Debris from Katrina illustrates Christian persistence in face of hardship
Despite difficulty, Christians should “press on” in the pursuit of Christ, David Uth, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Orlando, Fla., said during chapel at his alma mater, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Feb 16.
Uth held up a Bible that was curled and yellowed; it had obviously been waterlogged. He shared that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, his 12,000-member church sent several relief teams to the First Baptist Church of Gulfport, Miss., to help them after the storm.
“One of our men came back with this Bible,” Uth said. He said that as the relief worker was cleaning up the remains of the Mississippi church, he caught sight of a page from the soaked Bible, sticking up from a pile of rubble and “flapping in the breeze.”
“The page that was flapping had these words,” Uth said, and began to read from the third chapter of Philippians: “‘Not that I have already attained it or have already been made perfect, but I press on.’”
“There will be storms. There will be some valleys lower and deeper than you’ve ever gone. Press on and passionately pursue the One whose love took you in,” he said.
Many Christians have directed their passion away from their pursuit of Christ, Uth said. For example, church members often show more passion during a football game than during a baptism.
“For goodness sakes, can we not celebrate what matters most to the Father, and be passionate about what God is passionate about?” he said. He added that the passion in churches is not dying, but it is “going in another direction,” away from God.
Uth identified three keys to passionately pursuing Christ passionately. First, he said Christians should admit that they aren’t there yet.
“If you are green, your growing; if you’re ripe, you’re rotting … There has got to be a hunger in us that says, ‘I’m not there yet, I want more,’ and don’t ever quite working,” Uth said.
Churches, at times, don’t seem to be progressing toward Christ, he said. He illustrated this through his experience on the Shock Wave, a roller-coaster at Six Flags theme park. He took a youth group to a theme park when the ride first opened. It was an “incredible ride” with a “lot of thrills and a lot of loops,” he said. He noticed, however, that people “get off at the same place they get on.”
“That is the church in America,” he said. People have great worship experiences, but they don’t progress in their walk with Christ.
The second key in pursuing Christ is to “forget what is behind,” Uth said. This involves both good and bad experiences, he said. “God wants to do a new work in you. It’s wonderful … that you used to be sold out and on fire for God … but what are you doing today,” he said.
Third, Christians need to “strain toward what is ahead,” Uth said. He compared this to a runner focusing on the finish line during a race.
“I don’t know where the finish line is for me. I only know who is at it, and for the rest of my days I will press on,” he said.
Uth is a two-time graduate of Southwestern Seminary, receiving his master of divinity degree in 1983, and his doctorate in 1991. A native of Memphis, Tenn., and an avid outdoorsman, Uth had served as pastor to churches in Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana before being called as co-pastor of First Baptist Orlando in 2005. He is married to Rachel, and they have three children.