A message from the pastor…

Overnight and today we are watching the horrific video footage following the devastating storms that trampled many communities in Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia yesterday. Many of us have been busy contacting friends and family members to check on their safety. Others of us have already learned of friends who lost homes, businesses, and loved ones.

At our house, in addition to thinking about our many friends who were affected in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Cullman, Amanda and I are grieving over the destruction inflicted on the Williams Community, our former place of service, where at least two lives were taken and multiple homes were destroyed when one storm followed a similar path to the Palm Sunday tornado of 1994.

Our First Baptist Family is no stranger to storms. As veteran survivors of successive storms in recent years, we can identify with the grief, the loss, and the monumental challenges facing our neighboring states in the days ahead. Today I am calling on our First Baptist Family to respond in the following ways:

PRAY! Pray for those who are hurting and grieving. Homes can be rebuilt, but loved ones cannot be replaced. We serve a God who is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in our time of trouble.” Pray for those whose lives were turned upside down to discover renewed hope in the aftermath of the storm, and pray for relief and recovery workers to labor with cooperation and perseverance.

GIVE! Consider giving a generous financial gift to assist with rebuilding following this disaster. Make your check to FBC Pensacola and designate it Disaster Relief. All gifts given through FBCP will be channeled through our existing mission partners in Alabama.

GO! In the days ahead, we will be assembling teams to assist with the relief work in Alabama. Today we are working with leaders in Alabama to assess the needs. We know that this will be a lengthy clean-up and rebuilding effort, much like the aftermath of Katrina. Our hope is to target a specific area for partnership. Stay tuned for opportunities to participate on a Disaster Relief Team in the weeks ahead.

I am honored to serve a loving, praying, and caring church family.

With continuing prayers for our neighbors,

Barry

A Meditation on Friendship

by Barry Howard

A man that has friends must first show himself friendly; and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24

The wisdom writer pre-supposes that for most of life, human beings are going to be engaged in dynamic human relationships. In a highly competitive world where individuals are dominated by self-interest, how do you keep relationships healthy and growing? Sustainable friendship is a gift from God.

What is a friend? One writer answered this way: Friends are people with whom you dare to be yourself. Your soul can be naked with them. They ask you to put on nothing, only to be what you are. They do not want you to be better or worse. When you are with them, you feel as a prisoner feels who has been declared innocent. You do not have to be on your guard. You can say what you think, as long as it is genuinely you. Friends understand those contradictions in your nature that lead others to misjudge you. With them you breathe freely. You can avow your little vanities and envies and hates and vicious sparks, your meannesses and absurdities, and in opening them up to friends, they are lost, dissolved on the white ocean of their loyalty. They understand. You do not have to be careful. You can abuse them, neglect them, tolerate them. Best of all, you can keep still with them. It makes no matter. They like you. They are like fire that purges to the bone. They understand. You can weep with them, sing with them, laugh with them, pray with them. Through it all–and underneath–they see, know, and love you. A friend? What is a friend? Just one, I repeat, with whom you dare to be yourself.

Churches are built on both faith and friendship. Members of a congregation are actually diverse friends from a variety of backgrounds who stick together in tough times, who bring out the best in each other, and who collaborate in missional effort, despite their differences, out of obedience to a common faith conviction.

Maybe, the Quakers have it right in referring to their faith community as “The Society of Friends.”

During these days of learning to bring out the best in others, treasure the friendships you have, and look forward to making new friends in the days ahead. Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, “So long as we are loved by others, I would almost say that we are indispensable; and no man is useless while he has a friend.”

Maintaining a good friendship requires grace, mercy, patience, and perseverance. E.C. McKenzie observed that “some people make enemies instead of friends because it is less trouble.” I contend that true friendship is worth the labor.

(Barry Howard serves as senior minister of the First Baptist Church of Pensacola.)

Holy Week: Feel the Passion!

By Barry Howard

Next week is called Holy Week, not because we are to “act” holy, but because it is a most appropriate week for us to re-visit the passion of Christ. Around the globe, Christ-followers and other inquirers will be reflecting on the events leading up to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What is the significance of Holy Week and how can I probe its deeper meaning?

Our tradition of observing Holy Week seems to have originated in the East, emerging out of the practice of pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Each day of Holy Week is significant. For those of us whose faith was shaped in a Baptist tradition, at least four days call for guided reflection. Palm Sunday is a day to revisit the royal welcome extended to Jesus by the curious crowd as he entered Jerusalem. On Maundy Thursday believers recall the occasion when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples as he gave them a new mandate to love and serve. On Maundy Thursday evening, many faith communities re-enact “the last supper” when Jesus broke bread and shared the cup with his disciples by receiving the elements of communion. Good Friday is an occasion to feel the passion of Christ and to think on the enormity of his suffering. And Resurrection Sunday, or Easter, is a festive day to celebrate and proclaim that “Christ is risen; Christ is risen indeed!”

Because of the sequential significance of these events, Holy Week is best approached slowly, with an attitude of reverent exploration, a spiritual mood of sacred awe. In Weldon Gaddy’s book, The Gift of Worship, he describes our opportunity to engage in a more meaningful experience of the passion of Christ: “Holy Week services bring into focus dimensions of discipleship that are missed completely by a simple leap from Palm Sunday to Easter. Worship services which take seriously the truths of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday please God because they challenge a greater commitment and a more effective ministry among the people of God.”

This year as you begin your spiritual journey through Holy Week, open your senses and your imagination to both the tragedy and the triumph of this pivotal week in history. Take time to listen to the voices of the crowd as Jesus enters the city. Hear again the teachings of Jesus and contemplate his days in Jerusalem. Feel the water touch your feet, taste the morsel of bread on your tongue and the sip of wine rolling over your lips. Sense the disgust of his betrayal by a friend. Smell the stench of the scourge and hear the mocking sarcasm of the trial. Grieve over the cruel injustice of his execution and experience the passion of his incomprehensible suffering. And ultimately…consider the mysterious power of the resurrection and the hope generated by the notion that life invested in Christ cannot be extinguished, even by the reality of death.

The events of Holy Week invite and motivate us to follow Jesus, not out of religious obligation or fear of eternal damnation, but because we identify with his teaching and his vision, and we discover a sense of belonging in his cause and his kingdom. A slow and deliberate journey through Holy Week may re-energize your faith and inspire you to live and serve with passion.

The word “holy” means “belonging to a divine power” or “dedicated to God.” On second thought, maybe Holy Week is a week for us to “act” in a way that is holy.

(Barry Howard serves as senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida.)