Nick Cruz walked back into the high school he had been expelled from armed with an assault rifle. He pulled a fire alarm to get students into the hallways, and then began filling the air with a hail of gunfire. In the chaos that ensued, 17 students were killed.
I came through New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at a good time (prior to 2000) and enjoyed sitting under the teaching of some remarkable professors. I was especially fortunate, as a theology student, to be influenced by Fisher Humphreys and Paul Robertson.
These two men were instrumental is helping me forge my own theology, and along the way they penned a work entitled “For God So Loved the World: Traditional Baptists and Calvinism.” This little book is a remarkable tool for making the argument for God’s great mercy and compassion for ALL people. Here is an excerpt:
“The most important truth in Christian theology is this: God is love. We believe the love of God lies behind the coming of Jesus Christ and is the reason God send Christ into the world. We believe in the love of God for all people (not just the elect) because the Bible teaches it and Jesus displayed it throughout his life and especially at his death. The love of God for all people underwrites the true meaning of our lives.”
There are several metaphors in the New Testament that describe that Divine-Human encounter that brings about eternal life. This Sunday I’ll be reviewing the term “born again” as we revisit that conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus as recorded in John 3. Conversations about spirituality and faith in Christ are still important today.
I’ve read numerous articles and heard stories about churches closing their doors. I’ve had people come into our church family who tell me that they don’t have a “membership to transfer” because their previous church had disbanded.
Churches close for a variety of reasons. These have been cited in numerous publications and played out in congregations in many different settings. Usually churches close due to declining attendance, decreasing financial contributions, and gradual and consistent change in the neighborhood around the building itself.
When I received a message that College Place Baptist Church was shutting down, I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know why I couldn’t believe it, except that I didn’t know of any churches on a personal level that had closed. This time was different.
I grew up in College Place, and started attending there when my family moved into a small farm house right down the street. I attended the elementary school right across from the church, so my world was Sherrouse avenue.
It’s been a few decades since I attended that church, but remember being part of youth choirs, missions organizations, and the puppet ministry. We went to Glorieta on more than a few occasions (it’s now defunct too), and had numerous other experiences which have stayed with me to this day.
I mention this church because it has had a profound influence upon my life, and a great deal of what I’ve been able to do and be has its roots in that congregation. I dare say no one (especially myself) could have envisioned that a boy roaming the halls of that building would grow up to be a pastor.
I’ve read a lot of articles and books about church growth and what a church is supposed to be about. There are all kinds of programs, activities, and events that are associated with the work of the church. Still, what is most important, in my view, is that lives are forever changed for the better because of a church’s witness and influence.
I received a wonderful Christmas card a few weeks ago from a woman named Julia. She is Carolyn’s grandmother, one of the Missouri State students who graduated this month and attended UHBC during her four years in school. Julia thanked our church for our encouragement of Carolyn and our investment in her life.
That card meant a lot to me, and I shared it during our last worship service of 2017. It’s a good reminder of what the church should be doing; our work should be about helping people deepen in their relationship with Christ.
That’s what College Place did for me more than four decades ago. I’m so grateful for all those who were in that church while I was growing up physically and spiritually. I hope that our church now can have that kind of impact on students who come our way, and also provide a spiritual home for others who can spend more time with us. Survival is not the ultimate goal of a church; it’s investing time and resources in human beings for the cause of Christ.
There’s a lot of unknowns when it comes to what’s yet ahead, but what is known is that God remains faithful and able to provide for what is needed and when it is needed. Yes, I am a pastor but much more than that, I’m a follower of The Way. And, I hope that I can trust the Lord for what is yet to come and be excited about the opportunities and challenges of a year.
Psalm 31:14-15 is a good place to begin 2018: But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.
Not one of those charter members could have imagined what College Place would accomplish in its seven decades of life. Today I celebrate its impact upon my life and for all the “saints” that have gone on to glory from that congregation. They entrusted their future in the Lord’s hands, and completed several generations of ministry while impacting thousands of lives with the gospel. That’s a wonderful legacy.
For now, and for where I am today, I celebrate the beginning of another year. I’ll do my best to live in the now and lean into each moment as it comes. I’m sure I’ll revisit the words of the psalmist when anxiety creeps in about what’s going on (or not going on) in the church and my family. And, I hope to remain secure in who I am as a follower of Christ regardless of my circumstances.
We’re approaching the Thanksgiving season, and with that thoughts about the kind of year it’s been. Is it possible to run out of words to describe the mood of our nation?
We have gone through tumultuous, serious, and some would say ridiculous political experiences. There have been significant developments around the world relating to the condition of the poor, the vulnerable, and the oppressed. We have witnessed natural disasters along with terrible gun violence. Most recently, we’ve seen and heard about the people who were killed while they were in their house of worship. This most recent development at FBC Sutherland Springs has caused many congregations, including ours, to revisit their security procedures.
Security is a timely word. We all long for it. I want to provide this for my own family and move our congregation forward in a reasonable conversation about who we are, what is going on in our world, and how best to respond to it. But, I’m reminded of the simple truth that despite our best efforts, there are going to be times when things happen beyond our control. It is during those times that we most struggle with the realities of our faith in Christ and the challenges to that faith that the world provides.
I frequently go back to the phrase popularized by the late John Claypool in responding to the death of his 8 year old daughter: “Life is a gift.” Indeed it is. I find that when I approach each day with this mentality, it provides a better perspective on dealing with people, places, and events. It doesn’t solve my problems of course, but it causes me to slow down to realize that I don’t deserve the blessings I’ve been given. The old hymn is still true: “Count your blessings. Name them one by one. And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
When asked what I think about what’s happening in our nation and world, I’m tempted to focus only on the negative. It’s easy to do, and most of the ink (literally and digitally) is tilted in that direction. It’s important to be aware of events taking place around us, and be challenged to see how our faith intersects and influences our reactions to them. However, it’s also vital for our own spiritual, mental, and emotional health to have a positive, meaningful approach to where we are and what we are going as individuals and as the people of God. This is not always easy to do, but for myself at least, I need the reminder. Especially at Thanksgiving.
So, I’m going to attempt to pump the brakes a little bit on how fast life comes at me. I’ll do this even as I and our family make the annual pilgrimage to see Lori’s parents (and perhaps more importantly) Cally, Lucy, and Matt’s grandparents. For the weekend at least and maybe beyond, we’ll have fun stressing over the outcome of the Iron Bowl and elevate it’s importance beyond what reasonable people do. But, it will be fun to be together and that for me will make for a meaningful experience.
So, I’m hoping for a great Thanksgiving. I’m hopeful for a great Thanksgiving for all the victims of the floods. I’m mindful of the families who will have a place missing at the table because a family member was taken from them through gun violence. I’m hoping for a great Thanksgiving for all the victims of sexual assault who have spoken out recently about their experiences. I’m also grateful for all the churches who are reaching out to these persons in need. The recovery process will take a long time and there won’t be easy answers, but I’m thankful for those who are being the presence of Christ in a time of need.
Along with that, I’m hoping for a great Thanksgiving for myself, my own family, church family, and all my friends. To be honest, our entire nation could use a great Thanksgiving.
One definition of what I’m talking about could include lots of food, family, and a celebration of what we have and hope to accomplish in the days ahead. But, what I am learning is that being thankful causes me to slow down and appreciate what I already have. As Robert Holden said, “The real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are, the more present you become.”
A prayer for myself first and our people is that we would slow down, and even stop on occasion, so that we can be “fully present” during the time we have right now. Conversely, let us be mindful that ingratitude is a terrible vice and can be toxic to our well-being. Let us practice gratitude for the simple things and be “in the moment” because we aren’t promised another day. And, may we be encouraged (and surprised) and all the things the Lord has done–and is doing–among us.
FBC Sutherland Springs is meeting this Sunday morning. It’s the Lord’s day, and that, of course is what churches do. But this Sunday will be different.
A week ago, a gunman armed with an assault rifle entered a room which is traditionally called a sanctuary and killed 26 people. He emptied 450 rounds of ammunition into that room; tragically some ended the lives of friends, family, and neighbors.
Sutherland Springs isn’t that big, really. There are about 600 residents in that community, which means that 4% of the population died in the church house. To gain another perspective of how devastating this has been on that area, think about our own city. Springfield has about 165,000 residents in its city limits, and that percentage would be equivalent to the deaths of 6,500 men, women, and children.
Social media has been littered with “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their families. That’s about all we know to do until the next mass shooting occurs. I would simply and humbly ask our governmental leaders to find a way to come together to reduce and limit these kinds of events in our nation. Yes, there is evil in the world, and this man had a history of mental illness Let’s not be satisfied with “thoughts and prayers” this time, but rather find common ground and common sense to move forward as a people.
One reaction to this latest shooting has been other churches examining their own security measures. Our church is no exception to this sentiment. In response to the concerns of our people and in consultation with our Deacon Chair, we will have a special called business meeting later this month to talk about this. We will review our current security measures and discern what and if anything else needs to be done to deal with our current reality. Prior to this meeting, the deacons will come together and discuss this matter as well.
I wanted to make you aware that we do have certain protocols already in place relating to the security of our entrances. There are also individuals who miss out on Bible Studies, worship, and other fellowship moments to be attentive to the unexpected. I appreciate them “having our backs” and know they want to do what is best to keep our people secure.
The reason we are having a churchwide meeting later this month is for us to have consensus and clarity about our security protocols. Whenever there is a mass shooting, much attention is given to what has happened, but then over time the attention shifts to other matters. I want us to embrace this moment as a church family. When I entered the ministry, I never thought this would be a subject for me to deal with in the church. We must not develop a fortress mentality, but I do want us to embrace this moment and seek the wisdom of the Lord.
Sunday’s coming. I look forward to seeing you all and remember “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (Phil. 1.3)