Note to our church about Coronavirus

Yesterday our governor held a press conference indicating the first confirmed case of the coronavirus in our state. So, I thought it would be a good time to touch base about what we are doing thus far as a church in response to this development.

The church staff and I are implementing some common sense steps to help the church during this time. We have added hand sanitizing stations and are ensuring that door handles and elevator buttons are being cleaned on a regular basis. I would also encourage you to wash your hands regularly with soap and water.

If you’ve been in worship recently, you may have noticed that we haven’t been doing the meet and greet portion of the service which included leaving our seats and shaking hands with others. This initially related to my wanting to change the flow of the worship service, but this is also a practical step from a health standpoint.

There’s a good article from Christianity Today about what churches can do to deal with the coronavirus, and I’ve posted that on my Facebook page as well as the church’s page.

We are a church, not a fortress, so there is always a certain degree of risk when we gather in a public place. In the case of this virus, I want to keep us as informed and as healthy a congregation as possible. Rest assured that I want to do what is best to accomplish this goal.

We are going to pay attention to state and local government leaders and take our cues from them regarding any additional steps that we as a church need to take. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing you this Sunday—and don’t forget that we spring forward to set those clocks ahead an hour!

Dr. Chisholm

Lent arrives at FBC CLinton

     It’s called March Madness.

     This is the favorite time of year for college basketball fans, as 68 teams make their way into the NCAA tournament “on the road to the final four.”

     I’m not a basketball fan except for one or two teams, but there’s something contagious about the excitement of this basketball tournament. One of the great thrills to this event is the possibility of an unknown team (aka Cinderella) defeating some higher ranked team resulting in busted tournament brackets and “madness” in the basketball world.

    There’s other kinds of madness going on too. Unless you’ve been under a rock somewhere, you’ve been aware that the politics of a presidential election year is heating up. On Tuesday, March 3rd, about a dozen states hold primaries in an attempt to select a nominee for their political party. The day is known as “Super Tuesday.”

    In addition to these sporting and political events, the church is entering its own season known as Lent. Lent is a 40 day period of prayer, fasting, and reflection on the life, suffering, and death of Jesus Christ.

    Personally, I find this last event and time frame the most meaningful of all.  

    Many Christians utilize this time to “give up” something for Lent to identify with what Jesus endured during the 40 day period of testing he endured while in the wilderness.

    Perhaps you also will give thought to giving something up during this period of time. And, some folks will use each Sunday as a “feast day” to take a break from whatever it is from which they are fasting.

    By the time you receive this publication, our church will have already celebrated Ash Wednesday, the beginning of this 40 day season. I’m grateful we have had that experience this moment together.

    One of the biggest takeaways from the Lenten season is the realization of our sinfulness and need of a Savior. John Pierce put it this way, “Perhaps in addition to our accountability groups we need grace groups to remind one another that we are loved and affirmed in our failures, differences, and imperfections—keeping in the forefront that none of us has it all figured out.”

    It’s a privilege to be part of the First Baptist family of faith. It’s easy to look around and notice that there’s a lot of non-basketball related madness going around. However, there’s also a lot of good to enjoy and part of that goodness is sharing life together.

    Make sure you’re part of what’s going on at your church these next several weeks. God has been good to us. Let’s remain faithful in our witness, prayers, giving, and service to our Lord.

Remember Your Baptism

The last several weeks have given us a barrage of non-stop depressing information. Each morning I’ve gotten up to do my usual routine of getting kids up for breakfast and dressed for another day of school. While doing this and gulping down my first cup of coffee of the day, I turn on NBC Today show to see what’s going on in the world. The news has been providing us with the trifecta of The Impeachment Hearings, Coronavirus, and the tragic death of Kobe Bryant.

It’s no wonder our country is becoming more depressed.

There’s nothing I can do change the content of the news, but I am learning to turn the sound off and the channel to something more benign like The Weather Channel. But of course, there’s no guarantee there won’t be some frightening storm bearing down on us. Fortunately, at least for the weekend, there’s the Super Bowl to consider and give us a pleasant distraction from this agonizing blitz of discouragement.

Martin Luther is credited for launching what has been called “The Protestant Reformation” and Baptists are a branch of that movement known as the “Radical Reformation.” And yet, despite this incredible contribution to the Christian movement, Luther struggled mightily with discouragement and depression. He would have visions of Satan ominously appearing before him to drag him into the pit of hell. Luther’s reaction to these terrible images prompted him to put a plaque on his wall which simply read “Remember Your Baptism.” Whenever these waves of depression would come his way, he would exclaim, “I am baptized!”

This isn’t an attempt to say that depression can be resolved with a sign on a wall; we have much more information today to suggest that it’s more significant than that. The first thing we have to do is to take the issues of mental illness much more seriously than we have been. Although not having the expertise to diagnose this condition, I can and should be much more sympathetic to those who struggle with depression and recognize the tragic consequences for those who are victimized by this condition. And, I hope I can find ways to refer people to get the professional help they need.

There is a difference between depression and discouragement, and what I am going to be relating to on Super Bowl Sunday is the latter. None of us are immune to periods of discouragement, and for this reason it’s vital that we have a spiritual experience to anchor us during the storm clouds of difficulty come our way. The Baptism of Jesus was a significant moment in his life, a trinitarian experience when the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit manifested themselves in this singular moment. It was a moment of affirmation, identification, and commissioning for the Son of God to begin his earthly ministry. And, right away after his baptism, he was led into the wilderness for a period of testing.

Our baptism is important too, for the same two reasons above but especially as an identification as being children of God.

It’s easy to forget who we are and whose we are in this tsunami of problems and sadness that we see each and every day. The old journalism adage is true, “if it bleeds, it leads.” We can’t allow our identity to be shaken when the winds of discouragement come our way, or when people let us down, and especially when people who claim to be Christians act in a manner antithetical to the gospel message. Yes, Christians can be engaged in the political process, but we must be careful not to allow the prophetic voice of the church to be confused by the merger of church and state. First century Christians faced significant opposition, persecution, and even death for the sake of the gospel. The world needs an authentic Christian witness from each of us no matter what others around or doing or saying.

The words of Nehemiah 8.10 still ring true today: “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” Let us stay encouraged and recognize that God is still at work in this world, and also that this world is not our home. So, when things don’t go our way let that be a reminder not to put our confidence in the wrong things and also that people can let us down. But, we have the assurance that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13.8).

Our Hope is not in the things of this world. We have a Hope that will not perish and will sustain us throughout all eternity. Our task now is to be “salt and light” in this world and not be surprised when “in this world you will have trouble.” We aren’t promised an easy go of it and it’s more important now more than ever to know who we are in Christ and that shouldn’t change depending on circumstances around us.

May God help us to “Remember Our Baptism” and may our spiritual roots go down deep in God’s Word and most of all through our faith in Christ while saying “I am baptized!”

Where is Your Brother?

It’s amazing to me how different children from the same parents can be in temperament and behavior. I’ve lost track of the number of times parents (and grandparents) have told me about their kids, and that they marvel at how different they are from each other. There are an infinite number of ways these differences can occur; sometimes these differences can create friction, other times they create fun. In some cases these behaviors manifest themselves in what is called “sibling rivalry.”

One of the more prominent examples of this is playing out is between Prince William and Prince Harry. Harry and Meghan are wanting to step from their royal duties to be more independent from the rest of the family. There’s a rift in House of Windsor, with the Queen Mother calling for an emergency summit to work things out. Prince William was quoted as saying, “I’ve put my arm around my brother all our lives. I can’t do it anymore. We’re separate entities.”

I’m working through the book of Genesis to start of 2020 and along the way I’ve wandered into the relationship of Cain and Abel. There’s a fascinating and fateful story of how both of them made offerings to the Lord–the Lord looked with favor upon the younger brother Abel but did not do so with the older brother Cain. Cain was filled with anger at this rejection and the Lord reached out to him, an attempt to avert a potential disaster for himself and sadly for his brother. Rather than respond to the Lord’s efforts, he instead spoke to Abel “Let’s go out to the field.” That was the last time we saw or heard from his younger brother.

God posed a question to Cain that haunts us even today: “Where is Your Brother?” God didn’t ask this question for God’s information but rather for Cain to find himself along with confessing what he had done. Instead, Cain offered one of the most callous and sarcastic answers “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” or literally “am I the shepherd’s shepherd?”

It seems appropriate on the Martin Luther King weekend to ask these questions once again. Far too often we act distant and unconcerned about the well-being of those around us, including but not limited to our own family members.

One lesson we can glean from a trip “to the field” is that unresolved anger is dangerous and deadly. This truth manifested itself in Cain’s behavior, and unfortunately many times it is rehearsed in our actions today. We cultivate grudges against those who have wronged us, and seek ways to do them harm. Abel had done nothing to Cain himself, yet Cain made him the object of his anger. His actions could be called the first real hate crime.

We all get angry from time to time, and there are some occasions in which it is justified. However, the Bible warns us “not to let the sun go down on your anger.” I believe this means not to let anger go on indefinitely because it can fester to do great damage to oneself and also to those around us.

God cautioned Cain that sin was “crouching at the door” and ready to pounce and that he must “rule over it.” This personification of sin as a predator should make us wake up to the dangers of directing our rage towards others and not taking the moment to repent that God offers us.

Nelson Mandela spent almost three brutal decades in prison as an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa. When he became President of that country in 1995, Mandela was asked about using the power of his position to get even and exact revenge on those who had harmed him so much. Mandela responded, “No, because if I felt like I wanted to get even, I would still be in prison.”

As followers of Jesus Christ, we still have a long way to go in our treatment of others. Let’s spend some time reflecting on that this Martin Luther King, Jr weekend.

Happy New Year! 2020 style

Happy New Year and welcome to 2020– It’s always a big deal to start a year that ends with a zero!

   January is named after the Roman god “Janus.” In Roman mythology, Janus has two faces—one to look to the future and the other to look to the past. So, January is a “two-faced” month. It offers a time for us to reflect upon where we have been and also where we are going.

  Since moving here in July, my family and I have experienced our new life in East Tennessee. We have participated in several seasonal events provided through our church, holiday gatherings with new friends, school activities and worship opportunities. These have all been “firsts” for us and we appreciate your making us feel at home.

   Before moving on to a new year, I wanted to thank our staff for all their wonderful efforts during this past Advent season. The musical celebrations, “Keyboards at Christmas”, the distribution of food and toys to those in need, a meaningful Christmas Eve service, times of fellowship for our children and youth, along with many other service and learning opportunities, have been made facilitated by our devoted staff. I thank them and our faithful volunteers as well for a meaningful holiday season. I appreciate ALL of you whose presence and support brought joy and encouragement to us all.

  A new year offers new opportunities, challenges, and beginnings. I’m excited about what the Lord has in store for First Baptist Church this upcoming year. The year 2020 offers a metaphor for the kind of vision I want us as a church family to have in carrying out Kingdom work. Let me offer a few “hopes” as we start another year together.  

   I hope we’ll be able to focus on reaching newcomers to the Clinton area. There are people in this area who need Jesus Christ and need to be part of an authentic Christian community. We are uniquely blessed and positioned in the heart of Clinton, so let’s pray and be sensitive to that. Let’s not forget what it’s like to move into a new area and the challenges of getting connected to a church.

    I hope we’ll also be able to maintain focus on ongoing building renovations and technological upgrades. It’s encouraging to note the improvements and how that signals that there is life and progress going on.

    Finally, I also hope we can realize the comfort and strength in these words: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13.8).

    We’re going to be a wonderful journey this year. There’s a lot of excitement and energy in what the Lord is doing through our people. I hope you’ll join me in the journey.         

Christmas Empathy or Apathy?

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?–Henry David Thoreau

Bill Wilson wrote a great article in the recent issue of Nurturing Faith Journal entitled “The Noise in our head and in our life” in which he made reference to this wonderful quote. His words prompted some of my own musings relating to transition and the holiday season.

I’m spending my first Christmas in Clinton in a few days. Looking back on the beginning of this year, there’s no way I could have imagined finishing it in East Tennessee. My family and I packed up 12 years of memories from life in the Ozarks this summer, and transitioned into a new community.

Of course, I’m not the only person to have moved due to a new job opportunity. People do it all the time. And, in fact, I’m truly grateful for the privilege of being part of a new family of faith in a beautiful part of the country. I’m thankful for the hospitality and warmth directed towards Lori, our three children, and me. Perhaps being Pastor of First Baptist Church offers incentive to folks wanting to put their best foot forward in welcoming us. In ministry, these early days are called “the honeymoon period.”

The excitement of being in a new place doesn’t negate the challenges of adjusting to a new life with new people. I will always remember how my younger two children (my oldest is in college) responded to the news of a pastor search committee visiting their mom and dad. It was a difficult time for time for them, as their own lives were uprooted and the emotions of leaving friends, schools, and a church poured out of them.

Over time, however, I’ve seen them engage and adapt as best they can to new people, places, and a new life. They have been so courageous in getting involved in a new school and new church; this has not been easy for them but I admire them for their willingness to stretch themselves. They have gone through numerous changes, and I am so proud of them.

My family and I are still adjusting to a new community, and as a Pastor still in his first six months, I’m learning about traditions, expectations, and how things have been done. I don’t want to move too quickly and have been intentional about building relationships. That’s been my primary focus.

The longer I am here and the more I learn about the people, the more I realize that hopes, dreams, and fears are pretty much the same as they were with the folks in Missouri.

Just this past week, one woman’s world was rocked with the news that doctors found a tumor in her six year old granddaughter. The little girl had gone in for a check up related to other symptoms. This wasn’t the news the family was expecting to hear.

There’s an older man who goes back into the hospital repeatedly to deal with a problem in his leg; there’s an issue with blood flow and there’s the possibility of amputation. Apparently doctors can only perform the procedure to open up the arteries so many times, and this is the only option left.

Several members of our church staff are facing personal challenges relating to the anniversary of the death of a spouse or child. The holidays make the pain of loss more acute for them, as they bravely lead our people while managing the emotions within them. And, while this goes on, we look forward to and eagerly await the arrival of a new baby for a married couple on staff. The church was thrilled at the news of what will take place in their life and our church’s life over the next few months.

My point in offering these musings is to remind us that the people around us are going through joys, difficulties, uncertainty, and challenges that we don’t always know about. We get busy with our own stuff and can become impatient with the people around us. Sometimes people act a certain way for a reason: they are importing their previous life experiences into how they deal with the present.

Let’s take time to be sensitive to the people around us. Sometimes we want to focus on our own problems and become apathetic to the concerns of others. We don’t always factor in what motivates people, yet being attentive and listening might just be the gift that people are looking for. Empathy can be a powerful blessing to offer someone during this time of year.

An adaption of this old adage is true: “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a secret battle.”

December means Missions and Music at FBC Clinton

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

    The most enduring example of this statement can be traced to what happened with Jesus and his disciples. The 12 disciples followed him for three years and their numbers swelled to more than 500 who saw him in a “post-resurrection” experience before his Ascension. For more than 2000 years, the church has continued telling the story of the resurrected Jesus and how each person can have eternal life in His name. That’s the Good News!

      One way we spread the Good News is through our December designated missions offering supporting the missions efforts of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) and Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Our combined (SBC/CBF) churchwide goal is $8000.

     Both the CBF and SBC have global missions offerings that are typically promoted during this time of year. Our church provides the means to give to either the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (SBC) or the Global Missions Offering (CBF). 

    Keep in mind that 100% of your gift to the Global Missions Offering will send CBF field personnel to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world. Also, 100% of your gift to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering provides missionaries the services they need to live among the unreached peoples they serve.

    There are offering envelopes available for both CBF and SBC; the right envelope depends upon your Baptist convictions and where you want your money to go. For me, that means supporting the mission work of the CBF. Regardless of where you send your money, my hope is that we would ALL contribute to the missions offering!

    On a related note, the Angel Tree is up! I appreciate so much Beth Green and Sondra Davis for serving as Coordinators of this effort. Just FYI, we get our referrals from Clinton City Schools and Head Start; thanks so much for your participation.

    Thanks also to our Hostess Committee for their time and effort in renovating and redecorating our building. Several areas are already seeing immediate improvement in bringing our furnishings up to date. These changes are not only encouraging to us but also send a positive message to our guests.

    As we make our way into the month of December, we will also be blessed with wonderful music for the Christmas season. Our children and adult choirs are working diligently to provide meaningful worship opportunities for us. And, tickets for the “Clinton Keyboards at Christmas” are nearly gone!

    Finally, my family and I count it a blessing to be celebrating our first Christmas here in beautiful east Tennessee. We are grateful for the friendships we’ve made in our church and community and look forward to a wonderful Advent season. And, let me be among the first to say “Merry Christmas!”

Peterson, Crist, and Holiness

I’ve just started working through “The Contemplative Pastor” by Eugene Peterson, who also blessed us with “The Message” translation of the Bible.

It’s a good read and a good word for us pastor types, along with a challenge of how we spend our time and what it means for us to do our work. I particularly appreciated his critique of what it mean to be a “busy pastor.” He writes, “It is far more biblical to learn quietness and attentiveness before God than to be overtaken by what John Oman named the twin perils of ministry, flurry and worry. For flurry dissipates energy, and worry constipates it.”

For someone of Peterson’s theological acumen, it amazes me that he chose to remain at a congregation that numbered in the hundreds rather than the thousands. This is not a critique on Kingdom success, but rather an indictment of what many of us pastor types have bought into through the years. Size matters, and the size of your church is a reflection on your size of influence. Peterson’s life and ministry refutes such a craven view of life and ministry. It’s a liberating perspective.

I’ve gotten sick to my stomach at the latest minister type who has succumbed to sexual sin. Comedian John Crist has confessed to “moral failure” which doesn’t take into account the lives of the women who have been abused and shamed through his actions. They are the true victims and we must keep that in mind when we talk about redemption for John and what his future might be.

Upon reading the latest reports, I realized much to my disgust that he was exchanging free passes to his performances in exchange for sexual favors. How is this possible? A Christian comedian goes on stage to critique the church and us Christians while having people in the audience whom he has used and abused. His platform gave him power and influence over these women. I just can’t understand how this could happen (again).

Through personal conversation and mainly through the power of social media, I’ve realized that Crist’s fall has created a lot of angst in the evangelical community. It’s revived bitterness among those who have been personally victimized by those who were (are?) leaders in the faith community. We must listen to women when they tell their stories of abuse, not readily rationalize the behavior of those who would use and abuse them.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this except to say that my goals for ministry have changed somewhat through the years. Early on, my aspirations tended to relate to numbers in terms of how many people I could get to “come to church.” This marker is never too far away in my current context, or in previous situations also. Our church is working through a budget process right now and I’m keenly aware of its importance in maintaining staff and supporting ministries. So, it’s not to say that numbers aren’t important.

Through the observation of pastors and ministers going through moral failure, plus the ongoing challenges and criticisms lobbed at us clergy types, I’ve come to desire a more serious and spiritual goal, one that my friend and retired pastor Dr. John Marshall talked about a few years ago.

Even those he led a large congregation in our city, he took time to get to know other ministers in the community and encourage us. The one thing he said that has stayed with me is that his desire was not growing a large church or measured success–it was finishing well. His goal was holiness.

A verse that I keep close at hand is from I Corinthians 10 (from The Message, of course): These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.

We should not be celebrating another minister who has a public fall. I’m more in line with Ed Stetzer on this in that is should cause a holy fear in our lives. Perhaps the Lord is pruning his church, and this should cause us to be humble and seek holiness.

I’m vulnerable to “flurry and worry” too. I can’t lie down “in green pastures” when I’m caught up in those twin perils. I’m hopeful that I can learn to be at peace with myself where the Lord has placed me, and keep my focus on what He wants for me rather than what others from me.

The John Crist story is another in (sadly) a long line of ministers who have disappointed and shocked us. I’m grieving for the impact this is having on the body of Christ, and also believe that there is some good that will come from all this.

Beginning with myself first and then for others “who have ears to ear,” may we embrace the paths of humility and holiness as we seek to follow the One who embodied those qualities for us.

Thanks Eugene for challenging me to “be still and know that He is God.” The call of Pastor is a high calling, one that I’m thankful for each day. It is the calling that centers and anchors me during the highs and lows of ministry. And, I’ll do my best to guard against the temptations to “flurry and hurry.”

There’s a “Martha” in all of us who tends to be “worried and upset” by many things, but let’s seek to allow the “Mary” to draw us closer to the feet of Jesus.

Trunk or Retreat #FBClintonTN

My family and I really enjoyed our first “Trunk or Treat” here at FBC Clinton! In addition to the fact that Lucy petted the largest dog we’d seen (maybe ever), we also were awarded the “Holy Ghost” Trunk award. Lori and Lucy put a lot of effort into the decorations, and it was fun to see that along with the others who came to take part.

Hundreds of children from the Clinton community participated–I had no prior experience with this event and didn’t know what to expect. But, it was well planned and well supported by our people, plus it was good to be outside with cooperative weather.

If you’d like to see more pictures (there were many!) go to our Facebook page and check them out. There might be other photos via #fbclintontn or #fbcclinton.

Go Home?

A few days ago, John MacArthur celebrated his 50th anniversary at Grace Community Church. The California pastor has written a number of books, and he’s been outspoken on a variety of topics.

     At a conference celebrating his half century of ministry, MacArthur and several panelists were on stage fielding a variety of questions. Then the moderator asked them to offer their gut reactions to one- or two-word phrases. When the moderator said “Beth Moore,” MacArthur replied, “Go home.”

     The reaction to this pithy response caused quite an uproar in the evangelical community; it was even a trending topic on Twitter for a short period of time. His response intrigued but didn’t surprise me, as I’m familiar with his theological perspective and leanings. I’ve used a few of his commentaries on occasion, but have disagreements about some of his views. I would also have differences with Moore on some of her teachings, but it would be related more to content than her gender.

    What I did find instructive was Moore’s response to the Twitterstorm and his critique of her ministry: “I did not surrender to a calling of man when I was 18 years old. I surrendered to a calling of God. It never occurs to me for a second to not fulfill it. I will follow Jesus—and Jesus alone—all the way home.”

    Over the course of my life as a Baptist pastor, I’ve discovered a wide diversity of opinions and personalities as it relates to life in the church. We are all influenced by our life experiences and come to Scripture with our own biases and limitations. What I have tried to model and emphasize, however, is that our shared core belief is the earliest Christian creed: “Jesus Christ is Lord”.  

     Through my own biblical and theological pilgrimage, however, I have come to believe service in the Kingdom of God is based on gifts and calling rather than gender. On a more personal level, as a father of two daughters, it is important for them (and my son!) to see this lived out in the local congregation.

Looking back on my tenure in the local church, I come to the same conclusion over and over again–there would be no church without the contributions and involvement of women.

When I talk about contributions, it’s vital to understand the leadership capabilities of women to serve in ministerial positions in the local congregation. In some smaller congregations this occurs by necessity, and there aren’t enough men to step up. More importantly, there are are numerous scriptures that can be referenced to affirm this reality, not the least of which is the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. There are numerous writings and books which do a wonderful job dealing with the milieu of the 1st century, what our subsequent understanding of the role of women should be in the 21st century.

It’s important to be faithful to the biblical witness in terms of its culture, patriarchal bias, and historical context. A version of the well-known axiom is true: “when we come to the text, without context, there’s only pretext.”

     It is vital for me to be part of a Baptist church who nurtures this spirit of service and calling. I’m especially thankful for those who teach, support, and encourage my children in their spiritual formation. I am thankful for all their concern for them, as well as all the other young men and women who are part of our family of faith.

     Women were the first to arrive at the empty tomb of Jesus. And, it was Mary Magdalene who was the first herald of the resurrection. I’m so grateful that she didn’t simply “go home” after she experienced the risen Lord. Her example is formative to our faith and instructive to our witness for Christ.