A Prayer for Independence Day

Gracious God, as we prepare to celebrate our nation’s Independence Day, we approach you with hearts that are simultaneously brimming with gratitude and weighted with concern. We are grateful for the privilege of living in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” We are thankful for specific liberties that allow us to freely choose our vocation, our community of worship, our place of service, and our venues of recreation. And we are indebted to generations of veteran servants who risked life and limb in the pursuit and protection of these liberties. From the “mountains to the prairies” we are inspired by some of the most diverse and beautiful terrain on our planet. From “sea to shining sea” we are privileged to access a mother lode of the world’s natural resources. We have access to prime healthcare, comfortable housing, diverse modes of transportation, more than adequate clothing, and an abundant selection of food. We are blessed far beyond our deserving.

But during this season of celebration our grateful hearts are heavy with concern. From our many different perspectives and ideologies we are concerned about things like the threats of terrorism, the brutalities of war, the abuse of political power, the divisiveness of harsh and misleading political rhetoric, a lack of civil discourse, a growing sense of moral anarchy, and the possibility of an approaching storm or natural disaster. These concerns lead to heightened anxiety about the stability of the market, the costs of insurance, and the tenure of our employment. And these anxieties often divert us from our mission to “minister to the least of these,” and to “love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly” with you.

These concerns and anxieties also remind us of our need to confess our sins, personally and corporately. We confess that we have too often taken our freedom for granted and we have too frequently been slack in our citizenship. We confess that at times we are too quick to criticize naively and too slow to intercede prayerfully. We confess that our self-interests have too often taken priority over the best interest you have in mind for our nation and for our world. We confess that we have been irresponsible in our stewardship of “our space and our stuff,” often consuming and storing compulsively without conscious regard for sharing. We confess that we have too often trusted in our own initiatives and ingenuity more than we have trusted in you.

You tell us in time-tested scripture that, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14)

As we approach this Independence Day, we ask you to forgive our sin and to heal our land.

On this day, we pray for the leaders of our nation, our state, and our community that they will lead with wisdom and discernment.

We pray for the men and women who serve in our nation’s military that they will fulfill their mission with courage and return home safely and soon.

We pray for our enemies that their swords will also be “turned into plowshares.”

We pray for the churches, cathedrals, and temples of our nation and our community that we will be lighthouses of grace and mercy, ever pressing toward the mark of our high calling.

Because you are the freedom-loving God, lead us to exercise our freedom responsibly and to pursue “liberty and justice for all” of your children around the globe.

We pray in the strong name of the one who came to set us free. Amen.

Beginning Year Three of Our Partnership

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all of my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in your will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:3-6 NIV

On May 22, 2005 you gave to Amanda and me an overwhelming invitation to move to Pensacola where I would serve as your pastor. During the past week, I have been re-visiting my calling and reflecting on our first two years together, as we prepare to begin year number three. In my first acceptance letter to the Pastor Search Committee and congregation I wrote the following lines:

“Your strong faith and your love for First Baptist Church have been obvious to us since our first meeting with you…Therefore, with tremendous respect for the esteemed heritage of First Baptist Church, and with great anticipation of the continuing leadership of the Spirit in the future, I heartily accept your invitation to come to Pensacola in view of a call to be your Senior Pastor.”

During these first two years we have enjoyed several blessings and confronted numerous challenges. We have sought shelter during hurricanes, welcomed dozens of newborns, shared beautiful services of baptism, witnessed memorable weddings, shared in the memorial services of friends and family members, and welcomed many new friends into our church family.

Little did we know when we made our covenant as pastor and people how the economic and vocational landscape of our community would be impacted by successive storms in 2004 and 2005. In addition to those who have “graduated to heaven,” we have regretfully said “goodbye” to many friends who have relocated to other states, other assignments, or other vocations. Now, we find ourselves in perhaps the most significant and opportune time of transition since the church moved from the bay to the hill.

During 2007-2008 I foresee that we will be presented with some of the most crucial challenges and remarkable opportunities in the history of our church. As we prepare to seize these opportunities with proactive ministries of discipleship and evangelism, I am grateful that the Lord has led us in assembling a competent and committed team of ministers to serve as encouragers and equippers to our congregation. I believe that the Lord has brought us all together “for a time such as this.”

As we continue to grow in faith and friendship, as we reach out to new friends, and as we complete the Paul Royal Recreation and Outreach Center (ROC), I encourage every member of First Baptist Family to commit to the following partnership initiatives:
1. Participate regularly in worship and Bible study
2. Exercise extraordinary patience and cooperation with the inconveniences created during these final months of construction.
3. Make a connection with a friend or neighbor who is not connected to another church family.
4. Get involved in a mission or ministry project.
5. Be faithful and cheerful with your tithes and offerings.

As we begin year three of our partnership, I reaffirm the commitment I made two years ago to “tell the truth and love the people.”

I look forward to seeing you this week in worship and Bible study.