Entering the Danger

A little over ten years ago, as I was getting settled into a new pastorate in Springfield, MO, our church hosted an acting troupe called “Skinny Improv.” It was (and is) a popular local entertainment group who specializes in improvisational theatre (think Who’s Line is it Anyway?). As the new pastor, it only made sense to be targeted to come on stage and be part of a sketch. I don’t recall the particulars of the story, but it had something to do with Miley Cyrus and Barry Manilow.

It can be intimidating to be in a place not knowing what your lines are going to be, or worse yet, not knowing what the other person on stage with you is going to say. But, the key component to remember is to say “yes” to whatever action is going on around you. Going with the action is necessary for the moment, even though you might not know how the scene is going to end. Of course, that’s the beauty of improvisational theatre.

A phrase relating to this theatrical approach is “entering the danger.” It means that you say “yes” to wherever the scene takes you, no matter how silly or ridiculous it might be. Saying “no” puts a stop to the action and effectively ends the scene.

I’m doing a sermon series this month called “Hope for Hard Times.” It’s not very subtle, I’ll admit, but I believe it’s where our people are right now. Last Sunday, I preached on the Call of Abram from Genesis 12.1-5, and noted that he was listed in the “hall of faith”: “By faith, Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Heb. 11.8).

The phrase “going without knowing” is an apt description of the church right now. I resonate with the frustration related to the uncertainty of what is yet to come with COVID-19. Our schools are opening this week and there is anxiety about the safety precautions and how our students and community are going to respond. I sympathize greatly with all those charged with making decisions right now. It’s too easy to criticize those who are accountable for these weighty matters; what is especially troubling is the variety of reactions toward the virus. Some view this as extremely dangerous, others are likely to see it as more of a nuisance than a health threat.

It’s worth revisiting the spiritual truth that Christians are to “walk by faith and not by sight.” It’s also true that we don’t walk by our feelings. Abram wasn’t necessarily looking for a change in his life, and at 75 could have been pretty much settled in Haran and not desiring a move. Yet, the Lord began his communication with him with the word “Go”. The phrase “I will” is used six times and “bless or blessing” five times. God is the protagonist in the story and is offering Abram an opportunity to be part of a special people who would belong to God. Abram’s obedience impacted not only his life but countless others who would benefit along the way.

I’m learning that long-range planning is less critical these days than knowing what to do in the moment. This “going without knowing” is where I am right now, which it turns out where I’ve needed to be all along. As a pastor, I find myself seeking to live out this admonition while passing on this approach to our leaders and congregation in general. Entering the danger is necessary. I’m learning that no script is necessary when it comes to obeying God–only “yes, Lord” Not “yes, but. . . “

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9.23). We can have confidence that our Lord will show us the way that we need to go along the way. It’s not necessary that we know how long it’s going to take to arrive at our destination. May God help us be content to walk in the light that He provides us.

A Degree by any other Name

The topic of “degree mills” came up again in conversation the other day. This is not a flattering term and is used to describe institutions who generate degrees for students who pay enough money for them. Usually the academic requirements for a specific degree are not as rigorous as those from an accredited school. Sometimes this is not a fair assessment of the education a person may receive from the unaccredited school, but in my view degrees from unaccredited schools should not be compared to those from fully accredited institutions.

Not every degree is equal. This is difficult for most church goers to understand. I sympathize especially with pastor search committees who are tasked with sorting through resumes and figuring out who might be a good fit for their congregation. A candidate with a doctorate would certainly be more desirable than someone without one, wouldn’t you think? And, sometimes pastor types can be coy about whether or not they’ve actually graduated. When I worked in the registrar’s office at seminary, I received calls from committees who wanted to know whether or not someone actually graduated with their degree as compared to simply taking classes. It’s good to know some folks are checking up on us pastor types!

I’ve been fortunate to have received my theological education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; the school doesn’t look the same in terms of its faculty and the denomination has certainly changed course since I’ve been in attendance. But, I was blessed to have been there prior to 2000 and am pleased with the education I received from those professors. I am also grateful that the school values its accreditation with the Association of Theological Schools and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. I feel good about seeing my diplomas handing on the wall in my office.

Accreditation is important because it is a check and balance in terms of academic requirements. Students who take classes at an accredited school can attend another school and know that their coursework will be accepted by their new school. There is value in knowing there is an agreed upon standard among schools who are accredited by outside entities–there’s a difference when a school is “self-accredited.”

I think accreditation is also important when comparing one’s education with those who attend other institutions of higher learning. There’s already scrutiny toward ministers from those outside the church world as it relates to the rigor of our educational requirements. It’s helpful to know that a seminary’s accreditation sends a signal that it is willing to be held to an approved standards for its academics and degree programs.

This isn’t intended to be a long treatise on this subject; I simply want to express gratitude for my own education as well as encourage future seminary students to check out the accreditation of the school before enrolling in it. If you can’t get a direct answer from their website, then that should raise a red flag for you. It might cost you more money, but the investment in an accredited university or seminary will pay off in the long run.

Choosing Stillness

“If you don’t take a Sabbath, something’s wrong. You’re doing too much, you’re being too much in charge. You’ve got to quit, one day a week, and watch what God is doing when you’re not doing anything.”

These words by Eugene Peterson are important during any season but are especially relevant during the unrest our nation is currently experiencing. It runs counter to our instincts to choose stillness rather than succumbing to worry and hurry. There’s a sense that we have to fix whatever it is that is wrong and work diligently towards that desired goal. But, the spiritual, emotional, and psychological issues we are experiencing these days can’t be easily resolved by additional efforts on our part.

I’ve been attentive to the numbers and trends relating to the COVID-19 virus. I’m not the only one. Schools, businesses, and churches are among the groups of people who are determining how best to respond to the data and attempt to keep their constituencies as safe as possible. As a pastor, I am particularly sensitive to not only the COVID virus but also the fear of the COVID virus and its impact upon our community. It’s stressful. There are no easy answers for people who are in positions of leadership and tasked with making decisions. What’s been discouraging and disturbing, however, is the toxic levels of discourse found on social media when it comes to mitigation efforts. We’ve got to understand that this virus is a non-partisan offender and the only way to deal with this is realize how our actions impact others.

After completing my first year in East TN, I’m realizing that I know more fellow pastors in the Volunteer State than I thought. I’ve gone to school with a number of them, and have been making efforts to reach out in attempts to encourage and be encouraged as we lead our people. This virus has infected pastors who have had to quarantine themselves and discontinue in person worship services for their congregations. It is a difficult time to be a pastor and be faced with how to respond responsibly during this pandemic.

Through the years, I’ve tried to find value in whatever it is that’s going on, even when circumstances make it difficult to do so. One of my friends in ministry reminded me, “With God, nothing is ever wasted.” No one wants to be in this situation, but if there is a positive we can glean from this it is that we all need to come together for mutual strength and encouragement. What divides us isn’t nearly as important during a pandemic; what is important is coming together for prayer and to show empathy for those who are suffering.

I’ve been preaching through the Psalms this summer, and most recently spent time around this passage: “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).

It’s ironic but true that stillness requires effort on our part. Stillness means that we stop and “cease striving” in order to rest in the reality of the presence of God in our world and in our lives. We can’t have any real sense of peace without embracing the truth that hurrying and worrying won’t fix anything. Control freaks are going to have a particularly difficult time right now, because we can’t change people and there’s not much we can do with the national malaise.

But, we can focus on ourselves and making the world around us a better place. We can choose to love God and love the people around us. We can rest in the truth that everything begins and ends with God–that’s literally how Psalm 46 is structured. Despite what is going on around us, God “will be exalted” among the nations and the earth. The Psalmist indicated the reality of God’s exaltation twice in this passage, so this emphasis must not be lost by our being distracted by what’s going on around us.

Stillness is a choice–it’s also a spiritual discipline. There’s enough bitterness and divisiveness in our world as it is. May God help us as the church to be a non-anxious presence and be good neighbors to those around us. And, let’s work on being still before the Lord to be reminded of this basic truth: God is still God.

Let’s stay encouraged–

Making Our Wants Few–An approach for these days

Henry David Thoreau once wrote: “I make myself rich by making my wants few.”These words written so long ago are an apt description of how to find happiness and contentment these days. We continue to navigate these COVID-19 days with a degree of uncertainty, doing our best to stay informed and take practical steps to help avert the spread of the virus. Churches, schools, and businesses are all forced with difficult decisions relating to the pandemic.

Now I’m hearing about a Sahara dust cloud heading toward the United States. Nicknamed “Godzilla” for its unusually large size, the dust cloud began to emerge off western Africa. It has now traveled over 4,000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico; we should be experiencing this phenomenon soon.

I’m resisting the urge to say, “What else could happen?” This year hasn’t turned out to be anything like anything any of us could have imagined.

It has been said that “we may be through with the virus, but the virus isn’t through with us.” With this in mind, our church staff has been seeking to lead us effectively and well through these frustrating times. Our desire has been to monitor changes and challenges related to the virus, seeking to be intentional about phasing in different activities along with way.

As you know, our church resumed in person worship services on June 7th. Obviously, our attendance hasn’t been close to what we’d consider normative. But, I am grateful for those who are with us in the building AND those who participate through our online media platforms. It’s important to be where you need to be during these days—just know that I miss seeing all of you!

I did want you to be aware that there will be a large group Sunday School class meeting at 9:30 am in the Family Life Center beginning July 12th. Lori Chisholm will be teaching a three Sunday series on “Faith over Fear” and I encourage you to participate.

Finally, please know of my sincere gratitude for your prayers and support related to the death of my mother. She lived to be 89 years old, yet her death was still a shock to us. Yet, she lived in a state of readiness to meet her Lord and now her faith has become sight. Lori, Cally, Lucy, Matt, and I are grateful for all the expressions of love and kindness; we are grateful to be part of your lives and have you in ours.

Let’s work on making our “wants” fewer and learning to find contentment in Jesus Christ alone. Our Lord is still speaking through His Word and has a purpose for us–nothing has taken God by surprise!

“I can’t breathe” and 84 days

After 84 days away from our worship spaces, First Baptist Church Clinton TN and friends will be able to gather in person. Our church council has approved guidelines for re-gathering and those are available for your review; if you plan on attending in person please take a look at them. In short, the church that gathers on June 7th will be different than the one that gathered on March 15th. Things will look different because they are different.

I think this is appropriate also because things aren’t the same in our nation; a lot of things have happened these last several months in regard to the COVID-19 virus and now the death of George Floyd on a Minneapolis street has rocked our nation.

A few of our church members have asked me about what’s going on in our nation right now. The violence, looting, and other images on television are disturbing. One of the best things we can do is to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” An important question to help us better understand what is going on is this: Does the destruction of property bother us more than the destruction of a human life?

I spoke about this during my sermon last Sunday (May 31); you can locate some of my thoughts around the 41 minute portion of the worship service. My concern was that Floyd’s last words of “I can’t breathe” are an apt yet tragic description of what many people are experiencing in our country. First the COVID-19 takes our breath, and now a graphic reminder of how injustice and racism rob people of their breath has happened too. Suffice it to say, the killing of Floyd by a police officer has generated much protest and rioting. Leaders are attempting to validate the rage behind this killing while seeking to bring about some return of peace. As Melvin Carter, Mayor of Minneapolis said, “The anger is justified, the violence is not.” And, Congressman John Lewis, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. offered some of these words, “Vote. Organize. Be constructive, not destructive.”

It’s a challenge to be constructive these days; it’s easier to label and libel each other. I’m hopeful that the church wants to be constructive and helpful. Far too often, the church has been an accomplice with our culture by inciting violence and prejudice. Historically, the Baptist church does not have a good track record when it comes to how it has treated people of color. Jesus’ admonition to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” has remained elusive for far too long.

Prior to our move to Clinton, I was given a DVD on “The Clinton 12” which documents some of the violence and unrest this community went through in the desegregation of the public schools. This town knows something about the Governor having to send National Guard troops. In 1956, many out of town agitators stirred violence and hatred and were effective in stoking fear. This church and especially its pastor, Rev. Paul Turner, took a leadership role in standing for justice and togetherness at that pivotal time. But, not without great personal cost to Turner.

So, a lot has happened in our nation these last 84 days and we’ve all been affected in some way. It’s about more than just our not being able to be together in the church building. But, I’m hoping we’ll be able to gather on this Sunday to worship and reflect upon the kind of people God would have us be during these days. Join me in praying for the Holy Spirit to enable us to breathe better, and in so doing may we also create space for others to breathe around us.


The COVID-19 virus has cast a dark shadow here at home, around our nation, and across the globe. To quote Dr. Anthony Fauci, this virus is very “efficient.” It is not like the flu–more people get it, and more people die from it. Indeed, “Social Distancing” is now part of our lives and lexicon.

Governor Bill Lee recommended the closure of all schools through this academic year. Students have had to learn to work “online” so special thanks to all our educators for their efforts in making this possible.

In other news, the “stay at home” directive given by the Governor will expire in April. This means that businesses will seek to open and gradually return to a degree of normalcy. The COVID-19 virus has brought about an economic toll; this will be measured in concert with the impact this is having upon our health and well-being.

First Baptist has sought to be good neighbors in this community that we know and love, and have canceled our activities and meetings in cooperation with the school system. As such, our church council approved the following:

Our church will plan on resuming regular activities (pending any new developments) on June 1st. We will look to incorporate guidance of state and local leaders as well as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) related to group gatherings as we work through this process.

In the same way that the CDC tightened restrictions for group gatherings, I would envision a similar loosening of restrictions over the next weeks and months. This is a “fluid situation” and we will act accordingly.

On a related note, I’m encouraged to learn that Clinton High and Anderson County High Schools are planning graduations in June. Hopefully, this will be a redeeming experience for our seniors under some very difficult circumstances.

As we have done every year, this church will honor our seniors. Please know that the church staff will do its best to provide a meaningful way for this to be accomplished.

We are all in this together. The decision to stop meeting in person is only rivaled by when to resume meeting in person. So, let’s be in prayer as we seek to make decisions for the good of our entire congregation.

We are not closed—we’ve had three people come into our church during this virtual season! So, please know of my gratitude for your faithful financial support and staying connected through our virtual worship services and other gathering opportunities. Stay encouraged–DC

Easter Sunday isn’t Canceled

This isn’t what I had in mind.

This is my first Holy Week with the church and what is happening now wasn’t even remotely what I thought would happen. All the planning, times to be together, messages to be given to groups of people (in person), these and other ideas have been tossed aside in deference to the COVID-19 virus.

It’s a humbling situation for not only myself but also a number of my pastor colleagues. Easter Sunday in particular is like the Super Bowl for us, a time of celebration and bringing people together to proclaim the resurrection of Christ. Not to mention all those “Easter Lily” folks who come once a year wondering why every time they come, there are flowers in the sanctuary.

I’ve been trying really hard to watch my language these last few weeks, but not in the way it sounds. I cringe whenever I hear someone say that “the church is closed.” Of course, I know what that means (I think); it means that the church isn’t holding regular worship and gathering events. Some folks associate the meeting together moments in a building to be “going to church” and when that doesn’t happen, then the church is “closed.”

Another thing I’ve been hearing is that there is a danger of Easter being “canceled” because folks aren’t meeting in the church house. The reasoning is that because we can’t meet together, then Easter doesn’t happen. To be sure, there’s a lot of disappointment related to this realization. But, does this mean that Easter is canceled?

Thank goodness for technology–at least we’re able to stay connected that way. Still, it doesn’t substitute for meeting in person nor does it help people who aren’t technologically savvy enough to have a laptop or smart phone and follow the livestream events. It’s not a perfect situation, no matter much I try to keep the church connected.

I don’t know if we will ever get back to “normal” whatever that means. But, I do think this is a good time to get our theology lined up to what is truly important about life and also what “being the church” means.

On Easter Sunday, we will miss out on seeing all the new dresses, suits, and ties that were bought just for the occasion. We won’t be doing egg hunts, at least not in large groups, and we won’t see packed church houses with folks wondering ‘why can’t it always be like this?’ There won’t be the beautiful music with the choirs or praise team either. There will be any number of losses related to this moment. For me personally, I won’t have the privilege of preaching my first Easter Sunday service to people in chairs or pews. Indeed, it will be an Easter like none other any of us have ever experience.

When you think about all the things we won’t have, there doesn’t seem to be anything to be really excited about. Think about it. The only thing we will have to look forward to is the resurrection of Jesus.

These last few weeks haven’t fun by any stretch of the imagination. People are losing their jobs and livelihoods, and the economic impact is considerable. The psychological and emotional toll is significant also; we won’t know the real damage that has been done in these areas for a while. It’s enough to get depressed just thinking about how much longer this could last.

If there is one benefit to all this disruption and not meeting together (in person) it could be that we will all recognize what Easter Sunday is truly all about. Maybe the resurrection of Christ, on its own merit, is enough for us to celebrate. It could be that the people of God realize that the church is the people rather than a building, and we learn that the church is never closed. We are God’s people no matter what.

The early church experienced these periods of separation and isolation too, and we are here because they believed the resurrection of Christ was enough to sustain them through seasons of hope, hardship, blessing, and despair. Their testimony and faithfulness are our legacy, and now we are called upon to demonstrate faith in a season of testing.

I’m certainly looking forward to all of us being together in person for worship. I’m hopeful we will be renewed and motivated not to take the “gathering of ourselves together” for granted. I am skeptical though, because I recall how 9/11 brought us together for a season and then we drifted apart to business as usual. But, I’ll park my skepticism for now.

Still, maybe maybe this time will be different. I hope so. In the meantime, I am working on not being concerned about things I cannot control. I do want to get up on Easter Sunday saying “Christ is Risen!” to mostly empty pews and people tucked away behind the camera.

COVID-19 can’t stop the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nothing can separate of us from the love of God than is in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is our season to learn, love, and lean in to being the people of God. We need to think about others and how our actions are impacting them. And while we’re at it, let’s work in this wonderful and familiar refrain:

“Christ is Risen–Christ is Risen Indeed!”

The Church is Open

I don’t want this to be the Coronavirus Channel 24/7, but it’s the forefront of all our minds right now. And it’s our minds that I’m really concerned about.

Jesus told his followers “do not worry about tomorrow” because “your heavenly Father knows you need these things.” Jesus was talking about daily provisions. This realization has become even more important in light of potential shortages of goods and services, and as people stock up and panic buy.

As I’ve told our church numerous times, we are still the church even we’re not together. During this pandemic and season of social distancing, numerous churches are making the difficult choice of canceling activities. We are doing this also. But, it’s important to recognize that the church isn’t closed. There’s a difference between canceling activities and closing the church.

I’ve heard this a few times: “How long is the church going to be closed?” I’m a theologian of sorts, and making the case that the church is not closed is significant. This is more than a distinction without a difference. Jesus said that the “gates of hell would not prevail it (church). I think that would include a virus that is creating havoc, illness, and sometimes death.

Our church will remain OPEN! We are making changes to how we do things. One of the best ways to describe what’s going on is that we are “building the plane as we fly it.” So, please know that the body of Christ is open and will remain open until Jesus comes back for us.

The Center for Disease Control has provided guidelines for groups in terms of how many can be together at one time. As much as possible, I want us to observe these as members of a community that we know and love. What this means, however, is that we are learning more about what we can do during this unexpected season which has brought us to a standstill.

I went into more detail about where we are and what we’re doing as a church on Wednesday night. You can go to our Facebook page as I did a livestream broadcast last Wednesday, and it’s still on our church Facebook page.

We are looking to stay connected as much as possible. One way this is going to happen is by livestreaming on Wednesdays at 6:30 am and Sundays at 10:00 am. Join us there if you can, and stay encouraged!

Coronavirus Update

We have entered a new normal–at least for a while.

The World Health Organization has declared the COVID-19 virus a pandemic.

Vacation destinations and athletic events are announcing they are closing for the forseeable future. The most dramatic event for basketball fans has been the cancellation of “march madness.”

Closer to home, the Governor of Tennessee declared a state of emergency in order to qualify for federal funds to combat the spread of the virus. State colleges and universities are closing campuses and going to online classes. School districts are also having to determine what is best as far as keeping their doors open. These steps and others are being taken to slow the spread of the virus especially as it relates to gatherings in large groups.

And, President Trump has declared a national state of emergency to combat the COVID-19 virus.

As it relates to First Baptist Church, we remain in contact with state and local government leaders as well as health officials as it relates to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This is a very fluid situation and we want to be responsive to any developments that pertain to us.

After careful consideration, we have decided to move forward with our March 15 regularly scheduled 8:30 am COMBINED service in the Family Life Center. Small group Bible Study classes will also gather; the deacons will have their meeting at 10:30 am. However, the Widow/Widowers banquet has been postponed.

If you are sick or have a health condition that could be impacted adversely by gathering in a group setting, please stay at home. Take any steps necessary to ensure your personal well-being. Keep in mind that we will be live streaming the Sunday sermon via our church Facebook page.

Know that I am aware of concerns relating to the COVID-19 virus and desire to respond appropriately and best. Our church leadership has already taken several common sense steps in our buildings to enhance safety, and are prepared to take more significant ones as needed for public health, social distancing, and our well-being.

You can help us with this effort by washing your hands and using the increased  number of hand sanitizing stations in our buildings. You might also consider adopting alternative and creative forms of greeting each other (fist bumps, elbow bumps, toe taps etc).

Let’s keep praying for another and seek to follow the Lord’s admonition to trust Him through the trials. Let’s also take things “one day at a time” remembering that we are the church even when aren’t together on Sundays. We don’t have to be afraid. Rather, let’s use our energy to love one another and pray for wisdom for how we might be the people of God during this time.