is our problem political; so politicians and new laws cannot fix it. Ours is not an economic problem; so bankers and economists cannot repair it. Neither is the source of our problem cultural; so the solution will not come from academia or the media/entertainment complex. Ours is a spiritual problem. Its source is our own spirit versus flesh warfare of which Paul wrote in Romans chapter 7. In short, we are losing the spiritual warfare against our own lower, sin-prone, human-nature-selves. 

Since the problem is we are losing the spiritual warfare against our own flesh, it follows the solution is to strengthen and properly equip our spiritual selves; the provision for which may be acquired by turning to God and doing what he teaches. To do this we need to understand the first principles of discipleship; which principles Jesus’ explains in the record of his first public teaching. Once we have regained understanding we must then do again the first works of discipleship. With this in mind, I offer the following introduction and contextual summation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. 

A little over a year ago I was called as pastor of Unity Primitive Baptist church in Moss Point, MS. Serving Unity PBC posed a unique challenge for me in [that] this is the first church I have pastored in which I did not know any of its members prior to being called. One of the first hurdles was to understand where in his word the LORD would have me begin teaching. The membership was well served by their previous pastor and seemed to be grounded in the doctrines of grace. There also didn’t seem to be any issue of church practice that needed immediate teaching. 

After much prayer and by meditating on various scriptures and topics my study became focused on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7. As I studied this passage of scripture I realized God was directing me to start at the very beginning; to start my pastoral duties at Unity PBC by preaching and teaching the first lessons of discipleship which our LORD taught in the first recorded message of his public ministry. 

Christ’s Sermon supplies his followers with basic and clearly stated principles, concepts and examples of what participating in the organic, earth located, church portion of his kingdom of heaven is about. In it the Savior teaches us the purpose of discipleship in his church, the nature and object of our commitment as members of Christ’s church, what challenges we face, and the blessings we may expect from faithful church member discipleship. What follows is a summation of thoughts and lessons I’ve gleaned from studying and attempting to teach this vital message to the dear brothers and sisters, and to our visiting friends whom we’ve come to love; and do thank God for their interest and kind encouragement. 

Although this summation tends to follow the chronological order of chapters and verses, it does not strictly do so. It is organized by category of topics, followed by discussions of the Beatitudes and the model prayer. I employ this organizational method in an effort to shorten the length of this essay and also to group together into specific categories subject matter which Jesus states and later revisits. 

I pray God will bless us with understanding and conviction to return to our first love and do again the first works.

To Be Continued . . . .