by Jimmy Martin
Great is Thy Faithfulness
Great is thy faithfulness,
O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with thee;
Thou changest not,
thy compassions, they fail not;
As thou hast been
Thou forever will be.
Pardon for sin
And a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer
And to guide;
Strength for today
and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
And all I have needed thy hand hath provided;
Great is thy faithfulness,
Lord, unto me!
Certainty in Times of Uncertainty and Transition
Yet this I call to mind and therefore have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
For his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, The Lord is my portion;
Therefore I will wait for him. (Lamentations 3:21-24)
It is true that light shines brightest in the darkness. If ever there were uncertain days, these are those days. As I write the coronavirus is setting the agendas and schedules of people and nations around the world. Unprecedented challenges to business, travel, finances, schooling, safety, politics, even communities of worship are requiring that we stop and reflect and adjust.
In International Baptist Convention churches and the IBC as a whole we are experiencing transition and uncertainty. We are being forced to rethink how we “do church.” Ministries, worship services, small groups, leadership meetings, — everything is done remotely. We are being forced to remember what we already knew — the church is not a building but rather a family of believers.
YET is a big word. Did you notice it in the text above? The prophet Jeremiah was living in a time of national transition, tragedy, personal pain, disappointment, and grief. The book of Lamentations takes its name from the wailings of the prophet, who had watched his nation fall and the destruction of its capital Jerusalem. The life of the community was ended. Chapter 3 of Lamentations speaks of the suffering and tragedies and the resulting bitterness that had come upon the nation. Hopelessness was epidemic. Then comes the YET. A ray of hope springs forth. How was this possible? Because of the Lord’s “great love,” His “compassions” that never failed but instead were “new every morning.” Jeremiah hopefully confesses, “Great is your faithfulness.”
Now is the time when the church is given its opportunity to shine. Speaking with pastors and members of IBC churches, I have heard incredible stories of how God is using these troubling times to call people to Himself and to one another. People are going out of their ways to minister to hurting people like never before.
In a recent online leadership huddle made up of IBC leaders of churches, IBC President Tim Faulkner asked, “Are you frustrated or focused?” Pastors and other leaders shared about their initial frenzy of trying to move toward online sermons and worship services and putting discipleship and home groups on to social platforms like Zoom and Skype. Among the greatest challenges was pastoral care — how does the shepherd minister to the sheep in this day of physical distancing?
YET was a familiar refrain. Connecting and caring required creativity. Yet, speaking for many, Paul Grinyer from Bremen, Germany, said: “I am surprisingly communicating more with people,” albeit in a different way than before. Pastors shared how church members were reaching out to one another, praying over the phone and over the internet. They were also reaching out to their neighbors in ways they had never done before, offering practical help where needed like shopping for groceries or walking pets or picking up mail. One of our pastors and his wife felt convicted to set aside money for small business people whose businesses were jeopardized. Families have found the time available to connect like never before.
These acts of kindness and fellowship were prompted by God’s “great love” and “compassion.” We are learning during a time of challenge that God alone is our hope and salvation. The “lesser gods” that we tend to lean on and take for granted — health, wealth, status, abundance of whatever we need, freedom of travel, — can be shattered during a time like the current pandemic. But God never fails to walk with us and to show His love and compassion. He is faithful. We will come out of the crisis not because WE are strong but because HE is strong and loving and compassionate. And HE is our portion — God is all we have and all we need in this time of uncertainty.
God is also our portion in times of transition. Laurie and I are experiencing a time of transition right now. After more than 27 years in the IBC — 10 years as a pastor and 17 as the general secretary — we plan to return to the U.S. I announced my retirement two years in advance so the convention would have ample time to identify and call my successor. We formed a very diverse search team, which was led by Pastor Nick Howard. They completed their work by presenting Tim Faulkner as their candidate for the position.
Tim and Jacki are not new to the IBC. They have served in Italy as missionaries for many years, mostly in Naples. Tim served as pastor of IBC Naples, a church made up mostly of Italians and American military families. Tim currently serves as the IBC President and has been involved in our Executive Leadership Team for some years. The IBC, at a special called meeting, voted to call Tim to serve as the IBC General Secretary beginning in November. I plan to serve until the completion of our Annual Convention Meeting, 26-28 October, in Kaiserslautern, Germany. The final service of the ACM will be held in the Heidelberg Castle on 28 October.
From now until November, Tim and I will spend regular times discussing, planning, and praying about the future. He will speak with a louder voice in upcoming meetings with the Executive Leadership Team as we plan for the future. God has been faithful to lead the IBC to a good place with a great future. He will be faithful to lead and empower us to fulfill the mission He has given us of “mobilizing and multiplying disciple-making churches.”
Thomas Chisholm wrote one of my favorite hymns, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” as a reflection of Jeremiah’s words, spoken during a time of national and personal mourning and transition (see side box). God really is faithful. I hope you discover this as you walk with the LORD during your days of uncertainty and transition. I hope your church is not giving in to despair, anger, or fear during these days. Instead, you are leaning on the everlasting arms of our faithful God.