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At church near NASA, pastor voices a sure faith ‘based on who God is’

NASSAU BAY, Texas (BP)–The songs had been selected for another service, a different sermon. But therein lies the beauty of God’s Word put to music — it ministers to those of genuine faith in all circumstances, particularly a congregation located across from the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. Although the sermon had been changed from what was printed in the bulletin in light of the Columbia space shuttle tragedy, there was no need to change the order of worship.

“All Hail the Power of Jesus Name” proclaimed God’s sovereignty. “Shout to the Lord” gave these Christians a voice of praise. Choir members and congregants alike wept as the choir and orchestra performed “How Great Thou Art,” a testimony to the author and finisher of their faith. Little more than 24 hours had passed since the Feb. 1 loss of Columbia STS-107 and its seven-member crew when Nassau Bay Baptist Church met for worship and prayer.

A special time of prayer was given to the beginning of the service. Each member of the Columbia crew was called by name as congregants prayed silently. They had been asked to pray for the families left behind, for the extended family of the NASA employees, and for those charged with the task of determining just what brought down the first orbiter in the shuttle fleet.

The small city of Nassau Bay sits directly across from the main entrance to the NASA facility. Just an eight-lane road separates this community of 4,500 from the federal facility where manned space flight has been directed for 40 years. The members of Nassau Bay Baptist Church come from this town and all the communities surrounding JSC.

They are NASA employees, contractors or subcontractors. They are teachers of the children of astronauts and space flight programmers. They are business owners, store clerks and administrators, all taking pride in the fact that they live among the dreamers of space exploration. So when the ground of north Texas shook with the explosion of Columbia Feb. 1, the very foundations of the faith of many were shaken as well.

Nassau Bay pastor David Fannin encouraged the congregation to stand firm in their faith and not be swayed by the trials of this world. It is only in the trying of our faith that our faith is made stronger, he said.

“Great faith will always be forged in the furnace of tragic situations,” he said. He then told the story of a woman in such a dilemma. From Matthew 15:21-28, Fannin read of a mother desperately seeking healing for her demon-possessed daughter. It is presumed all other options from her own pagan beliefs and culture had been tried and found lacking. She then begged for help from Jesus.

It is in times of personal tragedy, Fannin said, that “I challenge you to do what this woman did — turn to Jesus.”

As the woman repeatedly cried out to Jesus, much to the annoyance of the disciples, they asked him to send the woman away. Jesus responded by saying he came to save the lost sheep of Israel. And, yet again, the woman persisted.

Why should bread for the children be given to the pet dog, he asked her? She replied, kneeling humbly before him, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Fannin said Jesus’ reply is significant because it is so rarely uttered in all of God’s word. “Woman,” Christ said, “you have great faith.”

Throughout the Bible, Fannin said, there are people who are described as having no faith, little faith, faith, much faith and more faith. But seldom is anyone referred to, especially by Jesus, as having “great faith.” The pastor said the Canannite woman should be an example to all Christians.

He first noted she was not put off by what Fannin called “divine silence.” Jesus’ lack of a response did not stop her petition. “Have you had those times,” Fannin asked, “when heaven was like glass and you can’t get through?”

Sometimes, he said, there will not be an answer. “If your faith is dependent on getting an answer every single time, you will never have great faith.”

Such faith cannot be deterred by “tattling servants,” Fannin said of the disciples who couldn’t be bothered by the woman’s pleas. There are some, he said, who view the chance to obtain great faith as an annoyance. When we look at our circumstances through the eyes of the flesh, we often miss what is truly meant to be seen. We miss the opportunity to give God the glory when we tell him to take the troubles away.

In the days and weeks to come, Fannin said one question will be repeatedly asked: “How could a God of love let something like this happen?”

To that, he responded with a story from his own life. While an advisory council member at his alma mater, Toccoa Falls Bible College, an earthen dam collapsed in 1977 sending the contents of a 40-acre lake surging through the campus. Thirty-nine men, women and children were killed. In the news blitz that followed, Fannin said a friend of his happened to be in the office of the college president when the phone rang. He was the only person there to answer. What came from his mouth were not his own words, he later testified, but the words of God.

On the other end of the line was a reporter from The New York Times. After a series of questions, he finally asked the ultimate question, “How can a God of love let this happen to you?”

Fannin said his friend responded as God gave him the words. “You don’t judge God’s love by whether the rain falls or the sun shines. You don’t judge God’s love by whether the baby is born with a debilitating birth defect or healthy. You can only judge God’s love at the foot of the cross.”

So many people, Christian and non-Christian, want to weigh the love of God against the circumstances in their lives. There are many who will say the same thing about loss of Columbia. “What we need to do is keep on trusting,” Fannin said.

“Great faith finds its focus in this lady when she perseveres in a faithful spirit,” he said of the woman in Matthew’s story. Jesus did nothing to encourage her, the pastor said, yet she was not deterred by his silence or his rebuke. Verse 25 says, “The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said.”

Fannin encouraged the congregation to demonstrate such a persistent faith. “The world needs to see legitimate faith. Faith that will continue to hang on and hold on…. We need to show that in our lives and share that in our words.”

He added, “Legitimate faith is not based on what God does. It’s based on who God is.”

Recognizing the sovereignty of God is at the root of such faith. The servant does not tell the master what to do. “Our faith,” Fannin said, “must be in him as Lord and Master.” And, he added, being sovereign means God can do anything he wants. But, in faith, we know “he will not do anything that is not for our good and his glory.

As the pastor gave the invitation, the pianist began playing, “Out of my Bondage, Sorrow and Night.” The last two lines of the second verse read: “Out of earth’s sorrows into Thy balm, out of life’s storms and into Thy calm, out of distress to jubilant psalm, Jesus I come to Thee.”

It is in the songs written from hearts of faith in years gone by that the faith of Christians today is steeled. And in new songs of praise their faith is expressed. It is to a dark and grieving world that Fannin exhorted Nassau Bay church members to “find in him the only thing that will give us hope…not necessarily all the answers but that very present help in time of trouble.”
Pritchett is a writer in Dallas and a member of Nassau Bay Baptist Church. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: HANDS LIFTED, REMEMBERING and IMPROMPTU MEMORIAL.

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  • Bonnie Pritchett