November 7, 2023
The month of October was a challenging month for both the church and the world. October 7th was a horrific day in Southern Israel, as Kibbutz Be’eri (the main target), Re’im, Kfar Aza (the concert), and Kibbutz Nir Oz (where Pam’s tour guide, Reuben grew up), were all attacked by Hamas. If you watch the news, over 1,400 people of all ages were massacred, some tortured, and 200 kidnapped. Depending on your news source, Israel’s self defense has killed many thousands of Palestinians living in Gaza. We won’t discuss rules of war or the carnage that has occurred on both sides; nor will I take a political position. The war in Israel is a controversial discussion with facts difficult to ascertain. What I can say is that retribution and vengeance are sinful yet natural anger emotions, while forgiveness can take a lifetime. The initial and subsequent attacks destroyed innocents of all ages, many soldiers, and some terrorists; that hatred and barbarity are the most difficult things for me to understand, and perhaps for you as well.
I have more questions than answers, and more grief than expected. However, I am also very grateful that I visited Israel this year, to see the holy lands of Bible stories, temples, Byzantine cathedrals, artificacts, current spice and artisan markets, to sample the delicious foods of the farms there, and to meet many wonderful people who live and work there, both Israelis, Orthodox and Reformed Jews, Bedouins, and Palestinians. October’s witnessing of history influenced my sermon-writing, although the passages were pre-selected. Let us remember that all faiths risk humanity’s judgment as well as God’s. Habakkuk waited patiently (and probably fearfully) on the Lord in the midst of war atrocities—Hab. 2. Joshua saw Israelites’ shameful behaviors with Moses in the wilderness, so he reminds them how God freed them from Egyptian bondage and brought Abraham into a new promised land. Where was their vision or gratitude? I suspect buried in the pain and darkness of fear. Should we too be afraid? No! In the face of fear, are you a fight or flight type of person? Anxiety and dread are real emotions that can lead to physical ailments or indecision. Fear needs God’s mercy, grace, and intervention for healing and comfort.
Our good friend Berniece Harward, who passed away October 19th at 96 years young, had no fear because she knew the Lord personally, and made sure her family did too. In the midst of our grief, the service was truly a celebration of her life, with her family, friends, church, and grandchildren all gathered to share memories of her full life. She trusted God with her life and her loved ones. Can we trust him with ours? I hope so; if you’re not sure, come see me; let’s talk. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear (1 Jn 4:18).”
October 3, 2023
What a fun month we’ve had together! Our Young at Hearts Gadabouts Senior Adult group lumched at Olive Garden the second Tuesday of September and had two lovely guests/new friends, thanks to Martha Lowe. And we celebrated with the Vietnamese Gospel Baptist Church their 42nd Anniversary and feasted on both the Word in two languages, beautiful music, and delicious dishes and desserts of Vietnam, America, and Korea. Thank you to Pastor Francis Phan and his church leaders and volunteers, to Bryan Jones, Executive Director of NorthStar Church Network, and to Pastor Ed Young, of New Beginnings Missionary Baptist Church for joining us in the celebration! See photos on the front page.
Our first pop-up activity was last Thursday, called “Mailbox Angels,” and was such a success that we’re sharing the idea with other churches and planning another one in late November or early December to prepare Christmas cards! We will let you know as soon as I can schedule it. Thank you to Roudaina for helping me set up, to Sally Norris for the stickers and instruction, Fran Salo who donated the stamps, and to Dot/Aubrey, Elmer, Phyllis, and Carole who wrote notes. There were prophetically seven (7) of us who participated, and as you can see in the photo, we had fellowship as we “worked” to prepare 35 greeting cards in less than two hours; this served as an outreach, discipleship, and fellowship activity. Luke wrote in Acts 6 about how, as the disciples were multiplying, some widows and orphans were neglected, so seven (7) deacons were chosen to help the twelve disciples: “Brothers and
sisters,” they said. “Choose seven from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry [diakonia, service] of the word.” This month we learned how our words do make a difference, so each prayed over our directory, prayer list, and birthday list before we selected names or wrote our notes of encouragement.
God’s Divine Presence can be felt in all we do if we pay attention: “I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. 12 “When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. 13-14 “When you come looking for me, you’ll find me (Jer. 29:11b-14 The Message).”
September 5, 2023
Prayers and blessings to all students, teachers, school staff, bus drivers, and parents as you head back to school this year! We so appreciate all you do and how hard you work to provide quality education, music and arts appreciation, creativity, efficiency, the investment you’ve made in the students, and the risks you take to help grow up a new generation of thinking human beings.
I always feel the “perpetual student” pull of a new academic year. The more appropriate term is “lifelong learner,” and this year is no exception. The type of learning is not theologicaal this time, but more biological as I learn new habits and life rhythms to take better care of my body, heart, and voice. I’ve been a workaholic forever, buying into the career success cultural norm, and I am not proud to confess that. My recovery has given me time to think, new routines of exercise, measurements (I got a Fitbit device), nutrition, more sleep, and better health in general.
These new rhythms are building my stamina, clarifying my focus with determination, reducing stress, and yielding good results. It is out of gratitude that I share this information, and preached an August sermon series on healing stories in the Bible. There were too many for just five weeks, but we discussed some good ones: Blind Bartimaeus, Elisha and the Shunamimite woman’s dead son restored, Jairus’ daughter Talitha brought back to life, the man with leprosy, the speech impaired deaf man, and Peter’s mother-in-law. If you’d like to learn more, please note that these sermons are posted on our website at this link: https://www.theunitedbaptchurch.org/services
From these stories and several accompanying Psalms of petition and praise, we learned lessons about our own healing needs, God’s power and grace, and Christ’s mercy and unlimited compassion. Some of the folks were faithful believers and some were not. Some were vulnerable victims and some were not. Our faith is bigger than just problem solving; please do not assume being healed means you are weak. And remember, we cannot “earn” God’s grace or healing through religiosity, institutions, bargaining, or moral living. We all need Christ’s authority to heal us in some way, whether it’s physical, mental, emotional, psychological, or spiritual.
Many come to church for fellowship, some for serving those in need, some to be healed or served, and still others attend church as a lifelong learner—to dig deeper into the Word of God, seeking direction and life application. The United Baptist Church and Mission Center is a good place to learn through relationships and unified spiritual strength. Hope to see you soon!
August 1, 2023
I’m baaaack! And boy, did it feel good to see you Sunday, to hug you, and to feel the Lord’s presence in the building! I have missed you all, even those who subscribe to our newsletter but cannot be here in real life. Most of you have heard that I had unexpected mitral heart valve surgery on May 24th, and I am back to work part time now. The Inova Fairfax Heart & Vascular Institute (& Virginia Heart) treated my situation, and because I was pretty healthy, all went well. Thank you for your prayers, visits, texts, calls, flowers, coloring books, and cards! While I was at home recovering, of course, I worshipped online or with an occasional TV preacher, but it’s just not the same. I am so grateful for our church’s leadership initiative to welcome Mrs. Katie Harding, Rev. Dr. Jim Weaver and your flexibility worshipping with New Beginning Missionary Baptist Church! We have expressed our gratitude to all. I like to say that the end of May, June, and July were one big unintentional “Divine Experiment” as you adapted to our needs. So, pat yourselves on the back for sustaining our worship, Bible Study, fellowship, and community services while I was out. Well done everyone!
Because of your adaptive leadership and resilience, I found myself calm, knowing you and the Lord had it all in hand. I leaned on His many blessings and chances to share his love and strength with others (future sermon stories). My recovery was easier because of hymns I knew and Scripture: Psalm 23, 40, 103, 121, and of course, the Lord’s Prayer and the Serenity Prayer were my familiar go-to’s when I didn’t have my Bible close by. I give the doctors, nurses, and staff a lot of credit for my comfort and treatment, but I give God all the praise and glory for his healing and restoration! I let him know though that I had much more Kingdom work to do here on earth, and so far, He agrees! Pastors are human too, and we must remember that our bodies are temporary yet deserve good stewardship. Please read all the Parish Nurse articles; I responded well and was better informed because of them!
In Psalm 103 NIV, the writer David cries out: “20 Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. 21 Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.” Let me remind us all that through the salvation of Jesus Christ, we are called to servanthood, leadership, evangelism, hospitality, various ministry gifts, generosity and willing service to others!