It’s Thanksgiving Day, and we’re preparing for a feast with family and friends. Like many of you, I like to remind myself of all of God’s blessings over the past year. At the same time, there is no escaping the fact that Thanksgiving is often tinged with sadness. It’s comforting to know that God can handle this mix of sadness and thanksgiving in all of our lives. Such a gracious heavenly Father still welcomes our expressions of thanksgiving, though faltering and sometimes through tears.
It’s a great blessing to be able to do life, with its mix of joy and tears, with a loving and healthy faith community. With a full heart, I’d like to share why Molly and I are thankful for the church that we serve, Lake Baldwin Church. I’m preaching this Sunday on the “New Community,” so I’ll draw my thanksgiving list from Galatians 6:1-10.
Why we're thankful for THIS community:
1. When we wander, we’re restored.
In the early days of the church, my wife Molly used to say that “we move forward together as sinners.” That means that we relate humbly and tenderly to those who wander. We all fall into sin, but we believe that the church is a hospital for sinners, not a showcase for saints. Galatians 6:1 encourages us to “restore that person gently.” Jesus dealt tenderly with sinners, too. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” The good news of the gospel is for all of us, and we all need a Savior every day. I’ll never forget the night this year (this year?!) that I lost my temper during our community group. I was devastated that I could be so hurtful. But when I apologized, they restored me tenderly. One guy even said, “That’s why we like this church.” As the chief repenter, that’s why I like this church too!
2. When we have burdens, we are supported.
Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The law of Christ is to love one another. So that’s one of our core values. It’s been beautiful to see that played out this year. Sometimes the help is financial, through our deacons fund. Sometimes the help is practical, like helping others with home repairs. Sometimes the help involves meals, or baby sitting, or hospital visits. Sometimes the help is emotional, weeping with those who weep. I wish we could share all the stories, but much of the help is given confidentially. But it’s happening in many ways, both visible and unheralded. That’s why we’re thankful for this church.
3. When we partner in the mission, we all do our part.
One of the pitfalls of the modern American church is that we can be consumers rather than partners. At our first worship service in 2006, we compared the church to a restaurant. Our vision is that we would all work together to serve the bread of life to those who come our way. Galatians 6:5 says, “For each will have to bear his own load.” The word for load here is not the same as the burden of Galatians 6:2. It is rather the word for “backpack.” Everybody does their part. Today, I think that 80% of our church serves on a once/month team. That’s how a miracle takes place each Sunday, when Glenridge Middle School is transformed into a full-service church. The bee hive has people doing set-up, greeting, serving coffee, teaching our children, or working with our A/V and worship team to give us a beautiful worship service. That’s why we’re thankful for this church.
4. When we hire church staff, we care for them.
Galatians 6:6 says, “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” We used to be missionaries, and the first year of the church we were bi-vocational. Over the years, Lake Baldwin Church has taken good care of us, and we don’t take that for granted. We are more than thankful. We love this church, and I often say that I would not move to another church even if I were offered a million dollars (but Molly might be tempted). As the church has grown, we have worked with our leaders to hire staff, and our aim has been an “optimal” staffing plan. So the biblical principle of remuneration is applied to our children’s director, our youth director, our administrative manager, our worship director, and our assistant pastor. None of them are in it for the money, and I can vouch for them that they are more than grateful for the care extended by Lake Baldwin Church. That’s why we’re thankful for this church.
5. When we see needs in our city, we do good.
Galatians 6:10 says, “…as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone.” This fits with the first line in our original DNA document: we are for the city. Over the last few years, our culture has sadly become quite hateful and divisive. In this climate, we’ve stayed away from politics and division. Jesus did not draw lines when he related to those on the margins, and nor do we. After the Pulse massacre, we saw people in our church rush to offer care. Last summer, our SPLASH Kids and families had a “SPLASH Serves” day when they put together over 50 backpacks for kids in need at Glenridge Middle School. During Advent season people bring Publix gift cards for those same families. Space would not permit me to list all of the grassroots efforts that happened this year to work with excellent non-profit groups serving the city. This past summer that care extended to a building project in La Paz, Mexico, and in 2018 the care will be extended to a medical mission in Nicaragua. That’s why I’m thankful for this church.