FBC Blog

“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


“Priorities” by Doug Reedy

By accident, our ski trip was less regimented time-wise this year, and that proved to be a wonderful blessing. Our youth spent time together playing cards, ice skating, tubing, and watching football, as well as skiing. Many serious, reflective life discussions were shared, often about pressures they face. Time away allows young people to open up. It has great value.

So many of our youth have absolutely crushing demands on their time it makes me reluctant to add on to their burden by pushing for more church participation. Still, it doesn’t stop me. I worry about the priorities we place on our teenagers.

I love sports. I love competition. I try to get to games (the biggest barrier I face is Wednesday night being the most popular time to schedule high school soccer). I see the value in team sports. It teaches young people how to win or lose with dignity and how to use their unique abilities to contribute to making the whole greater than the sum of its parts, which is a valuable tool (especially for church).

Everyone enjoys entertainment. We have been blessed with young men and women with lovely voices over the years. I have seen many youth get involved in local theater, and it has given some of them more confidence.

Academic work is extremely important to advancement in life. So important, in fact, that I choose to give it a pass in this discussion. The one exception is to say that, if nearly every high school student sees their mountain of homework (often redundant busy work) as something they must share with each other, rather than complete on their own due to time constraints, something is wrong.

For most, almost all, of us, sports and drama are simply character building hobbies at best. A quick Google search reveals that roughly 2% of female high school soccer players (1% for males) end up playing division one college soccer and that even at the highest level of college soccer, the scholarships cover roughly 1/3 of their school expenses. Roughly 1 in 1250 ever plays professionally.

Also with a quick search I was able to learn there are roughly 70,000 full time actors in the United States (out of a population of 300+ million). This is already a tiny percentage, but of the 70,000 very few are actually making “real money” at it. Hoping to make a living on stage or screen is very similar to hoping to win the lottery.

It is a commandment to have no other gods before God. Someone might mention that church isn’t God either, and I agree. However, for sheer return on investment over the long haul of your teenager’s life, I would say an argument can be made that spiritual development, being part of a youth group, experiencing travel, and most of all belonging to a family of faith should be high priority. Of course, as a youth minister I may be biased.


“Introducing…Our New Church Logo!” by Erin Collier

With the new year comes the opportunities for new beginnings…so what better time than now to unveil our new church logo! Our previous logo (the church building and people) has served us well for 11 years, but it is time for a newer, cleaner look to serve as our identifier in the community. The goal was to have a design that both acknowledges our rich history while communicating that we still have much to offer in today’s world and culture. While the resulting logo is simple in style, there are multiple meanings hidden in this new design:

1.) Our commitment to Christ: The cross and what it stands for (God’s love for and sacrifice for us) is central to who we are and what we believe. We strive to take Jesus and his message seriously in everything that we do.

2.) Our liturgical connection: The colors used in the logo are connected to the liturgical tradition that we draw from for our rhythm of worship throughout the year. Different colors are associated with different liturgical seasons – purple is used for Lent and Advent, white/gold/yellow is used for Christmas and Easter, red is used for Pentecost, and green is used for ordinary time. And the blue? Blue is becoming more and more common to use for Advent – while we don’t use it yet, we hope to at some point in the future!

3.) Our downtown location: If you look closely at the cross, it’s not just a cross; it’s also an intersection. We are a historic downtown church, known for our location at the intersection of 7th & Walnut.

4.) Our mission to go and serve: We come together at this physical location to worship and learn and fellowship, but the light of Christ also sends us out beyond this place to love and to serve. The yellow lines in the center of the cross/intersection and extending beyond it represent the light of Christ that brings us together and sends us out.

5.) Our identity as a family of faith: While the image of the logo has changed, we still claim the metaphor of a family of faith. We are connected to each other through the love of Christ, and while challenges and disagreements inevitably arise, it is our commitment to Christ and to each other that keeps us together as we practice grace and forgiveness.

We’re rolling out the logo now via our online presence, and it will make its way onto our printed documents. Soon, we’ll change it on our signage on site and around town. Who knows – there might even be t-shirts or sweatshirts in our future, if there’s enough interest!

-Erin

 

 

 


“Empathizing with Young People” by Doug Reedy

em·pa·thy
noun: empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

During the early stages of the Growing Young process, the most surprising disconnect from the early feedback we have received has been on the subject of empathy. From the results of a quick Wednesday night survey by David of mostly senior adults, an equally informal and unscientific survey by me of our high school juniors and seniors, and our official small team feedback from the folks who attended in the seminar, empathy results have varied the most.

The empathy our church feels for young people was rated fairly high by one group, but dead last (of the six characteristics of a healthy, attractional church) by the other two. This was absolutely fascinating to me. Sure, our perceptions of empathy vary naturally with age. We joke about overly dramatic teenagers lamenting that “no one understands me!” as they slam their bedroom door, or grandparents who complain that kids today don’t know what it was like to walk seven miles to school and back (uphill both ways) every day, usually in the snow. While there is some truth to these stereotypes, the differences between now and then are almost always exaggerated.

I have heard some ludicrous statements over the years. Some highlights include “young people in this town didn’t drink alcohol before so-and-so came along” (a parent complaining about a former youth leader), “there simply weren’t drugs around when we were teenagers” (a parent who was a teen in the 1980s), and “we didn’t have the temptation of sex that these kids have to face” (from an era of more free time and less supervision). Really?! Either time clouds our memories or we prefer nostalgia over reality.

Yes, social media is a big deal. Yes, they have more homework and less free time now. Yes, technology has made growing up easier in some ways, more complicated in others. Let’s not blow these differences out of proportion to the point of pretending it is impossible to empathize.

What matters to young people? Relationships. Complicated relationships with family members. Changing landscapes and allegiances with their friends. Complex relationships with God. Falling in love. Being accepted and rejected. Trying to fit in and avoiding loneliness. Trying to be good for all the right or wrong reasons. Anger, jealously, and pride leading to setbacks. Achieving goals through hard work. In other words, what matters to them are the exact same things that matter to you!

On Sunday nights, in order to illustrate certain universal truths and to spark discussion of realistic teenage situations, we are using a television show produced in the 90s set in 1980. Why does that work? It works because the show focuses on relationships. It focuses on boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, and friendship. It does so in a realistic way that makes us laugh at ourselves. Time is just a setting. The things that mattered when you were a teenager matter just as much today. Empathizing with young (or old) people is easy. They want love, acceptance, and a sense of purpose. Just like you.


“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


“Growing Young…We Need Your Perspective!” by Doug Reedy

By now, you have heard something about the book Growing Young or our involvement with Fuller Youth Institute in helping us become a stronger, more attractive, and healthier church for all age groups. David has shared with you some about the six primary characteristics of healthy churches that attract young adults and about the conference we attended. You likely know the church is putting a team together as well.

You know we do some things well and need to improve in some areas. We aren’t planning on tweaking a few things or adding a few events; we are needing to make some cultural changes. This takes time and hard work. There are no easy fixes.

The first step is listening. Ascertaining where we are and what steps we need to make cannot be done without listening. We need to listen to the whole congregation. We need to listen to perceptions and realities. The only way we can do that is through hearing from everyone possible!

With that said, please give us the feedback we need by using the link below to take the Fuller survey. It is confidential and takes only 5-10 minutes. Our congregational coach will use it to help us determine the path ahead. Thank you for helping shape our future:
http://www.oursurvey.church/FirstBaptistChurchLumberton


“Reflections after the Growing Young Conference” by Doug Reedy

Before we departed for the Growing Young conference last week, I shared my guarded optimism.  Will we, as a whole congregation, rise to the occasion?  Will we do what it will take to make positive changes in our church culture?  Will we build on our many positives while working hard on our negatives?

The short answer is I really do believe we will.  There is a positive energy around us.  Giving is up.  Small changes are already in place.  We are beginning to involve more people in leadership.  We will still need more people to step up, but it is quite clear that more people are truly “in” than there have been in quite some time.

If we wish to attract young adults, and therefore attract more people in general, please understand there is no magic bullet.  There is nothing that will get us to where we wish to be overnight.  No flashy one day event we choose to have will result in any lasting impact.

Becoming a warmer environment for both visitors and regular attendees, involving more young people in leadership, being empathetic, prioritizing young adults, continuing to be missional, and putting Jesus’ message front and center will.  This isn’t just common sense anymore.  Research backs it up.

In business, church life, or college football, gimmicks do not bring long term success.  Hard work and patience pay off.  This church has risen to the occasion many times before.  If we pray, volunteer, listen, and give as we are capable of, we will again!

Doug


“Reflections before the Growing Young Conference” by Doug Reedy

On the eve of embarking on the Growing Young conference, I must admit being torn between optimism and skepticism.  In times like these my tendency is toward optimism as long as it is backed by prayer.  I am grateful for the opportunity to share my hopes and concerns with you.

I am optimistic that we will continue to have a vibrant, active youth group just as we have always had.  I worry about our ability to consistently appeal to young adults in their 20s.  That is of course why we are attending the Growing Young seminar.  The pool of educated young professionals in Lumberton is quite shallow to begin with.  Unless the economy improves, many former FBC youth will continue to find jobs elsewhere in the country, but some do return out of a love for their hometown.

Our current youth group shows more interest in our worship services (at least the early service), but it is hard to grow past a certain point with young people when they are asked to give up the one day they would have to take a sabbath.  Still, they are more willing to pray and read scripture in services than they ever have been, and we are more likely to call upon them now than in the past.  Our current college students seem open to participating when home, but only with your encouragement.

At this seminar, I am sure we will learn some practical steps toward becoming a church that is attractive to young adults.  My worry is in the execution.  We already have difficulty finding prayer partners for our college students for example, and this is a drop in the bucket of what we will need to do as a congregation to be successful.  We also need young people in serious leadership roles, and they need older mentors beyond paid staff and youth volunteers.  That takes willingness and effort from all.

As I shared with many of you in my last sermon, I am encouraged by the overwhelming positive impression our youth and former youth have of FBC.  Although there were complaints about the amount of bickering or lack of warmth, all of our youth and former youth spoke glowingly when asked about the opportunities we have provided them to serve others.  Serving others is what we are known for, and that is not only a great building block, it is a wonderful reason for optimism about our future!

Doug


“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


Deacon Election Results

The following were elected to serve as deacons on October 1, 2017:

Jim Driscoll
James Gore
Bruce Huggins
Lisa Rust
Tony Thompson
Chris Walters