Baptists Doing Lent?

The Book of Common Prayer, in its service for Ash Wednesday, includes the following proclamation:

Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting.  The season of Lent is that time of preparation.  

Lent is still a fairly new concept for some Baptists.  True enough, we Baptists haven’t always been quick to embrace the ancient traditions and practices of the early church.  But an increasing number of us are realizing the profound spiritual benefits of observing Lent alongside our more liturgical Christian brothers and sisters.  And for good cause!  The basic components of Lent (prayer, fasting, and self-denial) are sound spiritual disciplines outlined multiple times in scripture.  These practices are designed to help us realize the virtue of humility, bringing us closer to God.  This is the ultimate purpose of Lent: To bring us spiritually closer to God so that we may more fully celebrate the Passion and Resurrection of Christ.     Continue reading Baptists Doing Lent?


More Than Parts

Every once in awhile someone will ask me, “Pastor, what is your favorite Bible verse?”  My answer almost always disappoints: Asking me to identify a favorite Bible verse is like asking me to identify my favorite car part; the parts, alone, don’t fulfill their designed purpose.

Taken out of their greater context, individual bible verses are often misapplied, misunderstood, and not nearly as inspirational as one might otherwise think.   Continue reading More Than Parts

Out in the Cold

I don’t like cold weather.  Drops in the mercury cause my joints to ache and my skin to get dry and itchy.  Most of my favorite hobbies are outdoor ventures, so cold winter days leave me feeling restless.  For these and so many other reasons, I simply don’t like the cold.

The cold, for most of us, is really not much more than an inconvenience.  We enjoy the shelter of heated homes.  We have relatively easy access to coats, scarves, gloves, and hats.  We generally take for granted our level of luxury; if we really don’t want to get out in the cold, we often don’t have to.  But this is not the case for a growing number of our neighbors.   Continue reading Out in the Cold

Season of Creation

Our Creator has blessed us with a remarkable landscape: Breathtaking mountains and plush prairies and charming forests and calming coastlines seem to bring me closer to God.  City life reminds me of the diversity of humanity – one of the most profound and humbling reminders of our Creator’s imagination and transcendence.  Traveling to these various places shows me the great variety of God’s works.  

It’s no secret that I love to travel.  But with our boys still being so young, Julie and I decided not to go away on a family vacation this summer.  Local outings and short trips have peppered our calendars, astonishing me with the variety of creation I’ve experienced this year.  

Early in July I rode my motorcycle from Saint Louis to Saint Paul and back, using a series of back-road highways and routes designated as the “River Road.”  Many of us enjoy the scenic drive from Alton to Grafton on our most familiar stretch of this National Scenic Byway.  Upper portions of the River Road did not disappoint.  Northeastern Iowa, with its rolling hills of farmland and quaint towns, was delightful.  Western Wisconsin’s bluffs are every bit as majestic as those around our Marquette Park, only more plentiful.  And southeastern Minnesota’s portion of the Mighty Mississippi shows the river’s incredible versatility (from a stream the size of Wood River Creek to a lake more than 3-miles wide), highlighting some of the most picturesque river valley terrain I’ve ever seen.  

motorcycle MN
My trusty cruiser parked along the Mississippi River at Lake City, Minnesota.

On the heels of this motorcycle ride, Julie and I took our kids camping at Rend Lake.  The July heat relented briefly, providing warm but breezy summer days – the perfect kind of weather for morning games, afternoon naps in the shade, and evenings catching lightening bugs and making s’mores.  A day at one of Rend Lake’s beaches reminded us of the simple beauty of our local parks and lakes.

The group I accompanied to Conception Abbey experienced the vastly spacious gentle rolling hills of northwestern Missouri.  Stars and the moon seem so much more vibrant when surrounded by hundreds of miles of nothing but pastures and prairie.  The constant light wind has a calming effect, cooling the warm afternoons and speaking to our souls as God spoke to the Prophets in the gentle wind.

And finally, my summer concluded with my recent trip to northwestern Washington.  Forests of tall cedar trees blanket the snow-peaked Mount Hood while other smaller peaks form the horizon.  Between the mountains and the Pacific coast, Julie and I witnessed my cousin exchange wedding vows and visited with my family in a flower-covered meadow.

WA wedding
The site of my cousin’s wedding in Arlington, Washington.

A friend said to me once, “I’d rather be out in nature thinking about God than sitting in church thinking about nature.”  Church participation, mind you, is absolutely an essential part of our faith!  But so is connecting with our Creator in the midst of creation.

We so often overlook the simple beauty and intricacy of the Earth, neglecting to hear God’s still speaking voice in the gentle breeze.

Our Sunday mornings during September will focus on God’s creation: Lessons we can learn from different parts of creation as well as weekly challenges to experience God in creation.  We’ll celebrate the beauty of the planet and reflect on our relationship with God as it is revealed to us in creation.  We’ll seek and discover divine wisdom that can only be found by digging deeper into the ecosystems of our world, celebrating the life-giving, powerful, yet fragile elements of God’s masterpiece.  

For the beauty of the earth, let us praise the Lord.


Pokemon Go to Church

Surely by now you’ve heard about Pokemon Go – this summer’s biggest new video game and one of the most popular video games of recent times.  Admittedly, I’m not much of a video game person.  My brother and I shared a Nintendo – the original – when we were young children, but I never played much beyond the original Super Mario Brothers.  So I’ve had to do some research to catch up on this Pokemon Go craze.  

The premise of Pokemon Go is rather simple: Players, using a smartphone (iPhone or Android), create an online/virtual “character” that moves through the real world to “catch” 151 different Pokemon creatures.  Players must physically move through the real world to move their “character” through the game’s map.  Along the way are “Pokestops” – real-life buildings and landmarks – where players can earn “bonus points,” increase the strength/endurance of their “character,” and interact with other players.  As a matter of technology, this is rather intriguing: the virtual gaming world and the real world are coming together as they never have before!  

The great news for us is that from the launching of this game in mid-July, our church has served as a Pokestop.  This means Pokemon Go players have to physically spend time at our church as part of the game!  If all of this seems too complicated for comprehension, don’t worry… here’s the simple real-world reality: Young people (mostly under the age of 30) are spending a LOT of time at our church because of this online game.  And while some churches are viewing this as a nuisance, I see an opportunity for ministry! Continue reading Pokemon Go to Church

Reflecting on a Century of Ministry

As the old saying goes, “What’s the best way to eat an elephant?”  The answer: “One bite at a time.”

This sentiment very adequately describes the task of planning and facilitating our church’s centennial anniversary celebration.  The amount of work to be done seemed, initially, overwhelming to say the least.  And the significance of the occasion only added to the stress.  After all, a church only turns 100 once, and many don’t even make it that long.  So the project began with our church archives and grew into invitations and membership records and event schedules and guest speaker invitations and press releases and cake-baking and… and… and…

In short, a lot of people put a lot of work into making this occasion special.  And I think they succeeded wonderfully.

As I reflect on the June 12th program, the morning worship service, and the afternoon reception, several highlights stand out in my mind:

At the morning worship service, Rev. Paul Gibson, the Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of the Great Rivers Region, spoke of being re-born and recounted that classic old hymn, “I Surrender All.”  “But honestly,” as Rev. Gibson remarked, “is that true? Are we really willing to surrender all?”  Indeed, this challenging call to God’s service served as the pivotal theme for the day: If we are indeed God’s church and seek to serve God’s kingdom, we must be willing to surrender all our preferences, tastes, and preconceived notions to God so that we may be re-born into a new creation; so that we may be made into what God needs us to be in the current era.

Wood River Mayor Frank Akers, at the 2:00 Centennial Program, talked about the changing world in which we live.  Wood River, indeed, is not the community it once was.  Factories have closed and jobs have become harder to find.  Poverty has increased significantly in our community.  And rather than feel discouraged by these changes, the mayor encouraged us to see the current state of Wood River as an essential mission opportunity.  In short, never before has the city needed the church as they do now.  Never before has our mission been so essential.

As I looked at the photos and artifacts of the last century, I saw evidence of a once thriving congregation.  But I also saw a spirit of resilience and an opportunity for a new creation.  When those first 15 families met in 1916 and decided to officially begin the First Baptist Church of Wood River, they surely could have never conceived what their initial efforts would yield a century later.  And I believe the same remains true today.  Our church’s future has not been written, but the foundation is laid.  Through acts of compassion and service, we will continue to serve the needs of Wood River.

The Centennial Celebration was a very fun day of celebration and memory-sharing.  But it’s also a reminder that our history is very much “in-progress”.  That is, if we are willing to take a chance and see what surprising and unexpected new adventures await us around the next corner.


For the Beauty of the Earth

As a child of the 1980’s, a hallmark of my upbringing has been the annual celebration of Earth Day on April 22.  In grade school I knew I could count on a break from the daily monotony of the classroom for special environmentally-focused activities and games.  We learned the three R’s (all of which actually begin with “R,” unlike the three R’s of a previous generation) – Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.  And we were eager to share our newfound knowledge with our sometimes less-than enthusiastic parents and grandparents.  Millions of school children chided their mothers for using plastic grocery bags (that take centuries to decompose in landfills) instead of the very eco-friendly paper bags or reusable cloth totes.  We scolded our dads for wasting drinkable water from the garden hose to clean off the driveway instead of using a resource-friendly broom.  I remember going so far as making my family boycott restaurants that served Rain Forest beef (cattle raised in pastures created by destroying Rain Forests).  Still, it wasn’t until I was in seminary that I fully appreciated the religious components of Earth Day as something much more profound than mere environmental stewardship. Continue reading For the Beauty of the Earth

Difficult Conversations, Difficult Decisions – Part 2

In the story of Jesus’ life and ministry, it seems as though Jesus has only recruited his disciples when he begins preparing them for his death.  Not really much of a honeymoon period for these disciples.  The rabbi they’ve devoted their lives to following is quickly preparing them to carry on his legacy.  Jesus speaks very openly and plainly about his departure.  Perhaps that’s an example we can learn from.

Continue reading Difficult Conversations, Difficult Decisions – Part 2

Difficult Conversations, Difficult Decisions – Part 1

It’s a common scenario for too many pastors.  We’re called to the Hospital ICU to meet with a grieving family – grieving not because of a death that has happened but because of the death that seems immanent.  The patient, generally elderly and with a terminal illness, is being sustained by machines and tubes.  There is no practical hope for earthly survival beyond the confines of a weak and comatose body in a nursing home or care facility.  Adult children experience the gamut of emotions – from anger to guilt – as they consider “what mom/dad would want.”

Continue reading Difficult Conversations, Difficult Decisions – Part 1

Physical Health & Spirituality

A painful ear infection sent me to the doctor a couple weeks ago. While I sat on the exam table, my doctor looked back through my medical chart with a perplexed look on his face.

“When was your last physical, Mr. Kirbach?  I’m not seeing it in your chart.”

Sheepishly, I confessed, “It was in 2001 when I began college.”

Apparently, even for a young person, 15 years is too long to go between physical exams.  And after the doc pointed out my marginally high blood pressure and growing waste line, I anticipated a lecture. But instead, he confronted me with a challenging question: “Isn’t physical wellness part of the Christian tradition?” Continue reading Physical Health & Spirituality