The first concern is the recent series of church fires involving the physical facilities of Alabama Baptist congregations in Chilton and Russell counties. There’s no doubt we need to pray for the congregations who had facilities burned by fire – much of the damage quite extensive.
All this brings back memories from two years ago when as many as 10 churches were set ablaze in what became a sad series of events for Alabama Baptists and other faith communities.
Several young men have been convicted and are now serving time in prison as a result of most of those terrible acts of arson.
Yet the churches have moved beyond the terrible episode to rebuild their facilities and renew their ministries.
Here we go again in 2008. Sadly, five churches in Alabama were vandalized and/or set on fire as the new year dawned.
Charges have been filed against alleged perpetrators in the Russell County area, but the investigation is ongoing related to fires in Chilton County.
On Sunday, January 13, I visited with the Providence Baptist Church in Chilton County. The church family lost their educational facility in the early hours of Saturday, January 12, due to a fire believed to be caused by an arsonist. The site is not a pretty one, but had it not been for the courageous work of firefighters the situation would have been even worse. All of their facilities would have been gone.
Pastor Allen Foster lost his entire library, including his books, computer and sermonic material spanning 13 years of ministry. As I conversed with Bro. Foster, he showed me a plastic box containing three or four of his favorite books charred well beyond repair. One of the books had what once was a yellow sticky note attached to the front page. The note was penned by him in days past and read, “No matter what, believe in God, abide in Him, serve Him, and thank Him.” Later, Bro. Foster used this affirmation as the basic foundation for his message to his church during the Sunday morning worship service held at Camp Dawson. I was privileged to attend this inspiring time of worship, and it thrilled me to see pastor and people declaring, “We will be faithful, no matter what.” They sang “Victory in Jesus,” and they shared an infectious hope and optimism, which left an impression on the news reporters on hand to cover the story. I don’t think I have ever witnessed a service like this one.
As I awakened on Sunday morning and prepared to make this visit to the church, Paul’s words of encouragement to the Corinthian Church found in his first epistle to them (I Corinthians 15:57-58) were on my mind. The apostle reminded the church to be faithful, no matter what. “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (NKJV).
Faithful, no matter what – Now that is a testimony for a pastor to have in a time of crisis. That is the testimony of a church, which is determined to go forward, despite a huge setback. What an affirmation! What a testimony! It inspires me to face life in this world, knowing that we have “Victory in Jesus.”
Eugene Peterson has described the Christian life as “a perpetual victory parade.” The believers, who are called Providence Baptist Church, like so many other churches afflicted with crisis experiences, are marching at the front of the victory parade and we need to follow them “no matter what.” They are excellent examples of believing in God, abiding in Him, serving Him and thanking Him.
ALLEVIATING SPIRITUAL DROUGHT
In recent months our state and region has experienced a period of almost unprecedented drought. The lack of rainfall left the ground thirsty for moisture, leaving farmers with little yield in terms of crops.
Our lives can experience spiritual droughts as well. We can “run dry” to the point that we are not fruitful in our ministries for the Lord and we lack a sense of fulfillment and significance.
The upcoming Alabama Baptist State Evangelism Conference is designed to be a metaphorical downpour of rain from heaven for you in times of spiritual dry spells.
This conference is widely attended by pastors and other staff ministers from the churches of the Alabama Baptist State Convention, but it’s designed for other church leaders as well. Those who have planned the conference and those who will participate in it have you in mind!
There’s never been any admission charge for the State Evangelism Conference, thanks to the generous gifts of Alabama Baptists through the Cooperative Program. No tickets are needed, and you don’t have to pre-register. (There is a list of hotels available for those who will need overnight lodging.)
As our State Board of Missions, we are engaged in an ongoing effort to help you and your fellow church leaders develop into more fruitful and faithful followers of Christ. LEADERconnect is all about connecting with God in Christ, connecting with His purpose for your life and connecting with others in Christian service.
My prayer is that in the State Evangelism Conference you really will experience a downpour of God’s presence and power.
For more information about the State Evangelism Conference, please contact Ministry Assistant Stephanie McClelland at 1-800-264-1225, ext. 245,firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about LeaderConnect, please contact State Missionary Dale Huff at 1-800-264-1225, ext. 263,email@example.com
TWO RELATED CONCERNS
As I wrap up this blog entry, I’ve reflected on how God brings spiritual refreshment to us through both expected and unexpected events in life.
The State Evangelism Conference is an expected event, planned well in advance and held annually. Church fires are, for everyone except the perpetrators, unexpected events.
There’s some amount of irony that the Evangelism Conference theme is “When the Well Runs Dry” while – for the other topic of this blog entry – water is a vital tool for extinguishing the blazes that ravaged congregational facilities.
Yet through both expected and unexpected events, our Lord can and does send that which is referenced in the title of an old hymn: “Showers of Blessing.”
Have you ever considered that those churches who experienced facility fires years ago are now – almost without exception – stronger than ever with robust, vital ministries exceeding their pre-fire strength.
That should provide a deserved rebuke and feeling of irony for those who set the fires. Out of what those men meant for bad, God brought forth good.
In fact, numerous believers beyond the memberships of the affected congregations experienced what I would call “spiritual drought relief” in the wake of church fires.
How so? Many of them were driven to their knees in prayer or motivated by Christian love to minister on a mission trip or to donate to disaster relief over and above their regular gifts.
When the well runs dry in your life, look to our God to refresh you as you encounter both the expected and unexpected events of life.
Come to the State Evangelism Conference for further refreshing following the next few weeks when you can pray for, minister to and help those congregations with charred facilities. I hope to see you there!