- (Photo: First Baptist Church Arlington via The Christian Post)
Though hundreds of congregants went into worship service with heavy hearts on Sunday, they refused to let the murder of one of their pastors shake their faith in Jesus Christ.
"We're at a time when the darkness perhaps has enshrouded us, and in the midst of tragic, hard, awful times even when we can't see, we keep believing in Jesus," Dr. Dennis Wiles, senior pastor of First Baptist Church Arlington, preached.
"We're going to keep believing," he stressed. "The truth has not been abrogated today even in the face of such tragic violence."
The Texas church is grieving the loss of Clint Dobson, who led NorthPointe Baptist Church – the satellite ministry of FBCA. He was murdered Thursday at NorthPointe. He was 28.
Dobson's assistant, Judy Elliott, remains hospitalized.
Police have arrested Steven Lawayne Nelson, 24, on suspicion of capital murder. New reports on Monday indicate that Dobson was killed by suffocation during the robbery.
The tragic murder has left the congregation in shock. After all, Dobson was a family member, not just staff, as Dr. Barry Rock, associate pastor of worship, stated.
But on Sunday, FBCA pastors saved their eulogies for Wednesday – when Dobson's funeral will take place – choosing instead to dedicate the Sabbath to the Lord.
"Clint would not want us to have his funeral today. This is the Lord's day," Wiles said.
Still, Wiles made a few notes of praise about Dobson and based his sermon around persevering through trials.
Before coming on staff with the First Baptist family, Dobson was a student of his at Truett Theological Seminary. He stood out as not only a warm and gentle person but also as a gifted communicator – he was named outstanding student preacher of the year.
While grieving the loss of his former student and a fellow preacher, Wiles pointed the congregation back to God's word for hope, comfort and truth.
The truth is that there will be trouble, tribulation, and tragic times in the life of a believer.
"You're going to be tested," the senior pastor said. But Christians need to learn how to endure and persevere.
"The only way to grow in endurance is to go through times of tribulation," he elaborated. "The Bible teaches us that God can use those challenging times ... and bring about qualities inside of us that enable us to be better followers of Jesus.
"We've got to learn how to persevere and move past turmoil. Turmoil is not permanent. It's seasonal."
There are, inevitably, questions, Wiles acknowledged.
Where was God? Could God not have stopped it? Couldn't God have intervened to salvage the life of a young preacher?
"What does it say about the Bible, about Christianity, about our God?"
"There's nothing wrong with [those questions] being posed," the Texas pastor noted. "Trying to grapple with some of those questions is one of the ways we process our way through to truth."
But in the midst of questioning and grieving, Wiles urged the congregation to heed the counsel of Jesus – that is, to keep believing.
"You can keep asking your questions but Jesus is the answer. His way is the only way," he underscored. "His truth is the only truth. His life is the only life."
"You keep believing in God in spite of your troubled spirit. You keep trusting in God," he said, taking the words of Jesus which were said the day before he went to the cross.
Holding back tears, church member Jeremiah Smith encouraged the congregation not to respond to the attack in anger or judgment but rather to recognize "that the true power is in love and forgiveness."
He further encouraged the church to ask God to give them a spirit of refusal – "that we would refuse to let the darkness outshine the light, and we would refuse to let the questions and the disillusionment outshine the answers, and we would refuse to let the brutality of an end outshine the beauty of a life."
Wiles reminded the congregation that they were all created for eternity.
"Your day is coming," he said. "It may not end as brutally as it did for Clint Dobson ... and not as quickly ... but I'm here to tell you your day is coming."
"Look beyond the circumstances, the tragedy, the confusion ... and lift your gaze and realize that eternity is real."
"I don't care whether you are a young preacher faithfully serving God, whether you are a faithful ministry assistant serving God in the church, or whether you're a cold-blooded killer. God has designed us all for eternity. He's created every single one of us in His image.
"There is something in all of us that can be redeemed by the grace of Almighty God."
To put it in perspective, Wiles used the biblical imagery of a race.
Everyone is running a race. It's easy to start a race, motivated by hope and optimism, but Christians must learn to endure through the race and finish well.
"When God saved you ... He didn't redeem you just to start a race, He redeemed you to run a race well so that you can endure, so that you can also finish well," he said.
"My young brother in Christ on Thursday morning finished well. Hallelujah."
Dobson is survived by his wife, Laura.