2023 May news-letter article
What do you think of when you read the word “discipleship”? If you were dyed-in-the-wool as a member of a baptist church in the 1960s – like my grand-parents, you might think it was a class you attended Sunday afternoons at 4:30. “Discipleship Training” took place before the evening worship service at my home church in Greensboro; I think during children’s choir and youth choir practices that my mother was forced against her will to attend. The older term some of you might still be familiar with: Training Union! Discipleship Training, or Training Union, was a good program of Christian education teaching the importance of a personal prayer life, bible study, and evangelism. There is nothing bad about it as a program, but it was just a program.
This is not a criticism of generations past; I am keenly aware that we stand today upon the shoulders of precious saints that have gone before us and it is them that get credit for their faithfulness to God; it is their good stewardship that caused out church to be where it is today. Though not a criticism, I do want to observe a few things about established churches like ours, and perhaps provide a gentle critique. Discipleship was a program, evangelism was a program (remember meeting to go knock on doors?), music was a program, youth and children’s ministries were programs, Sunday School was a program, Royal Ambassadors and the Girls’ Auxiliary were programs. Programs are good; if we get the right people volunteering, put them in the right room, and purchase the best curriculum, results will follow. Programs are systems that work. This is not a bad thing. We have made fine musicians, bible students that could excel at seminary tests, and kids that are excited to come to church. Programs also provide a vehicle through which we love one another. I am so thankful for my R.A. leader, and his willingness to teach me, and encourage me, and live out godly leadership.
However, programs can ring hollow when they are an end unto themselves. If young people are excited to attend events because they will be well entertained, hang out with their friends, play some games, and perhaps eat a few Goldfish crackers, that doesn’t mean we have made Christians. If young – or old – people are taught how to play instruments, or sing well, together, and the music on Sundays sounds better than the Brooklyn Tabernacle, that doesn’t mean we have made Christians. (One of my saddest experiences was to hear a Choir sing songs of the faith, but evidence suggests that they don’t believe much of what they were articulating.) If we understand the stories, know the characters, authors, timelines, and themes of all ____ books of the bible, that’s great! If you know the number in the blank, you’re well on your way toward being one of my beloved “seminary pin-heads”! Just because you would win a bible trivia game, or even pass a Systematic Theology III exam, doesn’t mean you’ve been made a Christian.
Think of this word “Christian”. Acts tells us that this word was first used in Antioch to describe folks within the Church. It was – like many terms – making fun of the ones the label was thrown upon. “Look at all those Christians (little Christs)” bullies would jeer as they hurl insults at the meek servants just trying to make the lives of others a bit better. To be “made a Christian” is to be “made a little Christ”. For us, if we’re doing it right, we are being conformed into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29) – day by day – through the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2) and the sanctification of our spirits. So, do you look more like Jesus today, or this week, or this decade, than you did last week, or last year, or when you were ten?
To be a disciple is to be a follower of Jesus. As a missionary friend once told me in Africa (because the term “Christian” carried a LOT of baggage), the natives refer to us as believers with this phrase: those who “accompany the way of the Messiah”. Do you accompany the way of the Messiah? I confess to God and to you, that if I am walking where Jesus walked, I am WAY behind Him. This expression helps me to consider what it means to be a follower of Jesus, to “accompany His way”, to be a disciple. Discipleship is not just something we do; it is who we are. We cannot afford for discipleship to be viewed as a just a program in our church. Rather than an “application” we “run”, it has to be the “operating system” upon which all the other apps run!
How do we do Sunday School, or education, or small groups, or whatever else we call it? By being disciples that make disciples of one another. How do we do evangelism? By being disciples that make disciples of our lost friends. How do we do next generation ministries? How do we do music ministry? How do we do Hope Kitchen? How do we do guest services? By being disciples that make disciples. Discipleship is a lifestyle, and it is the very foundation of what makes us a church. Why? Because we have met the Healer, and have experienced His work in our lives. He has redeemed us, cleansed us, credited us with His own righteousness, and given us the hope of eternal life. Experiencing this healing causes us to want to worship Him, obey His commands, and honor Him with our lives. One of these commands is to make disciples (Matthew 28:16). As we actively follow this mission He has given to us, we will indeed be helping broken people find healing in Christ!
Like a mighty army moves the Church of God;
brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod;
we are not divided; all one body we,
one in hope and doctrine, one in charity!
2023 April news-letter article
Greetings church family,
I know I speak for all of us when I express a hearty congratulations to Braydon & Caroline Turpin on their recent nuptials! After a two-week delay due to corona virus diagnoses within their families, they finally succeeded in their second attempt to marry, on March 25. As you have opportunity to do so, congratulate them in the days ahead! I know that we as a church family rejoice with them as they celebrate this time of love and gratitude, and as they begin their new life together. Some of you know already, but they purchased a house back in the fall, here in Walnut Cove, and have been working feverishly [along with Caroline’s father] to renovate much of the house so as to be able to move in together at the time their marriage begins.
As I write this, Braydon is taking a week off from work to enjoy a honey-moon with his bride. Though they hope to slip out of town for a couple of nights, I know they want to spend time in their new house together, and attempt to begin settling in. Indeed, because of their hard work – construction-wise, financially, emotionally, etc. – they have turned this house made of brick into a home filled with love. I am encouraged that the Turpins were so eager to find a home here in Walnut Cove, because they genuinely sense a call of God to this church family, and this community. It is a sign to me of Braydon’s long-term vision to serve as a part of our church. That he and his wife want to set down roots among us here in this town is a comfort to me, and I hope you are comforted too!
Many of you have been married for thirty years, or fifty. We have couples in our church that have celebrated sixty years! Others of you have buried a spouse. I do hope that you’re able to fondly remember your wedding day despite your loss. As you contemplate your own wedding day, I ask you to consider a few things…
Ephesians 5, beginning in about verse 22, gives us a beautiful portrait of marriage. In this text, the Apostle Paul writes about the parallels between the love shared between a husband and wife, and the love shared between Jesus and us, His Church. Paul gives instructions to wives [and before ladies want to take issue with the word “submit”, let’s all agree that a higher bar is set for the gentlemen] and husbands. In his instructions, he tells ladies how to treat their husbands. He also tells men to treat their wives as the Christ treats His bride! We all know that for the Bride of Christ, He laid His life down upon Calvary’s cross. When husbands faithfully do this, wives would gladly submit to this kind of high-quality leadership. Ephesians 5 clarifies an order within the home that reflects the order within creation. Husbands lead by serving in a selfless, sacrificial love. Wives have a place, children have a place, and [in Colossians] Paul even talks about how servants have a place. Order within the church should reflect order like the home also.
In addition to giving instructions to husbands and wives, Paul teaches us that the example has been set by Jesus. I am thankful that we – the Church – are the Bride of Christ, whom He redeemed at a great cost. Because of His great unconditional love for me, I want to yield to His leadership. Not only are husbands and wives taught by the example of Jesus, but by following Paul’s word of instructions, they are living out an example of Christian love! It’s a full-circle testimony.
I can’t help but to ponder the husbands and wives in my life: grand-parents, friends, parents, aunts, uncles, many within my home church family, and many of you within our First Baptist family. Though they are imperfect sinners, so many of these couples have put into practice a love that helps me see the love of Jesus a bit more clearly. Many have pointed me toward Jesus in beautiful ways. In seeing my grandmother’s way of adoring my grandfather, I am reminded of the ways Jesus is worthy of my adoration. In seeing a particular uncle’s radical sacrifice for his wife, I am reminded of the awesome way [and continued WAYS] the Messiah loves me selflessly. I am thankful for these couples and their testimony of what love can and ought to look like.
I pray for Braydon and Caroline. I pray that we might see the ways in which they care for one another and see the love of Jesus on display. I pray that they look to Jesus for their source of this love, and that they actively work to put into practice the love of Jesus as Paul clarifies to the Ephesians. I pray that 50 years from now, 25-year-old kids preparing for marriage look to the Turpins and see what a biblical marriage could look like. In so doing, may they come to better see and appreciate God’s love for us in looking at the Turpin home! I ask that you join me in this prayer also.
I’ve been picking on this one couple, but may these truths be applied to all of our marriages. May we seek to live out Ephesians 5, may we seek to bear witness in our homes, and may our very lives be a testimony of Jesus’ love within our hearts. Many of you know that Philippians 2 is one of my favorite passages. In this text, we’re called to put the needs of others ahead of our own needs. This is true of every degree of human relationship, which makes it especially true in the relationship between a husband and wife. The love with which Jesus loves us is a sacrificial love, an unconditional love, and a selfless love. May we work to love others in this way, especially our spouse. For this reason, I call marriage “a race to the bottom”. When husbands and wives strive to out-serve one another, we’ll show the world how Jesus loves us!
Let this be our prayer, when we lose our way;
lead us to a place, guide us with Your grace,
to a place where we’ll be safe,
2023 March news-letter article
What is lent? As a kid, when I heard “lent” I’d think about the stuff in my belly button. Lint is different, but indulge me if you will. I write this to you on Tuesday/Martes/Mardi, February 21. Our Spanish-speaking neighbors might call this Martes Gordo. Our French-speaking neighbors might call this Mardi Gras. Some of us [English speakers] call it Fat Tuesday, some refer to it as Pancake Day, still others call it Shrove Tuesday. Before we go too far, I do not intend to spend much time discussing the debaucherous, drunken orgy made infamous in several cities along the Gulf of Mexico, though thinking about it might be helpful as an exaggerated idea of a medieval theological concept.
Let’s recall from articles past, that up until beginning of the protestant reformations in Europe, illiterate Christians (nearly everyone was illiterate) were dependent upon priests to understand anything about God’s Word. They had several methods of remembering biblical concepts, including memorized liturgies, catechism, and … patterns of feasting and fasting! This included days and seasons. Advent was generally a season of fasting to prepare for Christmas, peppered with days of feasting and celebration. Christmastide (the 12 days) was generally a season of feasting, with a couple of fast days sprinkled in. Fasting, reflection, lamentation of sin, commemoration, contemplation is a biblical concept. Feasting, giving thanks, rejoicing, celebration, praise is a biblical concept too.
Some folks consider Mardi Gras to be a season of celebration, beginning after January 6 (Epiphany), culminating in Mardi Gras (the day). This day was supposed to have a two-fold concept: celebration and confession. Fat Tuesday is thought to be a blow-out day of indulgence, a last “hoorah” if you will. I love that some call it Pancake Day; if leaning in to sweets and drinking a cup of syrup (hopefully with a side of bacon) is your version of “cutting loose” then I am particularly unconcerned with you as a “wild child”. The other idea of this day is reflected by “Shrove Tuesday” (if you don’t know what this means, it might be wise to avoid using this title). To “shrive” (verb) is to hear a confession of sin (think: a priest in a box), instruct the confessor to “do penance” (I just realized I need to write an article on this concept one day), and grant absolution to the one confessing their sin. Someone can “be shriven”, and the past tense of this verb is ”shrove” (as in: the priest “shrove” me on Tuesday).
For many, tomorrow will be “Ash Wednesday”. It is the kick-off of the liturgical season known as “lent”. Many of our Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican – and by extension Wesleyan/Methodist – brethren will have ash smudged upon their foreheads in the form of a cross. Though this might seem alien to many of us raised in Baptist churches, it is a beautiful theological concept. The one dipping their finger into the ashes usually says something like “remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This reminder of the fragility of life is a humbling thought. The fact that we are insignificant, and unworthy of God’s grace is yet more humbling. Aren’t you glad that despite this fact, God lavishes His grace upon us anyway? It is pondering this undeservedness of Jesus’ death upon the cross that should drive the “lenten season” of fasting. Not only, is the ideal to give up food on certain days, but to also set aside other luxuries (perhaps syrup, or sugar altogether) for the entire 40 days leading up to the Easter season. In doing so, the thought is to supplement extra time in prayer and meditation of scripture. This – in theory – should help prepare our hearts as we approach Easter. In reflecting upon the cost of our sin, lamenting it, repenting of it, and thanking God for His mercy, we practice stillness, and allow Him to reveal Himself in fresh ways.
Because we now can read the bible personally, and just about everyone can afford to own a copy, we no longer need the seasons of feasting and fasting like the medieval Church did. Going through a particular ceremony, strictly because it’s something to do every year, is especially unhelpful to me. I kindly refuse to pick an arbitrary thing to “give up”, because it’s probably something I should do less of all the year long. However, the concept of reading God’s Word more, and spending a few extra moments in prayer each day are good for me to consider. The notion of lamentation, preparation, and expectation are good for my soul. However you choose to observe lent, or not observe lent, ask yourself: are there any ways I can deepen and strengthen my walk with Jesus during this season of life?
Just a closer walk with Thee,
grant it – Jesus – it’s my plea!
2023 February news-letter article
Greetings again beloved,
Tuesday, February 14, will be Saint Valentine’s Day. If you work a corporate job, someone will decorate a cubicle somewhere with red, pink, and white trim along with heart-shaped trinkets. You know how much I like “decor”, and you probably know how know my preference is to keep celebrations in their lane, rather than a month-long affair. On Sunday, February 12, Ms. Leigh will undoubtedly be disappointed that my music selections will not be enough about love, but perhaps by channeling my inner DollarTree cubicle decoration and devoting this article to Saint Valentine, I’ll make it up to her, haha!
According to Roman Catholic sources, which could always be questioned in my opinion (particularly the medieval ones), there are three different dudes named Valentine that were declared to be saints (Baptists don’t “venerate saints”) in the third century after the coming of the Christ. It is my contention that much of the Saint Valentine’s Day lore is a mish-mash of the three, but the most popular tradition is tied to a Bishop of Terni (a town in central Italy). Supposedly, Valentine practiced Christian marriage rites affecting the ability of the Roman army to conscript husbands into military service (married men couldn’t get drafted as easily or something). Despite warnings from the pagan Roman government for him to stop the practice, it is said that Valentine continued to do so. Drawing the ire of military and political leaders, he was put to death. Without objection, he is recognized as a martyr because of his commitment to Christ.
Some recognize Saint Valentine as the “patron saint” of love (have I mentioned my thankfulness that Baptists don’t venerate?). Fast forward 1800 years and add a dash of American commercialism, and you get the red-clad, overpriced meal, obligatory flowers, and mediocre candy day we all know. Though it has evolved into a day of romance, let’s all take stock of the fact that Valentine was violently put to death on February 14.
As I have stated in the past, we have a rather cheap understanding of “love” in our culture. The love that Valentine understood was less about romance, and more about sacrifice. Yes, he’s associated with performing weddings, but bear with me. This priest lived in a world where Christians were actively being persecuted by a pagan empire. This priest was faithful to the God of the bible. This priest understood what it meant to count the cost of confessing Jesus as his Savior and Lord. This priest dedicated himself to his God and served others, all the while knowing that it might cost him his life. He knew of Jesus’ sacrifice for his salvation, and he was willing to sacrifice too. This selfless love is much deeper than romance. This αγαπη (agape`) love is the holy love we learn about from God’s Word. This love is a love of God. I John 4:8 tells is that God is love. This is a love that we have for God, but the prerequisite is that this is a love that comes from God to us. John 3:16 gives us the greatest manifestation of this love. God the Father loved us; therefore God the Son died to save us.
If we want to celebrate love – and there is nothing wrong with celebrating love – let’s think through a love of God. Let’s ponder the love from God, the love that we get to experience. Let’s ponder our love for God: do we love Him with all of our heart, soul, and strength? I dare say we all have room for improvement. Third, let’s ponder our own willingness to love our neighbor as our self? Fourth, if we want to apply this godly love in a romantic context, let’s ask this question: for whom are we willing to lay down our lives, and how do we show that love every day? If you have a “sweetheart” and you two celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day, thank God for loving you first, read Philippians 2:3, and love one another better this year than you did last!
Amazing love, I know it’s true;
and it’s my joy to honor You!
2023 January news-letter article
Hello again dear friends,
Happy second quarter! I am writing this on the third day of Christmas, and in the past couple of weeks, I have made the decision to extend our “The Dawn from On High” sermon series a few more weeks. Since the next time Christmas “would” fall on a Sunday is a “leap year”, we won’t see Christmas fall on the Lord’s Day again for eleven years. This unique timing allows us another Sunday before Epiphany, and then we will appropriately honor the “magi” on Sunday, January 08.
Over the past nine months, I have found my preaching rhythm. It is a great joy to get to preach each week, and it’s a labor I certainly love. It has forced me to be more dependent upon the Holy Spirit, and it has caused me to pay attention a bit more carefully to His leading. As you know, November 27 began our advent series with a look at Zechariah and Elizabeth, the word they received from the Lord, and the birth of their son John. In discovering some insights about John’s birth and the prophecies surrounding him, I want us to take a look at his ministry in the weeks ahead. So, once we complete our look at Jesus the boy, we are going to pivot our attention back to John. I am excited about God leading me in this direction, and I can’t wait to see and hear what He would have for us as a church to see and hear.
In that frame, I hope God has blessed your heart as He has blessed mine within recent weeks. My only “angle” on the Christmas narrative passages this year was one of fidelity to scripture. I hope that we have looked and listened, and that perhaps God showed us something this year that we’d missed in years past. Like Mary, I hope we are all treasuring these things up in our hearts, pondering and meditating upon them. May we never tire of hearing of God’s grace. May we never grow stale to contemplating our own sin’s breadth and depth, and how undeserving we are of the Father sending – giving – the Son to save us from it.
I am saddened to consider the fact that Maxwell will be leaving our church in just a few short days. In only six months’ time, he has left a great impact. He has been a breath of fresh air in our music ministry, and his kindness has been felt by many of your families. He will be greatly missed, and we thank God that he came to us when he did. I know I write for us all when I wish him nothing but success as he continues his divinity school studies. I pray that God continues to give Max clarity as He calls him to a life’s ministry, vocational or otherwise.
As sad as I am to see our friend leave, I am reminded that our worship has never been about Max. May God have mercy if I ever think our worship is about me! It isn’t, hasn’t been, nor never should be about a preacher, or a singer, or a Choir, or anyone on staff. The worship of First Baptist Church is about, and only about, King Jesus. We worship Him because of who He is. We worship Him because of what He has done. We worship Him in spirit and in truth, according to God’s Word. He alone is worthy (Revelation 4)! I don’t know how the quantity or quality of our music will be impacted on Sundays in the weeks ahead. I know that our Choir will continue to lead us well. I know that Ms. Leigh will continue to serve faithfully. I know that whether singing or preaching or reading or praying or shaking hands and giving hugs to one another, we will continue to work hard to make sure that Jesus remains the focus of our worship!
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
close by me forever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
and fit us for heaven to live with Thee there!
2022 December news-letter article
Greetings dear friends,
“Advent” simply means “beginning of” or “arrival of” or something “coming to pass”. Like so many things in the Church, it comes from a Latin word. I’ve never been a big fan of advent personally. I don’t particularly like decor of any kind. If something exists for a purely aesthetic reason, and serves no practical purpose, I rarely see any value in it. The idea of Tanglewood traffic gives me a head ache. WMAG blasting “Christmas” music since October gives me hives. Going shopping at Friendly Center in Greensboro makes me short of breath, and the commercials – o the commercials – give me chest pain. Several years ago, a beautiful soul gave me a “ba humbug” stocking cap. I love it dearly, and many of you think of me as a bit of a Scrooge. I accept that. Just a few weeks ago, I was given a Grinch tie; I’ll undoubtedly find a time to wear it in December, even though Tanner Moore has assured me that I’m more of an Ebenezer than a Grinch. Apparently, just because I have no joy doesn’t mean I want to steal anyone else’s, haha!
Anyway, one paragraph should suffice for me to rail against the commercialization of this advent season. For the past several years, the month of December has been a rather stressful time for me personally, because of all the moving musical parts at First Baptist Church – have I told you lately how thankful I am for Max? We haven’t yet made it through the Toy Store or a candle-lit service, so I may be writing WAY too soon, but I am a bit surprised how little stress I have this time around!
I am excited to get to preach every Sunday, but I am really excited about our advent sermon series this year. I confess – Max is still perturbed at me – that I’m not sure how I’ll conclude it after Christmas, but between now and Christmas I so look forward to God showing up in our midst. The spirit of advent, historically, is one of expectancy and eager anticipation. Obviously, we know that the Christ was born; there will be no new news this year. We do, however, if we look and listen closely, encounter this λογος – this Word – this divine revelation, in a new way. This is why we eagerly wait for God to show up in a fresh way! We wait, with baited breath for Him to speak to us, to draw us closer unto Himself! In a sense, it’s good to be on pins and needles, filled with expectation. Join me in praying that God will reveal Himself to us in a new way this advent season. Join me in praying that some way, some how, we will have an opportunity to share the great Good News of salvation with someone this advent season that has never heard it before!
As we eagerly await the celebration of the coming of the Messiah, let’s also remember our neighbors for whom this is a very difficult season. Lots of our neighbors don’t have much to celebrate. Many of them have an empty chair around the table this year, perhaps for the first time. In a season of high stress and grief for many, let’s all remember to treat others with an extra dose of patience and grace. Let’s also lift up in prayer those for whom it’s a sad season. Let me encourage you to go out of your way to make a personal touch and bless someone near you. In doing so, we will be sharing our joy where it is most needed. May the peace of Christ invade our church family this season in a profound way. May we have a renewed awe and wonder of how much He loves us. John 1:14
Born to set Thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us;
let us find our rest in Thee.
2022 November news-letter article
Hello again First Baptist Church family,
As we began our sermon series near the end of August, I asked you to consider a question with me: “Now What?” I won’t bore you with the reasons why this is even a question worth asking in the life of our church, but as we began to wade into the process of thinking through our vision package together, there were two sets of three questions that help us to begin to see what God might have us to see in His answer to “Now What?” The first series of three questions is “what do we do?”, “why do we do it?”, and “how do we do it?” These are answered respectively by our Mission, our Values, and our Strategy. The next series of questions is “where are we going?”, “where do we start?”, and “how will we know we are getting there?” These questions are answered by our Vision proper, an Annual Plan, and particular goals.
Most of you may be wondering how long this sermon series will last if we intend to answer all these questions sufficiently. I assure you, it will be over before Thanksgiving Day. Because of this, we will not thoroughly answer all of these questions. Some of you are rejoicing to read this, but it’s primarily because all of these things can’t be answered from the pulpit. Much of the nuts and bolts of Strategy, and Goal setting can’t be done behind the pulpit. These things will be done in committees, by ministry leaders, and many of these things will certainly require adjustments over time. The “30,000 foot” stuff, however, is my responsibility as your pastor. I intend to begin answering the question of “how we will do what we do”, but I know it will be an incomplete answer. I also want to begin to paint a picture of “where we are going”, because has clearly shown me some things, but as you look at a painting of a mountain scape, it’s obvious that there is a limited clarity at best when it comes to mountain slopes that are miles in the distance.
Our Annual Plan for 2022-23, as I mentioned last month, will help us to think through “where do we start?” Over the next 11 months, our “one big thing” will be first impressions. The system through which we best serve our guests needs to be strengthened in a major way. This will affect several different areas of ministry across our church. Working through and shoring up this vital area will strengthen our entire church family. Thankfully, these are good problems! The fact that God continues to bless us with visitors and new faces is something worth celebrating. We just need to do whatever it takes to serve them well.
We can talk about plans and goals, strategies and systems, but the most important question for us to make sure we understand a crystal clear answer to is “what do we do?” As I shared from the various versions of the Great Commission in October, “what do we do?” must be answered with “what has God commissioned us to do?” God’s Word makes clear that we have been commissioned to bear witness and make disciples. Knowing this, there is only one question left to ask: “are we doing it?” Is our church bearing witness and making disciples? Are we doing so as well as we could, or should? Are we as individuals doing our part to bear witness and make disciples? Are we being the followers of Jesus we claim to be? If we aren’t making disciples, then we aren’t really being biblical disciples. These are questions that ought really rattle our collective “cage.” This idea should convict us, challenge us, and force us to think about how we can better obey the mission God has given us. In the days ahead, our church will go through a subtle rebrand, but in doing so, we will see our new mission statement: HELPING BROKEN PEOPLE FIND HEALING IN CHRIST! This is unique to our church; God has blessed us in unique ways, and we have a unique context in which to bear witness. There are unique challenges and opportunities within Walnut Cove, and we must be broken people, working to help other broken people. We must be broken over our own sin, walking in humility. We must be broken over lost sheep around us, burdened to help them. We must also be thankful for the Healer! I am so thankful He healed me! O, that I might help others meet the Healer too!
There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus; no, not one, no, not one;
none else could heal all our soul’s diseases; no, not one, no, not one!
2022 October news-letter article
Happy New Year!!
I know, the fact that our fiscal year begins on October 1, rather than on January 1, may seem rather arbitrary to many of us. Here around the Office, however, it’s a big deal. If you serve on a committee or ministry team, it matters to you too. As we pass from 2021-22 into 2022-23, I want to do what we all tend to do personally as a new year begins: look backward, and then look forward.
Let’s reflect together. I wish to thank everyone that has volunteered on a committee or ministry team within the past year. As usual, the Finance Committee, Nominating Committee, and Personnel Committee have been particularly busy in recent weeks, spending the bulk of the fourth quarter gearing up with proposals for the new fiscal year. The Personnel Committee has been particularly busy within the past year. We hired Jacqueline Miller at the very beginning of the fiscal year, and you elected to hire Maxwell Digman in July. I would have never thought we would have filled the Children/Students vacancy within the fourth quarter, but by God’s grace Braydon Turpin came our way, and the Personnel Committee exercised great wisdom in a relatively few number of weeks, working hard to make it possible to get this all done before the end of the year! I would also be negligent to not thank specifically our SONquest volunteers for all their labor within the past year. 2021-22 was the first year since the corona virus where we have been able to have twelve months of uninterrupted children’s ministry. I’m thankful for folks who worked with various age groups Sundays at 10:00, Sundays at 11:00, and Wednesday evenings to make this ministry so strong. O, and by the way, we did it without a Minister of Children at the helm. A number of volunteers stepped up in significant ways to make things work together! This is perhaps our most robust area of ministry strength across our church, and I am profoundly grateful for the ways in which God has blessed it.
I also wish to thank our Deacons for serving. David Burroughs, Roy Busick, Andy Cheek, Mark Moore, and Blaine Williams will continue serving, but I thank these men for the wisdom and care with which they have served our church. Jim Oakley and Chairman Ronald Watts just completed their fourth year of a three-year term. We all owe these men a hearty thanks for their steadfast leadership through service in many areas of our church’s life, but particularly as we navigated a pandemic. As we give Jim and Ronald a well-deserved rest from this area of service, we are excited to have Brad Cheek and Randy Wood take their place in the year ahead!
We have folks joining committees, we have new Chairs, we have new teachers, we have new classes, we have new staff, we will financially support some new ministries, we are turning over a series of new leaves! As you have heard from my “Now What?” sermon series, we are asking a series of questions in hopes that God will provide answers. I would regret not taking this opportunity to invite anyone reading this to become a part of our Ministry Leadership Action team. As new committee Chairs become part of this team, it is a great time to join. We will meet on the third Sunday of each month, and continue the work of crafting annual plans and setting particular goals for several areas of ministry.
It is this team, and the long-range strategic planning process that has directly shaped the our current sermon series. In the weeks ahead, we will continue to seek God’s answer for each of the following questions. What do we do? This is answered by our Mission. Why do we do it? This is answered by our Values. How do we do it? This is answered by our disciple-making Strategy. Where are we going? This will be revealed in our Vision. Where do we start? This will be gauged by our Annual Plan. How do we know if we’re getting there? This will be measured by Goals. As we continue to unpack this vision package, my hope is that God clarifies to us all what He would have us to see. It will be vital to the health of our church for these to not merely be fun gimmicks that change our branding, fill a pretty note book, and then sit on a shelf. If this process is going to do what we want it to do, it will need to be a vision that every member of our church sees together!
The 2022-23 annual plan will be centered around one big thing: first impressions. God, in His grace, has sent many new people our way. Are we taking care of them as well as we should, or could? My hope is that we shore up this area of ministry in the coming year. It will result in personnel changes on certain teams, and will affect how those teams function. It will affect our facility. There will be systems in the Office that shift. There will be systems on Sunday mornings that shift so that we can better care for our guests. I know that God has already moved us toward a culture of being more welcoming of our guests. We want to take the caring heart God has given us and inject a structure that will give it more impact. From walking in the door from Summit Street, to going with some of us out to lunch, we want to do whatever it takes to treat our guests the way God wants us to.
My hope is that God continues to bless our church in the days ahead. We want to continue doing what we have been doing, raise the bar of quality, and add new areas of ministry. I am excited for God to reveal these things to us!!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, o Ruler of all!
2022 September news-letter article
As most of you know already, October will begin our new fiscal year. As we cross from 2021-22 to 2022-23, I’ll be in the midst of a sermon series in which I hope to capture God’s vision for our church for the years ahead. I am excited about what God is doing within First Baptist Church, and how God is using us beyond the walls to impact our community with the great Good News of salvation in Jesus’ name! On Wednesday evening, September 21, at 7:00pm, we will convene a church-wide Business Conference. During this meeting, members will vote on a number of items. The two big annual items will be proposals from the Finance and Nominating Committees.
The Nominating Committee’s proposal will be a slate of officers and committees for 2022-23. There are a few items of note from this proposal. The Finance, Personnel, and Nominating Committees are what I call the “big three”. From each of these, people must rotate off for at least one year before being able to serve again. There are several people rotating off of each of the “big three” so filling these, and their respective Chair positions is an important task. Several other committees have shifted around a bit. Perhaps the greatest change you’ll find in “Brad Cheek’s spreadsheet” is regarding our counters. The Nominating Committee has enlisted several new people to serve, and it has scrambled up the counting teams to maintain a stronger balance of personnel. Finally, among the Sunday School teachers, you’ll see a reflection of a structural shift we are making across the board in SONquest. On Wednesday evenings, during children’s church, and during the Sunday School hour, our children’s ministries will have a pre-school age grouping. This will look on the Nominating Committee’s proposal like an additional children’s Sunday School class, but this shift will affect all components of our SONquest brand. We are excited, to offer this new age grouping for children that have turned 3, 4, or 5 years old by August 31, because we have a great need in this area of ministry!
Members will also vote upon a proposal from the Finance Committee. The budget proposal for 2022-23 has a few changes that I’d like to mention. Several of the line items have been retitled. Whether more or less general, the hope is for the title to provide greater clarity of meaning. The Finance Committee has elected to invest in roll-over line items to build up “nest eggs” for both our vehicles, and our building/grounds. We anticipate paying for some significant repairs in the years ahead, and wisely, the Finance Committee wants us to be prepared when those days come. In a few cases, multiple line items have been merged together, the most notable case being children’s ministries, as we continue to consolidate SONquest into a singular unit of ministry. Several line items have jumped sections. Our budget is divided into “Outward Missions”, “Ministries & Support”, “Property”, and “Staff Salaries”. We’ve previously labeled things as “Outward Missions”, but the Finance Committee has decided some of them to be better labeled “Ministries & Support”.
In the “Ministries & Support” section, the Finance Committee has elected to return several line items to pre-pandemic levels after a couple of years of slashing spending. I am glad to see an investment into our collegiate and young adults ministry! Though not explicitly listed, our third line item, “Local, Regional, and International Missions” has embedded support for three new items about which I am extremely excited. First, it has a dedicated gift to the North Carolina Missions Offering. This will support Baptists on Mission (formerly Baptist Men). Second, it will include dollars for The Pregnancy Network. My prayer is that this financial gift is but the beginning of our partnership with this great organization. Third, this line item will include a gift for the mission work of Hannah Wood Kendrick and her husband William!
These two major proposals will be available at the beginning of September. Please pick them up and begin to think about any questions you might have for either of these two committees, or me. On Wednesday, September 14, at the beginning of the bible study hour, we will have a listening session, during which you’ll hear from the committees, and have a chance to ask questions and make comments. We believe this is a helpful forum for information so that our voting will be simplified on September 21.
Additionally, allow me to encourage you strongly to fill out a Deacon nomination form. They are available to every church member, and give clear biblical instructions. Pray through this decision as you fill it out personally, and pray that God would raise up the servant-leaders of His church that He needs in His time. These are due by the end of our worship service on Sunday, September 18.
Not only have our Finance Committee and Nominating Committee been working hard in recent weeks, our Personnel Committee has been too! Since Maxwell came on board in July, the Personnel Committee turned its attention to filling the vacancy left by Luke Long among our ministries to children and students. They have begun a series of interviews with a promising candidate. Though it may be impossible for us to bring this candidate aboard before October, the hope is for the church to be able to consider hiring one day soon. As they work, pray for the Personnel Committee. Pray that they be given wisdom in decision-making processes. Pray that God would send to us His candidate, in His timing. Pray for our Deacons as they guide the timeline; pray for our next generation and their parents, as we hope they will have a chance to meet this candidate. These are exciting days within the life of our church. Join me in seeking God’s will for our church in the days ahead, and remember, it is not too late to join in the strategic planning process if you’d like to become part of the Ministry Leadership Action team!!
High King of heaven, my victory won
may I reach heaven's joys, o bright heaven's sun
heart of my own heart, whatever befall
still be my vision, o Ruler of all!
2022 August news-letter article
Women’s health care…reproductive rights…family planning…a lady’s right to choose…bodily autonomy… we live in a world that loves to use euphemisms, sanitizing things using vague descriptors, but let’s call it what it is: abortion. We’re talking about the termination of a pregnancy, the destruction of an embryo or fetus, and the snuffing out of human life. It is with a sober mind and a grieved heart that I write about this issue. It is an issue about which most people, and seemingly every American is quite passionate these days. For this reason, it is incumbent for us as followers of Jesus to speak slowly (per James 1), humbly (per Philippians 2), truthfully & lovingly (per Ephesians 4), and with great grace (per II Timothy 2). As I am sure you are well aware, at the end of June, our federal Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Dobbs vs. Jackson [Mississippi] Women’s Health Organization case. We as the Church, have been unapologetically pro-life for centuries. As far back as the second century [a.d.] believers have worked to reduce the perceived need to abort children, adopting them and caring for them well. To our shame, we as evangelicals were not as well-educated as our Catholic brethren prior to 1973 working to protect life.
While I grant that faithful bible-believing Christians can respectfully disagree on some specifics regarding public policy, legislation, case law, medical care, etc., I know that everyone claiming Jesus as their Savior can agree that sixty-three-and-a-half million lives ended pre-maturely is a great stain upon the fabric of our nation. It is a truth worth mourning, lamenting, repenting. These are human lives made in the image of God. Psalm 139 is perhaps the most specific passage of scripture that speaks to the beauty of God’s creation. Even those of us believers that have the political opinion that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare”, share in lamenting this great shame in the life of our young republic. Those of us that desire for abortion to be made illegal altogether, criminalized, and even eliminated from our country might be tempted to cheer and celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling, but before we “spike the football”, it is imperative for every Christian to grieve the fact that such a ruling would have ever had to take place from the beginning.
In the Dobbs vs. Jackson case, [six of the nine justices of] the Supreme Court upheld the Mississippi law effectively outlawing abortion after fifteen weeks of pregnancy. Five of these six went out of their way to highlight that their decision was strictly specific to the issue of abortion, affirming 1970s legal reasoning that the fourth, fifth, and fourteenth amendments to the federal Constitution imply a natural right to privacy in our lives. I am thankful for this legal clarity, as it may prove to have religious liberty implications in the days to come. Additionally, a side effect of this ruling, was that [a different] five of these six justices turned over the ruling of the 1973 Roe vs. Wade case. In doing so, they have returned decisions regarding law and public policy [per the tenth amendment] to the states, and the people’s elected representatives. While those of us that identify as pro-life celebrate what I consider a legal and moral victory, let’s be clear that much of the work necessary to protect innocent human life is just beginning. I also want to call all Christians to be very charitable toward everyone viewing this ruling as a defeat. Those of us that highly value the right to “keep and bear arms” are naturally defensive when we perceive any degree of infringement upon that right. This is exactly what many of our neighbors are feeling, and we need not go overboard in causing offense to any neighbor. Other than the glaring reality that arms are specifically addressed in our Constitution and abortion is not, for decades, the legal arguments surrounding both of these issues are nearly identical. As we engage in gracious discussion, and even debate, with friends and neighbors about this – and any other social issue – [and I believe we should] let’s all be as charitable as possible. In doing so, when we speak the Truth of God’s Word into a situation, we do so in a winsome, loving way.
While in the days ahead, there will be much debate [even here within North Carolina] surrounding policies and legislation, let’s remember a few theological points. First, ladies that have been the victims of crime like sexual assault, and even incest, are experiencing profound shame and brokenness. May we as God’s Church work to defend them, promote biblical justice, and sympathize with their agonizing decisions. Second, even for ladies that flippantly view termination of pregnancy as a form of birth control, let’s be agents of love, teaching about God’s forgiveness and redemption. Third, let’s pray for doctors that make [in a split second] decisions about whether to save an unborn child or a pregnant mother, especially given that their decisions may face increased scrutiny in the days ahead. Let’s also thank God for the great blessing that these men and women are in our society. Fourth, let’s avoid attempting to criminalize ladies’ decisions, or desired decisions, especially given the fact that most of the girls of two generations have been misled and indoctrinated to believe that there is nothing immoral about killing a child within your own womb. Fifth, let’s do whatever we can to see to it that abortion continues to be hemmed-in, knowing that countless lives might be saved through these restrictions. Sixth, let’s remember that legislating our moral standards, superimposing, and enforcing it upon others will not get anyone into heaven. Seventh, let’s “talk the talk” and “walk the walk” of being disciples that go and make disciples. As we engage in the time-intensive and difficult work of “sowing” Gospel “seed”, we know that hearts and lives will be changed. May we pray and work together to see souls saved and desires shift such that abortion dries up from a lack of demand. May we continue to work toward a day when no one even thinks that abortion is necessary at all. May we plea for God to move in a powerful way, and may we be His agents as He does.
Finally, let’s be the Church that Jesus built. Let’s put our money where our mouth is. If we claim to be pro-life, will we line up to foster and adopt children that might be unwanted, or for which young ladies might be unable to provide? Are we willing to mentor and disciple ladies that have contemplated abortion, but have made the decision to carry their child? Are we willing to love and faithfully care for mothers that have made decisions to snuff out their own baby’s life? Are we willing to lovingly train boys what it means to be a responsible, biblical man? Let’s put our money, and our time, and our efforts, and our real estate, and our political capital, and everything else where our mouth is! I am extremely excited to announce that in the months ahead, we will have an opportunity to support a Gospel carrying ministry here in the Triad that is working to do all of these things. The Pregnancy Network is working to intercept abortion-minded women, care for them well, evangelize them, and funnel them into supportive local churches. Are we willing to be one of these churches?
Lord, for the gift of children we come to give You praise;
we bring them here before You as they begin their days.
Though they will not remember what we have done this day,
each day we’ll shape their future by all we do and say.
Rev. Andrew J. Reynolds