Monday, November 6, 2017

Sutherland Springs, Texas

A shooting last year at a night club that catered to the homosexual community resulted in a tragic loss of life and was rightfully mourned by our nation. But it didn’t have a personal impact upon me, because I don’t frequent night clubs.

The shooting last month in Las Vegas at a country-music show was equally tragic. I paused to think of friends and family members who might attend such a venue from time to time, but again, it had minimal impact upon me.

And then there was a shooting at a close-knit Baptist church in a small Texas town. At last report, 26 people in that congregation, ranging in age from 18 months to 72 years, were killed. It included the Associate Pastor & his wife, and the teenage daughter of the Lead Pastor. Now this one hits close to home. Painfully close.

This is not a monologue on guns or mental health issues. These things need to be discussed in a rationale manner which might affect public policy. But that’s not where my thoughts take me today.

Today, I am considering how painful this event is for the survivors. For the family members. For the other church members. I cannot imagine suddenly and unexpectedly losing 26 members of my church family. I mourn every time one of our families moves away or decides to attend a different church. Let alone 26 such members. That’s just devastating.

Think about it. On a day we were celebrating 5 baptisms, singing songs of praise and contemplating what God’s Word has to say about our tendency to hide from God, our brothers and sisters in Christ 800 miles to our south were literally fighting for their lives. They had come to church to worship God and fellowship together. They had made plans for lunch after church. Some were looking forward to watching a few football games on TV. Some of them were planning on attending their kids’ soccer games.

And then a man—we can think of all sorts of adjectives to attach to that word (crazy, deranged, sinister, etc)—entered the church with evil intent, and carried out a massacre beyond our capacity to comprehend.

In the span of a few minutes, lives were taken, and those who survived would be forever changed. A place of worship became a place of sacrifice, the likes of which none of us can really imagine.

Much time and interest will be devoted to trying to figure out the motive for such a senseless killing. Maybe it was a domestic abuse situation on steroids. Maybe it was the result of untreated mental illness. But in the end, the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas occurred for the same reason as the killings in Orlando and Las Vegas. It doesn’t really matter the race or nationality or religion of the perpetrator. It doesn’t matter his country of origin or his political agenda. These events—differing in time and distance—all stem from the same problem. Evil lurks in the hearts of men. They may have different “reasons” for the outpouring of hatred and malice, but ultimately they spring from hearts turned against God.

Our prayers rise upward on behalf of those affected by this tragedy. And they rise upward on our behalf. Because wherever we go, whatever we do, sin & evil are there. They may not manifest themselves in mass murder, but they permeate every aspect of our lives. And while honest people debate the wisdom of laws affecting guns or mental health issues, the answer—the solution—ultimately lies in Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ alone.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

25 Years & Counting

25 years. The “Silver Anniversary”. Quarter of a century. A Quadranscentennial. 

That’s how long I’ve been in pastoral ministry come next month. 

It doesn’t seem possible that it was 25 years ago that I loaded up my wife and 18 month old daughter in a U-Haul making our way to England, Arkansas to begin my first pastorate at County Line Missionary Baptist Church. It was a relatively small church, literally in the middle of the cotton fields. It was made up of folks who knew the meaning of a hard day’s work. Truck drivers and farmers and laborers and teachers. They loved the Lord. They loved each other. And they loved on us. From the moment the U-Haul arrived in town, they helped us get settled and made us feel at home. They somehow came to accept a city-slicker like me, who had trouble distinguishing a tractor from a combine.

It was the perfect place for a young man who had never pastored before and who was starting his seminary education a few months later. They let me make mistakes. They gave me gentle guidance and firm direction. They modeled the love of Christ in as genuine and authentic a way as any church I’ve ever known. Best of all, they loved Kim & Kacie in a way that helped us make the transition pretty smoothly. I learned much more in the 3 years I was their pastor than in all the classes and seminars of my seminary education. 

From there we moved about 30 miles south to White Hall, Arkansas, just outside of Pine Bluff. Bethany  Missionary Baptist Church was a larger church, and it was my first experience as the Senior Pastor of a church with a staff. I will always cherish my pastorate at Bethany, in large part because it allowed me to be a co-laborer with my long-time friend, who was their Worship Pastor when I went there. I was Best Man in Bill’s wedding in the early 80’s and he was my Best Man in my 1989 wedding. Bill is probably the most authentic & Godly man I know, committed to living out his faith in a sincere manner. We made some great friends at Bethany, and they helped to instill in me an even deeper affection for the truth of God’s Word.

When we returned to Overland Park in 1997, we thought the Lord was leading us to help with a new church plant in Overland Park, one sponsored by the church we had just left in Arkansas. We started helping there, but before long the Lord led us back to our old home church, which had been without a pastor for a few months. Through an interesting and unexpected series of events, I agreed to serve as Pastor of Landmark Missionary Baptist Church, leading them through a time of transition and relocation from KCK to Bonner Springs. During the time I served as their pastor, I also worked a full-time job. After 5 years, and having led in the construction of new facilities, I found myself with nothing more to give. Leaving that congregation of dear friends was painful. I’d known most of those folks for more than 20 years. It was in that church that Kim & I had been married, and it was in that church that I was privileged to baptize Kacie. But we knew that the time had come for us to move on.

When we left Landmark, I thought my service as a pastor was over, but I still possessed a heart for ministry. After the Lord led us to Olathe Bible Church, I was blessed to be given an opportunity to teach an Adult Bible Fellowship on Sunday mornings. Teaching that class remains one of the greatest blessings of my ministry, at any level. In the three years I taught The Connecting Point, we grew from a class of about 20 people to more than 70 in attendance each week. It was a multi-generational class, and we loved to study the Word of God together. We still count some of those folks among our dearest friends. 

In 2005, we began to talk about the possibility of my going on staff at OBC as a campus pastor. OBC has a real heart for church-planting, and had already planted two churches in suburban Johnson County. They were looking at beginning a new church plant, and had settled on Spring Hill, on the Johnson County-Miami County border. Over a period of months of prayerful consideration, I accepted the call to pastor the Spring Hill Church Plant. I joined the OBC staff as a full time pastor in June, 2006, and we began holding services in Spring Hill that fall at Life Spring Church. 

The rest, as they say, is history. It’s been an incredible journey that has spanned more than 10 years. This is the longest tenure of my 25 year pastorate, and it has been amazing to see God work in the hearts and lives of this church and this community. This experience has stretched my faith beyond anything that I ever imagined. From meeting in a school building, to purchasing land, to buying a shopping center that housed a grocery store and remodeling it to be a church campus. We began running the community food pantry a few years ago. We’re known as the church that “hands out water bottles” in the Fall Festival parade every September.  

The one thing that this journey has taught me is to be open to where God is leading—and don’t ever think you know where He will lead you next. I never thought I’d be a pastor. When I did surrender to the ministry, I never thought I’d move to Arkansas. Once we moved to Arkansas, I never thought we’d come back to Kansas City, and certainly not to our home church in KCK. When I left Landmark, I never thought I’d pastor again. And I’d even say that I never thought we’d move to Spring Hill, but honestly, I didn’t know anything about Spring Hill until we considered the call to minister here.

So much has changed in 25 years. Different cities. Different states. Different churches. Different people. Most have been wonderful, Godly, loving people. Some have been…less wonderful. But I think I’ve learned something from all of them. 

Kacie has gone from an 18 month old toddler to a beautiful young married woman. Her husband, Andrew, is a great young man whom we didn’t even know a few years ago, and he has become a valued part of our family. Kim is a help-mate in every sense of the word—my partner in love, in ministry and in life. Over these years, I’ve put on a few pounds and shed a few hairs. 

But the one constant: a God who is the same yesterday, today and forever. He has always been faithful, even when I have not. He has led us through times of abundance and through times of struggle. He has comforted us through dark and difficult days, and He has blessed us beyond anything we could think or imagine. 

I don’t know what the future holds. Will I be around for 25 more years? If I am, will I still be a pastor? Will I still be in Spring Hill? Will I have any hair left at all? 

I don’t know the future. But I know who does know the future. He has led me throughout my life, and particularly throughout my ministry. He’s seen me through all these years. I think I’ll trust Him to see me through to the end. And I’ll do it with a sense of wonder—what will He do next?