My Farewell to FBC Birch Tree

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Six years does not seem like a long time until you begin to think of all the things that can happen in that time.  I’ve spent some time thinking about that and several things come to mind that make it hard to say good-bye.

I think about my first Sunday here.  Wyatt Layman was just 15 years old.  My first Sunday he hit me up to see if I was going to pay him to mow the parsonage.  Now he sits here, a new husband.  He and Audrey have spent some time teaching our young people and I know they are off to a great start.

There have been several weddings in six years.  One that really stands out was Caleb and Lyndsey.  I had just had surgery and had not done anything until it was time for that wedding.  Still on pain killers and straining my voice, I was determined to preach it.  You see, there were 6 other preachers at that wedding and each one made a point to tell me that if I could not do it, they could.  I figured if there are 7 preachers at a wedding and I’m the one that gets to preach, I better do it!  Weddings like that are fun because we see the beginnings of a new family.  Now we see little Luke, and it is a joy because I know he’ll be raised in a Godly home.

We have also experienced some funerals.  There were a lot of them in six years.  They were each a mix of celebration and sadness.  We celebrated a life; often seeing the funeral as a great testimony to a life lived for Christ.  Still, we mourned over a loss and each one I preached, I watched you and your loved ones in your sadness, and my heart broke for you too.  Each one left and impact.

Still, over these six years, the one that will stand out the most is my dad’s.  I remember one night when I got word at midnight that he had been taken to the hospital.  It was a Saturday night and I had to let Tracy know at midnight that I would not be here on Sunday morning.  A few days later, Caleb had to go to the hospital.  I was in Springfield and couldn’t come back to go with Samantha and Caleb to the ER, so I called James at 3am and he went.  I’ll never forget that the deacons at this church are the kind you can call in the middle of the night.

Then at the funeral, I remember 3 pews full of you, all there to support my family and I.  The day before, I had determined to buy a new suit.  I did not own a good black suit and I decided I needed it for my father’s funeral.  Samantha agreed and we decided that we would buy it and figure out how to move things around later.  At the funeral, Van Kitchens, pulled me aside, explained that he knew that times like that bring about unexpected expenses.  He handed me some money, and wouldn’t you know it was the exact amount of the suit?  I will never forget how God uses the generosity of this church.

In these 6 years, there have been some great times too.  I like to think of all the baptisms in 6 years.  The first to stand out in my mind is that in this time I was able to baptize my own son.  His walk with Christ began here at First Baptist Birch Tree.  Recently I was going through some records and realized that one of my first baptisms here was Cody.  Who knew what God had in store there?

Many other baptisms stand out as well.  Particularly 3 men.  Eddie, Ethan, and David.  Each of those men are so much larger than I am that I had to get some help in the baptistry.  Our churches, communities, and our nation are in desperate need for men to stand for Christ.  It is good to know this is a church moving in the right direction.

In all honesty, when I think over the past 6 years I think about my many mistakes.  If I have ever hurt or neglected you, please understand that I am sorry.  I have often lost sleep going over how I would do things differently if I could and wishing I could go back and do some things again.  Yet, in the end, just like we all do, I have to realize that the cross was enough and I rest in that grace. Of course, it was in those times that I was often greatly encouraged.  Without fail, when I began to get discouraged I would get a phone call from Norma, a card from Willie and Jolie, or a dinner invite from Brian and Marta.

Throughout these 6 years there is one thing I hope to get across.  We tend to turn being a Christian into so many things, but it is not about those things.  It is not about being good.  It is not about setting the country right.  It is about one thing:  That Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again to give us life.  That’s it.  We follow Jesus.  No more, no less.  No less because anything less than Jesus would not be enough.  No more, because what more could we want or need?  It is about Jesus.  If you have never given your life to Jesus, I hope you will consider to do so today.

And now our paths must separate.  We will certainly meet again someday, but before I go, I have one more thing to say to you as your pastor.

I want you to consider as a church what really gets you going; what gets your blood moving; what gets you excited about this church.  It isn’t necessarily classes, fellowship lunches, or special music, though those things are all good.  Over these past years, what really got you going was missions.

I remember when I first went to El Salvador.  I told you I was going so that the next time, we could go.  Many told me flat out that this church would not do mission trips.  But you did, and it was a joy to watch you go.  Remember how exciting it was.  That’s what I mean when I say it gets your blood moving.

I remember when Kacey signed up.  We didn’t know about that.  We wondered if she knew what she was getting into.  In fact, I had dramamine in my pocket, just in case we needed to knock her out on the plane.  But I will never forget how she stood up in front of those kids and taught.  The next year, I just put her in charge of the children’s ministry.  We had the chance to go to a school, and when we walked in, the kids were so excited because Kacey was there!  Kacey is going to see some amazing things when she follows God in the mission He sets before her.  And so will the rest of you.

Remember when the Texas group came?  You were pumped and excited and it was amazing to see how God moved.  That was a tough week.  There was a lot of hard work, but nobody cared about that.

The reason missions gets you going is because it is God’s heart.  When you set your mind to get involved in what God is doing, things are different.  Things get exciting then.

Matthew 28:18-20 says:  18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

It says Go.  The apostle Paul compared the Christian walk to running a race.  A race starts with the word “go.”  So, now is the time.  Go.  I’ll see you at the finish line.

 

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Our Big Announcement

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God often calls us where we least expect to go. To be sure, I never expected to say what I am about to say. Two years ago, Samantha and I begin to sense that God was calling us to the field of church planting; beginning new churches. We prayed about it and sought out some advice from various folks. At the time, the doors just didn’t open and we knew it was best to simply wait. We continued in our ministry in Birch Tree until very recently when we begin to hear that call once again. This time as we began to seek advice, various doors began to open in this direction. It became apparent that God was indeed calling us to church planting and that it was time to move in that direction.

At that, we begin to pray and ask God where He was calling us to plant. The answer came to Samantha and I independently. It was not what we expected. Granted, it was a place that God had placed on our hearts years ago, but the idea was just too far, too “out there,” too crazy. So we shared this idea with a few people, waiting for someone to say, “that’s just nuts!” Instead, one person after another confirmed it. There was one week where I prayed daily, “God if this is really your will, show me something today that confirms it.” And He did.

We did our research. This place is truly a frontier mission field. It is one of the most international locations in our country. It is truly a global mission field in one small part of the U.S. It is also one of the least evangelized. Evangelical churches reach approximately 3% of this growing metro area. The idea is exciting, if not completely overwhelming at the same time.

So, after much prayer, we have decided to plant a church in Hawaii. (I told you it sounded crazy!)

I know that leaves people with a lot of questions. There are a lot of things unknown right now as we are nailing down all the specifics and remaining flexible to do as the Lord commands. We are currently discussing the possibility of partnering with Second Baptist Church in Springfield, MO. Second Baptist is on the forefront of missions and we are really excited to work with them.

As for First Baptist Birch Tree, I will continue to pastor this church until the time comes to relocate (most likely next summer). We love the people of Birch Tree and First Baptist. We hope to take this journey together with First Baptist being one of our partners.

We pray this for you as well. We need people to partner with us in many ways. We will need people to provide financial support and we will have plenty of opportunities for people to come for short-term mission trips on Oahu. In the meantime, what we need most of all is prayer. If you would be willing to pray for us during this time, please contact us and let us know.

A Season of Giving

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The holiday season is a hectic time for me. At the church, there are several various fellowships, services, and other events that take extra time. There is also a lot of activity at home with shopping, planning, and the annual shuffle from house to house seeing aunts, uncles, in-laws, and out-laws. I’ve come to notice that despite the wishes of good cheer that accompany the season, it seems to be the time when people are most likely to anger, hurt, and otherwise bother one another; myself included. As one given to anxiety, it is a stressful time. I enjoy the holidays, but I’m always glad when they are over.

The moment Christmas ends, I begin to think of where the church is and where we need to be. There are victories and challenges that must be examined before moving into a New Year. As for victories, this has truly been a season of giving. We have had several mission projects as of late, all showed great giving. We donated five large boxes of new gifts to the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home. We collected gifts for needy children in our community. We gathered stockings full of gifts for the local nursing home. Hopefully, in those efforts we have helped spread some joy in areas where joy doesn’t always take. We also collected over our goal on our annual Lottie Moon Offering for International Missions. Hopefully, in doing so, we have supported the spread of the Gospel. Beyond these planned projects, I have watched our members give of themselves for each other. This has come largely from those who teach children. There have been parties, movies, and even a trip to a famous roll-throwing restaurant; something many of the kids had never experienced before. The teachers and helpers who gave of their time and resources here invested in the hearts of children. Those dividends tend to be longer in coming, but rewarding nonetheless. Truly, we have had a season of giving.

I would love for such a season to set the tone for the year ahead. If anything, we must learn to give more. Our budget includes about 10% for various “mission” causes. By the year end, that number runs closer to 20% but it should be more. Further, we must give more of our time. In order to accomplish the task the Lord gives us in the Great Commission, we must be willing to give a lot of time. Yet, it doesn’t stop at time and money. It would be so much easier if that’s all it were, but there is more.

We must truly learn to give of ourselves. We must give of ourselves to the point that we become smaller and smaller. We must become slight in order to make much of God. This will mean sacrifice. This means first and formost, the sacrifice of will. Everything else after that will be quite an adventure

He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30 ESV)

The Upcoming, Exciting, Unusual Event

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On Sunday I announced to the church that on January 8 we host an event we call “Underground Church.” Inspired by the way persecuted Christian meet around the world, and stealing the idea from David Platt’s Radical, we will meet from 6pm to 12am (or longer) with only focus: scripture. We will read and discuss scripture. There will not be games, food, childcare, music, guest speakers, special offerings, videos, workbooks, or anything else. Just people, bibles, and a lot of reading and discussing. If that doesn’t strike you as the least bit interesting, that is alright by me. This is not something to come to just to show your commitment to our church, or because you think you have to attend. However, if you are reading this and thinking, “That might be something good,” then I hope to see you there.

The real question is why?

There are a few possible answers that might come to mind:

A) We will develop a heart for the persecuted church
B) I read it in a popular book and want to imitate a popular pastor/author
C) We need it.

I suppose by calling it “Underground Church” and thinking about the persecuted Christians that hunger for God’s word then we might spur some thought toward those less fortunate. I’m not sure that would be too successful. Maybe for a few hours we’d think about it, but then we’d feel relief as we return to our comforts and freedom. I don’t think pretending to be less fortunate will help. I do however think that praying for the entire world, country by country, might have some heart changing effects, and I encourage you to do so.

It is true that this idea comes directly from David Platt’s Radical. I think this is an amazing book and I encourage everyone to read it. However, that isn’t why we are doing this event. In all honesty, if I were to try to imitate David Platt, I’ve gone pretty far already. He and I both attended the same seminary. He and I both have sons adopted from Kazakhstan. He and I both named said son, Caleb. I am older than David Platt by a few years though. Maybe he’s trying to imitate me? Seriously, the idea of copying famous pastors and books is common among Christians. Experiencing God made us all take long walks with Jesus. Purpose Driven Church had us all write mission statements and compare our churches to baseball fields. So naturally, Radical might have us all hosting uncomfortable, long sessions of Bible reading. It is a fair concern, but no, it isn’t why we are doing this.

The real reason we are doing this is: we need it. Scripture has become little more than a footnote in most churches. Sunday School classes are taught around quarterlies that contain a whole lot of what the author says and only snippets of scripture. Worship favors simplistic music rather than scripture reading. And sadly, many pastors only read a passage of scripture but spend the remaining time stating their opinion or telling stories. Before long, we have entire churches full of people that know the Bible is important but have no idea what it says. It really is time that we get back to understanding scripture. If I could get just a few people to spend some solid time reading scripture, maybe it would start something. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll have a hunger for more. And then maybe, we’ll become a church that not only hungers for God’s word, and not only begins to know God’s word, but begins to share and live out the good news found in God’s word.

It’s a crazy idea but I’m willing to give it a shot.

How about you?

Fishers of Men

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I am really proud of the people of First Baptist Church of Birch Tree.

In case you don’t know the church well, we are a small, rural church not unlike a lot of Baptist churches scattered across the fruited plains. We are not terribly innovative. We are not following any sort of growth model or marketing plan, but there a few things we do well.

Our semi-annual fishing tournament is a good example. We just finished hosting it this year so I can give you a run-down of the event. 58 kids, plus their parents, grandparents etc. came out to fish for a couple of hours. Judges weigh each fish – any fish- that might get caught and in the end there is a nice trophy for the highest total weight caught, the biggest fish, and the most fish caught. Don’t worry, fish lovers, all the fish are quickly set back to swim and eat and meet us again next year. Every kid got a T-shirt, and everyone got a really good hotdog and hamburger lunch. Its all free. We don’t set out a donation bucket and we don’t ask for or expect a dime. It is our gift to the community. It looked like everyone had a great time.

That’s not all. Throughout all of this, there are the people of First Baptist talking and laughing with the participants. I see church members getting muddy as they try to detangle lines from trees, and one get more than muddy trying to remove a stubborn hook from a stubborn fish.

That’s still not the best part. This is going to sound bad, but for me, the best part is, I don’t do anything. Well, that’s not entirely true. I MC the event, I helped weigh a few fish, and I talked with everyone I came across, but I really have very few official responsibilities at this event. Not that I don’t mind work. I’m usually pretty busy. The thing is, this event was never my vision. God gave this vision to Jeff Brake and Jeff has done a fantastic job casting (no pun intended) it to the church. They rally around him and before I know it, the whole thing is organized, publicized and running like a well-oiled machine. Go, First Baptist, Go!

My only real responsibility at the event is to share the gospel during the awards time. Between you and me, that is really, really easy to do after so much love is shown by the church. Keep it up, everybody!

Caleb and the 2lb Bass

My son caught this monster bass just before time was up! What a day!