Living the Body – Partnering in Mission

Recently, our church family hosted the annual meeting of the Surry Baptist Association; and although I know that some of the meeting’s messengers and some members of our church (including this pastor) were still feeling some ‘discomfort’ about the association’s recent decision to remove Flat Rock Baptist from its membership, I’ve got to say that it was a good gathering. Through reports on recent ministries and through worship that was energetic and heartfelt, we were all reminded what powerful things can happen when God’s people choose to focus on the faith and mission that unite us, rather than being distracted by the  issues about which we differ.

Later this month, we will have another opportunity to celebrate our shared faith and mission. Our church—along with several others—will sponsor a “Fellowship on the Move” gathering of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina. The event will take place on Thursday, November 10, at Flat Rock Baptist Church and will include a dinner (at 5:30 PM), a selection of training sessions (6:30 PM), and a time of worship (7:30 PM).  The evening will not dwell on business sessions or theological debates –  just brothers and sisters in Christ encouraging one another to walk in a manner worthy of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1).

I hope that we can embrace and turn out for gatherings like these—not just because these are partner organizations which we support and which it therefore behooves us to understand—but because there are at least a couple of key truths that our relationship with these partners underscores.

First, they remind us that we are a body. When we give our hearts and lives to Jesus, we do more than make a decision that brings us personal spiritual blessings. We get incorporated into the Church (and not just a church—as in Calvary Baptist Church—but THE CHURCH: the one great family of faith that spans every tribe and nation and people and language and generation and denomination and theological persuasion…) and as members of The Church, we belong to each other. We need the gifts that others offer, and they need ours…even when we have varying opinions about worship and church leadership and the fine points of various theological debates.

Second, gatherings like these remind us that the mission is bigger than we are. We have been sent to seek and to save the world that God so loves. And no one person…no one congregation…no one association…not even one denomination…is ever going to be able to fulfill that mission alone. It takes all kinds people…all kinds of approaches…and all kinds of styles and emphases. As a result, we do well to partner with others (and not just with our dollars, but also with our prayers and our hands-on ministry) because when we do so, we take one more step toward accomplishing the grander purpose for which we exist.

Come to think of it, these aren’t bad principles for us to keep in mind as we nurture our partnerships within the family that we call Calvary Baptist Church. We are a body…and the mission is bigger than we are. And so it takes all kinds of folks—folks who like traditional worship and folks who like contemporary worship…folks who like the SBC and folks who like the CBF…folks who are financially secure and folks who are financially struggling…folks who need grace and…(well, that includes all of us, don’t you think?)—it takes all of us to be the Christ-centered, caring church that God has called us to be.

I’m so thankful to be part of this body, and I can’t wait to see all the things that God will do within and among and through us as we partner in mission together. May God bring us together around the cross of our Savior, and may His love compel us to offer our lives to Him, to each other, and to the mission that we share.

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The Youth in All of Us

Some of you may not know this, but I’ve been “pinch-hitting” as the Calvary Baptist youth minister recently. Of course, I don’t want to make that sound like a bigger deal than it is. Mostly, I’ve just been leading some Bible study with our young people and working with our adult volunteers to coordinate some youth activities, and—in all honesty—if it weren’t for the dedication and the passion that those volunteers bring to the effort, I wouldn’t be able to manage even that. But still, it has been an important part of my overall ministry during these early days at Calvary…and so I wanted you to know about it.

On the one hand, I’m incredibly grateful for this time that I’m getting to spend with our middle school and high school students. It helps me get to know them and their families; and hopefully, it lets them know that they are just as ‘worthy’ of the pastor’s attention—and just as important to our church’s health and growth—as anybody else is. On the other hand, having the chance to be with our youth in this way makes me aware of how far I fall short of what they need. Not only do these ‘young-adults-in-the-making’ have special needs and concerns that could be better addressed by someone with the training and the passions to do so. They also need someone who has the time to be with them, to pay close attention to them, and to invest in them in a way that I can’t manage amid the other duties that I deal with as pastor.

That’s why I’m thrilled that our church is “fixin’ to get ready” to begin a search for a new youth minister. As I think you’ll see when our finance committee presents next year’s budget proposal, the recommendation is being made that we include money for a youth minister salary. By the time you read this article, our youth council and personnel committee will have met to develop an “initial profile” for the youth minister we’ll seek. And very soon, you’ll be invited to participate in a Q&A session in which you’ll have a chance to tweak that profile before any youth minister search begins.

I share all this with you partly to keep you in the loop…and partly to ask you to pray for the process as it unfolds. But even more, I share this with you in order to remind you that this is our process. You may or may not have a child who was, is or will be a participant in Calvary’s youth ministry; but these are still our young people. They are “the youth in all of us.” And since they are an integral part of this Body of Christ, we should care deeply about how they come to faith…how they grow in faith…and how they express their faith in ways that expand God’s kingdom.

 

Of course, “caring deeply” for our youth involves more than just making sure they have a youth minister (as important as that it). Perhaps even more, it involves connecting with them in ways that help them understand their value in the eyes of God. It means getting to know them and praying for them and encouraging them. After all, there may be few gifts you’ll ever give that have as much eternal value as taking the time to help a young person experience God’s love. I know, because I was the recipient of just such a gift.

I know from my own experience and from the testimony of many others how wonderfully God worked to bring me and Calvary Baptist together so that I could serve this church family as pastor. Won’t you join me in praying that God will work again to lead us toward the individual who can join our church family and nurture the youth in all of us?

Our Love for God’s People

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,
because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people.
(Ephesians 1:4)

One of the things that has brought me great joy during these early months of my ministry here at Calvary has been discovering the unmistakable love that the members of our church have for one another. Ours is a congregation in which you can tell that people genuinely care about one another…and go out of their way to serve one another. This, of course, is what we’re called to do—both by biblical command and by the example given to us in our Savior Jesus. And so I think that it’s important to celebrate that love…and to let you all know how grateful I am to have become a part of a fellowship in which people are “living out” the good news in such beautiful and tangible ways.

At the same time, I am constantly reminded of how God is always inviting us to “expand the boundaries” of our love. I had a very meaningful visit recently with the daughter of one of our church members. This particular member is no longer able to participate in the activities of our congregation because of her health…and her daughter is caring for her, even though doing so exacts a fairly significant emotional toll. As we talked, it became clear that the daughter feels at least like her mother has been somewhat forgotten by the church family. And while there may be some very legitimate reasons that the number of cards and calls and visits has declined over time…it still made me aware of what an awesome privilege and responsibility it is for us to love this sister in Christ—in practical and faithful ways—to say nothing of the opportunities we have to extend love to her daughter, who I’m sure could use some additional encouragement and support.

Or consider a different example. We’ve been blessed in recent weeks to have quite a few guests joining us for worship on Sunday mornings. And I have no doubt that members of our church have been greeting them warmly and doing everything we can to help them feel at home. But let’s face it: so often at church we find ourselves trying to catch up with the friends we know…or we’re tracking people down to ask questions about various church ministries. And once we leave church, we’ve got busy lives! There are jobs to do and families to care for and chores to get done. Who has the time and energy to make “following up with guests” a high priority? But how might God bless us as we “expand the boundaries” of our love for these potential brothers and sisters in Christ? How might we be blessed if we took a few extra minutes to get to know them at a deeper level? How might they be blessed if we invited them out to lunch after worship…or gave them a quick call during the week? Acts such as these would take some effort, to be sure. But hasn’t Christ done so much more for us in order to bring us within the boundaries of God’s amazing love?

As I’ve been preparing to lead some conversations about our church mission statement on upcoming Wednesday nights, I’ve been asking myself if there’s a small phrase that captures the heart of what our church (or any church) is called to do. So far, I like this: Expanding God’s Embrace. May our love for each other—and for others—continue to lead people into the open arms of their Heavenly Father.

Oh, Rapture!

As I write this, it’s about 4 o’clock in the afternoon on May 21, 2011—the day that some Christian ministries have been proclaiming for months as the guaranteed day that Jesus will return to take His faithful home. Since my latest look at CNN.com shows no indications of sudden theophanies or mass disappearances of believers – departing for heavenly glory, I’m figuring that Jesus has only about 8 more hours to put in an appearance before this latest cadre of End-Times prognosticators is shown to be just as mistaken as all those who have gone before them have been. [Of course, to be fair, there are several others time zones where the end of May 21st will come later than 8 hours from now. So technically, I guess that Jesus may have a little more time than that.]

Now just on the off chance that the Rapture doesn’t take place—and all of us are still here on May 22nd—I can’t say that I’ll be surprised. I suppose that I have to count myself among those Christians who tend to think—that since Jesus himself said “only the Father” knew the day and hour of his return—it doesn’t do much good for us to burn much energy making predictions. Then again, I also can’t say that I’ll be especially pleased. After all, as one song puts it: “If we ever needed the Lord before, we sure do need Him now.” Given the level of violence and hatred and mistrust and unfaithfulness in the world, I actually do long for the day when Christ returns and “God makes all things new.” However, assuming that we’re all still here tomorrow, I think that what I will feel is hopeful—hopeful that with this little sideshow behind us we can focus once again on being rich in love, faithful in prayer, and dedicated to living in such a way that “God’s kingdom comes and God’s will gets done on earth as it is in heaven.”

So while I do look forward to that day when God completes the “redemption and restoration” mission the He began in Christ (although I have no clue when or how that time of completion will come), perhaps I can pray for now that the Rapture will come a little every day, as faithful followers of Jesus make his presence a little more clear in the world through their words and lives.

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.

Lovely Feet or Loose Lips

“How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news.”

The Prophet Isaiah, Ancient Israel

“Loose Lips Sink Ships.”

US Civil Defense Slogan, World War 2

I don’t know how many of you are aware of it, but we recently received word in the church office that Calvary Baptist had been named the recipient of a 2011 “Mountie Award.” This means that our congregation was chosen by readers of the Mount Airy News as the Surry County area’s “Best Church.” Naturally, I’d like to be able to say that this has something to do with the arrival of our handsome and talented new pastor (wink, wink)…but the voting on this year’s Mountie Awards clearly took place before I came on the scene. So I guess the best thing I can say is, “Congratulations, Calvary Baptist! You have been ‘letting your light shine’ in such a way that those around you have seen your good works and are glorifying your Father in heaven”…or at least…“They’ve seen your good works and are giving you an award (which doesn’t sound quite as biblical, but which is nice, all the same).”

Now somewhat ironically, in the very same week that we received news about the Mountie Award, I received a phone call from someone who had a very different impression of our church. This individual apparently had what I’ll describe as an “unpleasant encounter” with someone from our congregation, and—when she combined her impressions of this encounter with some unresolved feelings that she had from a prior experience—this was enough to make her question whether we had any true Christians in our midst at all.

In the end, of course, the truth of our church’s character is probably somewhere in between these two poles. We are likely not as good as our ‘best press’ would suggest…nor are we as bad as our ‘worst detractors’ would insist. Our church—like each of us individually—is a sometimes-frustrating mixture of sinner and saint. And perhaps the best we can pray for is that we’re slowly but surely making some kind of progress toward greater Christ-likeness.

But having these two interactions so close together has reminded me (as I hope it will remind all of us) that we are being watched. Whether we realize it or not…whether we like it or not…people are observing our behavior and listening to our words. And they are drawing conclusions—not only about us but also about the Savior we serve—based on what they see.

So what will we show them? Lovely feet that bring good news? Or loose lips that sink ships?

May we aspire to live in such a way that everything we do—in thought word and deed—is done in the name of the Lord Jesus. And may the warm glow of our fellowship cast such an appealing light that others are drawn to the beauty of Christ, who loves us and gave himself for us.