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.
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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.”

Charlottesville: Naming our Demons

My daughter and I were out last Saturday getting some back to school items as she prepares for her sophomore year of college. As I drove, she checked her Twitter feed and suddenly broke out into laughter. We had been talking about Charlottesville and all that was taking place there, so I was a little confused.
We looked at a photo of all those white men standing around that church house Friday night as they held up torches to light up the night sky. They were shouting in unison in an effort to intimidate the people gathered inside for a prayer service. What was funny to us was the meme that was born out of this revealing photo: “when you have to use a polynesian cultural product (tiki torches) to defend and assert white supremacy.”
On Sunday, I addressed the developments over the weekend and wondered aloud what some of the participants in that photo might be doing now. I would imagine that a good many of them would be in church, and when asked what they did over the weekend, they could say, “I went to Charlottesville for an Alt-Right rally to assert my white privilege. I insulted black people, paraded the streets with the Confederate and Nazi flags, chanted Nazi slogans, and had my picture taken in a Klan like moment around a church house.” Then they would pick up their hymnals or view projection screens and sing about the love of God.
Like many of you, I’ve gone through a gambit of emotions as I’ve tried to unpack the significance of the events of last weekend. I’m saddened by the loss of life and disgusted at the vitriol and boldness of the white supremacists. Then I come back to that photo and meme going viral on Twitter, with them standing there with their tiki torches. It’s an image worthy of being mocked and minimized.
Luke 8:26-39 offers a record of Jesus’ encounter with a demon-possessed man. The man had not worn clothes or lived in a house for a long time. He didn’t live among the people at all, but was at the mercy of this unclean spirit who would drive him out into solitary places. Here is the passage:
 
“What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had entered into him. 
It’s important that we call out white supremacy for what it is: a demonic presence in our nation. We can’t deal with this problem when we aren’t willing to use its name.
Sometimes pastors are cautioned about bringing politics into the pulpit. We must remember that the gospel is necessarily political as it impacts our world, but it doesn’t have to be partisan. This is not a ‘right or left’ issue but rather a ‘right and wrong’ issue. There are times for the church to speak up as to let our nation know we aren’t asleep at the wheel and that we see what’s going on. Not talking about something doesn’t make it go away or mean it isn’t there. Silence from the church can imply complicity and sympathy. We must not allow that.
There is a lot of evil in our world; some of those demonic forces were on display in Charlottesville last weekend. It can seem that these forces of hate are becoming stronger and bolder. At the same time, however, these moments are opportunities for the church to name and call out white supremacy.  We don’t have to agree on theological nuance. We do need to agree and show solidarity on this issue. Hate must not find a home in our churches.
In a similar vein, it’s absolutely critical for our elected leaders to also name and call out white supremacy and violence without equivocation. The church needs to impress the importance of this on them. Charlottesville isn’t the first or last time we’ll need to stand together as the people of God. We will need to persevere.
There are certain moments when it’s important to speak up. The church has an opportunity to name and call out one of the demons that has been tormenting us for a long time. Let’s begin by looking at the man or woman in the mirror and ask the Lord to “cast out” any attitudes or behaviors that don’t belong in us.
And, let’s work toward being a community of faith reflected in Galatians 3.28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. When we do this, our whiteness or any other skin color will pale in comparison to how we show Christ to our world.
Jesus asked for the name of the demon. To get the name of the demon was to get control over it. Jesus named the demon, called it out, and cast it out.
That’s what has to be done today. And it will be tomorrow as well

Pastor’s Thoughts 8/11

Gary Fenton, in “Your Ministry’s Next Chapter” penned these words: “I finally understood that every day doesn’t have to be sunny, that even when my soul feels shrouded in darkness, I know that God is leading me. I do not need a clear day to feel confident God is leading me.”
I’ve been giving additional thought to these words, especially as it relates to us as a church family on our spiritual journey. We have been blessed in so many ways, and among the best ways has been to have wonderful persons in our family of faith to encourage us along the way.
A few days ago such a person went to her eternal reward. Maurette Poore died at the age of 104 (!). She has been faithful in her testimony to her Lord and to this church. Even though she became unable to be with us in person, she continued to pray for her church family. I appreciate so much those who visited her and maintained a connection with her these last few years.
It’s difficult to imagine what life is like for those who don’t have a church home. There is a difference between “going to church” and “being part of the church.” Certainly Maurette could be described as the latter.
Sometimes we think of the church as what we are “doing” but in reality a more apt designation relates to our “being” the people of God. We gather in this building for a very small percentage of time, while most of our existence relates to what happens outside these walls. That’s how it should be.
My ongoing hope for UHBC is that we continue the transition from doing church in the building, to doing church from the building. And, what we do should be rooted in who we are as God’s people.
As you’ve heard me reference before, we are “making the road by walking.” UHBC is walking by faith, and not by sight. We are trusting the Lord to open doors of opportunity to impact our community for Christ.
On a related note, there will be an almost 100% eclipse on August 21st. I’ve heard that MSU Science department is sponsoring an event at Plaster stadium for those who’d like to participate in this experience.
In addition, I’m pleased to announce that KY3 Storm Team meteorologist Liz McGiffin will be with on this Wednesday night. Among other things, She’ll be talking to us about the upcoming eclipse. It will be a fun and interesting evening, so I hope you’ll plan to be part of it.
Finally, I wanted to thank you for your ongoing support of our operating budget. We are close to meeting our budget as of this writing, and ahead of our expenses. Of course, these numbers change from time to time. But, I am so grateful for your faithful and consistent support at this point in the fiscal year. Please keep it up!
Sunday’s coming–I know some of you are still traveling and taking advantage of the last few days of summer. But, if you are in town I hope to see you in Bible Study and worship this Lord’s Day.

People of the Book

Baptists are a “people of the book.” That book, of course, is the Bible. Through the years, however, Baptists have had blind spots when it comes to what exactly the Scripture says to us.
The Bible is an extremely popular subject; the book remains the best seller among all books. Despite its popularity, there remains disagreement over its teaching and meaning. Sometimes the differences about the Bible can become so great that people become violent and combative over it. 
Last Sunday morning, a man walked into our building for the first time. After talking with several of members, he was pointed my direction. Now I know why.
His first words to me were: “Do you all have elders?” I thought for a moment. We do have a sizeable contingent of people who are 70 years old and over. But, I didn’t think that was what he was talking about.
I told him, “We don’t have elders. We have deacons and a pastor” I felt pretty good about this configuration from I Timothy 3. 
He said, “Well, who makes sure the pastor doesn’t get out of hand?” This was obviously a man who didn’t know about the people in our church. I said, “the pastor is accountable to the congregation and the Lord, ultimately.”
He said, “How can this be a biblical church without elders?” We went back and forth a few moments while he grew more and more frustrated. As he walked out our building, I could hear him saying aloud, “This isn’t a biblical church.”
I felt sorry for this man. He didn’t ask about our approach to missions or our view of Jesus Christ. There were so many weightier matters upon which we could have found common ground. Sadly, I didn’t sense any love, joy, or peace when he verbally assaulted me. 
This article isn’t about elders. Some churches have them, others don’t. But, having elders or not having them doesn’t make you “more or less biblical” than those churches who don’t. 
As a pastor, I deal with all kinds of views about the Bible. I am especially mindful of how the Bible can be publicized for political purposes. 
Last year, the state of Tennessee attempted to pass a bill which would make the Bible the official state book. If passed, the Bible would have the same status as the Mockingbird and Iris–the state bird and state flower of Tennessee.
The governor, Bill Haslam, vetoed the bill saying such action “trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text.” He added, “Our founders recognized that when the church and state were combined, it was the church that suffered in the long run.”
It’s important to note that several multi-million dollar Bible publishers are located in Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Gideons International, and United Methodists Publishing House. 
It’s ironic that so much attention is given to elevating the status of this book, while so little attention is given to its contents. The topic most mentioned in the Bible is God (of course). Second to that, however, is treatment of the poor. The Bible references the poor, widows, and destitute many, many, times.
And, Jesus talked more about the Kingdom of God than any other subject. His second most mentioned subject? Money and Material things. 
It’s a beautiful reality: we don’t have to have the same view on all issues, yet we can sit in the same pews and worship the same God. Sadly, this is not the case in all churches. Sometimes there is a political or theological litmus test to pass in order to remain in fellowship with each other.
I’m grateful our church is part of a larger Baptist family who continues to embrace historic Baptist distinctives like “the priesthood of the believer.” I hope that we will always appreciate our unity in diversity when it comes to differences of opinion. Doing so doesn’t make us “less biblical” than others.
The early church confession was “Jesus is Lord.” I think that still works pretty well today.