We’ve had some excitement with many baptisms over the last few months. We’ve been down to the Tennessee River and up to the baptistry behind our choir loft. We’ve baptized young adults, men and women, children and youth. This Sunday two more of our youth will enter the waters of baptism. God is doing a new thing at First Baptist!

It’s not about us — it’s about God’s kingdom and what God is doing in the lives of people turning to Him. And it’s not just in the city of Knoxville. Just last week, I read about how roughly 200 students were baptized at a lake near Auburn University after a time of worship.

This is how it came about. Some weeks ago, five young women began to gather on Auburn’s campus at Nevile Arena to pray. Then their group grew to several hundred students. Churches and local ministries next came together in a combined worship experience that drew 5000 people. When one student wanted to be baptized after the service, another stepped forward, and then another.

A New Spirit

At a time when so many people seem to be turning away from Jesus and the church, it’s encouraging to hear about how lives are being changed for Christ. Students are experiencing the godly sorrow that comes with knowing how far away they have turned away from God.

God said through the prophet Ezekiel, “You have not followed my decrees or kept my laws but have conformed to the standards of the nations around you” (Ezekiel, 11:12, NIV). The people no longer retained their distinctiveness from their culture. The results were tragic.

Still, God gave grace. God called the people back to the Promised Land and said, “They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:18-20, NIV).

I believe that God is putting a new spirit in us. It’s just the beginning, but I can sense the joy of people coming to Christ, new members being added to our Body, volunteers serving our homeless neighbors, and youth and children being encouraged in their faith. I also believe that what we are seeing is the result of our praying and seeking the Lord, just as those 5 young women did some weeks ago.

How is your spirit today?

Is it glad? Is it troubled? Is it bitter?

In this very moment, you can ask God to give you a new spirit. God can trade your “a heart of stone” for a “heart of flesh” as you turn to God in humble prayer, confess your sins, and remember God’s goodness and faithfulness.

Let’s Do a 180

I wonder what the first members of our church — those who formed that first fellowship in 1843 — would say about our church 180 years later. They’re now part of that “great cloud of witnesses” that cheer us on (see Hebrews 12:1).

I believe that if they could speak to us, they would call us to keep running the good race. They would remind us that Jesus was a servant and therefore serving like Jesus is what church is all about. They would celebrate with us the baptisms and other ways that lives are being impacted for good.

So many generations of men and women of faith have followed in their footsteps and invested their time and talent to help others follow Jesus more closely. There has also been a deep financial investment as God called people to give generously to the work of the church.

This Sunday we are going to celebrate our 180th year of ministry in Knoxville with a fellowship on the lawn after 11am worship. There will be good food from Moe’s Southwestern Grill with a big table set up down Main Street. We’ll have a gospel bluegrass band (“Wild Blue Yonder” and games. I hope you’ll plan to join us!

God’s people really don’t need a reason to fellowship. It’s just part of our DNA. We gather to enjoy relationships and remember God’s goodness in our lives, but also to remind people that they are loved. Everyone has a place at the table.

But not everyone feels loved and cared for. As Brad Keaton reminded us in his prayer yesterday, this is National Suicide Prevention Month. Lots of people are hurting. Many people feel isolated and overwhelmed by life. Many people are in crisis on looking over the edge.

We all need an anchor in troubled times. Hebrews 6:19 (NIV) reminds us that, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” We want everyone to know that no matter how bad life is, there is always hope and there are people who care.

Invite a friend or neighbor or co-worker to join us this Sunday. Think about someone who needs a new spirit — a little hope and encouragement — and ask them to celebrate 180 years with us.

Pray for the Future

This is a time to look back, but it’s also a time to look ahead. How will God use us in the coming decades?

We have cast the vision that we are called to bring glory to God and peace on earth in East Tennessee. We bring glory to God each week in worship and fellowship and service. With each conversation and cup of cold water, we can help people have more peace within and can work for peace in our community. Our PEACE plan for the next 10 years is to plant new churches, equip servant leaders, assist the poor, care for the elderly, lonely, and mentally distressed, and educate the next generation to follow Jesus.

Plans are essential, but the foundation of our work together is prayer.

Would you pause right now and pray for our church? Pray for God’s Spirit to continue to rise among us. Pray for unity, that we would be one. Pray for more people to come to know Christ and enter the baptismal waters.

Saint Augustine said, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”

I look forward to praying and working with you in the coming years. God has been faithful. So let’s be faithful, too.

With love,

Pastor Brent McDougal