Category Archives: Pastor’s writings

“Observing Lent” by David Elks

Lent begins next week and I am hopeful. I am hopeful that we will dedicate ourselves to reflection and prayer.  I am hopeful we will listen as the Holy Spirit speaks to us and I am hopeful that we will respond to the Spirit.  I am hopeful that we will confront the fears, resentments and prejudices that cripple faith.  Most importantly, I am hopeful that we will encounter the grace of God.  Grace is much more than forgiveness and the promise of salvation.  All that we receive from God is grace, including the strength to become more devoted and courageous followers of Christ.

Lent is a forty-day season of reflection preceding Easter.   As Christians, we pray every day, but our prayers have a more introspective nuance during Lent.  We invite the Holy Spirit to reveal our sins to us and we seek to receive and share God’s mercy.

Prayer is the principle discipline of Lent, but many people incorporate fasting into their experience.  Fasting is a challenging and rewarding discipline, but we must remember that fasting is used to identify and break the grip of a habit or attitude on our lives.  We do not fast to strengthen our self-will or to lose weight.  We fast to lessen our love for a food or hobby, etc. and to strengthen our love for Christ.  In my fasting I give the energy I usually give to eating desserts or watching a specific television program to prayer, service or some other pursuit that strengthens my relationship with God.

The irony of the dates of Lent this year is that Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season, is on Valentine’s Day.  We typically mark Valentines by sharing cards and candies with hearts, but we will gather next Wednesday to receive the symbol of ultimate love, the cross.  A second irony is that Easter will be on April 1.  A sermon about an empty tomb on April Fool’s Day just about writes itself, doesn’t it?  I hope you will join us for these services, but also remember that we will have worship services with the other churches in the downtown area each Wednesday during Lent.  The thirty-minute services begin at noon and are followed by a lunch.  We will host this service on March 7.

Lastly, I want to make an offer.  Perhaps you would like to have a conversation during this Lenten season about your spiritual life.  Perhaps you have questions about prayer or a specific bible passage or maybe you are wrestling with an important decision.  If you’d like to talk, I’d love to listen.  Call me and we will schedule a conversation.

-David


“Mission Opportunities at Christmas” by David Elks

For the past several years, the preparing of gift packages for Operation Christmas Child (OCC) has been a significant part of our giving at First Baptist Church. Most recently, we have included a large scale packing day and have been able to prepare in excess of 300 packages each year. We can be pleased with this effort, and I know many of you are interested in contributing again this year. We have not been able to schedule a packing date this year for a couple of reasons, the most important of which is a problem with the vendor that we use to purchase many of the items included in the boxes. A technical glitch in the vendor’s software has made it impossible for us to secure the items in time. We’ve considered trying another vendor, but we would possibly exceed our budget for the project, and it is not likely that we could schedule a packing day and ship the boxes to the OCC distribution center in time.

I apologize for this problem. In lieu of the packing day I want to suggest a couple of options. First, we have empty boxes prepared and ready to be used. These are available in the church office, and you are more than welcome to pick up as many as you would like and do some personal shopping to fill the box. When my daughters were young, Sandra and I allowed them to decide who (gender and age) they wanted to give a box to, and then we took them shopping to purchase the items. This gave them a sense of ownership and personal investment. I would also recommend that if you were to do this, that you devote some time to praying for the recipient of the box. The children who receive these boxes live in desperate situations and need your prayers for good health, peace and a stable home. If you choose to prepare a box and would like for the church to ship it to OCC, please return to the church by November 12th.

A second option to consider is to make a donation to the ministries that our church conducts each December. Our Children’s Christmas Party is a long-standing tradition at FBCL. By your donations, our youth spend the day with a child from the Lumberton community. The youth take the children shopping and help them purchase a toy or two, clothing, and a gift they can give their family. We also provide each family with a food box for the holidays, and this year, we will be including a New Testament. Another option is a gift to the Friends of Jesus Christmas Party. The leaders of this class shop throughout the year to purchase clothes and gifts at reduced prices for the Friends of Jesus. They do an excellent job, and I assure you that your contributions to this ministry will be used wisely and bring tremendous joy to the people who are the heartbeat of happiness in our church.

I have been informed that we have received a few monetary donations for OCC this year. If you have done so, please contact our Financial Administrator, Nancy Bass, to specify how you want your gift directed. If none of the options I have suggested are acceptable, we will write a one-time check from the church to Samaritan’s Purse, OCC’s parent organization. Once again, I apologize for the problem with our OCC packing day, but as you see there is no shortage of opportunities for us to make the coming Christmas season brighter for people in need.

Peace, David


“Processing the Events in Las Vegas” by David Elks

I won’t say “I can’t believe it has happened again,” because after the shootings at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Charleston and Orlando I think most of us believe it is only a matter of time before another deranged individual takes up a firearm and destroys innocent lives.  Our hearts are saddened almost to the point of being numb at the sight the carnage in Las Vegas on Monday.  We have nearly grown accustomed to these events but we still wonder what would possess an individual to do such a thing and we’d like to know the whereabouts of God in all of this.  The medical and psychiatric community can help us with the first question and there are countless opinions as to the second. The truth is we will never understand why horrific tragedies happen.  One thing I am sure of in regard to God’s presence is that God was in the courage of those who risked their lives to rescue others and in the healing touch of the men and women who have provided aid.

If we are to trust Romans 8:28 we must believe that something good can come from tragedies such as what happened in Las Vegas.  I believe that God works in all things, but I also believe that you and I must join God in working for good.  We don’t sit back and passively wait for some redeeming good to appear that will help us make sense of the tragedy.  We pray for the victims and open our lives to a fresh work of the Spirit that will enable us to deepen our lives in Christ and, hopefully, prevent tragedies like this from happening again.

The first place I want us to look for good is in one another.  I watched an interview with the Las Vegas assailant’s brother.  He was stunned, bewildered and I felt for him.  As I watched the interview I could not help but remember that I have a brother.  He lives a few hundred miles from me and while we talk occasionally we do not know the details of one another’s lives. I love my brother and say he is “the good son” in our family.  He would be among the folks providing aid and doing anything he could to help.  I think he would say the same of me, but the fact remains, we don’t know each other’s joys and pains in depth.  We need to know each other better and I am not speaking of familial ties.  We like to think of our church as A Family of Faith and I hope, as a faithful response to the Las Vegas shooting, we will be more attentive to one another.  We will never be able to protect our society from tragedy, but if we invest ourselves into one another good will come.

Finally, know this… God loves you.  No matter what you are going through, you are not alone and help is available.  Also, remember that I love you and if you ever need a listening ear, I am here.

Peace, David


“Helping our Neighbors in Need” by David Elks

September is usually one of my favorite months of the year but in all honesty, I am relieved to be turning the calendar.  I have come to equate September with the start of hurricane season and except for a few meteorological enthusiasts, I don’t know of anyone who enjoys seeing the storms.  We have a couple of months to go in the season, but 2017 has already seen more than enough damaging hurricanes.  Our neighbors in Texas, Florida, the Caribbean and especially Puerto Rico have lost so much, and we must continue to give our spiritual and financial support.  I want to thank you for the contributions of food, supplies and money you have made over the past few weeks to help hurricane victims.  As survivors of Hurricane Matthew, we know what they are going through, and we know that every prayer and gesture of kindness helps.

I encourage you to help hurricane victims as you are able, but I also want to call your attention to the needs of our local neighbors.  There is never a week that we do not have several people come by the church asking for assistance.  Some need help with housing, others need a place to stay and others need a few dollars to purchase a bus ticket to make their way home or to a job. The ministerial staff and I try to help as many people as we can.  We have guidelines in place that insure a prudent use of our available funds and we know how to say “no” when we do not trust the intent of the request.  Still, the need is great and the funds we have for community assistance are diminishing.  Our Community Assistance Fund is totally reliant on your gifts. We try to do as much good with this money as possible to meet the needs of people who ask for help.

It’s been said by many that “missions begins at home.”  I have not been a great fan of that statement over the years, but when you live in Robeson County, North Carolina it is true.  By many standards, ours is one of the poorest counties in the state and none of us have to travel far to find someone in need.  On most days, our church’s ministers only have to go to the 6th street door to meet a person in a desperate situation.  We will continue to go to the door and do what we can, but I ask that you give to our Community Assistance Fund so we will be able to help our neighbors.


“Helping our neighbors in Texas” by David Elks

I view stories of natural disasters differently now than I did a year ago. Once you have been through an experience you have a deeper understanding and greater compassion for those who are going through it now. Our community is by no means recovered from Hurricane Matthew, but the pictures and stories coming from southeast Texas this week have stirred us all. The flooding associated with Hurricane Harvey has exceeded what we experienced with Matthew, but we know something of what the folks in Houston and the surrounding area are going through. We also know some about what lies ahead. Shared experience grows deeper compassion, but what does deeper compassion do?

There is no question that we need to do something to help Texas. Once again, I realize that many of our Lumberton neighbors need help. I assure you that we continue to offer assistance as we are able. Still, we need to do something to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey. One of you (a FBCL church member) called me early this week and mentioned that Lumberton, Texas is a few miles east of Houston. He asked if we could connect with them somehow. I think this is a fabulous idea and I have made an initial attempt to contact First Baptist Church of Lumberton, Texas. At the time of this writing, I have not received a response, but I will continue to reach out to the church and inquire of their condition and how we might be able to help.

I believe that we have two valuable resources to offer those affected by the storm at this time. First, we must pray. We must pray for their safety and a hasty resolution to the flooding. We will pray for the leadership and recovery workers as they work tirelessly to restore order. We must also pray for the residents of the affected communities. You remember how “anxious” we all were last year in the days following the flood. Let’s pray for peaceful minds and patient hearts as folks live into a “new normal.”

Our second resource is our financial gifts. In my experience from last year, money was the best means in which we were helped and able to help. The loads of diapers, cleaning supplies, hygiene items, etc. were useful, but the money we received was the most valuable resource. The folks in Texas will know what they need better than we, so a monetary gift is the best way for us to help.

I will let you know once I make contact with FBCL, Texas or another church or agency through whom we can send our donations. Until then, pray for our friends in Texas. We know what they are going through right now and we know that need our prayers.

Peace, David


“Teaching Our Children” by David Elks

A few of our children have started the new school year and the rest will return in the next few days. At the church, we are preparing for a new and exciting year in our Early Childhood Ministry. With the beginning of a new school year, a good scripture passage to keep in mind is Proverbs 22:6 which reads Train children in the right way and when old, they will not stray (NRSV). I have traditionally interpreted this text to mean that we need to teach our children the truths of scripture. We must teach them to obey the Ten Commandments, to aspire to live by the Beatitudes and to follow the way of Jesus Christ.

I believe this is a fitting interpretation of the text, but this past week has opened my eyes to the reality that we need to go deeper in our teaching our children the “right way.” The hateful speech from white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend and the ensuing violence is a call to all of us that we must teach our children that every person on the face of the earth bears the image of God. We need to impress upon our children the absolute truthfulness that “Jesus loves the little children; all the children of the world; red, brown, yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” We must teach our children that they should love themselves for who God made them to be, but loving ourselves does not mean that God loves our neighbors who have a different color skin or who live differently from us any less or more.

Furthermore, we must teach our children whom to trust for moral authority. We are fortunate to have many virtuous men and women in positions of authority. We pray for their wisdom and courage, but we must also look beyond the halls of power in Raleigh and Washington D.C. for clarity between right and wrong. Be assured, I am a proud American. I love our country and I am grateful beyond words for the men and women who sacrificed for my freedom. Nevertheless, I join Paul in saying our citizenship is in heaven and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20). I will participate in our democracy and I will give due respect to the government, but I am counting on and answering to a higher authority than our elected officials. So must we
train our children.

Lastly, training our children the right way is to teach them to pray. These are uncertain days in the life of our nation and followers of Jesus are duty bound now more than ever to plead with God on the behalf of our President, Congress and Judiciary. Please pray for our nation. Pray for wisdom. Pray for a commitment to do justice and the courage to do what is best for every person and the earth on which we all depend. Above all, pray for peace… peace with one another, peace with our fellow nations and most importantly, peace with God.

Peace, David


“I’m In Update” by David Elks

There is no doubt that when you say I’m In!, you’re in! Two months ago I asked you to consider your commitment to the ministries of First Baptist Church and you responded with enthusiasm and commitment. We received over one hundred commitments with 95 expressing a willingness to pray more, 61 pledging to increase their service and 105 committing to giving more financially. These were encouraging numbers and it is thrilling to see you keeping your word!

This has been a busy summer at (and from) First Baptist. Our children have enjoyed four terrific “camps” at the Church. They engaged the scripture at Vacation Bible School, Lego Camp, Art Camp and Music Day Camp. They took their learning and growing on the road to PassportKids in Spartanburg, SC.

Our young adults and youth were also on the go this summer. They have been to the beach, the mountains and Charleston, SC. Our beloved Friends of Jesus have also enjoyed Vacation Bible School and a terrific time at Happiness Retreat.

I am thankful for Erin and Doug’s commitment and leadership, but there is no way these programs would happen if it were not for your prayers and you giving your time, energy and money. Thank you!

I believe there are numerous ways to measure the vitality of a church’s ministry. I don’t like to dwell on the financial, but it is important that you know what has happened over the past couple of months. In May of this year, our receipts were $47,488.62. This is an average monthly amount. In June, as we started the I’m In! emphasis, our receipts were $55,320.56. In July our receipts rose again, climbing to $75,498.92! I have not studied our giving trends in depth, but it is highly unusual to see giving increase in the summer months. As I said, when you say I’m In!, you’re in! and I am grateful for your generosity.

We’ve had a good summer, but fall is coming and with it, a new Sunday School year, Family Night activities, Community Cafés, Operation Inasmuch (September 16), and the SAFE Seminar (October 28-29). You gave a resounding response to I’m In! and I pray that you will “stay in” with your prayers, service and giving as we follow Christ together.

Peace, David


“Asking the Right Questions” by David Elks

I have read, taught and preached John 21:15-19 several times over the course of my ministry. It is the story of Jesus asking Peter, “Do you love me?” three times in the wake of Peter’s three denials. As I said, I know the story fairly well, but I had an interesting weekend with this story while I was at the Shalem Residency in June.

The night before I left for the residency I could not help but think that we have been asking the wrong questions lately. We have been asking questions like “How can we get more people in church?” and “How can we get these people to give?” These are important questions, but they are not the right questions for us to be asking at this time.

I went to the residency and enjoyed a week of classes and group interactions in spiritual direction. As the weekend approached I thought I would pray, read and listen for the Spirit’s guidance as to the questions we should be asking.

In the last class before our “Silent Sabbath” we were told a story about a woman who experienced a terrible tragedy. In the wake of the experience she felt the Lord saying “I want you to love me more than anything else.” The story did not set well with me, but I did not dwell on it. I set it aside and got ready for the weekend.

As I woke on Saturday morning the story came to mind along with the interaction between Jesus and Peter in John 21. I read the passage as my morning devotion and started the day.

As I went through the day the Spirit kept bringing up Jesus’ question… do you love me more than these? By the afternoon I realized that this is the question we need to consider. “Do we, as individuals and as a church, love Jesus more than these?” The answer may seem obvious, but it isn’t, especially when “these” are packed pews and full offering plates. “These” can be good things, but “these” become idols when they are our highest priority. Every good question prompts a few more and the questions behind “Do you love me more than these?” include “What are my ‘these?’” and “Why do I love ‘these?’” These are the questions we need to be asking right now and I will be writing more in the weeks ahead to help us pray and respond.

Peace, David

 


“Discernment” by David Elks

Discern. Discern. Discern. If there is a theme to my work in spiritual guidance, it is to discern.  Discernment is our hearing and knowing God’s call in our lives.  It is far more than knowing what we should do or what path to take.  To discern is to listen through the distractions in our lives and to receive the healing, blessing and invitation that is the abundant life.  

As I discern today, I want to thank you for the tremendous opportunity you have given me to participate in the Shalem Institute’s Spiritual Direction Program.  I participated in the second (and final) residency two weeks ago and was overwhelmed by the wisdom shared in the classes, the richness of the fellowship of the faculty and associates and, most especially, the attentiveness of the Holy Spirit.  I have a lot of work to do to complete the Spiritual Guidance program (reading, writing and giving and receiving “direction”) but I have already been blessed beyond my highest hopes for the program.  Thank you for encouraging me in this work and for the time to attend the residencies and complete the assignments.

I am a better Christian and minister because of the Shalem program and I look forward to sharing the fruit with you.  The best way I know to do so is to dedicate myself to helping us discern God’s presence in our fellowship.  Our lives are full.  Whether we work, are in school or are retired, we typically have something to do, somewhere to go or someone to see every day.  Much of what we busy ourselves with is good, but it can be better if we go with an abiding awareness of God’s presence.  We don’t just check in with God when we read a morning or evening devotion or when we attend church on Sunday.  God is always with us and God is inviting us to periodically be still and know (Ps.46:10) so that we may be fully alive as we go about our days. If you would like to know more about Spiritual Guidance or would just like to talk sometime about your life with God, I’d love to have a conversation.

Peace, David


“Thank You for saying I’m In” by David Elks

Sunday was a terrific day at First Baptist. We worshiped. We learned. We had fellowship and we made commitments. “Thank you” is the only way I know to say it, but those two words do not adequately express my gratitude for you and the responses you have made to the “I’m In” emphasis. To date, we have received commitment cards from nearly one hundred individuals, and each reflects your sincere desire to give your best to the growth of our church. If you have not returned your card yet, it is not too late! Mail it or bring it with you on Sunday, or fill out our online commitment card. We want to hear from you because every prayer, act of service and financial gift is important. For those who are offering to increase your service, I want to mention a few opportunities that are coming up this summer. I am including the date of the event/project and the minister you need to contact for additional information.

  • Community Café is on the third Saturday of each month—David
  • Prepare Communion on July 2—David or Erin
  • Greeter at Music Day Camp Concert on August 4—Erin
  • Office Volunteer—David
  • Offertory Prayer and/or Scripture Reading in Worship—Erin
  • Nursery Volunteers—Erin
  • Children’s Mini-Camp Helpers (June 27-29, July 18-20)—Erin
  • Greet and host Mission Team (July 15-22)—Doug
  • Friends of Jesus—David or Doug
  • Early Childhood Ministry (readers, tutor)—David or Erin

This is not an exhaustive list of ministries you can participate in. In fact, you can probably think of several ways to be the presence of Christ to our community. Take a closer look at the people you meet and activities you participate in on a daily basis. Do you see any unmet needs? Is God prompting you to help? We are only limited by our imaginations and willingness to try. Once again, “thank you!” for all that you are doing to share the love of Jesus Christ and to grow the ministry of our church.

Peace, David