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The Church is Empty

I just started crying. 

I was quite unprepared for the wave of emotion I felt when I walked in the church. It was Sunday morning, March 22, the first “quarantine Sunday”. I had just arrived, unlocked the east doors and turned on the lights. And as I walked across the east entry area, my throat tightened and I began to cry. I thought, “A church is supposed to be met in!” Not the best grammar, I know, but that’s what I thought. And I continued to be choked up as I went around turning on some lights and getting things ready for the stripped-down worship service we were about to do for the radio broadcast and over the internet. 

When the federal and state government’s guidelines were announced the previous week, this was a situation none of us had faced before. Not knowing exactly what to do or what was safe, I consulted with Dennis Babcock, our chairman of Trustees, and we gave our church secretary and church custodian some “emergency days” and encouraged them to stay home. Without Wednesday or Sunday services to get ready for, there was no need to print bulletins or prayer lists, or to have the building “spic and span”. So until we had a clearer idea of what we should and shouldn’t do, we told our employees to stay home.

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John Montgomery

Last week I lost a good friend. His name was John Montgomery. He was about ten years older and six inches shorter than me. He had iron gray hair, a gravelly voice, a ready smile, and a great laugh. He was a Southern Baptist preacher from the Northeast. He’d been a chaplain in the Federal prison system in the Washington DC area, pastored three churches, and worked as a chaplain in a retirement complex. And he was a left-handed guitar player with arthritis, who still loved to hear the guitar. And he could make a lamp out of anything…even old guitars.

I first met him at the weekly Pastors’ coffee and donut thing at the Baptist Collegiate Mission house in Terre Haute. It didn’t take long for his gentle, genial laughter to draw my attention. Somebody told him I played guitar, and his face lit up. “Hey, I’m a guitar player, too!” After that, John and I didn’t really hear much of what the brethren discussed. We had our heads together, talking about guitars and guitar playing and bands we’ve been in and places we’d played. It was great! He did played left-handed, though.

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One in the Spirit

I recently attended the Midwest Leadership Conference held in Springfield, Illinois, on January 21st through the 23rd. I didn’t want to go. Scott Kallem made me.

Actually that’s not entirely true. I had decided not to go, since I was already committed to attend another conference in the spring. But Scott, who is our fearless leader—Moderator of the West Central Baptist Association—called me and said they needed one more person to go, to be a roommate with Tom Savage. I have never seen a person drink as much sweet tea as Tom Savage, and that’s always fun to watch. So I reluctantly looked over the list of breakout sessions offered, and found that there were several I was interested in. So I called Scott back and told him I’d go. And I said, “Tell Savage he’d better not snore!”

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Keeping On

I got a phone call recently from Alistair Begg.

Some of you are thinking, “You’re kidding!”  And some of you are thinking, “Who’s Alistair Begg?”

After I came to the church in 1997 I learned of a conference being held in Anaheim, California called “Preach the Word”. It was being hosted by Greg Laurie and Harvest Church, and featured the top three expository preachers in the country at that time: Chuck Swindoll, Chuck Smith and John MacArthur. I had benefited from the ministries of each of these men, through their radio broadcasts and their books.

Charles Swindoll’s wonderful sermons had impacted me several times at key moments in my life, and I loved his laughter. Chuck Smith had a wonderful, laid-back way of teaching the Bible. He used to say, “The secret that I seek to impart to those eager to enter the ministry is to simply teach the Word of God simply.” And John MacArthur, while extremely serious in his delivery, always put the Biblical text in its historical context and took pains to explain exactly what the Bible says. All three of these men were heroes to me in the ministry, and examples of what a Biblical preacher ought to be.

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An Attitude of Gratitude

I don’t remember where I first heard or read that phrase. I suspect it was in a book called Life Is Tremendous! , by Charles “Tremendous” Jones. He talked about seeing something positive in everything, saying something positive about everything, and seeing it big and keeping it simple. He warned against “hardening of the attitudes”. And he admonished us to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude.”

This is Biblical. In Philippians 2:14 the Apostle Paul says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” And in 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 he tells us, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I’m not very good at doing these things, but I know the Bible teaches them.

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She Slowly Shook Her Head No

On the Sunday before Labor Day, I asked my wife a question. There was no evening service because of the holiday weekend, so we drove up to Franklin that afternoon to see my wife’s family. We were somewhere on Highway 67 and our conversation had lulled into a companionable silence. And then out of the blue I quietly asked my wife this: “Do you have any sense that God is preparing to move us somewhere else?” I looked over at her, and she was slowly shaking her head “no”. I said, “Neither do I.” She just confirmed what I had been thinking, too.

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The Case for Giving Adult Sunday School a Try!

First, Adult Sunday School at First Baptist Church is really multiple Schools, there are five, plus several for youngsters. Each one is an informal discussion group to help with your understanding of the Bible and for you to get to know other people. Check out these Sunday School classes to find the fit that works best for you! We were not created to go through life alone. Sunday School is a great way to find fellowship, make friends, and feel a deeper, more personal connection to your faith and the Bible. The best part is, you don’t have to sign anything, raise your hand, write a check, stand on one foot or recite the Lord’s Prayer out loud.

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Sacraments

I was born and raised a Baptist. As a boy, I heard things like: “Baptist born & Baptist bred; and when I die I’ll be Baptist dead!”; “If I find one hair of my head that’s not Baptist, I’ll pull it out!”, and other memorable quotes from Baptist preachers. I really like what Evangelist B. R. Lakin once said, though: “I used to be proud of being a Baptist ‘til I found out how many of us were in the penitentiary!”

There are Baptist distinctives, and I do believe them. If I didn’t, then I’d go join up with a group that did teach what I believe. I’m not one who thinks that denominations are necessarily a bad thing. I think genuine Christians can acknowledge each other as real followers of Christ, and still disagree over matters of church government, how baptism should be administered, and exactly what the Holy Spirit does, etc. . When we disagree on things like that, it’s probably best for us to find a group of other like-minded Christians with which to worship and work. It’s like athletes who love baseball, playing on different teams, with different coaches, practicing in different ways, but all for the love of the game. Only, with us, it isn’t a game, and it’s all for the love of Jesus.

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