A few weeks ago I shared an interesting statistic with the deacons. A recent survey done in April found that only 37% of adults feel comfortable attending a religious service. This means that over 60% do not feel comfortable! This statistic tells me two things. First, people are going to be slow in returning to the in-person Sunday worship service. Second, one of the best ways for us to reach people is going to be online.
We’ve all had to learn how to use technology over this past year and that’s not going away. Rather than seeing it as a burden, we need to see it as an opportunity. We need to get accustomed to not only inviting people to join us for our in-person worship gatherings but also inviting them to watch our online service. We need to not only invite them to our Wednesday Evening Bible Study but also to participate online using Facebook or Zoom. Other ways we can help them take a next step is to invite them to join our email list, like our Facebook page, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.
Before the pandemic, many of these ways to connect with people were not on our radar. Now Zoom, Facebook, YouTube, and Livestreaming are terms that everyone knows. Let’s make the most of these tools and invite people to take their next step to connect with our church.
Invite someone to join our email list. They can join by going to our website and clicking on “Subscribe to Receive Weekly Updates” which is located at the bottom right of the page.
Invite someone to join our Wednesday Evening Study by joining our Facebook Group “Wednesday Evening Bible Study” or by joining through Zoom (the Zoom information is sent out every Wednesday in the Mission Update email).
By the time you’re reading this, it will be Holy Week. Holy Week is a week set aside during the year when we focus on the last week of Jesus’s life that culminates with his resurrection from the dead. It’s a time when we’re reminded of what Jesus has accomplished for us through his life, death, and resurrection. On Palm Sunday we will focus on Jesus entering Jerusalem. On Maundy Thursday we will focus on Jesus gathering with his disciples in the upper room to share the Passover meal. On Good Friday we will focus on the crucifixion of Jesus. On Easter Sunday we will focus on the resurrection. I hope you’ll join us for each of these special services.
In each of these services, we’ll be reminded of what makes the good news good. We’ll be reminded of the grace and love of God. We’ll be reminded of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We all need to be reminded of these wonderful truths.
Also, the good news of Easter isn’t only for us but for everyone. I want to challenge you to invite those you know to join us for one or more of these services. Here are some ways you can extend the invite:
Face-to-Face invitation - This is the most effective way to invite someone to come with you to one of these services. Remember, asking your friend to “come with me” is always better than simply saying, “You should come to this service.”
Phone or Text - If you’re unable to see your friend face-to-face, this is another effective way to share with them that you would like for them to come with you to one or more of our services.
Social Media - While not as effective as the previous methods, sharing the information about our services on your social media platforms helps to extend a broad invitation to those you are connected to.
I hope you will take a step of faith and extend an invitation! Remember, we can’t control how people respond but what we can do is take a step of faith and invite them to join us and trust God with the results! Let’s trust God together and take this step of faith!
As we move into the third month of the year I want to remind you of where we want to be by the end of 2021. We want to be a church and that is experiencing revitalization through:
the measurable personal growth of our members,
numerical growth in our worship services,
the creation of an effective online presence, and
the updating of the Sanctuary and Social Hall.
In order for this to happen, we must take steps of faith. We can’t do what we normally do and expect different results. We must trust God in new ways if we’re going to grow personally and as a church.
Here are some steps of faith you can take this month to help our 2021 vision become reality.
Participate in the Bible reading challenge in March. We’re going to read through the Gospel of Mark at least once.
Give. You should have received your giving statement for 2020. I want to challenge you to join me in increasing our giving for 2021.
Numerical Growth - We want to have 100 people worshipping with us by the end of the year. In order for this to happen, we need to invite people to join us for worship in person or online. Nothing is more effective than a personal invitation. Prayerfully consider who you can invite each week to our worship service.
Effective Online Presence
Share our content on your social media accounts. We regularly post on Facebook and Instagram. The more you share our posts the more people will be exposed to our ministry.
Another way you can help is by subscribing to our YouTube Channel. To subscribe you can go to our website (ww.thehillbaptist.com) and click on the tab “Online Service.” At the bottom of the page, it will say “Click HERE to watch past Worship Services.” Click “HERE” and it will take you to our YouTube Channel. Click “Subscribe.” The more subscribers we get the more options we will have to reach more people online.
Updating the Sanctuary and Social Hall - At our March Church Conference, we will be discussing and voting on a motion to upgrade the sound system in the Sanctuary. Our current sound system is over 20 years old and is unable to handle our current needs. A new system will enhance both our in-person and online worship experience. Pray for wisdom as we move forward with this project.
I hope you will join me in taking these steps of faith in March as we trust God together to make our vision become a reality.
I’m not a big Bob Dylan fan but in 1964 he wrote a song entitled, “Times They Are A-Changin.” We are experiencing many changes. As I write this, one of the biggest changes that is occurring is that our country is preparing for a change in administration. By the time you read this, we will have a new president and several new elected senators and representatives. In the months and years to come, we are sure to experience changes that will affect our daily lives. You’ve heard it said that change is the only constant. This is true for everything except God. The Bible says in Psalm 102:25-27,
“Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you endure; they will all wear out like a
garment. You change them like raiment, and they pass away; but you are the same, and your years have no end.
The fact that God doesn’t change should give us great comfort. It gives us great comfort because if God doesn’t change then his Word doesn’t change. This means that his Word is true and will always be true. Isaiah 40:8 says,
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
I want to encourage you to attach your life to that which does not change. Enjoy the grass and the flowers but don’t attach your life to them because they will be here today and gone tomorrow. Enjoy the grass and the flowers, seek to bring about positive change, but build your life on the rock of the unchangeable God. The times they are a-changin but let us place our trust is Jesus who is the same yesterday, today, and forever!
I don’t think any of us were sad to see 2020 come to a close. The year wasn’t all bad but it was one of those years that you would not want to repeat. I know many of you are hoping that 2021 will be a better year. Although I can’t predict the future, I do believe this new year is full of promise because I know that God is at work. As we move into the new year, I want to share with you four parts of our vision for what we are trusting God to do in and through The Hill Baptist Church in 2021.
Our vision is that by the end of 2021, we want to be a church that is experiencing revitalization through:
the measurable personal growth of our members,
numerical growth in our worship services,
the creation of an effective online presence, and
the updating of the Sanctuary and Social Hall.
First, we want to see measurable personal growth of our members. We know there are many areas that are difficult to measure but we’ve chosen a handful that can be measured. We know that spiritual growth involves prayer, Bible intake, serving in the Church, giving, and missions.
As we begin 2021, I want to help you grow in these areas in the following ways:
Prayer - Develop a regular pattern of prayer.
Bible Intake - Read the Bible more this year than you did last year.
Serving in the Church - Discover your gift(s) and begin serving in the Church.
Giving - Increase your financial giving to the mission of The Hill Baptist Church.
Missions - Serve our City & World through words (sharing the gospel) & works (tangible expressions of love).
We will be providing opportunities throughout the year to help you grow in these areas.
Here are two specific Next Steps for the month of January.
Bible Intake - Participate in the Proverbs Challenge - Each day during the month of January read a Proverb. January has 31 days and there are 31 Proverbs.
Missions - During the month of January bring in canned food and nonperishable food items for our Little Free Pantry.
Second, we want to see numerical growth in our worship services. We are currently averaging around 55 people in our Sunday morning worship service. By the end of 2021 we want to be averaging 100 people. In order to see that happen we will need to be praying and working together to reach out to our community.
Third, we want to see the creation of an effective online presence. We are in the process of installing a new camera and equipment that will enable us to livestream our services. We have a few others ideas as well. One thing you can do throughout the year that will help us reach more people online is share our content. Shareour posts and our videos on your Facebook page and on your Instagram account.
Fourth, we want to update the Sanctuary and the Social Hall. We were already working on this before the pandemic. But we had to hit the pause button while we adjusted to the new normal. However, in 2021 we want to move forward with these updates. Our Property Renewal Committee will develop a proposal for the updates that we need to make in order to make these spaces as effective as possible.
These are the four major parts of our vision for 2021. I believe that the only way we can accomplish this revitalization is by the power of God. It will require all of us to trust God and take steps of faith. Every one of you has a role to play in this work of seeing this vision become a reality. I’m asking you to commit yourselves to this work as we move into the new year. If God is for us then who can be against us? Let us move forward in faith and trust God to do great things!
I’m looking forward to Christmas! This year as been filled with challenges but in midst of uncertainty God offers us hope, peace, joy, and love in Christ. To help you focus on the reason for the season we are making available to you a free Advent Devotional. You can pick one up in the vestibule of the Sanctuary. I will also send an electronic copy in the Mission Update email that goes out each Wednesday. If you’re not signed up to receive our Mission Update email then you can go to our website www.thehillbaptist.com and subscribe. Below is an introduction to the devotional and how to use it. I hope you will participate in the Advent readings and the Advent services this season!
Pastor Ron Jones
INTRODUCTION: GOOD NEWS IN TROUBLING TIMES
We’ve made it! We’ve made it to Advent and the Christmas season! And wow, can we certainly use some Christmas! It’s been a year like no other, to put it mildly. Global pandemic, economic recession, mass unemployment, political division, cultural upheaval, racial reckoning, record wildfires, extra powerful hurricanes, devastating floods. Did I miss anything? Maybe whatever personal struggles you are facing are a result of those wide-scale events or completely unrelated. In whatever form they’ve come for you, the realities of life have been heavy and humbling. We have been aware of the darkness around us.
It’s the ideal setting for some light.
It’s just the kind of backdrop for a Savior to come.
It’s the perfect time to rediscover Christmas.
Because no matter how troubling the times, and no matter how heavy our hearts, there is good news. The greatest news! As the angels proclaimed it on the night of Jesus’s birth long ago:
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God
and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom
his favor rests.” (Luke 2:10-14)
This is the news of the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. This is the news that drives away fear and fills us with joy and holds us in peace. It’s news of the reality we are invited to step into and experience. And Advent is the time of our journey into this rediscovery of hope, peace, joy, love, and of Christ himself.
Wherever you are this year on your level of anxiety, uncertainty, or pain—
Wherever you are on your own spiritual journey—
Wherever you are in the midst of holiday stress or pressure—
Let me invite you into this journey of Advent.
HOW TO CELEBRATE ADVENT
Advent is a season that is officially observed in many churches. The four weeks before Christmas are set aside as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of Jesus’s birth. The term advent is a version of the Latin word that means “coming.” But Advent is not just an extension of Christmas; it is a season that links the past, present, and future. Advent offers us the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, to celebrate His birth, and to be alert for His second coming. It is a season to explore and experience several key traits embodied in the arrival of Christ: hope, peace, joy, and love.
While the core concept of Advent remains the same, some traditions and practices vary. This reading plan is based on common practices, and we invite you to adapt it to match the traditions of your own church. One of the main traditions of Advent is the weekly lighting of the candles on an Advent wreath. A circular evergreen wreath represents God’s unending love for us. And the lighting of five candles throughout the season represents Jesus’s coming to a world lost in darkness. Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” This can be both a meaningful and fun tradition for kids of all ages, and it can be easily adapted to fit individual, group, or family needs.
This reading plan contains devotions for each of the four weeks before Christmas. Based around the weekly themes of hope, peace, joy, and love, there are seven devotions for each theme. There is also a devotion for Christmas Eve and one for Christmas Day. These emphasize the rediscovery of Christmas in the practice and experience of each trait, and they lead us in reminders of good news in our troubles and uncertainties. Practical questions help to spur us toward ways to apply hope, peace, joy, and love in our own lives.
In addition, each weekly section contains an introduction page with a song to sing, verses to memorize, a question to ponder, and a verse to focus on throughout the week. We encourage you to use these sections as a guide for a weekly lighting of your own Advent wreath. Whether you do this alone, as a family, with friends, as a small group, in person, or virtually, the tradition of the lighting of the candles will add to the richness of your Advent experience. And singing the songs can make the experience especially fun and meaningful if you have kids.
In a season often marked by frenzied busyness, Advent is an opportunity to set aside time to prepare our hearts. The tradition and the devotions in this book are designed to help us place our focus on a far greater story than our own—the story of God’s redeeming love for our world. The story of His presence with us always.
So no matter what the department stores try to tell you, Christmas has not yet arrived. There is value as well as excitement in patient and expectant waiting. May this be a season of wonder for you. May it be a rediscovery of Christmas. And may the Holy Spirit lead you on a journey of peace, joy, and love—and ultimately to a deep encounter with Jesus.
If you’re like me, once November begins you start thinking about Thanksgiving. For many, Thanksgiving is a time to gather with friends and family for a wonderful meal. However, this year will look very different. In a recent article dealing with holidays in our “new normal” it stated that,
Fifty-three percent of consumers say their family holiday get-togethers will proceed
amid the pandemic, but 47% say their get-togethers will be canceled, according to
a Morning Consult survey of 2,212 U.S. adults conducted in early September; 74% say
they’ll be having a smaller gathering than usual. Meanwhile, 68% say they’ll be traveling
less than usual for the holidays, with most people reporting they aren’t planning to
travel for or around Thanksgiving (75%) or any winter holidays (72%).
This Thanksgiving is going to look different for many. Due to the health risk we have decided not to have our church family Thanksgiving meal that usually occurs the Sunday before Thanksgiving. In my conversations with many of you, I know that many of your get-togethers will be very different this year as well. You may cancel your traditional plans or you may decide to meet outside or perhaps even meet virtually.
Even though the day will look different one thing should remain the same. We should give thanks. Paul writes to the Christians in Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18,
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
We must be intentional in giving thanks. If we simply look at the circumstances we will probably be tempted to complain and get discouraged. However, if we look to God we will be reminded that although our circumstances change He remains the same. Because of HIs unchangeableness, we can move into Thanksgiving confident of His love for us, His presence with us, and that in Christ we have a future and a hope.
I want to encourage you this Thanksgiving to be thankful, be grateful, and get creative in how you can celebrate Thanksgiving with your friends and family. In whatever way you chose to celebrate the holiday this year let us be sure to give thanks!
In September, I met with the financial management board and the deacons. In both meetings we looked at how you’ve responded during this pandemic and we were amazed! During a season of uncertainty and change you’ve responded with great generosity. We are actually ahead in our giving compared to this time last year! I want to encourage you to continue with your faithful giving!
Also, we are seeing more and more people return to gathering in-person on Sunday mornings. We are currently averaging about 75% of our pre-pandemic attendance. In addition to the in-person attendance I want to encourage those of you who have been watching online. You have been faithful in staying engaged while sheltering in place. We will continue to provide our services online. We hope to be able to livestream our Sunday morning worship service soon. This will enable those of you who are watching from home to be able to watch the service on Sundays at 11am as it is happening. This is important because it will enable you to get back into the habit of worshipping with your church family on Sunday mornings.
The next step for us is to reintroduce our in-person Wednesday evening Bible studies. We will take this step on Wednesday, October 7th at 6:30pm. We will gather in the Social Hall for a time of prayer and Bible study. We will continue to incorporate a way for you to watch online through Zoom and Facebook. The youth will gather on the 3rd floor in the Youth Room for Bible study. As for the children, we are going to delay the relaunch of our children’s program until a later date. The reason for this is to enable us to launch an excellent children’s program that will minister to the families in our church and in our community. This program will be different than what we’ve offered before and I anticipate it will be a major emphasis of our Wednesday evenings. I’ve been in conversation with the families in our church and we’ve discussed some great ideas. I’m looking forward to how God is going to use Wednesday evenings to help children becoming growing followers of Jesus! With that said, if children attend before the launch date we will have an activity for them. Pray for us as we continue to put together this program!
One final thought, we are approaching the presidential election. In order to prepare for this national election as well as for our state and city elections we are going to do two things. First, we’re going to pray. During the month of October you will be provided with a small American flag and a prayer guide. I’m asking you to place the flag somewhere you will see it each day. As you see the flag I want you to allow it to prompt you to pray for our country. Truellen Baker has created a prayer guide for us to follow throughout the month leading up to the election in November. Both the flag and the prayer guide are available for you to pick up at the church. The second thing we’re going to do is walk through a sermon series entitled “The Elephant, The Donkey, and The Lamb.” Each Sunday leading up to the November election we will explore the relationship between Christianity and politics. The goal of this study is to help us represent Jesus as we engage in the political process.
In times of constant change and uncertainty it’s important for the Christian to remember that God knows our needs and that He watches over us. Jesus said in Matthew 10:29-31, “29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” As I was thinking about this truth the well-known hymn entitled “His Eye is on the Sparrow” came to mind. That author of the hymn, Civilla Martin, said this about what inspired her to write the song:
“Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle—true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle's reply was simple: "His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me." The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" was the outcome of that experience.”
Even in the midst of difficulty, change and discomfort God is with us. He not only watches over us but He is working for our good. Keep this truth in mind as we continue to walk by faith through these changing times.
August tends to bring with it a sense of routine. Vacations are usually behind us. Students and teachers go back to school. New programs start at the church. However, as we enter August this year there are many unknowns. As I sit and type this letter, schools from the elementary to college level are still working out their plans. Everyone is watching and waiting to see if the number of infections with the coronavirus will increase or decrease in our city.
Some of you have had your lives dramatically restricted since March. You are also waiting to see if the number increases or decreases. As a church, we have restarted our Sunday gatherings but out times together look different than they did back in March. We too are watching and waiting to see if the number increases or decreases.
While we’re all watching the numbers I want to encourage you to keep your eyes on Jesus. Read this encounter between Jesus and Peter in Matthew 14:28-33.
28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you
on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked
on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was
afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus
immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O
you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the
boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him,
saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Peter was a man of faith but when he stepped out onto the water his eyes shifted from Jesus to the wind. When he focused on the circumstance rather than the Lord he began to sink. I want to encourage you to keep your eyes on Jesus whether the numbers go up or down. If we focus too much on our circumstances we will sink into a place where we’re no longer living by faith. If you find yourself sinking then call out to Jesus to help you trust him with your circumstances.
The wind is blowing and there are many waves that are rocking the boat of our lives but we serve the One who has the power over the wind and the waves. Let us remember what well-known hymn says: