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)
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.