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.

Pastor’s Page: Payday Loans and Self-Preservation (7/20/17)

Brian McLaren, noted author and speaker, encouraged us at the recent CBF General Assembly to celebrate our 25th anniversary as a faith community. He quoted an Antonio Machado poem in describing our journey as like-minded Baptists: “You’ve made the road by walking.”
I want to thank the church for allowing me and my family some vacation leave. We went to Waco, TX to take in Magnolia Market and other venues–(it certainly wasn’t because it was cooler down there). You can see some photos on my and Lori’s facebook page about our trip.
I also wanted to thank Paul Bass and Bob Perry for filling in during my absence on Wednesday and Sunday. It means a lot to know that things will be in good hands while I’m away. We are fortunate to have them and others lead us on occasion.
Summer is a time of trips and inconsistency in our attendance, but I did want to thank you for your ongoing support of the operating budget. Thus far we are close to meeting budget and ahead of our expenses. It will be important to keep an eye on this moving forward, so I am grateful for your generosity.
I’m pleased to mention also the expansion of our University Hope Payday Loan Debt Relief Ministry. We are now able to assist persons PRIOR to their securing a payday loan. This is an exciting development and I am grateful a second credit union has partnered with us.
You can read more about this expansion by going to our website (uhbc.org), clicking the MEDIA tab, and selecting the Church Blog.  Thanks to all our mentors and volunteers for making this possible.
On a related note, you can go to ethicsdaily.com and read their series on Payday Lending. I was asked to contribute an article about UHBC’s efforts and how others can get involved. It’s entitled: “8 Ways Your Church Can Help Folks Escape the Debt Trap.”
Among some pastors and church leaders, there can be heard a lament about the demise of the church. They look at the numerical losses on church rolls that have occurred over the decades through death and attrition. A popular statistic is that 85% of churches are plateaued or declining. In view of these realities, the response can be “we’re just dying on the vine.”
The 21st century church is in transition. That includes us! We have younger, newer members coming to us who do not know about the long history of UHBC. They have found community among us not because of our past but because of our present and our future. Let’s remember that self-preservation should never be the goal of the church. As indicated last Wednesday night, our purpose is “not to save ourselves, but to save others.” Of course, that salvation comes through Jesus Christ.
Summertime is a time for travel and changes in schedule, yet it’s been encouraging to welcome new members into our fellowship during these last several weeks. It’s especially gratifying to see persons come to faith in Jesus Christ (we’ll have another baptism on the 30th!). We continue to expand our reach and influence into our community; many of you are making a difference for Christ in your jobs, schools, and social gatherings. These are signs of life in the body of Christ.
My point is that we never stop being the church. We are actually “the gathered church” around 2% of the time. The vast majority of the time we are the “scattered church.” Let’s use this time wisely to carry out the Great Commission and Great Commandments of Jesus. Remember: the most effective outreach is through personal relationships.
I’m grateful to be back in 417 land, even though it’s disturbing to catch a weather report recently with Springfield in the middle of a “Ring of Fire.” Let’s stay hydrated and opt for cooler places as necessary. Despite these oppressive temperatures, I hope we are all enjoying these last few weeks of summer before school starts.

Pastor’s Page: 7/7/17

Brian McLaren, noted author, speaker, and futurist, encouraged participants at the recent CBF General Assembly to celebrate our 25th anniversary together. He quoted an Antonio Machado poem in describing our journey as a community of faith: “you’ve made the road by walking.”
CBF began as a group of free and faithful Baptists who split off from the Southern Baptist Convention in 1991. In a very real sense, this movement has been sustained by historic Baptist principles, a passion for missions, and a desire to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit. There isn’t a road map for what’s ahead. It’s been a faith journey.
I’ll have more to say about the CBF General Assembly on July 19th. I’m grateful that Phil, Jan, and Ted were able to share that experience with me. They will offer some of their own perspectives on that experience in Atlanta. In the meantime, you can go to cbf.net or the CBF facebook page to read about and see videos of the meeting.
UHBC received recognition on Thursday morning during a business session. Jim Smith, president of the CBF Foundation, noted our advocacy work in the area of payday loans. I’ve posted that video on the church Facebook page as well as my own. Jan and I received awards on behalf of the church on Friday morning at the CBF Foundation breakfast. We will present those to the church soon.
In referring to last week’s trip to Atlanta, several people have asked: “How was your vacation?” While I can think of several words to describe being under the same roof as 2000 Baptists, the word “vacation” isn’t one of them. However, I WILL be taking a week of vacation beginning this upcoming Monday.
I’ve appreciated Bob Perry and Paul Bass for filling in during my absence; they will do so again this upcoming week.
Our youth group made it to Mobile, Alabama for their mission trip. There are a few photos on Facebook if you’d like to check that out. They will be returning on Monday and should be in late that afternoon.
As I think about our own church’s future, in a very real sense we are “making the road by walking.” We aren’t focused on what happened 30, 40, or 50 years ago. We can’t use the same techniques that were around during that time period.
We need to give thanks for our past, but remain focused on how the Lord is doing “a new thing” among us. That means we have to do and be church in a 21st century context. We don’t need to panic at the changes and challenges around us. God is doing great things through UHBC in our own community of faith and larger Springfield community. Let’s celebrate that!
In a similar way, I wanted to express my gratitude for Kenneth Frederickson. I wish I had known Dorothy Jean, but have heard how for decades they made many wonderful and lasting contributions to UHBC. I will always cherish the beautiful shepherd’s staff Kenneth made for me upon my installation as your pastor. His handiwork is also seen each time I use the smaller, portable podium. I gave him just a few details of what I wanted, and he did a beautiful job with it. I think of him every time I use it.
Kenneth loved the Lord, his family, his church, and his nation. Our lives have been enriched by his presence among us. I know you’ll join me in praying for Ed, Ellen, and the rest of their family during this time.

Blessed is the man

Steve Scalise was at baseball practice at 7 am with other congressional leaders getting ready for a charity baseball game.  Then he got shot and that changed things. For a lot of people.

He wasn’t the only person injured, and the whole situation served as a reminder that these kinds of events occur all too often. The more troubling detail is that the shooter knew who would be on that field at that time, and targeted those individuals with his gunfire.

I had not heard of Scalise prior to a few days ago. I’ve since learned that he holds a leadership position in the Republican Party and that he enjoys playing baseball. Who else would get out on a field around 6 am to practice?

Many times we don’t know a person beyond their persona on television, but I’ve discovered that he has family who is deeply concerned about his well being. He’s been married to his wife Jennifer for more than a decade, and he has two beautiful children named Harrison and Madison.

We have all heard that he is in critical condition, and we should be in prayer for him along with the others who have been injured in this horrific event. Political preferences should not matter when we enter times like this.

It has been refreshing to see members of both political parties come together to express unity, even though I don’t expect this to last. However, it makes me lament the toxicity present among our governmental leaders. Why can’t things be like that joint press conference held by the managers of the Republican and Democratic teams? We often ask why it takes a tragedy to bring us together.

On a more personal level, I’ve been wondering how the Scalises are going to handle this weekend. This terrible situation has taken place only a few days before Father’s Day. I would imagine this Sunday will take on additional meaning due to the circumstances of the last week.

Father’s Day is an emotional day. Many people are fortunate to have had positive experiences with their fathers, while others not so much. Not every man is a father, and not every father is a “dad” to his children. Many fathers hope to be a “good dad” and wonder what that means. Sadly, there are all to many men who abdicate their responsibility when it comes to leading and caring for their children. And, not all children have or had good relationships with their fathers. This whole holiday can be complicated for these reasons and more.

In the days before cell phones, we had to use “land lines.” And, if you go a little farther back in years, there was a time when you’d pick up the phone and talk to someone called an “operator.” The operator would help you place a call. It was a big deal to call someone “long distance” because it would cost you more to place the call. But, if you called “collect” the person receiving the call would have to agree to accept the charges so you wouldn’t have to pay for it. If they didn’t accept the charges, then the call couldn’t go through.

It has been said that there would be more long distance calls placed on Mother’s Day than any other day. Conversely, there would be more “collect” long distance calls on Father’s Day. I guess that’s how it goes.

On Sunday, I’ll be referring to Psalm 1. It is a wonderful prologue to the entire collection of psalms and hymns in our Bible. Especially on this occasion, I will do my best to be both gender specific and gender inclusive in its use. I will say “Blessed is the man. . .” while ensuring my listeners understand it means “Blessed is the one. . .” This is a classic text intended to challenge readers to “watch their step” in regard to whom they associate with and whom they allow to gain influence in their lives. Their are two paths, and it’s important to stay on the right one.

There’s never been a more important time for men to “watch our steps” as it relates to our words, actions, and attitudes. People are watching, especially the non-church going world, to see whether there’s any real difference between a community of faith and everybody else. It’s also vital to watch our steps when we consider all the children who are observing how we live and how we respond to things.

I’m grateful to have a wonderful wife and three active, healthy children. The greatest blessing is the awareness that my children know the Lord, and that I had the privilege to baptize each of them. Whatever else I might accomplish in this life, nothing will surpass being present at their births and being able to baptize them to celebrate their new birth in Christ. For me on Father’s Day, this is the greatest gift I could hope for.

My hope in writing this is to challenge each of us to be careful in our steps. For Father’s Day, I challenge myself and all men to consider the words of the apostle: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (I Peter 2.21 NIV).