A Hope and A Future

 Two psychologists were conducting experiments on a lab mouse to gauge behavior using a Skinner box. This is a device that B.F. Skinner devised to train mice using behavioral modification techniques. Certain behaviors were rewarded and others punished in an effort to train the subject to perform certain tasks.
  The lab mouse performed beautifully until the doctors began introducing mixed stimuli and related it to the same behavior. The mouse performed a task and received a food pellet, but later performed the same task and was punished with an electric shock.
  Within a short period of time, the mouse was so confused that he went to the corner of the box and remained motionless. The psychologists concluded that the mouse had lost hope, frozen in fear, and would have died had they not rescued him from his misery.
  These last several weeks we’ve been looking at the prophet Jeremiah and the message he had for God’s people. The people lost the temple, their home, way of life, and all hope with the Babylonian captivity. They were going to go through some experiences that would create misery for them, yet God urged them to make the most of their captivity. God had not forgotten them, and there was a larger purpose for their exile.
  Our church has experienced many exciting events recently. These last several weeks, in particular, have seen a dozen persons join our church, including numerous baptisms. There will be more of these to come!
   We’ve been acknowledged for our payday loan debt relief effort. In a week or two, the News-Leader will carry a story about our partnership with the Chin Church. For these and other reasons, it’s an exciting time to be part of UHBC.
  While all these developments are unfolding, we are also dealing with financial issues. We made reductions in our operating budget to bring our spending more in line with our giving. It is a difficult process but the staff and church leadership is doing its best to work within these ministry limitations.
   There is a scripture on the wall in the church office from Jeremiah 29:11. It reads, ” For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
    I see this verse almost every day. The context of it was a letter given to people who had no visible reason to be hopeful, yet it was an assurance of God’s presence and purpose for their lives.
   We are in a much better situation than Jeremiah’s audience, yet these words have meaning for us as well. They were intended for the faith community rather than one individual. The primary reason for the people going through hardship was to bring them back to God. They had gotten confident in their own abilities; content with going through the motions of religious service.
    St. Francis of Assisi said, “Start by doing what is necessary; then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
    It’s a terrible thing to feel like that lab mouse, curled up in a corner, hopeless and fearful of our next move. Fortunately, we don’t have to live that way. God has been faithful, and given UHBC “a hope and a future” too. God knows that the future will be; we of course cannot. But, we can determine to move forward in faith, knowing that our hope is rooted in Christ.
   I’m grateful to be on this spiritual journey with you, and remain open to whatever future God has for me and this church in the days to come. Let’s continue to seek “the mind of Christ” as we embrace our future with confidence.

The only thing we have to fear. . .

    The Springfield Business Journal printed an article some time ago entitled “Cast fear, Greed Aside in Making Decisions.”  The key question related to which is the stronger emotion–fear or greed?
    Fear is a powerful emotion. It can move us to action, or it can paralyze us to inaction and despair. Of course, one of the most famous uses of this term came from FDR: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”
    The phrase that appears more than any other in our Bible is “Don’t be afraid.” I think there’s a reason for that.
    Wednesday night, I watched the first episode of “Designated Survivor” when the United States capitol building blew up during the President’s state of the union speech. The President, Cabinet, and Congress were all killed during the attack. The designated survivor was the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, played by Kiefer Sutherland. He was the last person in the presidential line of succession left alive and had to assume the presidency during a time of war. I’d never thought of that scenario being played out. It makes a terrific TV show, but would be a horrific actuality.
    Of course, there are enough real things going on to scare us. Recently, the police shootings and rioting in Charlotte have generated a lot of media coverage. Tensions have been at a boiling point.
    The explosions in Chelsea, NY and the loss of life have brought to mind once again the presence of terrorism. We heard last Wednesday night of family members in that area who were close to where the bombs were detonated. Fortunately, they were okay.
    The Bible cautions us to make the very most of our time: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” (Proverbs 27.1 NIV).
    I’m finishing up the sermon series on “Finishing the Race” this Sunday morning. We are a community of faith and can draw strength from the Lord and each other to face life’s challenges. It’s a privilege to go through life together.
    One of the metaphors the Apostle Paul used in describing his life is “I fought the good fight.” We talk more about loving others than “fighting”, yet that is what we must do. This refers to being active and struggling as needed to deal with the challenges that come our way.
    An example of this is Faith Voices of SW Missouri and UHBC as we “fight” against the payday and title loan industry. I’m grateful the City Council approved a resolution to be sent to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau asking for stricter restrictions on this industry. I’m proud of our church and our partnership with the Educational Community Credit Union. We are making a difference.
    I hope you’re using your prayer guides. It’s important for us to be “on the same page” in our prayers and desires for our church.
    Let’s not be afraid of what’s ahead, but embrace life as a gift. Remember the adage: “It’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years” that counts.

Looking ahead, Moving forward

 “The future demands that we look forward, not backward. When we refuse to orient ourselves forward, we create an idol out of the past and that is spiritually deadly because it prevents God’s in-breaking and prevents any substantive future progress.”
These words were written by Rev. Dr. Marvin A. McMickle, president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. He offered them in a recent alumni magazine to explain the rationale of moving the seminary from its current location to a new campus setting.
Relocating a school can be a daunting and emotional task. McMickle acknowledged the sentimental attachment to the current location and hesitancy of some to support the move. But, he felt it necessary to remain a viable part of 21st century theological education: “I am reminded that no institution can survive, much less thrive, without adapting to the time and the people it serves.”
UHBC is NOT relocating and embraces our university connection with its “town and gown” culture. We have, however, gone through changes in order to remain relevant in a 21st century context.
Last Wednesday night, our church approved adjustments to the missions portion of the budget. We have made minor changes in order to give more dollars to address local needs. We will now have ongoing support for Rare Breed (homeless shelter for teenagers) and Safe to Sleep. We have also increased support to the Council of Churches and Greene County Baptist Association, with particular attention to Crosslines and Grand Oak Mission.
I am grateful for your support of these changes, as our church seeks to respond to the growing needs right here in Springfield and Greene County. We will also continue regional, national, and international connections and support.
On a related note, I wanted to urge you to read the September issue of the Word & Way magazine. There is an article on “Safe to Sleep”, a ministry that our own Romona Baker has helped create and sustain. I’m proud of this wonderful ministry, grateful for our church’s support of it, and express thanks for Romona’s life and work.
One of the key features of our missions support relates to support of the operating (unified) budget. Although having a budget goal, what actually goes to missions causes is 10% of actual financial gifts. So, the actual dollar amount going to missions increases or decreases depending on our giving to the operating budget.
As we reach the halfway mark of the fiscal year, we are running 83% of budget along with not meeting current expenses. Our Finance Board will be meeting this Sunday afternoon to assess things and will be bringing some thoughts about that to us soon.
Our church is not alone is dealing with situations like this. Other churches are facing decisions relating to their giving, expenses, and budgets. While mindful of this, I wanted to express my concern about our own reality and inform you about it.
Interestingly, the Preparing For the Future Campaign is going very well and is on target to meet and exceed the $100,000 mark by June 2017. This has proven to be a wise and useful investment in handling many of the more expensive building related costs. And, remember that 10% of what is given is used for local missions causes.
Recently, I have been going through some pictures of different events in our church and came across one in which Steve Stepp, Wyman Grindstaff, and I were at Commerce Bank to make the final payment on the loan. It reminded me of my arrival almost 10 years ago when I was given a tour of this building. I was impressed with the beautiful, new covered entrance, entryway, elevator, and other renovations on the upper floors.
New members don’t realize and maybe others have forgotten that there was an existing $1.3 million debt which the church still owed for doing these renovations. Together, we followed the leadership of the Capital Campaign Steering Committee who led us in paying off this amount in four years. We are debt-free because of this church’s generosity and focus.
While we face some challenges as a church, paying off a loan is not one of them (many churches would LOVE that). We don’t have to think about relocating our church campus. We do, however, need to pray and be sensitive to what the Holy Spirit is doing among us.
The theme of the capital campaign were the words of Jesus: “with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19.26 NIV). Jesus didn’t say “With God, all things are easy.” There is a difference.
God is doing great things through UHBC. I’m encouraged by new people, ministries, and missions support. God has blessed us in amazing ways. I’m focused on moving us ahead and being open to what God has for us. Indeed, “the future demands that we look forward, not behind.”

15 years later


Colin Kaepernick has inspired a lot of people to stand up for the American flag. All he did was remain seated during the National Anthem of a preseason football game. He explained his rationale:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

If Kaepernick’s intention was to create a backlash of public opinion, then his efforts have been a resounding success. There may be a question related to his method, but we definitely need to work harder at finding common ground among people who are different from us. While his concerns deal with racial equality, the upcoming anniversary of 9/11 causes us to stop and take stock in how our nation has moved forward (but apparently not as much, together) over the last 15 years.

Our church recently completed the “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims” documentary provided by EthicsDaily.com. The subtitle for this video is “Love God, Love Neighbor” which summarizes the two great commandments that Jesus left for his followers. It should also be an area of agreement between people who have obvious religious differences.

This was not the first time I shared this resource with our people. We watched it six years ago, and found it to be useful in listening to Muslims and Baptists dialogue on their beliefs. It was important to note that friendships despite religious differences were possible. People could unite to improve their communities, without compromising their religious views.

I thought sufficient time had elapsed to bring the material. Many of the same persons as well as new members have been present to watch it. I also thought it important to revisit the theme of finding common ground among Muslims and Baptists. As tensions continue to exist between adherents of these global faiths, it’s good to be reminded that sincere followers should not be defined by extremist factions.

I’ve been a pastor for 20 years and with my current congregation for half of that time. I am grateful for our Baptist heritage, values, and closeness to several college campuses. There’s an appreciation for differences of opinion and a broader understanding of what the church’s role should be in our world beyond what happens on Sunday morning. This is a wonderful reality, one that I do not take for granted.

In our church, when I ask for feedback, I usually get it. We have a cross section of ages, social, economic, and education backgrounds. Still, I was surprised by the vocal, vehement reaction to “Baptists & Muslims” by one of our older, retired Baptist pastors. He was extremely antagonistic to the video, fearful that universalism was somehow creeping into our church despite the fact that there was no evidence of this in the documentary. Fortunately, he held the minority viewpoint but his outburst truncated a good discussion.

During that period of awkward silence, I told our people that we don’t have to be afraid of learning about new things. Learning new things doesn’t mean we have to agree with them. We need to mindful of others who don’t believe as we do, and we should our best to build relational bridges in order to promote peace and become good neighbors. Many people from other religious backgrounds are concerned about the same things we are: good schools, good jobs, safe neighborhoods, and taking care of their families.

I wanted us to review the documentary in advance of the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on our country. I wanted us to realize that not every Muslim is like those portrayed in the media or hates America. We should not stereotype an entire people based on those who do violent things in the name of their religion. Besides, there are many “Christians” who do hateful things and then use the Bible to substantiate their behavior. When this happens, we need to speak out against these actions so that the extremist voices are not the only ones being heard. People of good will need to come forward and be united for the cause of peace.

On this September 11 anniversary, I will be remembering those who lost their lives in that horrific attack. I will be mindful of the families who were forever changed by the death of their loved ones.

I also hope to realize that not all Muslims are terrorists who are out to kill us, and that Christians can be patriotic without having hate toward those who don’t share our belief in Jesus Christ. We need the presence of mind to distinguish the extremist voices and avoid stereotyping entire religions because of them. This is a time for courage and an active faith that will “love your neighbor as yourself.” We can listen to people and work toward common goals and goodness without having to agree theologically or politically.

This is a time for us to come together as one nation, regardless of and because of our rich diversity. May God help us as pastors and congregations to be catalysts of peace and good will in our communities.









MSU Pride Band comes to UHBC!

It was a great privilege to attend the Global Leadership Summit last week. This is simulcast to hundreds of sites all over the world; fortunately Trey and I were able to take part at a church here in Springfield. This is one of the highlights of my year, and this time didn’t disappoint.

One of the faculty members, John Maxwell, is a former pastor and author on leadership. He has written numerous books on this subject and is widely considered as an expert in this field. He made a comment that has stayed with me all week:

The church has to ask itself a question–Are we going to spend more time on correcting people, or spend more time connecting with people?

This Sunday will be a great opportunity for connection with students. We will be hosting the MSU Pride Band and many other students who will begin or continue their academic careers at schools here in Springfield. I encourage us to do our best to show hospitality to these young men and women, and their parents.

Another important feature about this year’s event is that we will meet Dr. Brad Snow, the new director of Athletic bands and the Pride Marching Band. We are grateful to have him in the Springfield area and wish him all the best in the transition to the Ozarks.

An ongoing effort at connection will be the simulcasting of our worship services on Facebook. We are making investments into our technology to enable us to be more effective in sharing the gospel to those outside our building. I’m especially excited about this development, and believe it will increase our reach into our community and beyond.

I hope you’re using the UHBC prayer guide. It is a useful tool for keeping us “on the same page” in seeking the Lord’s leadership in the church.

May the Lord help us to do more connection with others and less time with correction. Let’s let the Holy Spirit handle that task while we show the love of Christ to those around us.

I’m encouraged by the spirit of renewal in our church. I hope you sense it as well. See you soon.

Praise and Presidential Politics

   One of the most difficult jobs during a presidential election has to be that of a pastor.

Although noticing a number of ministers openly endorsing one candidate or another, I’ve often thought that this action could alienate members of his/her congregation.

If you haven’t noticed, our church is not uniform when it comes to political views. We don’t impose a litmus test to ensure conformity or distribute voting guides to tell our people how to vote.

This isn’t our first election cycle to go through. But, I mention this because I believe we are heading into one of the most heated and possibly most hateful presidential elections in modern history.

I have my concerns about what this can do to the body of Christ.

   Each of us have his/her own opinions. My desire as pastor, however, is to keep us focused on our task as the people of God and allow room for people with different viewpoints. This isn’t always easy, but it is Baptist.
   I came across this wonderful quote in my reading this week:
  “Why is praise so prevalent in Scripture? When praising God, our minds move away from ourselves. We quit thinking about how bad off we are. We drop our ‘poor little me-isms’ and God turns us to focus on His goodness and sovereignty” (Calvin Miller, The Power of Encouragement).
   You’ve heard it said time and again how much we have been blessed. It’s important to keep reinforcing this principle of gratitude in our church; we have the privilege of going through life together in our community of faith.
    Yes, it’s easy to become cynical these days. During these last few weeks, major political parties have held their conventions. There’s no shortage of vitriol and animosity toward others who hold different political or social positions. This will only intensify as our nation moves toward November and the election of our next president.
    It’s discouraging to see statements on social media that very few would make in person to someone else. Some have written things like, “I don’t see how you can be a Christian and be a Republican/Democrat.” Social media can devolve into a cesspool of hatred toward candidates, those who support them, and those who disagree with them. Recently I had to “unfollow” one of my Facebook friends. I just don’t need that negativity on my laptop.
    Regardless of who is elected our next president, it’s important to remember that God is still God. Let’s not go crazy or lash out on social media. We can be passionate, but when things are getting too heated, may we “be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46.10 NIV).
    One of the core values of UHBC is “the separation of church and state.” We believe in a free church in a free state. We agree to disagree without breaking fellowship with each other. Faith will necessarily intersect with politics, but we don’t all agree on how that is to happen or what that should look like. We are a tapestry of different political, social, and theological positions.
    No church is perfect. But, I am so grateful for the spirit and personality of UHBC as we navigate through this political season. As we do so, may we affirm our unity around the only and earliest creed that Baptists should affirm: “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Let us put the Kingdom of God first and foremost, even as we may struggle with differences of opinion that are important to us.
   I hope you’ll join me in “keeping the main thing the main thing” through the remainder of 2016. Good things are happening in our church. I’m looking forward to kicking off the Fall, meeting new people, and serving our risen Lord. Let’s praise God for that and be open to the Holy Spirit’s leadership as we move forward, together.

Pastor’s page: cynicism and C.S. Lewis

We are living in a time of great cynicism. This was even more apparent with the joint appearance of Presidents Bush and Obama at a memorial service. They came together to show support for the five police officers who were gunned down by a sniper and their families.

I’m not naive to the politics and optics. But, it was disheartening to read criticisms instead of affirmations that they came together to show support for the city of Dallas and these families. I’m not sure if this attitude has always been prevalent, or whether social media has brought it more to light.

Discouragement affects us all. In “A Grief Observed,” C.S. Lewis talked about his struggle with heartache as he grieved the death of his wife:

Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy you have no sense of needing him, if you turn to him then with praise, you will be welcomed with open arms. 

But go to him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away.”

The story of Lewis is fascinating and offers many lessons for us. I would encourage you to locate some of his writings or a biography and read them.

We’re continuing our journey through the Psalms this month. I’ll be dealing with a personal and poignant passage dealing with questioning where God is during our most difficult times.

The summer months offer a time for a change of pace and routine. It’s been good to hear from many of you who are away visiting family or simply taking a much needed break. Even though some of us have been away, it’s been encouraging to see guests in our worship services.

I thought you’d like to know that our Payday Loan Relief Program is making an impact not only in Springfield, but around the country. UHBC is receiving notoriety for our creative partnership with the nearby credit union. Just this past week, I received an email from Nashville, TN. This person had heard of our efforts and wanted to know how to begin such a work in their city. We continue to receive local media coverage as well.

The Lord is at work in our church. We are making a difference for Christ in our community. We continue to see guests each week. And, I’m grateful for your willingness to try new things in order to remain effective for the cause of Christ. Your hospitality and prayers are making a difference.

I am grateful we can seek the Kingdom of God, together. See you Sunday.