Loved and Valued

Leigh and I had a wonderful time on vacation with our family last week. It was such a treat to spend time with both our children and their spouses as well as with Clara, our precious granddaughter. Have I mentioned before that we have a granddaughter??? Anyway, at this stage of our lives, we feel blessed to know that our children have grown up to be young adults who demonstrate a commitment to faith and to serving others in the world around them. It is wonderful to see how they are using their gifts and talents to bless others.

Of course, those of you who are grandparents don’t need me to tell you how wonderful it is to have a grandchild. As she is about to be one and a half years old, Clara is full of energy, curiosity, and a developing personality. I loved being with her, watching her, and being able to make sure she knows that I love her, but one of the best things about watching Clara grow up is seeing that Matt and Lauren are terrific parents and that Clara should have no doubt that she is truly loved by her parents and family.

In our world, too many children grow up without the love and care they desperately need. As we prepare for Vacation Bible School next week, many of the kids who join us will come from families where they experience a genuine sense of love from family. However, we will also likely have children present who are really looking for someone or some people who will let them know that they are loved and precious. Regardless of the kinds of families or homes that the children have, it is absolutely vital that all the children discover clearly that church in general, and this church in particular, is a place where children are loved and valued.

Join me in praying for all the kids who will attend VBS next week. Pray also for all the workers that we might love the children as God loves them. This church always does an amazing job with VBS, and I look forward to seeing the ways that God will work in us and through us as we teach the children about God’s rescuing love and show them that they are loved by the people of HVBC.

Bill

Opportunities

It was a true pleasure to spend last week with the youth at Passport Missions Camp.  Despite the heat and long days, our young people impressed me greatly with their good attitudes and willingness to work hard at their mission sites.  I saw God at work in a variety of ways and was pleased to see our young people reflecting on their faith.  A couple of them have made significant commitments during camp and after our return, and I was so blessed and inspired by the testimonies shared by Hope and Emma during worship on Sunday.  We owe much gratitude to Frances Smith and Lucy Woodell for their willingness to be chaperones and for the wonderful ways they interacted with and supported our kids.  Thanks also to all of you who prayed for us during the week, who served as Camp Buddies, and who have shown an ongoing commitment to and support for these young people.

Now that we are back home, however, I want to ask for your continuing prayers as well as your participation in the vital ministry to our youth as well as to our children.  During my sermon on Sunday, I focused on the message of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1 and the various resources God makes available to the church.  In 1 Corinthians 1:7, Paul assures his readers that “you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.”  Even though the Corinthian church was struggling with divisions and difficulties, Paul believed that God had provided them with every gift and resource necessary to fulfill their calling.

I am convinced that this statement is true of our congregation as well, but I also believe that living into our calling as a church requires that ALL of us willingly offer the gifts and talents God has given us.  We had a lengthy conversation in Church Council this week about the challenges we are facing, and one of the things that was emphasized was our need for more workers in our youth and children’s areas.  We need more volunteers with children in Extended Session, with youth and children in Sunday School, with our youth on Sunday evenings, and with AWANA this fall.  It is wonderful to talk about being a church that will welcome and grow with young families, but such growth can only occur if we are willing to step forward and invest our time and talents in these important areas of ministry.

As we continue to pray for our church – and I hope you are using the 100 Days of Prayer Devotional Guide – I ask that you pray that God will raise up the leaders we need and pray specifically about whether you might get involved in our youth and children’s ministries.  If you want to know more about opportunities and possibilities for service, please contact Amy or me to ask questions or to share your thoughts and ideas.

Bill

Growing Young (guest post)

Over the past several months, a small group has been studying the book Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church. The purpose of the book is to guide churches in examining how to create an environment that will attract and retain young people ages 15 – 29. The book highlights several qualities that generally appear in churches that are reaching and connecting with youth and young adults:

  • Empowering and entrusting young people to perform ministry.
  • Empathizing with young people instead of judging them.
  • Proclaiming Jesus as the centerpiece of God’s story and living out His message in our daily life.
  • Focusing on creating/maintaining warm peer and intergenerational relationships.
  • Prioritizing young people and families everywhere in the church.
    Enabling young people to be good neighbors locally and globally.

The authors of Growing Young stress that young people deal with three ultimate questions: “who am I?”; “where do I fit?”; and “what difference do I make?”. Churches need to assist young people in answering these questions relating to identity, belonging, and purpose. In doing so, we need to care enough about young people to try to understand their lives – both the good and the bad. In particular, we need to appreciate the fact that young people are much more likely to feel “extreme” stress than mature adults.

The last session of the book study was devoted to identifying some things that Hope Valley is doing well in relating to our young people as well as brainstorming some ideas concerning things we could do better or start doing. One idea was to invite young people who have recently graduated or are home from college to join the choir for the summer. This was done, and several young people are singing. I think you will notice the difference they make!

Knowing that our young people are both the present and the future of the church, it is imperative that we provide the fellowship, programs, and resources that encourage them to respond and participate. In order to do so, there might be a need to make some changes or start something new. While doing this, we also need to preserve our identity as an intergenerational congregation. Conversations have started, and we hope others will join the discussion as well in the days ahead. If there is interest, we will offer a second study of Growing Young in the fall. Please contact me if you would like to learn more.

– Mike Dossett

A Season of Prayer

I was privileged to join other Hope Valley members last Friday evening at a local Indian restaurant to hear Leena Lavanya share some stories about her amazing ministry in her home country of India. Through the ministry she has developed, ServeTrust, she and others are focused on reaching out to and caring for the marginalized people of India. Some of you have had the chance to hear Leena when she has spoken at Hope Valley in years past, and I am always inspired by the remarkable things God is doing through Leena and that ministry. Among the many life-changing areas of work, Leena and her partners care for people with leprosy and HIV, provide job training to help women escape commercial sex trafficking, organize schools to educate children in poor communities, and provide numerous other ministries to show compassion and love to people in need. If you would like to know more about Leena’s work, you can read more at www.servetrust.org.

Whenever I hear Leena speak, I am amazed by the energy level she must possess and by her willingness to be an instrument of God’s work. I feel tired just trying to imagine the schedule she keeps and all the ways she invests her time and care in other people, but as I listened to her talk last week, I was reminded that one of the keys to her ministry is her commitment to and belief in the power of prayer. As she told stories of seeing God heal and transform people in response to the prayers of believers, she repeated over and over again that these things happen because of the power of prayer. It struck me that she believes in and practices prayer with a level of commitment too often lacking in many of our lives and in many churches these days.

Inspired by her example, I want to invite us as a congregation to make a commitment to daily prayer for our church during the upcoming summer season. Like many churches these days, we face challenges and struggles. These are difficult days to be a church, but God does not leave us helpless or powerless. There are numerous Scriptures that show Jesus pulling away from the crowds to spend time in prayer, and the early church in Acts was obviously committed to prayer. During my sermon on Sunday, May 27, I will invite you all to join me in a 100 Day of Prayer emphasis that will include a devotional guide. Coinciding with the summer season, the guide will include a daily Scripture pas-sage to read and some suggestions for how to pray for the church that day. While there are no magic words or practices that lead to church health and growth, I am convinced that God responds when God’s people commit themselves to prayer. I will share more in the weeks to come, but I hope we can make this summer a true season of prayer.

As we pray, let us be filled with hope in the promise of God. In John 14:12-14, we find this promise from Jesus: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

Bill

I Can See Him Right There

A Methodist minister tells of his decision to join a Civil Rights march in the South during the late 60’s.  He and other students met the group at a church ready to march for justice, to stand up and be counted, and to demand equality for all people.  But the first thing that the organizers had the group of hot and bothered protesters do was find a seat in the sanctuary for several long hours of singing, praying, and preaching.  Finally, some of the young activists grew tired and spoke to one of the march’s organizers, saying “Come on. Let’s get on with the march. Let’s get out on the streets where we can do some good.” They couldn’t figure out what all this singing and preaching had to do with their desire to work for justice.  Patiently, the leader reminded the students that they had been at this struggle a long time. They had learned long ago that in the battle for human rights, they were not contending against just a few bad laws or a few bad people. They knew that they were struggling against principalities and powers, against cosmic evil, and if all they had to sustain them out in the streets was superficial, optimistic humanism, good intentions, and a desire to “do good”, they wouldn’t last long.

The young man learned an important lesson that day. Though he was ready to get busy about the work needing to be done, he discovered that as Christians, our power and strength for ministry begins in worship and discipleship. Just as it is inadequate to focus on worship and discipleship without putting our faith into action, we cannot go out to change the world unless we have connected our spiritual lives to Jesus who is the vine that nourishes us so we can bear fruit.  Only when we balance our commitment to spiritual maturity with a commitment to do God’s work in the world can we be the church we need to be.

Mildred McWhorter was for many years a Baptist home missionary in inner-city Houston.  Once, she encountered a little boy who had come to the Baptist Center where she worked. She had watched over him all week and spent significant time with him. At the end of the week, the little boy asked her, “Missus, are you God?” Mildred was taken aback by the question and quickly said, “No.”  Then sensing an opportunity to teach the little boy about God, she continued, “But God’s love is in my heart.”  But the boy just pointed at her again and said, “No, missus, you’re God.”  Again, she tried to explain, “No, I’m not God, but God’s love lives within my heart.”  Pointing to her heart, he said, “Oh no, you’re God, and I can see him right there.”  That little boy knew the power and presence of God when he saw it in the life of God’s servant.

My hope and prayer for all of us is that we will deepen our discipleship and faith so that others see the love and grace of God in us.

Blessings,
Bill

No Holding Back

Dear friends,

Isabella Baumfree was born into slavery around 1797.  She had at least 10 siblings whom she knew only from stories told by her mother.  The slaveholder had sold off all the other children, except for Isabella and her younger brother. In 1828, after having been sold herself and later escaping, Isabella was emancipated and moved to New York City.  After living there for a decade, she experienced a call from the Spirit of God to travel and lecture.  She desired a new name that would reflect her new vocation.  Saying that she had left everything behind and wasn’t going to keep anything of Egypt on her, she went to the Lord and asked for a new name.  She says, “And the Lord gave me Sojourner because I was to travel up and down the land, showing people their sins, and being a sign unto them.  Afterward I told the Lord I wanted another name, because everybody had two names; and the Lord gave me Truth, because I was to declare truth to the people.”  And Sojourner Truth became a fiery preacher, abolitionist, and proponent of women’s rights.  Her faith in God literally brought her a new name and a calling to do God’s work, even in a wilderness of slavery and darkness where it must have been tempting to give up.  Even in the face of overwhelming odds, she heard God’s call and devoted herself to God’s work.

During this Lenten season, we have invited you to consider what commitments you might make to show love in tangible ways to God and others.  The cross covered in hearts near the organ includes some of the commitments made by our members, but as Holy Week grows even closer, I wonder how we are doing.  Are we making and following through on our commitments to recognize God’s call in our lives and follow through on the daily opportunities God gives us to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves?

I urge you to make time during the remaining weeks of this season to reflect further on the example of Jesus who gave His own life.  Let us prayerfully consider what we are willing to sacrifice to become more faithful.  As we are reminded that Jesus held nothing back, may we spend time examining our hearts and asking God to help us see what we are holding back from God.

Bill

Dear friends,

We have been reminded again in recent days that we live in a world filled with darkness and evil. The horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, has confronted us at the beginning of Lent with grief, heartbreak, and anger. These tragic events seem to come around so often that it is difficult to find appropriate words that offer hope and comfort without sounding like pious platitudes or empty promises. Added to the pain and shock of the event itself, the angry voices disagreeing vehemently over proper solutions to the challenges of our culture can make many of us feel overwhelmed and discouraged. There are many levels and layers to the problems, and I keep wondering how we can move forward when it seems impossible to have difficult conversations with a commitment to listen to and love those who are different than we are.

It strikes me, however, that Lent is an appropriate time to recognize and acknowledge the reality of our struggles, our anxieties, and our brokenness. During this season, we remember that when Jesus came into the world, He was not received by all with open arms and gracious hospitality. He was often failed by those closest to Him and was rejected by those with power and prestige. Even in the face of struggle, though, He chose to love the broken world and the needy people within it so much that He gave up His own life so that we might live more abundantly.

Abundant life, however, does not mean that we get to escape the struggles of the world. We are called to be salt and light in the world, continuing the work of Jesus. I was recently in a group that included a firefighter. In the midst of the conversation, this young firefighter said, “While you all are running away from the fire, we are running toward it.” While I have heard similar statements before, it struck me that this is the call of the church to our world. Even as many are blaming and attacking and promoting division, we are called to move into the darkness and pain with love that shows grace and invites healing. We must use our voices and offer our lives to serving and loving others.

We are inviting you to consider during Lent how you might show acts of love towards God and towards others. Some have written down a commitment and placed it on the cross in the sanctuary. Let us commit ourselves to prayer and study that moves us toward Christlikeness, and I encourage all of us to seek God’s leading so that we can move into the world with acts of love and mercy as the hands and feet of Jesus. What are the tangible ways God might be calling you to build bridges and offer compassion? In the wilderness of life and Lent, how might God use you to offer hope? May this be a season in which we grow in our commitment to following the example of Jesus.

Bill

“Look Down The Road”

How many of you have ever played the game, “Hide and Seek”? Do you remember the game? Someone is “it,” and that person closes his or her eyes and counts to give time for the other kids
to hide. When the person who is “it” is finished counting, he or she must yell loud enough to warn all players that the search is beginning, “Ready or not! Here I come!”

In a real sense, the season of Advent reminds us that we must be ready for the coming of Jesus. Though I am writing during the week of Thanksgiving, my mind is very focused on the upcoming
Advent season. I love the season of Advent and the way we are invited to remember the gift of the Christ child and to prepare our lives since Jesus has promised to return to complete the work of establishing God’s Kingdom. Though we don’t talk often about this promise, knowing that Christ is present and will be returning ought to impact the way we live our lives now.

In an old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, we find the little boy, Calvin, having a conversation with Hobbes, his stuffed tiger that comes alive in his imagination. Calvin says, “Live for the moment
is my motto. You never know how long you got.” In the second frame, he explains, “You could step into the road tomorrow and WHAM, you get hit by a cement truck! Then you’d be sorry you put off your pleasures. That’s what I say – live for the moment.” And then he asks Hobbes, “What’s your motto?” Hobbes replies, “My motto is – Look down the road.”

As we enter December, there is always much going on, and it is easy to get overwhelmed with details. Let us make time, however, to hear the invitation of Advent to look down the road and prepare ourselves spiritually for the coming of Jesus. Amidst all the pressures and activities, what can you do to make space to spend in the presence of God? What can you do to show others the kind of love you have received from Jesus? What can you give that will help others experience the blessings of the Christ child?

I look forward to walking through the season with you.

Bill

Welcome Chris

Dear friends,

I am very pleased that we have called Chris West to join our ministerial staff as our Minister of Youth. I have really enjoyed the chance to begin getting to know Chris and look forward to the ways his gifts, talents, and personality will help strengthen not only our youth group, but also our church as a whole. Please make an effort to introduce yourself to Chris, remind him of your name a few times, and help him feel at home as he ministers alongside us.

Adding staff always adds both exciting possibilities and new challenges. During the course of our Church Family Meeting on Sunday, good and valid questions were raised, including the question of where the money would come from to add a new salary to our budget. As we noted, we have budgeted for this position, but our giving is lagging behind the prorated budget requirements so far this year. This is not abnormal for churches, particularly at the end of summer, but it is an issue we must take seriously and approach prayerfully.

I believe that we must be good stewards of our money and resources. While concerns about what we can afford are certainly valid and must be considered, I still stand by my statement on Sunday that this was a hiring we couldn’t afford not to make. We have a terrific group of young people who demonstrate faith and a genuine interest in getting involved in opportunities to serve God and others in tangible ways, and I am convinced that Chris is the right person to love our youth and help them grow as disciples of Jesus and ministers of the Gospel.

These can be exciting days for this church. I see encouraging things taking place, and we have several significant opportunities for outreach and ministry scheduled for the next few months. I think we have many reasons to live with hope. At the same time, however, I want to challenge you to consider prayerfully your financial support of Hope Valley Baptist Church and whether you can increase your level of contributions to the budget. From my initial meetings with the Pastor Search Committee, I have been told that this church can support financially anything it decides to do. I have seen this to be true on numerous occasions. Of course, I understand that it is easier and sometimes more exciting to support a particular project or special offering, but I encourage you to join me in making a renewed commitment to offering generous support to the church budget. Whether through one-time gifts or an increase in what you give regularly, please give faithfully so that we can become the church God calls us to be and be the hands and feet of Christ in our community and beyond.

Blessings,
Bill

There are many things happening around the church …

Dear friends,

As we approach the beginning of another school year and new church year, there are many things happening around the church and many details that need attention and prayer.

You will notice the announcement from the Nominating Team and have been hearing their appeal for volunteers in recent weeks. For the church to be at its best, all of us need to be willing to offer our gifts and talents to the work of the church. Please consider prayerfully where you might feel led or called to get involved in areas of ministry and service for the coming year.

You also see that we have entered the season for deacon nominations. As you consider people you would like to nominate to serve as deacons, I encourage you to pray for God’s guidance. Also, remember that in recent years, our deacons have been striving to devote less attention to “running the church” and more to being servants within the congregation. In the past couple of years, our deacons have divided up into 4 Ministry Teams, each with a particular focus: 1) hospital and bereavement ministry, 2) shut-in ministry, 3) prospect, discipleship, and assimilation minis-try, and 4) community connections and ministry. With the recognition that our deacons are focusing more on ministry to the family of faith and the community, I urge you to consider several questions as you think about whom you would like to nominate: Whom would I like to have visit me if I am sick or dealing with grief? In whom do I see a genuine heart for service and ministry to others? Who among our members demonstrates a Christlike spirit and a compassion for people?

Finally, as our students begin a new school year, I look forward to participating in the Blessing of the Students on Sunday, August 13. I am grateful to be part of a multi-generational church and value the opportunities we have to build relationships with children, youth, and adults of all ages. As part of our Blessing of the Students service, we will have a prayer for our students and educators. At the end of the service, adults will again have the opportunity to take the name of one of our students and commit to being a prayer buddy for that student during the upcoming school year. This is a wonderful way to get to know our younger members and let them know that they have a church family who is committed to loving them, praying for them, and walking with them in the way of Jesus. Please consider whether you are willing to make the commitment to being a prayer buddy for a student in the up-coming year.

Blessings,
Bill