“Go for it, Pop.”

Dear friends,

This past Sunday, as I examined Jesus’ two appearances to the disciples as recorded in John 20:19-31, I noted that Jesus told the disciples, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Then He breathed new life into the disciples, telling them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” It was a powerful moment of commissioning, a commissioning I believe we all receive as followers of Jesus.

As a Christian and a pastor, I am inspired by those who follow God’s call in their lives. I read about such a man several years ago in the Atlanta paper. The article focused on Wheeler Conkling, who was 85 years old at the time. A World War II veteran and a retired chemist and CEO of a small company, Conkling was preparing to move to Honduras to live and work as an unpaid volunteer with an interdenominational ministry in one of the poorest regions in the world. Conkling and his wife raised 5 children and after retirement, he was involved in working with several churches to set up a homeless shelter for itinerant hotel workers. His wife died in 2003 after 62 years of marriage, and in the midst of his grieving, he also began to ponder what to do with the rest of his life. He had always been a runner or walker so he was in good shape and didn’t want to become sedentary. So, he signed up for a mission trip with his Episcopal Church. While some in the group weren’t sure what to think about an 84 year old man joining them for the trip, they soon found that he worked incredibly hard climbing scaffolding and helping in various projects. Soon after, he made a second trip to Honduras and spent two weeks there, learning about the ministry and bonding with the children there. He says, “I fell in love with the need – and the children.”

When he returned from that second trip, his children encouraged him to return to a more “normallike” life, but he investigated joining the Peace Corps and other groups before praying and wondering if there could be a permanent place for him in Honduras. He contacted the director there and was assured that there were plenty of opportunities for him, even though he couldn’t speak Spanish. Conkling decided to go. When his family heard about his decision, they called a family meeting, gathering from around the country to interrogate him. At the end, after hearing him share his heart, there was a consensus, “Go for it, Pop.” One daughter said, “All five of us are a little sad now knowing we’re losing the proximity of him, but for his soul, this is really what he needs to fill it up.” The children even began planning their own trip to join him in the work in Honduras. One volunteer who worked with Conkling said it this way, “He has been an incredible inspiration to all of us. The children there love him like a grandfather. He has a heart to do this work, and his faith is so strong – he has a lot of compassion for these people who have absolutely nothing.”

This sounds to me like a man who recognized the call of God and discovered the peace of God and the presence of God’s Spirit in being sent to continue the work of Jesus. While others might have discouraged him, he felt God’s call and responded. Perhaps his example can inspire us as well. For we must not forget the message of Jesus, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Blessings,
Bill

Hear It Again … For The First Time

Dear friends,

Some years ago, the makers of Corn Flakes began an advertising campaign to re-introduce its cereal to the American public. There were several commercials, each showing a person sitting alone in a kitchen with a bowl of Corn Flakes in front of them. The person would look at the cereal and describe how dull and boring it looked. He would predict that such a cereal would never sell with all the fancy choices on the market. After all, there were no nuts, berries, animals, marshmallows, or anything exciting. Then, however, he would taste the cereal and a satisfied smile would cross his face. And he would look toward the camera and ask, “What are they?” Much to the person’s surprise, the announcer would reply, “Corn Flakes.” As the person would nod with approval, the viewers would hear the new slogan, “Taste them again…for the first time.”

“Taste them again…for the first time.” It was a clever slogan for a cereal that many people had grown up with and long forgotten with newer choices on the market. With slight modification, I believe it can be an appropriate invitation for this holy season. This week, we remember the most significant events in human history, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, yet many people are so familiar with the story that we have trouble getting excited about it. Amidst busy schedules, new outfits, egg hunts, abundant candy, and family gatherings, the story is easily lost in the background. We’ve heard the message so many times that it no longer surprises or amazes us anymore. Pastors like myself struggle to find a new way to make this old, old story fresh and attention-grabbing.

While we know the death and resurrection stories well, I invite you to join me in listening for God’s voice and experiencing the Good News afresh. In addition to the corporate worship , I encourage you to spend time reading and reflecting on the Scriptural accounts of Jesus’ last days and hours. Meditate on what Jesus willingly did in submitting to God’s will, facing both verbal and physical abuse without striking back before enduring death on a cross. What difference might it make in our spiritual lives if we prayerfully reflect on how much Jesus must love us to accept such a fate? Then, as we reach Easter, let us remember that Jesus has already overcome the power of sin and death in this world. Why do we often feel so defeated and hopeless when we celebrate and worship the risen Christ?

During this holy and life-transforming season, may we open our lives and hearts to the amazing Good News, ready to hear it again…for the first time.

Blessings,
Bill

P.S. What a blessing it was to hear the Mwangaza Children’s Choir on Sunday! Thanks to all of you who made this concert and visit possible (especially Amy Sauls and the Sauls family) and also to those who donated generously to the love offering . We collected $2048.33 to support the work of Africa Renewal Ministries, including $84.00 received through the raffle of the pillow made by Joan Burke. Congratulations to Julie Stoops who won the beautiful pillow.

Operation Inasmuch

Dear friends,

This is an incredibly busy season at HVBC, but even as we approach Holy Week and Easter, I encourage you to make plans now to join us for our annual Operation Inasmuch on Saturday, April 18th. It is time to begin signing up for projects and collecting items we will need to make this Operation Inasmuch a successful day. Please note that the Missions Team is asking for donations of various items that will be part of our Inasmuch effort. You can find the list of items requested here. Please help us by bringing these items and placing them in the designated container in the children’s hallway.

We also ask that you begin prayerfully considering how you can serve during Operation Inasmuch. The Missions Team has lined up the following projects and believes there are ways that all ages and abilities will be able to participate.

  • Sing for and visit with residents at 2 retirement communities – this group will sing at Durham Regent and at Carillon. After sharing some hymns and songs, there will be a time to talk with the residents and pass out goodie bags that are being prepared by our children in their Sunday School class.
  • Block Party at McDougald Terrace – this group will prepare and serve a hot dog lunch and will also have a variety of games, crafts, and activities for the residents to en-joy. We will also be distributing toiletry kits. We will need a large group of people to coordinate the various activities and to engage the residents in conversation.
  • Staining several wooden areas at Urban Ministries of Durham – this project needs about 4 volunteers.
  • Outdoor clean-up and yard work at Urban Ministries – this project will work at cleaning some areas around Urban Ministries and if we can secure some mulch, these volunteers will also be spreading the mulch to help the grounds look clean and neat.
  • Sorting clothes at Urban Ministries – this group of 6 to 8 volunteers will assist the clothing ministry of Urban Ministries by sorting and organizing clothing donations.
  • Writing notes of appreciation to local police officers – this group will prepare notes of encouragement and support to be given to local public servants.
  • Preparing casseroles for persons staying at The Caring House while undergoing medical care or treatment at Duke Hospital – whether you can attend on April 18 or not, we will be collecting frozen casseroles that will be delivered to The Caring House so that they can be reheated when needed.
  • Pack bags of food to support the BackPack Buddies program at Githens Middle School – because many students go to homes without adequate food supplies, this group will pack bags of needed food items that will be delivered to Githens where they will be sent home with students so that the students will have access to meals when they are not in school.
  • Packing Bean Soup mixture for the food pantry at Urban Ministries – this group will take designated amounts of various types of beans, pasta, and seasonings and combine them in Ziploc bags to be distributed to people in need.
  • Collecting toys for the Make-A-Wish Foundation – we will be collecting toys that will be distributed to children dealing with life-threatening illness and to their siblings.

Blessings,
Bill

Spring is Sneaking In

Like many of you, I am growing weary of snow and ice. The weather has certainly wreaked havoc with our church schedule and plans, and I always hate to make decisions about canceling or postponing worship services and funerals. Through it all, however, I am grateful to those members who have responded to requests to shovel snow/ice and make it safer to get our members to the church for scheduled activities and times of worship. Thanks also for the flexibility you have shown when the weather has forced adjustments to our plans, and we will be very appreciative if you will help us make up for the offerings we missed when we had to cancel worship on March 1.

With all the winter weather, however, I feel like a very busy spring is sneaking up on us. You will notice that this newsletter is filled with announcements and upcoming opportunities for worship, ministry, and fellowship.

In particular, I encourage you to note a couple opportunities to support God’s work financially. During the Lent and Easter seasons, we promote our Easter Missions Offering to support missionaries and missions work in North America and around the world. You again have the option to support the Global Missions Offering of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship or the Annie Armstrong Offering of the Southern Baptist Convention. Envelopes for both offerings can be found in the pew racks in the sanctuary. Our church goal for this offering is $2,000, and I feel confident that we can collect at least that much to support the spreading of the Gospel.

I also invite you to note the announcement about the CROP Hunger Walk and to take advantage of the opportunity to support hunger ministries here at home and around the world. We have a large group of church members participating in the walk. Please prayerfully consider seeking out one or more of these walkers to make a contribution to support hunger relief. We live in a world where the disparity between the haves and have-nots grows wider each year, and those of us blessed to have more than enough are called by the Gospel to feed the hungry and care for the poor. The CROP Hunger Walk is one of many ways we as a congregation work to fulfill this responsibility.

In addition to the offering of our financial resources to missions and ministry, please make plans to join us for our annual Operation Inasmuch on April 18. The Missions Team is working diligently to organize projects that will allow us to serve and make a difference in our community. We hope to see many of you as we spend the day doing God’s work and being the presence of Christ for those who live in our area.

Blessings,
Bill

Collecting Dust

Dear friends,

Beth Felker Jones, a professor at Wheaton College, tells of the time her 6th grade teacher announced that they were going to begin a secret experiment. The kids all perked up and listened closely. The study was to focus on household dust, and the kids would get to study the dust from their own homes under a microscope to find out what it contained. The teacher asked the students to collect dust from their homes, but were told to do so without letting their mothers know. The secrecy was necessitated by the rumor that the mothers would shut down the experiment if they knew that dust bunnies from their homes were being collected for analysis at the school.

We can understand the resistance of those mothers to having their dust collected for study. After all, most of us like to hide our dust and dirt from others. We clean our homes before having company. Those of us who don’t always keep a spotless home like to try to convince others that we do better than we really do.

Of course, most of us do this not only at home, but also in our lives. We generally invest significant energy in hiding our “dirt” and struggles from others and in trying to convince the world that we are clean and have our lives together. We put up a good front, even to church, in hopes that no one will recognize that our lives are messy and less than ideal behind the masks we try to wear.

We have now entered into the season of Lent, the forty days leading to Easter. Through the history of the church, this season has been a time for believers to practice self-examination and repentance. Taken seriously, this is a time to stop hiding the truth about ourselves and acknowledge that we are broken, sinful, and in need of God’s forgiveness and cleansing. It is a time to let go of the false images we create and to be reminded that we are filled with mixed motives, self-centeredness, and other attitudes and feelings we try to bury deep out of the sight of others. Even as we shake our heads at the violence and hatred we see in the world, this is a time when we need to acknowledge honestly the hate and prejudices that still exist in our own hearts.

Through our worship this season as well as through our own devotional and prayer times, let us approach the Lenten season with a commitment to consider prayerfully where God wants to bring changes to our hearts, minds, attitudes, and actions. Let us acknowledge our failures before God and open our lives to God’s transforming touch. For we are beginning a journey to the cross, one that calls us to deny ourselves and follow Jesus.

Blessings,
Bill

P.S. Since ice and snow prevented us from having our Ash Wednesday service as planned, we have rescheduled the service for Wednesday, February 25 at 6:30 p.m. Though it won’t be Ash Wednesday officially, this is an important service with valuable reminders for our faith. Hope you can join us!

Please Join Us

I am excited to let you know that Marc and Kim Wyatt will be speaking during Prayer Meeting on Wednesday, February 11th at 6:30 p.m. Marc and Kim are Cooperative Baptist Fellowship missionaries who specialize in ministering to refugees, immigrants, and other internationals by connecting them with local congregations. The Wyatts served originally in Thailand and then spent many years serving in Canada where their work with international populations in some of Canada’s largest cities helped them recognize a new way of being missionaries.

Given the influx of people from all over the world into our area, Marc and Kim, along with CBF, recognize that international missions is no longer just about sending people to the uttermost parts of the earth. Missions opportunities are all around us, and the Wyatts are now liv-ing in Raleigh and focusing their efforts on connecting churches in the Triangle area to the internationals living, studying, and working in our midst. In a recent article on the Baptist News Global website, Kim de-scribes the work this way, “I say that I am a matchmaker. I match newly arrived folks … with Christians who have probably lived in the same house for 25 years.”

I recently had the privilege of meeting and spending some time with Marc and Kim and am very excited about bringing them back to HVBC. They spoke at Hope Valley several years ago during their tenure in Canada, and Kim is the niece of our member, Brenda Pendergraft. I am impressed by their passion for and resourcefulness in ministry, and I look forward to exploring ways that they can assist us in growing more effective in our outreach to our community.

I hope you will make every effort to join us for Prayer Meeting on February 11th to meet or become reacquainted with the Wyatts. It promises to be a good evening and will hopefully be the beginning of a partnership that will benefit the ministry of the Wyatts and of Hope Valley Baptist Church.

Blessings,
Bill

Necessary Work

Dear Friends,

As has been discussed in several settings, we are beginning the process of revising our church constitution and will also be adding bylaws. This will be a fairly major revision and one that will take some time, perhaps as much as a year. This process grows out of our recognition that some normal updating needs to take place and that our church’s organizational structure needs to be made more clear and effective as we move into the future God has in store for us.

I have organized a committee of people with an interest in doing the necessary hard work in this lengthy process. In our first meeting, we affirmed and emphasized that the committee is committed to making sure this will be a transparent and open process. Our desire is to ensure that we hear the ideas and opinions of all church members and that we encourage and facilitate conversations on topics that may spark differences of opinion. As the revision work gets going, we will provide times for feedback and conversation that will allow everyone who is interested to share thoughts and preferences.

I also invite you to speak with me or with members of the committee if you have ideas or suggestions that you would like to have considered during this revision. The members of the committee are: Ramsy Boland, Toby Bowen, Marie Bush, Mike Dossett, Dave Dugan, Amy Herring, and Nicole Rogers. I was impressed by the spirit and commitment evident in our first meeting. Each member of this committee recognizes that this is an important and much-needed task as we seek to affirm and continue the good things we are doing at HVBC while adding some clarification and updates that will allow for visioning and growth.

As this work begins, I ask that you join me in prayer for this committee and for the work that needs to be done. It is certainly not the most fun thing that we do as a church, but it is important work that will allow us to be more clear and open in our organization, structure, and decision-making process. I believe that God has exciting plans for Hope Valley Baptist Church and trust that this effort will help us affirm the good elements of our church while allowing us to grow and improve in other areas.

Bill

The Birthday Club

Dear friends,

I hope that you all are enjoying a good and blessed beginning of 2015. During the course of this year, Leigh and I will be hosting a monthly Birthday Club dinner. On a designated evening each month, all persons who have a birthday that month will be invited to a covered dish meal and time of fellowship. For example, all persons with a birthday in January are encouraged to join us on Monday, January 26th at 6:00 p.m.

To help make this idea work, we ask several things:

  1. We ask for your help with the food. If your birthday is between the 1st and 10th of the month, we would like for you to bring an entree. If your birthday is between the 11th and 20th, please bring a salad. If your birthday falls between the 21st and the 31st, we would ask you to bring a vegetable. Leigh and I will provide a birthday cake each month. If the church office has your birthday on file, you will receive a postcard invitation with a reminder about what you should bring.
  2. We would welcome any one who is school age or older. If you are a parent of a school age child or a youth, we would love to have your child come get to know some of the children, youth, and adults in the church during the month of his or her birthday.
  3. This gathering is only for those who have birthdays during the month. Spouses should not come together unless both persons have a birthday in the same month. While this may seem unusual, it will give us an opportunity to get to know each other in some different groupings.
  4. Reservations will be needed so we might be adequately prepared. Please pay attention to the Illuminator each month to see when the deadline for these reservations will be. If you want to come, but will need a ride, please call the church office so that we might work out transportation for you.

I am looking forward to these gatherings. This will allow us to bring people together who may not normally cross paths very often and build some new and meaningful relationships within the church. I hope each of you will make a special effort to be present during your birthday month.

Grace and Peace,
Bill

Opportunities to be Generous

Dear friends,

In his wonderful book, Reflections on My Call to Preach: Connecting the Dots, one of my favorite preachers, Fred Craddock, tells stories of his family and the abject poverty they faced during his early years. One December, when the Depression was at its worst, the family purse was truly empty. Though the family always made a big game out of trying to catch Santa in the act of delivering presents, Craddock had overheard his mother telling his father that they couldn’t afford anything for Christmas that year. There was just no way to buy anything. On Christmas morning, however, the shoeboxes that had been set out in expectation of Santa held their annual goodies. Each one had an apple, a tangerine, raisins still on the stem, a box of sparklers, and a packet of Black Cat firecrackers. It may not seem like much to most of us, but it was a normal Christmas for that family at the time.

Craddock didn’t learn until at least 10 years later how they were able to afford gifts that year. His father had used a pair of pliers to pull out one of his molars. That molar had a gold crown that had been put there by an Army dentist during World War I. His dad had removed that crown on his own and gone to town to sell the gold in order to get enough money to afford Christmas presents for his family.

Reading this story of a father’s sacrificial generosity helped me think afresh of the sacrificial generosity of our Heavenly Father who sent His only Son into the world. As we celebrate Christmas this year, let us remember and give thanks for God’s wonderful and life-changing gift. What a wonderful Father we have!

Furthermore, as we recall God’s great gifts to us, may we be motivated and inspired to give faithfully ourselves. We have so many opportunities to be generous this season – giving to Global Missions Offering, bringing food for the Yates Association Food Pantry (which continues to have a desperate need for food), donating homemade cookies for inmates at the women’s prison, and supporting various ministries that support families in need. I was pleased by how many toys our church donated to the Yates Association Toy Store and appreciate the faithfulness I see in you all. As the season continues, let us keep in mind the message of Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Blessings,
Bill

July!

July is certainly a crazy, busy, and even weird month around Hope Valley Baptist Church, but even though I am feeling tired in the midst of VBS week, I am truly thankful. Each night in Bible School, the children share “God sightings,” and it is interesting to hear the answers they offer. As I write this article during the early part of VBS week, let me say that I have had so many God sightings already this month as part of my involvement with this wonderful church.

  • I have seen God in the smiles, laughter, and enthusiasm of more than 100 children who have attended VBS in the first two nights.
  • I have seen God in the energy and creativity of our HVBC family as you have decorated, prepared, taught, and loved the children who have been attending VBS. I am thankful beyond measure for the ways I see you making God’s love and presence visible in this vital week of ministry. It is truly a privilege to be pastor of a congregation that invests so generously of time, talents, and re-sources in the children of this community. There are simply too many people who deserve thanks to list in this column, but I am so grateful for the leadership and time that Amy and Jonathan Herring have given to make all these details come together.
  • I have seen God in watching adults of all ages involved in working with VBS. What a gift it is for our children to see young adults, middle-agers, and even older adults giving of themselves to serve and love children. Similarly, it was a treat to hear that the recent Bridal Shower for Hannah Stoops brought church family members from age 7 to the middle to upper 90s together to celebrate a happy time in the life of one of our members. I love serving a multi-generational church and think this serves as a wonderful reminder of how church ought to look
  • I have seen God as I have watched children dance and jump with joyous abandon during VBS songs, praising God with not only their voices, but also with their whole bodies. Though Baptists have traditionally been known for their support of dancing, I can’t help but think that dancing King David would smile at the scenes I see in our sanctuary each night.
  • I have seen God as I have heard children tell with great detail the Biblical stories they learned earlier in the evening in their VBS classes. Amidst all the wiggling and seeming distractedness, many kids are hearing and learning the stories and message of Scripture.
  • I have seen God as our youth shared on Sunday morning about their experiences at Passport Missions Camp last week. I was privileged to drive up and spend a day with the youth, and I felt extremely blessed to be able to watch our youth working hard at mission sites, laughing together during free times, worship-ping together, and sharing with each other the ways God is working in their lives. We are blessed with a remarkable group of young people who are growing in faith and in their commitment to serve God collectively and individually.
  • I have seen God as I watched our youth open their “Camp Buddy” letters on the night I was with them. I sensed that they really appreciated the support of the adult members of this congregation and understood the significance of knowing that their church family prays for them and supports them.

I see God at work in many ways and am blessed by the ways I see you using your gifts and talents to serve God, the church, and this community. Thank you for the opportunity to walk with you through life and ministry.

Bil