Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thanks, First Baptist, Hot Springs

So, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed yesterday and came across a post from a pastor that I follow, Sam Rainer.  He linked to one of his recent blog posts: "Ten Reasons I’m Thankful for West Bradenton Baptist Church."  That got me to thinking about the church I serve.  God has given us more than 22 years together.  There’s a lot to be grateful for!  Here are the blessings I’m counting this Thanksgiving.

You love my family and me the way we are.  In 22 years a church gets to know its pastor.  A pastor and family could put up a pretty good front for three or four years maybe but not for 22.  Real life, real issues, and real struggles that unfold across two decades break down any fa├žades and reveal what is really in the heart of a pastor and family.  They know we’re not perfect.  They don’t expect us to be.  They have loved us at our best and at our worst.  They have loved us on the mountaintop and they have loved us in the valley.  Never have they asked or insinuated that we should be anyone else than who God created us to be.  When a minister’s family is loved as they are, they find a freedom to grow and to thrive.  Thank you, FBC, Hot Springs.

You love the Scripture.  The Bible is our textbook at First Baptist, and our people wouldn’t have it any other way.  It provides our game plan for ministry.  We teach the Bible in multiple venues.  We give a lot of Bibles away.  “Is it in the Book?” is a question we ask a lot.  Thanks, FBC, Hot Springs.

You are good listeners.  The church has grown a lot over the years, but there are still a good number of folks in the church who have had to listen to my sermons and my teaching since my first Sunday in June of 1995.  And they keep coming back.  I don’t know how they do it.  In 22 years, I’ve never stood up to preach or teach thinking, “How am I going to get and keep their attention?  Will they stay awake today?”  Never.  Not once.  I’m sure we’ve got some sleepers—every church does.  But most of our folks are right there with me, engaging, thinking, considering what they are hearing.  Some engage me in conversation or via email after sermons.  Knowing I’m not preaching to a brick wall every Sunday is critical for me as a preacher.  But what makes them good listeners is that plenty of them try to put what they learn into practice.  I do not take that for granted.  It makes me a better preacher.  Thank you, FBC, Hot Springs, for being good listeners. 

You value unity.  We realize we can do more when we do it together.  It’s also a lot more fun.  Our people work at unity.  We tackle controversial matters rather than sweeping them under the rug.  That's why our unity is more than skin-deep; it’s heart deep.  Unity provides an image to our community of the unity in our Triune God.  Thanks, FBC, Hot Springs.

You surround me with a great staff team.  All of them are as committed to the church as I am.  All of them are gifted and devoted to Jesus and the Great Commission.  I wouldn't be near the pastor I want to be without their hard work and dedicated service.  We love each other and we love the church.

You have an incredible volunteer spirit.  We rarely have to beg for volunteer leaders.  Hundreds of you serve in areas in which God has called you to serve.  You're not just doing a job in the church; you're fulfilling God's calling in your life.  And you make a difference for the kingdom in Hot Springs and around the world.

You aren’t afraid of change.  No pastor can stay at a church as long as I have if the church isn’t willing to change along the way.  Our church is 181 years old but if you were to visit, you’d never guess we were such an old lady.  Old churches like ours are often on their last legs by now.  They are slow to change.  They prefer the old to the new, the known to the unknown, the sure thing to the big risk.  Churches as old as ours are often bed-ridden or even on life-support, spending time reminiscing about days that were never as good as we remember them.  Not us!  Our folks embrace change because they worship a God who does new things, a God on the move, a God on mission.  This is not to say we haven’t had to work through some crankiness when we have made some large changes.  We have.  But people come along.  They get it over time.  And they get behind it too.  Thank you, FBC, that you aren’t afraid of change.

You practice grace.  Our people cut each other a lot of slack.  We take sin seriously, but we take repentance and forgiveness and holiness seriously too.  We are not what one person once called a Miranda church where anything you say or do can be held against you.  Our people practice grace.  My family has been on the receiving end of that grace many times.  We love restoration stories.  We love second chances and more.  We practice grace.  Maybe that’s why there so much joy in the church family.  Thanks, FBC, Hot Springs, for practicing grace.

You give generously.  We are a people of the open hand: glad to receive God’s blessings, glad to share them with those in need.  We make budgets.  We exceed mission offering goals.  We support three church plants.  We help those in need.  We pay our ministers generously.  This is a church of extravagant givers.  Thanks, FBC, Hot Springs, for being a church that gives generously.

You love the nations.  Put a stethoscope to the heart of the church and you’ll hear the Great Commission beating in our chest.  Our people pray, give, and go.  Hundreds of our people have traveled at their own expense to work in our strategic mission partnerships around the world.  The nations start across street, and our people work there too.  We love missions.  We love missionaries.  We love Hot Springs.  We love the nations.  Thanks, FBC, Hot Springs.

There is so much more I could write.  This is already longer than I intended it to be, so I’ll stop here.  Dayna and I are so grateful God sent us here and has kept us here across the years.  There are days when I lose sight of how blessed I am, but that sight returns quickly.  In fact, most days, I have to pinch myself to make sure it’s not just a dream that I get to pastor this congregation.  So in this Thanksgiving week, I want to say thank you, First Baptist, Hot Springs.  We love you!