Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A Time for Hope

I consider that our present sufferings
are not worth comparing with
the glory that will be revealed in us.
Romans 8:18

Hope will enable a person to survive even the most terrible of circumstances. This was psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl's conclusion after observing the behavior of fellow concentration camp prisoners (Man's Search for Meaning.) He learned that, when a prisoner had lost hope, he chain-smoked all his cigarettes and would soon die. Prisoners who held on to the hope of a better tomorrow would cut their cigarettes in half and ration them.

Hope can be the difference between life and death. A boy had been badly burned in a horrible accident. His teacher came for a visit after a few days with some school work. She didn't want him to fall behind. Sadly, she didn't feel she accomplished anything. The boy was distracted by the pain; his senses dulled by medication but she tried.

When she returned the next day a nurse asked, "What did you do to that boy? We’ve been worried about him, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back, responding to treatment. It’s as though he’s decided to live."

The boy explained that he had given up until the teacher arrived. "They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?"

Hope makes a difference in the quality of our lives. In 1981, millionaire industrialist, Eugene Lang, guaranteed a college education to a group of NYC sixth graders. These students were given hope and broke the curse of generational poverty that could have been their destiny. Forty-eight of the 51 graduated from high school. The usual graduation rate for that district was less than 50%. Moreover, the success of these children expanded that hope to others, as rich philanthropists throughout America duplicated Lang's program.

Hope is not the same as optimism or positive thinking. When adversity strikes we need a hope we can trust. Some will buy a lottery tickets hoping that they will win. Most know that they will not and that the odds are against them but they buy tickets anyway, hoping that they will cash in big someday. Some just hope that whatever comes is better than what is happening today. They simply endure the present.

Hope in God is more of a process for living than an answer to a problem. True hope, anchored in the gospel, will open our lives to a future that greater than the solution to a specific problem. Instead of a way out of our difficulty, we are open to a future filled with possibilities, regardless of circumstances. True hope will not let despair over a problem contaminate all that is good in your life.

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers,
nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature,
shall be able to separate us from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39

Monday, March 23, 2020

Responding to a disruptive pandemic

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and 
wept when we remembered Zion 
Psalm 137:1

To better understand and respond to the disruption to society that the Coronavirus has created we can turn to the Bible and study the Babylonian Captivity.

It was the end of worship as they knew it. The Temple was destroyed and the Jews were exiled to Babylon. No more sacrifices at the Temple; the Priests and Levites were left without jobs. It was no longer business as usual but God's people adapted.

Synagogues were organized for prayer and teaching of the Scriptures. The Scriptures became the authoritative and central to worship. They were transcribed using the Hebrew alphabet we know today and men were taught to read it. Scribes and scholars (teacher of the Law) emerged as leaders. When a remnant returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple, the majority remained scattered around the world.

God used these events to shape the world into Jesus which was born. Jews who were able to read the Scriptures were scattered throughout the known world and gathered in synagogues. In Luke 4:16 we read, “He [Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read.”

Paul would go from synagogue to synagogue preaching the gospel. In Acts 17:11 we learn, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

This terrible disruption in the nation of Israel prepared a people who were living in darkness to see a great light. Is the disruption we are experiencing now preparing us for a great movement of God. Is this the beginning or a warning to prepare.

The church has made use of new technologies as they have arrived including printing, radio, telephone, TV, cable, computers and the internet. Technology is moving faster than ever but churches are adapting unevenly. This month churches are using a variety of methods to hold worship services. While the quick action is remarkable, it is possible that the answer goes beyond moving our worship online.

One of the Seven Trends for Churches in 2020 reported by church consultant and author, Thom Rainer, is that worship service size preference is shrinking, Gone are the days of large worship venues. The preferred number is 300 and existing large venues may experience financial strain in the next few decades.

Also, it seems that many people prefer to worship at a time other than Sunday at 11 o'clock. People want options. In the near future, large churches will offer multiple services in smaller sanctuaries.

Baptist Temple has been ahead of the curve with these trends, offering seven worship opportunities on Sunday for groups ranging in size from 150 to 15. During the week an elementary/middle school and an early learning center use our facilities along with numerous service organizations. We have become a vital hub to our community by ministering to both spiritual and physical needs and, by sharing our facilities, we have multiplied ministry while dividing costs.

The world has changed and we need to be prayerfully preparing our next steps. Even if things were to return to they way we were before, we cannot ignore what God has revealed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020


Archangel Michael slays Satan
For God has not given us a spirit of fear,
but of power and of love 
and of a sound mind. 
2 Timothy 1:7 

We face a serious crisis. This is a time for the church to step up to take the lead in caring and fighting fear. We are either an important part of society or we are irrelevant.

Last week, many churches canceled public worship. Some moved to a video model. Yet, people still crowded into restaurants, bars, stores and theaters.

This week, many more churches are canceling events and public worship indefinitely. We have been told that this emergency will last until August. The CDC recommended bans on all groups over ten. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg has declared a state of emergency and prohibits gatherings over 50. Churches are exempt from this prohibition; as are restaurants, stores, the airport, hospitals, shelters and the jail. These are considered necessary gatherings.

There are some churches who don't consider public worship necessary in this emergency. Baptist Temple is not one of them. I received a call last week from a friend who attended a megachurch that had opted for online worship only. He is not comfortable with that and asked if we were having public worship. We were. He came with his family. He is in an at-risk category but he was going to worship somewhere.

We decided to close our early learning center out an “abundance of caution.” It was a mistake. I received an email from a colleague the day we closed asking about open child-care centers. There was a looming crisis in our hospitals due to the absence of essential staff who had to stay home to care for their children. We decided to reopen after a few days of training, cleaning and new protocols. We are accepting new children and will be at full capacity. Our early learning center decided to step up and serve in this time of need.

Baptist Temple will step up and serve in this time of need. We will gather together for worship this Sunday as will many other churches. If you are sick, please stay home. If you are at risk do as you feel appropriate. You will not be judged either way. Invite people without a place of worship. They can visit with us until their churches reopen.

We will be serving a free community meal on Wednesday nights at five. The thrift store and food pantry will remain open. There will be ceramics on Monday. Sunday School will also continue.

Baptist Temple has weathered the Spanish Flu and the Great Depression. We laid the cornerstone of our sanctuary days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. God put us here for a time like this. 

No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling. 
Psalm 91:10

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Servant Spotlight: Jessica French-Scheffield

Personable, perky and passionate about teaching; “I knew I wanted to be teacher since the fourth grade,” said Jessica French-Scheffield who was recently hired as the Baptist Temple Early Learning Center's Curriculum Coordinator. She wants to teach young children the tools they will need to succeed in school and society.

She discovered her love for teaching when she helped a fellow fourth grader correctly pronounce “photosynthesis.” It gave her a sense of accomplishment she still feels when helping someone learn.

She was impressed by Baptist Temple's impact on the community, particularly the inclusive playground, and is eager to be a part of our family of organizations that are bringing needed services to an under-resourced area. Our impact will be magnified as she helps us achieve Texas Rising Star (TSR) certification. A TSR school goes beyond minimum standards to provide a higher quality of teaching that goes well beyond babysitting. There are only two such early learning centers in our zip code.

Her first challenges are to be fully staffed with teachers trained in lesson planning and to make make lesson planning resources readily available. She, also, want to digitize the office and reduce the amount of paper that needs to be tracked.

Jessica graduated from Texas State and seeks to excel at everything she undertakes, which led to her earning a black belt in the Korean martial art form, Kuk Sool Won. She is equal parts computer savvy, success driven and people person; a combination that will lead us to better meeting the needs of our community.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Disruptive Prayer

Only 30% of American churches are growing and thousands close every year. We are losing ground and prayer is the answer said Dr. Darrell Horn at yesterday's SABA Live event, Disruptive Corporate Prayer.

Disruptive prayer shakes things up. It moves us beyond business as usual. There are countless testimonies about revivals being sparked by prayer, beginning with Acts chapter two and continuing with two Great Awakenings, Azuza Street and more. One very good book about this subject is Jim Cymbala's Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. Cymbala tells how prayer propelled an inner city gathering of twenty into a downtown megachurch. Who wouldn't want to be part of a movement like that.

I came to the conference for the same reason I read and re-read the book. I want to experience similar results. I was looking for techniques, ideas, perhaps a program that would be easily implemented.

I didn't find one. Instead I learned that prayer is more than a program. Success is not, necessarily, measured in number of worshipers but in spiritual growth, which is difficult to quantify, and community impact. Are we to assume that a church that prays but fails to grow is praying wrong? Perhaps, prayer is more about worship than results.

Prayer permeates the Baptist Temple Campus. There are a lot of individual, small group and larger group prayers; some formal, much informal. To see the impact of prayer, we must watch for and celebrate God's answers. Often the answers are small and subtle, coming from unexpected directions, but small things add up to big impact.

Our prayer early on, as our attendance and finances dwindled and building maintenance continued to be deferred, was that God would preserve our building as a witness of His love for our community. When we shared our building with other churches and service organizations, God provided the resources needed to not just survive but to thrive and expand. Nearly 1000 people are on our campus on an average week. Our impact is greater than that.

Our prayer now is that we excel at making disciples.