The Gift of Gratitude

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.

 

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FBC Sutherland Springs and UHBC

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)

Suzii Paynter at UHBC on Sunday, Nov 5

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We’re looking forward to having Suzii Paynter with us on Sunday, November 5th for Baptist Heritage Day. She will be preaching during our 10:30 am service and lead a session in the afternoon at 4 pm on “Baptist Missions: Heritage and Future.” This annual emphasis is a way for our congregation to reflect and celebrate its values and principles as “free and faithful Baptists.”

UHBC is unique among Baptist churches in the Ozarks in that we ordain both men and women to leadership positions as deacons and ministerial staff. We are the only CBF congregation in this area. For this reason, I have on more than one occasion said, “We’re not that kind of Baptist.” Our church cherishes historic Baptist distinctives like the separation of church and state and religious liberty for all persons.

I’m looking forward to this time together, and welcome friends, neighbors, and interested persons to be part of a great event.

 

 

UHBC Quarterly Report: “Desiring Joy”

  C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce, wrote, “No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock, it is opened.”
     I’ve become more and more convinced that our church’s greatest vision is fulfilling the Great Commission and seeking the Great Commandments of Jesus. These two fundamental teachings serve as the basis for all that we do. It should serve as the heartbeat of who we are as a church. With these twin teachings in mind, I’ve been encouraged by our increased presence in our immediate community and the broader Springfield area.
    Our church continues to receive notoriety for our University Hope Payday Loan relief ministry from CBF as well as local media outlets. More importantly, our church provides a resource for individuals to escape “the debt trap.” This work would not be possible without the church’s support and specifically the involvement of individuals who mentor and work directly persons in need obtain needed loans.
     A few weeks ago we hosted a Rountree Neighborhood Festival which brought in hundreds of attendees. People of all ages (especially children!) enjoyed the wonderful food, entertainment, weather, and games. We don’t have an official count, but Kevin Smith cooked almost 500 hot dogs. Thanks to SO many members who helped pull this off!
    The RIF (Reading is Fundamental) team used our fellowship hall as a resource to plan, prepare, and distribute books to area schools. This is a valuable resource and I’m grateful we can have a small part in it.
    Our Board of Trustees, in concert with the City of Springfield, will make preparations to allow our church to be a polling location for the Rountree community. The elementary school has been used for this purpose, but our building provides a better venue than the school to accommodate people during the day.
    The Rountree Neighborhood Halloween Parade is coming soon, and our church is providing parking for residents. Those who use our space will provide a donation or canned good for the privilege. Proceeds will go to the Grand Oaks Mission Center. This is a creative way to provide a “win/win” situation for both Rountree and Grand Oaks.
    I’ve been working on Wednesday night series these last few months. I’ve finished up one mid-week series on James and now we are working through the book of Jonah. Liz McGiffin from KY3 Storm Team came and talked to us about the Eclipse as well.
    On Sundays, I completed a three sermon series from Luke 15 entitled “Lost and Found” and am currently working through the “Seven Churches of Revelation.”
     I also plan on making reference to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on one of our upcoming Wednesday nights together.
     Looking ahead, it’s important to remember that our annual Baptist Heritage Sunday is November 5th. Our guest will be Suzii Paynter, Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. She will preach in the morning worship service and led a session in the afternoon.
     Of course, with the holidays approaching, there will be numerous occasions for celebration. Our Thanksgiving luncheon will November 12, and the Advent season will be kicked off on December 3rd with Global Missions Sunday. Steven Porter is the Global Missions Coordinator and wlll be our special guest for the day.
    Speaking of Advent, I appreciate so many of you who make this a special time of the year for our church family. The Springfield Chamber Choir will be presenting a concert on Sunday afternoon, December 10th, and our own Chancel Choir will be presenting a special musical program on Sunday morning, December 17th. Christmas Eve falls on Sunday this year, so we’ll have meaningful services both morning and evening.
     I also wanted to thank those who will be making sure our building gets decorated for the season. The sanctuary along with other parts of our building will be ready for the holidays. This will happen in a few weeks and takes a lot of effort and planning. I appreciate it as does our whole church family!
     With all these special events, we’ll be doing our part for increased promotion and publicity through radio, Facebook, and other media outlets.
     Also, please keep in mind your regular, faithful, systematic giving to the operating budget of the church. Your contributions are vital to support our staff, mission, and ministries.
     Finally, we continue to have guests in our worship services. It was wonderful to see college students coming into our church family and several of you reaching out to welcome them into the family of faith.
    I want our church to “seriously and constantly desire joy” going into these last few months of 2017. God has been good to us. Let’s be faithful and grateful.

Rountree Festival “A Whale of a Good Time”

The Rountree Neighborhood Festival was terrific! I appreciate our Outreach Task Force for their good work in organizing, planning, and promoting this wonderful event. I am also thankful to all of you who made this part of your Sunday afternoon. We had terrific weather, and it was good to be outside with our community.
If the goal was to meet our neighbors and show hospitality, then the event was a tremendous success. We hosted hundreds of people for the afternoon, many of whom were not part of our church family. I don’t have an exact number, but Kevin Smith said he cooked over 500 hot dogs! (probably an unofficial way of finding out attendance).
Of course, we may never know what kind of impact something like this will have moving forward. But, I look forward to inviting our neighbors to upcoming events, especially during the Advent season.
I’ve been in church most of my life, and that perspective doesn’t accurately carry over to how those outside the church view us. It was useful to talk with those who weren’t part of our church as well as note some Facebook posts regarding the Festival.
Some people have negative perceptions of the church; perhaps it has to do with their own experiences. Sometimes it relates to how the church in general seems not to know or care about social or justice issues.
Events like last Sunday’s offer opportunities for the church (specifically OUR church) to demonstrate an appreciation for the neighborhood and show a desire to an active part of it. Bringing the church and Rountree neighborhood together goes a long way towards addressing fear and stereotypes regarding what kind of people meet in our building.
I also wanted you to know that we have received numerous expressions of gratitude from the Rountree Neighborhood. There is a need to bring people together, and many were thankful that we shared our “Lot of Fun” with them.
Thank you for being such a warm and welcoming people! Let’s be open to what the Holy Spirit has for us to do as the people of God whose headquarters is the corner of Grand and National.
Along with that, please continue your participation in the 40 days of prayer emphasis! October 1 was the first day, and you can find each day’s entry on the church Facebook page. There are also hard copies on the information station if you need those as well.
Finally, thank you for your ongoing, faithful support of our operating budget. We are entering into the second half of the fiscal year, so let’s keep up the good work! Your generosity makes a tremendous difference as we seek first the Kingdom of God, together.

Time to meet our Neighbors!

The Church Under the Bridge celebrated its 25th anniversary a few months ago. It’s actually located underneath an Interstate 35 overpass in Waco, Texas. I found the Baptist News Global article and especially the title especially appealing: “Church celebrates 25 years welcoming Hooter’s, schizophrenics, and Pharisees.”
When asked about an underlying principle for the congregation, Pastor Jimmy Dorrell replied, “It’s the dignity of humans because the sex-offender and the prostitute are just as important to us as the Pharisee. . . We can look them in the eye and be their friend.”
This Sunday will be a special day for UHBC. We are beginning a sermon series on the “Seven Churches of Revelation” and along with that a 40 day prayer emphasis. You can follow along with the latter on the church Facebook page or get a hard copy of the devotions at the Information Station in the Narthex.
Later in the afternoon, we are co-hosts with the Rountree Neighborhood Association in welcoming the Rountree Community to what I hope will be a beautiful day to be outside for a festival. We have promoted, prayed, and now we need to participate in this wonderful opportunity to meet and greet our neighbors.
I took the liberty to write a note of invitation to the Rountree Neighborhood on their Facebook page. I explained that our only agenda was to “meet our neighbors” and a have good time doing it.
In preparing for this sermon series, I have once again been brought back to a place to ask “what kind of church are we going to be?” The church at Ephesus (the first church mentioned) was doing a lot of good things but had a gaping flaw in terms of how they related to God and others around them.
The thing about the seven churches series is that there are applications for us today if we will “hear what the Spirit is saying” to UHBC.
This is a time of prayer and seeking the Lord’s direction as a family of faith. My desire is that the Holy Spirit will work among us during these 40 days. I am excited about what God has in store for us.
Obviously, our church is not “under a bridge” but our building is strategically located in our community. I’d like to think that our hospitality extends to all and every kind of person who might come our way. It’s also vital to realize that we are the “scattered church” far more than we are the “gathered church.” Our words and witness are important.
Sunday’s coming. I look forward to gathering for worship and being around the Lord’s Table for Communion. I hope to see you then

We’re Not Alone in the Universe

In 1977, NASA launched Voyagers I and II into outer space. Attached to the spacecraft is a beautiful golden phonograph record that includes sounds from our world to be heard by anyone that might be listening “out there.”

 Astronomer Carl Sagan chaired the visionary committee that created the original Voyager Golden Record forty years ago. Now the record is being remixed, remastered and released to the public.

 The record includes a wide variety of sounds, music, and languages from our planet. Some of these include: Bach and Beethoven, Blind Willie Johnson, and Chuck Berry. Other sounds include a baby’s cry, a human heartbeat, whale song, a train, birds, and spoken greetings in 55 languages. The story behind the selection of these sounds is quite an amazing story.

 Ozma Records released a statement related to the album’s 40th anniversary: “The creation and launch of the Voyager Golden Record was a testament to the power of science and art to ignite humanity’s sense of curiosity, delight, and wonder. . . It is as relevant now as it was in 1977. Perhaps even more so.”

 Upon coming across this article, I was reminded of the recent lunar eclipse which cut across our nation. Some of you drove to the areas of “totality” to experience the emotion of complete darkness, even if it was only for a few minutes. Even here in Springfield, we had 97% darkness.

 I enjoyed that moment with 13,000 others at Plaster Stadium on the MSU campus. While all of us went through the same event, not all of us felt the same way about it. For me, just the simple act of us all looking up at the same time was an amazing experience.

 Celebrating that 40th anniversary launch of the Voyager I and II, along with the “closer to home” celestial event of an eclipse should give us greater perspective on life and the challenges that come with it. We aren’t as big as we think we are, and our problems in the eternal scheme of things aren’t as insurmountable as we make them.

 The Apostle Paul wrote, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8.18). These are words to cling to when we’re going through a trial, and a hope that keeps us going when we face seemingly overwhelming difficulties.

 I’ve been thinking a lot about the Hurricane Harvey and Irma victims this week. Perhaps you have too. Millions of lives will never be the same because of this terrible storm; even now many people remain without adequate food, water, and electricity. Many people are helping, yet it’s going to take time to recover. Even at that point, things won’t be the same.

 I’m pleased to serve on the CBF Heartland Coordinating Council, who recently approved a disbursement of $10,000 from our disaster relief fund to CBF’s Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief efforts. Coincidentally, UHBC is receiving a missions offering this month. In response to obvious humanitarian needs, the CBF and ABC portions of the offering will be allocated for disaster relief causes.

Please keep this in mind as you give this month. I challenge other CBF congregations to give to CBF Disaster Relief efforts as well. Together, we can make a difference. With TWO hurricanes occurring in such proximity to each other, financial support will be a high priority.

 There are so many sights, sounds, and images that we all experience. Sometimes we get too busy to appreciate the simple beauty of life and life together. I challenge us to slow down a bit this weekend to take in some of the wonder of being part of our world and especially part of the family of God.

 While there is some debate about whether there is “life out there”, those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ know that there is.  Consider these few words from the Apostle Paul: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, and mind has not conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Cor 2.9).

 In addition, let’s do our best as God’s people to make sure people know that there is “life out here” and that they are not alone in this world we share. Through our giving, serving, and praying, we can make a difference for those who are on the verge of hopelessness and despair. Acts of kindness are at a premium; may we use our time and talents to help those in need.

As we seek to show the mercy and goodness of our Savior, let us remember the words of St. Francis: “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”