Life, Abundant Life

It seems that in the last several weeks, my work has placed me alongside folks who are working through difficult health or relational issues, or dealing with death. Of course, that is a significant part of the work of a minister, walking with people through the events of their lives.

What has given me pause is that I have become aware of how much energy and resources we spend in trying to avoid death. Duh, you say? Of course, we want to avoid death and poor health! Think about how many of the following you are bombarded with everyday: exercise programs to make you feel younger, medical newsletters packed with information, the latest and greatest machine to keep you in shape, the most recent discovery of a miracle food or substance to cure us, new talk shows popping up to help you learn how to avoid old age, pain, and death! It is staggering.

Now, there is nothing wrong with avoiding bad health and death, but I wonder…are we spending so much time and resources on avoidance practices that we miss life?

Jesus said in John 10:10-“I have come that you might have life, abundant life.” So I ponder…might we spend our time and resources better focusing on the things that bring us life, rather than spending so much time on what we should be avoiding?

Do we miss a gift of life sent our way by our loving God because we are too focused on avoiding pain? Are we afraid of so many things in our living that we miss the life and blessing that God offers in the very things we decided to avoid? Do we really trust that God is for us, and will keep us in His hands?

My prayer for all of us this year is that God will help each of us learn to live a little more into the life, abundant life, He offers. As we make the journey of life together, let’s share what we are learning that makes for life together. In that way, we can live …not just avoid death.

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Share the Good News

On Journey…

Research tells us that currently for every three ministers who retire only one is being trained to fill those positions.  And given the fact that most ministers are over 45… well, you do the math.

Whether it is a call to serve a local church, or to go to the other side of the world to share the Good News with another people group, the data indicates that fewer and fewer individuals are choosing vocational ministry.

While my son Daniel was in Bali last semester, I found myself wondering, is God calling my son to serve in a place like Bali?  I had to listen to my own fears and joys as I thought about that possibility.  My son’s future is still being shaped, but I would like for us to make this matter a focus of prayer and conversation this year.  Who might God be calling out of our congregation to be a church staff minister, a missionary, a vocational minister of some sort?

Certainly we believe the truth that ALL followers of Christ are called to share the Good News in every place they find themselves.  Yet it is also true that God calls some individuals to vocational ministry positions.

How can we, as a congregation, encourage and enable our members to hear that word and obey?  That is a question I want us to engage this year.  The first and foundational activity we can do is pray.  Pray for your own hearing.  The Biblical Story we are reading reminds us that God has no limits as to who God will use to proclaim Truth!  Second, pray for our congregation that all ears and hearts will be attentive to the voice of the Spirit. Together, we can encourage, support and send out of this family ministers of the Gospel, from the local church to the other side of the world!

Keep Listening!

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May the Truth of God’s Coming Empower You

“The two stood facing each other.  God robed in light, Satan canopied in evil.  Satan rose slowly off his haunches.  Like a wary wolf, he walked a wide circle toward the desk until he stood before the volume and read the word: Immanuel.

“Immanuel?” He muttered to himself. “God with us?” He turned squarely toward the face of the Father.  “No. Not even you would do that.  Not even you would go so far.  The plan is bizarre! You don’t know how dark I’ve made the Earth.  It’s putrid.  It’s evil.  It’s…”

“It is mine,” proclaimed the King. “And I will reclaim what is mine.”  “Why?” asked Satan. “Why would you do this?”  The Father’s voice was deep and soft.  “Because I love them.”  (Cosmic Christmas by Max Lucado)

I have found Lucado to be a writer who stimulates my imagination in a wonderful way.  His adaptation of the Christmas story is one I enjoy every year.  And every year, I always pause at this point and let my mind imagine this scene taking place.

It is the truth of the season.  I believe sometimes each one of us have difficulty trying to comprehend what we proclaim: Immanuel, God is with us!   We ask why God would even consider coming into our world. And the answer sounds forth in loud exclamation and quiet whispers: for God so loved the world that he gave.

As we travel the Christmas season together, may the truth of God’s coming empower you for living and call you to praise and worship of God Almighty! Immanuel! God with us!

Keep walking!

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What Does Walking with God Look Like?

As I was meditating on my article for this month, I kept being drawn to the way I sign off–“Keep walking!” That got me to thinking, what do I mean by that? What does walking with God look like?

One way to begin to get a handle on this is to immerse ourselves in the Biblical record, the story of people walking with God. Sometimes, we find some clear information about what walking with God might look like. One of my favorite sections of scripture is the Sermon on the Mount. As far as I can tell, it gives some clear pictures of what God is doing and wants us to do. But other stories tell us something else. When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, the dialogue was simple, “Follow me.” No big instructions, no detailed directions about what or how or where, just follow.

As a person who loves to crawl around in caves, I have spent much time in that dark world underground where you really appreciate light. I discovered that the light will only go so far in the darkness. It is enough to let you see a little of where you are going…but not the whole way. I learned that as I took a step the light went a little further and illuminated just a little more of the path. This continued until I found my way out.

I believe walking with God is something like that. As long as we are walking with Him, the promise is there will be enough light to see the next few steps. But to see the whole path, we must keep walking or the darkness swallows up the path.

My prayer for you, for all of us, is that we will walk with God in the light He gives us each moment. Do what is clearly God’s desire as often as you can. And when the path before you gets a little dark, trust that the path will be illuminated as we are faithful to keep taking steps!

Keep Walking!

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We Have This Treasure In Earthen Vessels

On Journey….

Several years ago I heard a story on television about a group of ladies who decided to join together and buy a moderately expensive diamond necklace.  I believe there were about 13 ladies in the group.  No one in the group knew everyone else. Each just knew and heard about the activity from a friend.  Buying the necklace initially brought everyone in contact with each other.  But that is not ultimately why this group was interviewed.

The group scheduled each person the same amount of time to wear the necklace.  And here is where the story begins to change.  As the ladies began to tell stories about their time with the necklace, they began to develop caring relationships.  Eventually, the group of strangers became a close, loving community.  By the time I  heard this story, the necklace was secondary and the support and sense of belonging and shared stories became more important.

In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul reminds us of this truth: “we have this treasure in earthen vessels.”  This treasure he speaks of is our saving relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is this unsurpassed good news that brings us together. It is this immeasurable treasure that we celebrate together each and every time we gather. It is this truth that binds us into community as we share stories of our lives with this treasure.

Living in community can be difficult at times. We tend to let lesser things fill our times together. Things like struggling for power, talking about each other rather than taking with each other, letting personal hurts create revenge, seeking to get our way rather than seeking His way…..I could go on and on.

Let us, like this group of ladies, celebrate the truth that we have a treasure beyond anything here on earth! Let that treasure bind us together as the family of God and let us boldly tell our stories to anyone who will listen of the power of the treasure of grace in our lives!  It is our task.  It is our privilege.

Keep Walking!

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Something New Just Around The Next Corner

On Journey…

The exciting thing about a journey is that there is always something new just around the next corner!  The scary thing about a journey is that there is always something new just around the next corner!  It is a paradox of the human condition to be both excited and scared within the same context.  Much of our lives are experienced in this paradox: graduation from high school is both exciting and scary; marriage or a new job is both exciting and scary; the birth of a child; a move to a new place, the leaving of a child; changing roles.  Life is full of these exciting, but scary, moments. So is our journey of faith.

The writer of Hebrews draws this out in Chapter 11 where it begins with these words: “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd…By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going.” (Hebrews 11: 1, 8 Message).

So much of our faith journey is a call to just such an experience as Abraham.  It is a call to trust God, even when we cannot see a way or the destination.  First Baptist Church Clinton finds itself at just such a place.  Over the next few months, we will be asked to make a decision about new staff members.  What a rich heritage you have had in your past staff.  It is unusual to have the length of stay for staff that you have had.  It is a blessing, but can be a challenge.  The challenge is to give thanks for those past relationships and then embrace the new ones that God is bringing to us.

These new staff members will bring new gifts, new ideas, and new ministries, just as your old staff did many years ago.  I am praying that you will embrace these new folks and what they will bring with the same faith that Abraham embraced on his new journey.  If we will, God will indeed bless the world through our obedience just as He did through Abraham’s obedience.

I have come to strongly believe that you have done an excellent job of listening, talking, dreaming and planning about the future of our ministry emphasis and staffing.  The needs are clear.  Granted, the “path” might seem scary, but I believe you have listened and followed God to this point. And as the old song says, “He didn’t bring us this far to leave us.”

Do you believe that God wants to continue to work through this congregation as He has in the past?  I do.  Join us as we move forward together in this journey!

Keep Walking!

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During This Summer

Summer.  That word conjures up all kinds of thoughts and memories.  Hopefully most of them are positive.  Though our current culture is changing, summer still means, for the most part for families, a change of pace.  Many families plan vacations or at least some experience together.  The longer days mean more time to be outside and play, and that is what I want to speak to for just a minute.

One of the definitions of play in the dictionary is “a pleasurable and apparently purposeless activity.” Our culture is growing less tolerant of “purposeless” activities.  We demand a profit on our investments of time and energy, so if an activity is purposeless, we discard it.  Maybe we should rethink that thought.

In the gospels there is a story (Mark 10; Luke 18) that records for us a story of parents bringing children to Jesus, but the disciples try to send them away.  When Jesus sees what is happening, he quickly moves to change the situation.  In fact, he asks for a child to stand beside him and says, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a child will not enter it at all.”  Strong words.  There are many layers to that saying, but today, let’s talk about children and play.

Many sociologists suggest that the work of children is play.  There is much we adults can learn from the play of children, according to Jesus and many others. The following quote is from a radio program called “On Being.” Hosted by Krista Tippett on Sundays, it is a wonderful program that dialogues about faith and life issues. This past Sunday the show was about play, and featured Dr. Stuart Brown and his research on play.

Krista says-“Who knew that we learn empathy, trust, irony, and problem solving through play.   Dr. Stuart Brown suggests that the rough-and-tumble play of children actually prevents violent behavior, and that play can grow human talents and character across a lifetime. Play, as he studies it, is an indispensable part of being human.”

You noticed that I underlined “across a lifetime.”  Dr Brown’s research from creation and humans suggest that playing is a vital part of our whole life, not just when we are children.  Jesus already knew that, and suggests that our best self as a spiritual being is helped when we play.

I know that in my life I do not play as much as I did even just a few years ago.  This is not good.  Jesus gives me permission to play, and it is important to my physical and spiritual well being.  I believe the same is true for you.

I hope during this summer, you can find time that has no other purpose than to play.  Evidently it has eternal consequences!

Keep Playing!!!

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New Interims Coming On Board

Sunday was Ryan and Lindsey’s last Sunday with us as they make the transition to a new church and ministry in the Memphis area. Our prayers go with them as they begin this new part of their journey of faith. As Ryan leaves, we have some new interims that are coming on board.

Nancy Fay will begin working with the Sanctuary Choir and leading worship in the 10:40 service. Johnathan Alderson will be working with the Praise Team and leading worship in the 8:30 service. Ward Bigler will be leading our youth ministry, and Betty Kay Pierce has begun her work in our Education Ministry. I have known these individuals now for over 8 years, and it is with great joy that I welcome them to our team. Each of these folks bring gifts, skills, energy, and commitment to our congregation. Let me ask you to pray for them and to join with them in ministry.

We have many folks who can sing who need to join either (or both) of our services in sharing your gift of music! Whether it is by voice or instrument, we need you to share with us what God has given to you. Ward has been one of our most faithful volunteers in youth ministry since I have been here, which means he understands the importance of adults participating in youth ministry. Give him a call and let him know you are willing to be a part. Betty Kay has been thinking about many ways to help all of us grow in our understanding of our faith. From retreats, to new literature, to new spiritual development ministries, she is ready to go. Let her know you are on board.

I hope you are hearing me say that a vital part of ministry is you. Leadership is important, but Biblically, the minister’s role is to equip and encourage each member to engage in the work of the Kingdom. Pray for and join with these folks as they come among us to help us be the People of God in this place.

Welcome Nancy, Betty Kay, Ward, and Johnathan. I am grateful to serve with you in this place!!

Keep Walking,
Stan

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Ryan’s Letter of Resignation

Below you can read Ryan Heritage’s resignation letter.  He, Lindsey, and the girls, leave at the end of May to begin a new ministry in the Memphis area.  The nature of ministry involves moving.  For me, it is one of the most difficult parts of this work.  A church and a minister covenant together to do Kingdom work.  Relationships are formed, stories are created, history is made.  It is difficult to simply leave these kinds of things.  Yet, if we are to follow the promptings of the Spirit, these times are inevitable.  So, we give thanks for the time we have had together and pray God’s blessings for Ryan, Lindsey, Bella, and Randi.  May your next ministry location be filled with opportunities to grow in Christ as you proclaim His truth.  Thank you for the opportunity to share in ministry with you here. It has been a pleasure.

Stan Elliott

 

Ryan’s Letter of Resignation

After months of prayer and thoughtful consideration, it is with a heavy heart that I tell you, my family and I have been called to serve at another church.

Let me say that you, as a fellowship of believers, have welcomed us with open arms and taught us so much along the way. You have cared for us through pregnancies, deaths in the family, joyous occasions and more than I can currently list. Thank you for being who you are.

God has called us to a new chapter in our lives. While we are excited to live out God’s new calling, we will also be sad to leave. My final Sunday will be May 18th, so that none of the next few month’s events will be effected.

Please keep us in your prayers as we will do the same for you. We love you all and will miss you deeply.

Thank you and may God bless you.

Ryan Heritage

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Temporary Changes To Our Worship Experience

I would like to update you on the situation facing us regarding the heating of our facility. In April, the Trustees will bring to you a plan for our new system. If approved, we will be starting the long, arduous process of replacing our 54 year old system. We are going from a Steam Boiler to a Hot Water Boiler requiring new Air Handling Units throughout the facility. The reduction in size and the increase in efficiency are phenomenal and necessary for the next 50 years of service. There will be demolition; installation; movement of Sunday School classes; movement of Worship Services; inconveniences in getting to certain parts of the buildings; obstacles; places too hot; places too cold, etc. It will be challenging over the next several  months. BUT, in the end, we will have a brand new heat and air conditioning system that will improve our Sunday School and Worship experience. Our new system will also have a positive impact on our budget by lowering utility costs through its increased efficiency.

I have noticed a couple of things during this storm. You are a resilient group of people. I certainly appreciate your patience and your fortitude. You have weathered this storm with resilience, humor and strength and have been faithful, longsuffering and gracious. I feel honored to be in a congregation where Bible Study and Worship are our most important priority.

Whitney

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