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

Moments of Holy Week

Dear friends,

Spring is upon us, and pollen is in the air (and on the cars and everything else in sight). Other than the pollen, I love the beauty of the season and the chance to see much evidence of new life in the flowers, the trees, and even the baby ducklings I hope to see again this year in the lake behind my house. While there is much I celebrate during spring, this season also invites us to remember the difficult journey Jesus made toward the cross. I have been blessed to worship with you all during this Lenten season, and I look forward to the opportunities we will have to worship and reflect on the implications of Holy Week.

It always strikes me, however, that it is far too easy for us to miss the dark moments of Holy Week if we only attend worship on Sundays. We enjoy the joy of the children as they carry palm branches on Palm Sunday and the next Sunday, we join in the Good News of Easter. In reality, though, much happened in Jesus’ life between the two Sundays. While I understand that work, school, and other activities crowd our schedules during the week, I invite you this year to make every effort to join us for our Holy Week services on Wednesday, April 12, at 6:30 pm and Good Friday, April 14, at 7:00 pm.

Not only that, if you have children and youth, please bring them with you. Though childcare will be provided during our Holy Week services, there are several reasons why it is valuable to bring your children—especially those who are elementary school-aged and older—with you to these special services.

Amy shared with me an article she found in Worshiping with Children. Here is an adaptation of the reasons it is valuable to include all ages in Holy Weeks services. First, when children attend the weeknight worship services such as Good Friday, they hear the whole story of faith. Too often we want to protect our children from the harsh realities of the crucifixion, and so our children go straight from the Palm Sunday procession to the Easter alleluias. But until they hear the whole story, they will not understand the true joy of Easter. Second, hearing the story of the Crucifixion on the anniversary of the night it happened is like hearing the story of Jesus’ birth on Christmas Eve. As they imagine themselves standing near the cross, the stories have greater power. Third, children hear the whole story in the sanctuary with the whole congregation. As they sense the strong feelings around the stories and learn how important they are to all the people gathered there, they have a sense of belonging that helps them to claim the stories as their own. Finally, when their whole family goes to the trouble of worshiping together during Holy Week, they are acting out their commitment to the Gospel in a very real way that children notice.

Blessings,
Bill

That’s Grace

Dear friends,

During our Wednesday evening study on forgiveness, we have reflected on the overflowing and abundant love of God for us and the good news that we get to live in God’s grace rather than facing justice and what we truly deserve. Reflecting on this distinction between mercy and justice reminded me of a story told by Tony Campolo. Campolo recalls teaching a small group of junior high students about the difference between grace, mercy, and justice.

One boy, with a smile on his face and a glint in his eye, answered by saying, “If a cop pulls you over for speeding and gives you a ticket, that’s justice. If a cop pulls you offer for speeding and gives you a warning, that’s mercy. But if a cop pulls you over for speeding and gives you a Krispy Kreme donut, that’s grace.”

In reflecting on this insight, Campolo reminds us that grace is the unexpected good news that instead of giving us the punishment we deserve, God through Jesus offers us undeserved and unparalleled blessings. The longer I am a Christian, I become increasingly amazed by the grace God makes available. What a gift we are offered by God, and as we continue our Lenten journey toward the cross, let us give thanks for the grace offered to us and recognize how undeserved God’s love truly is.

I’m glad to be on this journey with you,

Bill

 

Do Something, Love Somebody, and Walk Toward Someone

Dear friends,

I suspect that few Baptists grew up with an emphasis on the season of Lent. In recent years, this church has joined many others in Baptist and Protestant traditions in discovering the value of this season which invites us to prepare our hearts as we follow Christ on His journey to the cross and ultimately to the great news of Easter. Lent is a 40-day season of self-examination and spiritual preparation before Easter. In the early history of the church, this was a time when new converts were invited to devote them-selves to prayer and study as a way of getting ready for baptism on Easter Sunday.

For us, the season of Lent is an invitation to reflect on our lives and seek spiritual renewal. We set aside 40 days to prepare our-selves to take in the Good News of Easter through deeper disciplines of prayer, Bible study, generosity, service, and self-denial (some people choose to give up something they like for 40 days as a way of reflecting on Christ’s sacrifice). It can be a season to recognize the junk and clutter that fill our minds and lives and then do some spiritual spring cleaning as we prepare for the darkness of Good Friday and the light of Easter.

As I have been preparing for Lent, I have been inspired by an idea being promoted by the leadership of Passport, the group that sponsors the youth camp our teenagers have been attending. This year, the camp theme, “Do. Love. Walk.”, draws from Micah 6:8. This verse says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” The Passport leadership reminds us that this call is still vital for the church. God still calls us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

With this in mind, they have issued what they are calling the Micah 6:8 challenge for the season of Lent. Instead of just giving up something for Lent this year, perhaps we can take on or invest in God’s work in practical ways. On the Passport Facebook page, there is this invitation, “Instead of ‘sacrificing’ that Diet Coke or giving up sweets this year, perhaps we could Do something, Love somebody, and Walk toward someone. Might we spend these 40 days practicing justice, showing love in tangible ways, and walk-ing with humility on our minds? Justice can be shown in volunteering to serve the poor or standing up to the bully. Kindness and love can be shown through words that give life and build our neighbor up instead of tear down. Walking in humility can be done in deferring to the person in front of us instead of speaking or acting first.”

I like this idea. In what ways can we focus our hearts, minds, and actions in this season on doing, loving, and walking humbly?

Bill

We’re Ready …

Dear friends,

Just over a year ago, at the beginning of January 2016, I invited you as a congregation to begin praying about the possibility of renovating the house on our property so that it might be used as a source of temporary shelter for refugees entering the country. We began a process lasting several months that included opportunities to learn more, pray, and discern together whether this might be the direction God was leading this church. While we understandably did not all agree, the church voted to move for-ward with this project, and we began demolition work on the house last May.

From the beginning, I acknowledged that in order for this renovation effort to happen, we would have to trust God to provide the volunteers and the resources. Throughout the process, we have been blessed to have representatives from about 10 different churches participate in hands-on work on the house. We have received sufficient financial support from a variety of Baptist groups, churches, and individuals to pay for all the work that has been done. Some professional contractors have given us amazing deals on their work, and we have had some contractors who have charged us only for materials purchased while donating their labor costs. I certainly had no idea exactly how this process was going to work when it began, but I have seen many examples of God’s faithfulness in providing exactly what was needed at just the right time.

Thankfully, we are now ready to move furniture into the house and begin welcoming families and individuals in transition and in need. We will be hosting a Service of Dedication/Open House on Sunday afternoon, March 5 at 3:00 pm. We invite you to join us as we dedicate this home to the work of God’s Kingdom. You will then have a chance to see the house and enjoy some light refreshments. For those of you who remember the old offices, I truly believe you will be impressed by how nice the house now looks.

While we are still waiting to see how the political situation will unfold as it relates to refugees, we have been in conversation with World Relief Durham, and it looks there is a family who will be our first guests in the house soon after the Service of Dedication/Open House. This family includes a mother with a possible cancer diagnosis and two teenage children. We will share more details in the weeks ahead and let you know how we might be able to support and minister to them, but I invite you to pray for the ministry of Hope House, the first family who will stay with us, and for those who will be our guests in the months and years ahead.

Blessings,
Bill