As most of you know, Pastor Brad tested positive for COVID 19 this Thursday (September 24th). He is doing ok, but per medical protocol, both his family and anyone that he came into contact with has to be quarantined for 10 or 14 days, including all of our office staff (contact is defined at proximity of 6 feet or closer for 15 minutes on the day he first felt symptoms on Wednesday). Bro Keith Weatherly will be preaching and Jackson Dronebarger will be leading us in worship on Sunday.
All of the appropriate people have been notified and our facility will be thoroughly cleaned. To be on the safe side, we will be meeting over the next 2 weeks for worship service at the pavilion. We hope this will answer your questions, ease your concerns, and get us all ready to make the most of our gathering this Sunday.
If you are considered high risk, please consider the medical protocol that is recommended for your circumstance and feel free to utilize our online option that will be available at 6:00p.m. on Sunday night. Every person/family, please make the best decision for yourself/yourselves.
If you are feeling sick or have or have had a temperature in the past few days, please stay home for the safety of others. Obviously, please do not attend if you have have tested positive and have not been cleared as recovered.
If you have been in contact in the last 14 days with someone that has tested positive for COVID-19, we encourage you to watch our online worship service instead of the public gathering.
Volunteers will be wearing masks before and after the service. Masks are not required for this outdoor service, however, in consideration of our attendees, volunteers will be wearing them while assisting our members.
Hand Sanitizer Stations will be set up around the pavilion for your convenience. Feel free to utilize those, or bring some with you.
We desire for our outside service to be reverent in worship (in our heart’s attitude to God) but casual and comfortable in atmosphere. Please dress casually, as you see fit, for an outdoor service in the sun.
Restrooms will be available at the pavilion. We ask that only one person use the restroom at a time. Our service is only one hour long, so we suggest using the restroom before you come to church.
Worship Service Details:
Our Worship service will be from 10:00am – 11:00am. We will intentionally keep our service short for a number of reasons (outdoor setting, no child care, etc…). We encourage you to arrive from 9:30am – 9:55am so that we will be in place and ready to start promptly at 10:00am sharp.
You can join us under the pavilion, or be seated in the field surrounding the pavilion. We are making every effort to provide folks with the opportunity to worship while keeping with social distancing guidelines.
Seating under the pavilion will be limited. Our chairs will be sanitized and spread out. The seats will be grouped together so families can sit together while maintaining appropriate social distance from others. Seating is not reserved, however, we want to be very mindful of our senior adults who may have a difficult time sitting in the field around the pavilion.
The best option for many will be sitting in the field surrounding the pavilion. Please bring your own chairs, or a blanket for your family. You may seat yourself on the lawn, but please be mindful of distance between family units (at least 6ft).
Kids will remain with families for the duration of the service. We will not be offering children’s church or nursery at this time. Feel free to bring blankets, strollers, toys, snacks, books, or whatever may be needed to make it a more comfortable experience.
Our service at the pavilion is weather permitting. We will be keeping an eye on the weather, but right now, the forecast looks beautiful! If service must be cancelled due to weather, that decision will be made as early as possible, and we will move our worship service to online only. That decision will be announced through all of our different communication channels.
If you are not able to attend, or do not feel comfortable gathering, our worship service will be recorded and posted online at our website, FBC Streaming Youtube Channel, and FBC Facebook Page by 6:00pm on Sunday night. We love you and are praying for you and your families.Please let us know if you have any other questions or if you would like to serve on one of our teams that helps facilitate these plans. We need plenty of servants!
Tomorrow is the first day of school here in White County, TN…and this has to go down as one of the craziest school starts since the modern U.S. educational system began. Teachers, administrators, office professionals, aids, food service workers, cleaning personnel, coaches all are wondering what things will actually be like. I, like them, have no idea, but we can trust the Holy Spirit to equip and lead. This morning two words leapt to my attention that I believe to be for you who are tasked with education:
In context it says: “…I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me…one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:12b, 13b-14 NKJV
I realize that the ultimate goal and purpose in this passage is for us to press on to know Jesus more fully and surrender to Him more completely, but I believe for you who are tasked with the education of children and teens God has called you to that task as well. So press on. Things are not as they have been in the past, but press to the goal of fulfilling the Godly purpose of influencing the next generation with excellence, even in these wacky days.
We are excited to announce to you that we are moving to Phase 3 in our COVID-19 Reopening Plan. In Phase 3, will be having 2 corporate worship services on Sunday mornings, one at 9:00am and one at 11:00amstarting this Sunday, June 14th. Please see the attached document and video for more guidelines for this Sunday’s services. Please let us know if you have any questions, and we look forward to seeing this Sunday, Lord willing.
“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” – Psalm 27:13-14 ESV
There is a scene in the movie, Prince Caspian that strikes fear in me every time I see it. It occurs when the discussion of what course of action should be taken by those who follow Aslan. King Peter speaks, full of selfish pride, “I think we’ve waited for Aslan long enough!” He’s tired of waiting and ready to do something, anything, to get out of their hiding place and dare I say it, “get back to normal”?
We, those who follow King Jesus, are feeling much like King Peter, and rightfully so. These last weeks of dealing with COVID-19 have been for some, a nuisance, and for others, grief inducing and life-altering. Where I live, there has not been a lot of sickness, but in two neighboring counties hundreds have been affected and Nashville, TN and Southaven, MS (cities in which my family formerly lived) have had many more cases than that.
Speaking of Nashville and Southaven, both the churches I was called to help lead, as well as FBC Sparta, where I currently serve, have all experienced tension (mostly in the past) about preference in the “style” of worship music that the church used in their weekly worship gatherings. I don’t want to go too far down this rabbit hole, but I see a connection between “my worship style” and the response of our hearts to this crisis. If there is one thing that’s for certain in our very individualized society, it’s that everyone has a couple opinions, and as one comedian said, they’re like armpits…sometimes they stink. 😉 I see this all the time when it comes to music in the Church. Let’s face it, any one of us can listen to whatever music we want, whenever we want, on our computers, smartphones and devices. Therefore, the Sunday worship gathering of your local church will never be exactly “my worship style” and it shouldn’t be. It’s not about you. It’s about God’s people gathering TOGETHER to make much of Jesus and celebrate Him who has saved a diverse group of sinners like us and made us into His people by grace. So when we come together to worship Jesus corporately, we must check our preferences at the door in order to give honor to Jesus and also to prefer our brothers and sisters. Remember those are the two greatest commandments: to love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-40).
So what does this have to do with your churches’ response to the current crisis? All you have to do is ask 3 people their opinion about how your church should maneuver these days of distancing and fear to realize that everyone has an opinion. That’s not wrong. Just like we tend to listen to different music, we also look to different voices to inform ourselves. Additionally, we each have a way we tend to respond, even before we have information. Some of us tend to move slowly. Some of us tend to jump into things quickly. Some love the newest innovations and some hate them. Some struggle with fear. Others struggle with false confidence in the flesh. So what do we do?
First, wait on the Lord. Before those of you who are action-oriented click off this article, hear me out. This waiting is not passive. To wait on the Lord means to actively seek Him and His direction in a focused way, believing that He knows what He’s doing and that He will accomplish everything that is in His heart in His way and in His time…and He will make clear to you His agenda for you during this season. It may be that He wants to give you faith to step out in obedience without fear. It may be that He wants you to stop looking at what others are doing or not doing, saying or not saying, and take a long look at your heart. Whatever it is, He will lead you to it. Come to Him (without an agenda) in prayer and open His Word and let Him speak specifically to you.
Secondly, trust that God will guide His Church through these days. Pray for a fresh awareness of others as we step toward “Normal” together. Your opinion is important, but it’s not ultimate. Listen more than you speak. Wait on the Lord, and worship. He will lead us.
I remember when I turned 16 years old and my parents surprised me with my first vehicle. It was a used, factory model, 1992 white Ford Ranger pickup truck with a purple stripe down the side. I thought it was the coolest truck that I’d ever seen. It was manual, had a bed liner, and a little tint to the windows. I believed it was a unique purchase, different than all other vehicles on the road. To my astonishment, I soon noticed many similar trucks that littered the streets.
Over this past year, God has directed me to study His Word by tracing the theme of sorrow and lament. Lament literally means “an expression of grief or sorrow” and is a prayer in the form of a complaint against God. It is an acknowledgement of one’s bleak situation, his desperation for deliverance, and an appeal to the very character of God. A lament gives believers the rhetorical tools to grieve biblically, which leads to worship and the comfort of our Heavenly Father. It is illustrated throughout the pages of God’s Word. Instead of a thin veneer, biblical lament offers us something more substantial, more weighty, more enduring and less circumstantial. Christians in the West need this example today. FBC Sparta needs this example during this season. God knows our thoughts, fears, and grief (Ps. 139). The Lord wants us to cast our burdens on Him (Ps. 55:22). In fact, it’s the very valley of the shadow of death that He promises to walk through with us (Ps. 23).
I know what you are probably thinking. This pastor really seems like a ray of sunshine. Actually, I tend to be very hopeful and positive. In fact, I once had a friend in seminary who told me that I was “optimistic to the point of delusion.” Now, I am not certain to this day if he intended that to be a rebuke or an encouragement, but I decided to interpret it as the latter. Regardless of his intent, the point is that my God-given bend is toward happiness, rather than melancholy. Now, don’t get me wrong, I get discouraged and experience sadness like everyone else, but it is not my typical mood. Recently, as I have searched the Scriptures, I have been bombarded by the constant refrain of suffering, sorrow, lament, and comfort. Throughout this journey, I have become increasingly convinced that this is a predominant theme of God’s redemptive plan. Just like my white Ford Ranger, it is everywhere.
So why am I telling you this during the depressing season of COVID-19, where the last thing we seemingly need is someone being downcast? It is because, after my studies, I am equally convinced that the modern-day American church knows very little about biblical lament. In fact, we tend to avoid it at all cost, and in so doing, miss out on God’s ordained provision for our soul’s sorrow (2 Cor. 1). We don’t preach on it, even though there are more psalms of lament than any other poetic theme in the book of Psalms, and a whole book is written on this, Lamentations, by the weeping prophet (Jeremiah). We don’t sing about lament, even though Jesus Himself models it (Matt. 23:37-39, etc.) and we find laments from Genesis to Revelation. The American church has a vacuum in this area of biblical application, and it does not serve us well in times like our current one.
Life is hard, really hard. The clear story of the Bible tells us this fact. Beginning in Genesis 3, man’s sin unleashed an unceasing fury on creation that remains to this day. It will not relent until Christ returns again (Rev. 19). Unlike the popular Hallmark Channel movies that are clean and tidy, our world is messy and 21st Century Christians do not like this fact. Pain, suffering, and sorrow make us uncomfortable and they should, on the one hand. Before sin entered the world, there was no sorrow. However, following Adam and Eve’s blight, we see throughout the Bible, church history, and our very lives, that sadness is a constant companion (Jn. 16:33). It stings. Our hearts get pulverized in this fallen world. Yet, thankfully, the Good news of Scripture is that a Redeemer has come to restore what sin has broken. Jesus did this by being the perfect sacrifice for sin on the cross and raising victoriously from the grave, beating sin, Satan and death. All who trust in Jesus, receive forgiveness of sins and inherit eternal life. The brokenness in our relationship with God is made right (Col. 1). Jesus then dwells in us (2 Cor. 13:5) and becomes our refuge (Ps. 46).
Instead of utilizing God’s remedy for suffering (Himself) (Matt. 11:28), we tend to create anesthetics for the pain. Some create a false gospel, like the prosperity gospel that denies the reality of suffering, distorts the character of God, and makes positive thinking a synonym for faith (which is a lie from hell). Other Christians run to the idolatry of self-reliance, money, and politics to provide a false sense of security and control. Still, others turn to drugs, alcohol, sexual immorality, etc. to try to numb the pain. Perhaps most tragic are those who search for hope and find none, desperately choosing death by suicide.
In rural Southern America (places like Sparta), comfort and peace can be cultural idols. We sometimes worship peace, even though it is often superficial, shallow, and fake. Many people retire to our community to experience this ideal and flee the suffering and pain of their lives. We, in small communities, hate turmoil and difficulty and will avoid it ferociously. So when it comes to a crisis like the season of COVID-19, Christ-followers and rural churches are tempted to downplay the severity of such a pandemic. Leaders can do this by attempting to placate those around us with slogans and slavishly returning to a comfortable and expected way of doing things. We are tempted to ignore a global economic collapse, a world that has been ravaged by this disease, and the carnage that is left in its wake. We will traffic in conspiracy theories and political science equations; meanwhile, we neglect the very means by which God desires to comfort us. By distancing ourselves from the pain in our world, we can experience a form of fluctuating peace, but what we need is a peace that is one that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7), and can only be found in the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6)!
In one of my favorite quotes by G.K. Chesterton, he writes, “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.” I think that Chesterton was on to something there.
We will get through this horrific time in our world and nation, but not by minimizing the reality of its awfulness. People know that it is awful. Christians will triumph in hope when we hold up a big God who is good, wise, and sovereign over all things against the backdrop of this global crisis. We give hope to our community, not by pointing them to an upcoming political election, showing them the green arrows on the stock market ticker tape, or by pacifying them with a watered-down pop psychology that claims to be truth. We give hope to ourselves and the Upper Cumberland when we proclaim that this earth is not our home (1 Pt. 2:11-12). We remind them to count all trials as joy (Js. 1:2), to share in Christ’s suffering (1 Pt. 4:13), and to look forward to an eternal glory that makes this pain pale in comparison (2 Cor. 4:17). Let us lift high a resurrected King Jesus (Jn. 11:25-26), the Man of sorrows (Is. 53:3), who will one day return on a white horse that will tread in the blood of His enemies up to the bridle (Rev. 19). The Good Shepherd loves us and walks with us through these trials (Ps. 23); He gives grace to us that desperately depend upon Him (Js. 4:6). Jesus Christ, who has heard all of our laments as our perfect High Priest and has lamented to God the Father on our behalf (Heb. 7:25-28), is coming back. Tell the world about the Christ, who will be the very One to make all things right (Rev. 21:5) by crushing Satan under foot (Rom. 16:20). He will wipe away every tear and sorrow shall be no more (Rev. 21:4). Let that be our message, a hope that is not a what, but a Who!
I love you and am praying for you! Keep making much of Jesus, FBC Sparta!
As I watched the Governor of Tennessee, Bill Lee’s Covid-19 press conference a couple of weeks ago, I was deeply sobered by the reality that is currently transpiring. He eloquently articulated the details of the mental and emotional health crisis that looms largely in our horizon. The governor said that one one day this month, there were nine deaths by suicide, in Knox County alone. Because of a fear of sickness, economic uncertainty, relational challenges and overwhelming grief, we will continue to see these types of tragedies. To think about such a thought is suffocating. As I reflected on the Tennessee Governor’s words, I thought about the widespread sadness that is being experienced because of the coronavirus global pandemic. All humanity is being ravaged by a common threat that is no respecter of persons. It does not give preference to race, age, religion, educational degrees, socioeconomic levels, etc. This virus Tsunami is vast and wide. It doesn’t yield to national borders, nor is it confined only to highly populated regions. In a matter of weeks, our world has abruptly screeched to a halt, leaving a wake of carnage behind.
As you know, Jerry & Tracey Lowery, among others, recently traveled to the Holy Land. There, they were impacted by the modern and ancient usage of the Hebrew word, shalom. During the same week that I watched the governor’s press conference, I watched Jerry’s vlog on “shalom.” In the video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBaV1Wa7hAQ&feature=youtu.be ), he reminded his audience of the beauty encapsulated in the word, shalom. In ancient Hebrew, shalom means wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety and prosperity, carrying with it the implication of permanence. Ancient Jewish culture understood what this concept of shalom meant, as have Christians throughout the ages. It means peace with God, fellow man, and self. Ultimately, righteousness brings peace and sin brings strife and unrest. Shalom can be translated to the word, peace, but the fullness of shalom is only partially realized when doing so.
Not having shalom means that people without it are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Not only do we need the “shalom that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) for ourselves, as Christ followers, but our world needs the church to be the light of Shalom, in these days of COVID 19 horror. We need the shalom of Christ when “all around our souls give way,” because in this season, people are losing their jobs, retirement, fortunes, and family members to this awful disease.
I am 4 weeks removed from a chemotherapy infusion treatment called Lemtrada, which is used as a treatment for those suffering from multiple sclerosis, a chronic disorder that I happen to have. Due to this therapy, I have no immunity. My doctor has ordered me and my family to be restricted to what I call, “bubble quarantine.” Bubble is an added, made-up descriptor (that I borrowed from the 70’s Cher movie, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble) that denotes complete separation from the outside world. It’s a bit like the Hotel California for my wife, four boys, our black labradoodle, Reggie and myself. We checked in four weeks ago and can never leave, or at least not for 8 weeks. My parents bring supplies and food to place on our front porch daily. When they leave, Elicia goes out and wipes everything down before bringing it inside. This is an incredibly strange way to live as we were created for close community with others and to express our love for family and loved ones with physical affection.
Social distancing has changed the normal means of caring for others drastically! Perhaps the most devastating instances are those of individuals quarantined to a death bed alone. While a necessary social distancing requirement, it strips the normal means of caring for and grieving with others in end of life situations. Furthermore, funerals are beneficial for both grieving the loss of a loved one and for receiving comfort for others. Now, in the days of coronavirus, there are no funerals, only harsh, abrupt endings. This pandemic has provided great opportunity for dark clouds of the soul to overwhelm us. Without shalom, in times like this, people will lean on other means of being comforted. They will look to sources like substance abuse, addiction, and soul-crushing, sinful relationships to numb the grief they bear. We need shalom. Our world needs shalom, right now. The only true shalom comes from repentance and faith in the Prince of Shalom. He alone lived a sinless life, died a sinner’s death, and rose again. If you do not have shalom, call out to the One who can give it freely. If you are without hope, please reach out to me or someone you know that has a relationship with Jesus. The same Savior who called out to the raging storm at the Sea of Galilee by saying, “shalom, be still” and made it submit, is the same One who can calm our restless hearts. Jesus is the One in whom even the wind and the waves obey. He’s the same One who can heal any disease by tossing it into the abyss, and He’s the same One who will one day return to make all things right. Jesus will set up His eternal kingdom, where peace will reign forever and His enemies will be crushed under foot. So in the time between times, may we look expectantly to the hope of eternal peace. When we truly know the shalom of Christ, we will be able to say in a triumphant voice, “when peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say: it is well, it is well with my soul.”
Let’s seek and savor Christ, FBC family! He will never fail us. I love you, and it is a joy to be one of your pastors!
“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
May we, as a church family, never cease “to offer up a sacrifice of praise to God” for all that He is doing in our midst during this COVID-19 season. God’s faithfulness has been evident in the sweet spirit and fellowship that we have enjoyed over the past few weeks, even during the days of social distancing.
As a senior pastor who is on an absolute medical quarantine (our family cannot come into contact with any other people, which means no one is able to come into our home and we’re not allowed to leave) for 8 weeks (we’re 3 1/2 weeks in), I have a unique perspective. From my viewpoint, it has been incredible to see the beauty of the body of Christ at FBC Sparta. In this post, I’d like to take just a few moments to offer up, what has been framed as “evidences of God’s grace.” That is, I will be attempting to list just a few of the ways in which I’ve seen the Lord working in our midst and reasons for which we should offer Him praise and thanksgiving during this season.
First, I’ve seen our amazing staff working around the clock (they always work hard, by the way) to establish ways for our faith family to connect with God, with His people and with His mission. When I was first called to FBC, I told our Pastoral Search Committee that one of the tangible areas that our church needed to address was our infrastructure. This is the establishment and maintenance of all of our church’s policies, procedures, tools, structures, systems, etc. While the “fruit work” is the essence of what we are called to do (as seen in our mission statement), by making disciples of all nations through Christ-centered worship, Christ-centered service and Christ-centered gospel proclamation, “trellis work” is also essential. If a vine doesn’t have an adequate trellis (infrastructure), then the fruit will often fall to the ground and rot or will be eaten by bugs and animals. In church and ministry life, discipleship, evangelism, prayer and the ministry of the Word are primary tasks, but without adequate structure, communication, and organization, people and ministry fall through the cracks. FBC Sparta has seen amazing seasons of fruit work and has established infrastructure at different times; however, much of the infrastructure was tied to personnel, rather than implemented into our church culture. Therefore, each time a new staff member was added, they would have to begin from the foundation, building up a new organizational structure. When this trellis is not utilized, understood, and maintained by the church (as well as the staff), then each pastoral change introduces a reset. It has been our current staff’s desire to establish infrastructure, implement tools and form maintenance that will outlast any certain staff member or pastor. Due to our time being monopolized by various challenges, forming our new staff team and establishing our fruit work, our progress in infrastructure development has taken a backseat.
While the state’s mandate on social distancing brought our gathering services, ministries and events to a screeching halt nearly a month ago, ministry, for our staff, has been taken to another level. Not only has our staff been busy figuring out how to establish means of ministry under our temporary restrictions, our team has been diligent to address our many organizational needs. In the week that I was in Alabama receiving a chemo treatment for M.S., Pastor Kevin, Pastor Jon and Mrs. Debby had begun to advance much of our planned administrative agenda for the year. The temporary reallocation of ministry events afforded the opportunity for us to work on administration. We praise the Lord for this and we believe that this will help our church be more faithful and fruitful.
One of the exciting initiatives our team embarked on was to establish our people management software, ACS Realm. Our church has moved to a new kind of church record keeping solution called Realm®. In the past, FBC had used a computer system that was on floppy discs. After this, as far as we could tell, the primary means of people management was an Excel spreadsheet, periodic church directories and a binder with physical decision cards. Obviously, this management system presented many problems. Among them, were dated information that was rarely updated, a lack of usability for church members and little accessibility for staff and leaders to utilize for ministry purposes. While this new system primarily serves the administrative needs of our staff, it also offers some exciting opportunities to support the way that you are involved in our church. It will make it easier for our church family to connect with each other, keep up with what’s going on, and grow as a connected community of believers. Each member will have access to update (at any time) their information in our database. Furthermore, each member and family will be able to access and connect with our faith family through ACS Realm’s web page and/or the ACS Realm Shepherd app. This will essentially be an accessible, editable and digital online directory. It will have additional staff/leader-only portal’s to help us communicate ministry and family needs that will only be viewable by staff/leadership. ACS Realm also tracks attendance, maintains roles and communicates to certain groups, among other things.
To address communication needs, we have re-initiated our First Baptist Church’s Monthly Newsletter and calendar, started a staff blog, and implemented an all call/text tool that gives our church’s pertinent information via phone messages or texts. Also, to serve our people, we have placed our recorded online worship services at various virtual platforms. They can be accessed on the FBC Sparta Facebook Page, at www.fbcsparta.org under the “sermons” link, and on the “FBC Sparta Streaming” YouTube Channel. In addition, we are attempting to post regular encouragement through Twitter and Facebook videos and posts.
For some time, our trustees and financial team have been looking at providing our church with a digital online giving platform. In the last couple of weeks, we have implemented online giving options that will not only serve us well in this COVID-19 season, but they will serve us moving forward in a digital 21st century. Our faith family can give a one time gift or set up reoccurring giving. Giving online is easy, secure and only takes a few minutes to set up. You can participate by going to http://fbcsparta.org/giving or by going to the home page and clicking the “giving”tab. You can also give by text message. Simply text FBCSPARTA to 73256 to give your Tithes & Offerings. Giving online is easy and only takes a few minutes to set up. The other way to give is by downloading the ACS Realm Giving App. These are just a few of the ways that God has enabled our staff, committees and members to serve our faith family during this season.
Other evidences of grace that I’ve witnessed during this season are that your hearts and ears have been eager to hear the Word and your hands have been diligent to apply it. Through much transition, God has preserved a spirit of unity and oneness. Even in this time of “sheltering at home,” The Lord has been working in marriages and calling believers back to Himself in repentance. He is saving new believers and restoring hope in others. We have seen incredible ministry through our disaster relief team serving families and individuals in our community that have been affected by storms. I’ve witnessed our Loaves and Fishes Ministry adjust to continue meeting the needs of our community, while ensuring the safety of our volunteers. We’ve witnessed our ladies’ ministry sew masks to distribute to medical workers throughout the region. They are demonstrating the love of Christ by meeting an incredible need. I’ve even had medical workers to call me in order to request other masks to be made.
Our deacons have been busy checking on, praying for and ministering to our members during this time of isolation. Our deacons have served in disaster relief, met the new media demands, made sure that our children and student ministries continue, and copied and distributed DVD’s of our services for those who have requested them. Our financial committees (trustees, treasurer, financial secretary, and the budget and finance committee) have worked diligently to ensure that our church’s financial system adapts to the new gathering restrictions, that financial obligations are met and that communication among leadership and the congregation continues smoothly. Other committees have met, via an online meeting program called Zoom, to meet deadlines for committee responsibilities. We’ve been able to help address some benevolence needs that have arisen. Our people have been enthusiastically sharing their faith with all of their social media contacts. Our music ministry has continually met to encourage one another on Wednesday nights, as have our students through their “Youth Group Online” meeting time. Our ladies’ ministry has continued on in an inductive study of Ephesians and have been meeting weekly to encourage one another with what they are learning. Our prayer ministry reconvened last Tuesday, and our prayer warriors have fervently sought the Lord on behalf of our church. As someone eloquently stated, the church has not been stopped, it’s been deployed. While our online gathering services aren’t a replacement, and this season is far from ideal, I am so encouraged as your pastor that we have not stopped the work of the ministry. When the apostle Paul was placed in prison, he shared his faith with his fellow prisoners and prison guards. When he was on house arrest, he ministered through letters. First Baptist Church, in 2020 during a global pandemic that has required us to stay “safer at home” and not to congregate, I’ve seen you rise up and make much of Jesus! I praise God for this. As Pastor Kevin challenged us in one of his sermons from Philippians, we are to thrive in isolation during this season. We do this by leaning into the grace of God in Christ, devotionally pursuing Him and seeking to overflow into our relationships (virtual or physical) with others.
I could go on and on about other evidences of grace, like how you gave more financially on the first week of April than is normal. I could speak about how joyful, sacrificial giving is emanating from our congregation during an economic downturn. My encouragement to you is to make a list of evidences of grace that you see. What are answers to prayer that you need to thank God for and how have you seen Him working? Make a list and share it with others. This is how we offer a sacrifice of praise to the One who is worthy of it! Make much of Jesus this week, church! I love you and it is an honor to be one of your pastors.
I am kind of rethinking this whole “stay-at-home” deal. Don’t get me wrong, I am in support of doing whatever is necessary to slow the spread of this virus. I’m thinking more in regards to our life in general. At the beginning of all this, the first few days the Rushings were forced to be at home, my soul felt a confusing relief that was honestly more powerful than the disappointment of not leading worship or being with folks in our normal rhythm. Then there was the novelty of figuring out how to minister and meet and communicate, etc. Now it seems that things are getting dangerously close to the same pace as pre-corona, just using online means to be together. I’m thinking and praying about what this is and how we are to respond. I have been reminded that
“…Jesus told His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?'” (Matthew 16:24-26 ESV)
I don’t want to waste this season, but I don’t think the answer is activity (online or otherwise). What about your soul? Certainly that applies to those who have not surrendered to Jesus as Lord and Savior, but for us who know Him, what about your soul? Is it well? Healthy? Sick? Tired? Haggard? Is your soul searching for something to numb your sensitivity? Sensitivity to your own need? God meets us in that sensitive place. We are truly not alone because He is pursuing us in the busyiness and in the quiet. What if this week, as we approach Resurrection Sunday God is pursuing you because He wants to calibrate us into His way. His rhythm of life. Life!
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG)
I pray your weekend of remembering the death and resurrection of our Savior is sweet and full of life for your soul.
In my sermon yesterday, I made you the promise of a blog post today. I will make it short and sweet. We have to fight hard to be in the Word and to keep a godly perspective these days. Everyone is at home. Everyone is in transition. Everyone has social media. Everyone has an opinion. As God’s people, let’s make a commitment to listen to God first by spending time reflecting on His Word! So on Monday of Holy Week, what is your plan? If you already have a plan to immerse yourself in the Word, that’s fantastic! If not, let me suggest a free online resource to get your week started off in a godward direction.
This is a free resource available from Desiring God and Crossway. Simply click the link below and you will have the option to read online as an ebook, or download the pdf to your computer or device. You can even go “old school” like me, and print it out and put it in a binder. I pray this will be a blessing to you church family. Whether or not you use this particular devotional matters very little to me. What matters most is that you are in the Word, filled up with God’s truth, and ready to hold it forth to those in need. Keep seeking Jesus!