Headlines from First Thoughts

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Dungy Challenge: Hug 'em

Most people are aware that NFL coach Tony Dungy's son died of an apparent suicide. His famous father spoke at his son's funeral for 20 minutes. Here are the comments of a grieving man, speaking as a Christian, a father, a person... a challenge to all.

To his team, the Indianapolis Colts: "I want to urge you to continue being who you are because our young boys in this country, they need to hear from you. If anything, be bolder in who you are. Because our boys are getting a lot of the wrong messages about what it means to be a man in this world. About how you should act, and how you should dress, and how you should talk, and how you should treat people. They don't always get the right message, but you guys have the right messages."

On the last time he saw his son at Thanksgiving:
"I said, 'I'll see you later.' I didn't get to hug him. I knew I'd see him again pretty soon, so it didn't really bother me very much."
"We talked on the phone a lot the last few days. We're always talking about what was going to happen. The last few days he was saying -- as the guys on the team know he would -- he was saying: 'Dad, we're going to the Super Bowl, and when we do, will I be on the field?'"
"And I said: 'Yeah, man. You know the hard part is getting there, but if we do, you know you're going to be on the field.' ... But I never got to hug him again. That's one thing I'll always think about and always remind people to do: Hug 'em every chance you get."

Christmas Travel

Once again, I have another Christmas travel episode. This has happened before. A few years ago, we celebrated Kelly's father's retirement around Christmastime. The San Angelo, Texas, airport closed because the de-icing machine was broken. Now I have another Christmas adventure.

A few months ago I committed to a wedding on Christmas Eve. I would do this only for friends and family, and this was a family friend. Part of the deal included getting me back to Knoxville in time for the 5:00 p.m. Christmas Eve service. The rest of the family would drive back in time for Santa to come. When I arrived at the airport, they had canceled the flight. (Thanks for the phone call to let me know--not!!!!).

It was now 1:15, and I was 4 hours away from Knoxville. So, I ran to the Hertz desk, rented a car, and flew on the ground to Knoxville. I left Charlotte at 1:30 and was back in my church
at 4:45. Let's just say either the North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee police were looking at other people, or they were just not around.

The experience gives new meaning to Joseph and Mary's flight to Egypt. Thankfully, they were not depending on anything with ".com" in the name.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Waiting for Christmas

Some things are worth the wait. A few days ago, Kelly woke up and could not find Parker. He usually does not wander off by himself, so she thought it was a little bit odd that he would turn up missing at 7:30 a.m. After combing the closets on the second floor, she found him sitting calmly by the tree, teddy bear at his side, wrapped in his blanket. “What are you doing?” she asked, relieved to find him. He replied, “I’m waiting by the tree for Christmas to come.”

While most people are delayed in the checkout line this holy-day season, a few people still have enough patience to wait in some quiet moments. I’ve spotted a few others waiting in some other places this season. I’ve spotted you in the home of a homebound person, waiting with them while a caregiver attends church on a Sunday morning. Some people have been waiting in the Gulf Coast regions, repairing homes and getting perspective on life. Others are waiting in prayer, asking for God’s guidance for our world and God’s intervention in some of the greatest needs imaginable.

If I could have predicted last year’s events, at a local, global, or church level, you would have probably laughed. Some were catastrophic, others were welcomed with open arms. Each one became an opportunity for First Baptist people to be involved in God’s work. Each time, we waited in dependence for God’s care and assistance. Take a few moments this week and hide out. Find a quiet place, and reflect on the coming of the Christ child to our world and the message that we will share about Him in 2006. I promise you; it will be worth the wait.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Impossible Possibilities

Few things are impossible any more. Scientists have us believing that if we can dream, we can accomplish things in our lifetimes never thought of before. Advent dares to talk about things so unusual, they have not even been imagined. For example, take another look at the virgin birth. God had intervened many times in the lives of infertile couples. Just ask Sarai and Hannah; they have plenty of stories that will make you chuckle. What about a couple that does not want to have a baby? Who would have considered that a righteous man and woman just barely getting to know one another and not even talking about "starting a family" could become the agents of the miraculous? The virgin birth dares to dream that kind of impossibility. As Eugene Peterson notes in his recent book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, the virgin birth trumps all other conceptions because this kind of thing had never been done before. The birth of Christ creates possibilities that make the dreams of scientists seem so shortsighted.

Friday, December 09, 2005


C.S. Lewis may not have preferred a theatrical adaptation of his children's book (see previous post), but I am glad Disney chose to do produce one anyway. The Lion, et al. was a thrilling portrayal of a classic book. The best part, however, was the audience. I rarely get to see a movie when it premieres, especially not in a packed room. Last night, I watched the movie with 200 of my closest friends and other guests from First Baptist.

I loved the comments in the foyer from people of all ages: "The 3rd grade Sunday School class is sitting together." "We're on a date tonight." "I talked with someone at Disney, and they want to know my opinion about the movie." I'm sure most of the 3rd graders proudly gave away the ending at school today and made plans to take their buddies this weekend.

The film did not disappoint; it lived up to the hype. Three scenes are worth a brief comment from pastoral eyes. One reminded me of the way we approach the kingdom of God. The children arrived where their new nanny met them. When she saw them with just a few bags in their possession. She asked, "Is that all you have." "Just us," they replied.

Another scene captured the purpose of Christmas gifts. When Father Christmas appeared to encourage the children as they fled the witch, he gave them presents. They were to be used to help others rather than themselves. A healing balm, arrows, a shield, a sword, and horn were given for the purpose of the mission. Should not the gifts we exchange this season be given to share again with others?

The last one is a baptism scene following the encounter with Father Christmas. When the children and the beavers cross an icy, thawing river, they are stranded on melting ice. Peter breaks the ice with his sword; and they float down the river, much like a small church clinging to each other. Just as an individual is suddenly thrust under water in baptism to remind them of the death of their old life to sin through Jesus' new eternal life, suddenly, the children go under the water and feel the pain of a near-drowning experience. They arrive on land and look around thinking they have lost Lucy. They hear her voice coming from behind, and they are safe again. In the same way, the church looks for those they have lost, and others caught in the current of life; and we guide people to safety.

Plenty of other scenes are laced with spiritual, creative, fun twists. Art, like any good book, or page from scripture, always reveals another dimension depending on who's looking. Perhaps new eyes will be opened by seeing something even Jack Lewis never imagined.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Lions and Monkeys

"Anthropomorphic animals, when taken out of narrative into actual visibility, always turn into buffoonery or nightmare. At least, with photography. Cartoons (if only Disney did not combine so much vulgarity with his genius!) wld. be another matter. A human, pantomime, Aslan wld. be to me blasphemy." So said C.S. Lewis many years ago. Did he realize the very people he critiqued would one day make a fortune off his beloved series, The Chronicles of Narnia?

When I saw this quote in USA Today, I was reminded that Lewis thought that imagination was one of the gifts that Christianity brought to the world. Reducing spiritual matters to concrete images limits the mind's ability to see a new vision of the world. The gift of imagination opens the eyes to see God in all sorts of creative ventures, whether through a talking lion or a magical wardrobe.

Lewis, much like his colleague J. R. R. Tolkein, borrowed from a good tradition of writers who had a biblical imagination. When the prophet Daniel tried to describe a new world coming, he used metaphors from the animal kingdom. Jesus described his followers as lost sheep. Even Revelation describes the victory over evil like the death of a wicked beast.

I am going to see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe tonight. I can't wait to see how Disney has portrayed the books. I'm also excited that our church has used this as a chance to invite people to join us who do not normally come to our church. These things are wonderful, but we do not need to wait for a Christian book to be portrayed in Hollywood to find a bit of grace and redemption.

I imagine there were will be a spiritual theme or two in next week's adaptation of King Kong. Even a movie about a big ape can remind people of the frailty of humans with just enough imagination. So whether you see God's work in a Lion, a Gorilla, or just a few old fashioned humans, open your mind and look around. God's creativity is alive and well even if you can only see it from your mind's eye.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

First Impressions

The word that we use for worship, a “liturgy,” comes from two words: “public works.” On Saturday, we had a liturgy, public works with hands, eyes, and feet, as we fed and clothed over 300 people. Thank you, church family, for all the plans that went into Saturday. What a treat to serve together. Here are just a few comments I have received in the past few days.

One person wrote, “The Christmas season has only just begun, and already, I believe, I have experienced the highlight of my Christmas at our Christmas Brunch. One gentleman, named William, told me, ‘This is good luck and a blessing! It is cold out today, and I needed a coat. Besides, it is my birthday on December 22. This is my birthday party. I'll get a warm meal, a coat, some food, and some clothes for my birthday present!’ His smile was radiant. Bless his heart, I made him endure a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ sung slightly off key. Another gentleman was entering the clothes shop at the end of the day. He had chosen a new suede jacket from the coat closet, and it still had the ‘Men's X-large’ taped on the lapel. ‘May I pull this off for you?’ I asked him. ‘Yes,’ he began, but as I pulled it off, he reconsidered. ‘I don't know. I might want to leave it on there so everyone will know that I have a new coat. I haven't had a new coat in years!’ I did not throw away that piece of tape. Instead, I stuck it inside the jacket, saying, ‘Here. We'll put it inside your jacket so that you can show anyone you want that you have a new coat.’”

Another emailed me, “What a blessing Saturday was! It was wonderful to be a part of something so special. Saturday Christ was at First Baptist and he was fed and clothed. You received a special Christmas gift from the members of the church. I am so glad that I was allowed to be a part of what I hope becomes an annual event. The people were so grateful and really touched by the opening of our doors. I only heard good comments. It was a grand event! The comments ranged from, ‘This is the friendliest church I have ever seen’ to ‘I have never been in this church, it's beautiful.’”

Several of our guests submitted prayer requests. A man named Eric wrote, “Pray that I can move out of the mission soon—I turn 25 on December 30 and have been in the mission on and off for 3-4 years.” Another said, “Pray for my son Aaron who is on the Syrian border. Please pray for a safe return home.” Tanya wrote, “Help me find and get a better paying job; help me get my own place and get a car.” Keep praying for our guests.

I’m collecting more stories and prayer requests on my blog. Go to www.firsthoughts.blogspot.com or follow the link from our website. Post your comments under the article, “Rest Area.” You can also preview upcoming sermon themes and provide feedback on previous worship services and events at 1B.

On Sunday evening, we continue the liturgy with a gift from the Sanctuary Choir. Like the present we received from the Children’s Choirs Sunday, let’s open our hearts again to the sounds of the season. Come to be refreshed and to listen to the voices of Advent. It’s another public expression of our gifts from the Lord.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Rest Area

Today was the first (ever?) Downtown Knoxville Christmas Brunch at First Baptist. Our church hosted 400 homeless, working poor, and impoverished for brunch at our church. In September, we welcomed victims of the Katrina disaster from New Orleans. Today was our chance to do something for the impoverished in the Knoxville community.

Some 200 volunteers assisted with meal preparation, building security and toy, coat, and food distribution. We provided each guest with a new or gently used winter coat, a toy, clothing, and a bag of food. They were treated to Christmas music from church ensembles, soloists, and area choirs.

We began dark and early. Some volunteers arrived before 7:00 a.m. We expected the first people to arrive at 8:00 a.m. When the guests trickled in, several volunteers pooled their thoughts and drove church vans to the rescue mission to tell others about the event. They modeled Jesus command, "Go out to the highways and compel them to come in."

People who are less fortunate than I are usually those who have been caught in life's traffic jam. So many people are one paycheck or two away from the homeless shetler as their temporary residence. Many of those people who came today were evidence of that. One grew up in our church and was now out of a job with no home of their own. Another was a preacher's kid who had a drug and alcohol addiction. There were plenty of heartbreaking stories to go around. But there were plenty of signs of God's peace and comfort as well. If our guests were caught in the roadblocks of life, today was like a rest area for them and us. We needed this moment for ourselves as much as they did. As one of our members said, "It was so good to look around and watch us be church."

There are plenty of times in the year when we are doing church individually. Sunday School classes, choirs, missions groups, individuals serve in tremendous ways around town. We have seen evidence of that throughout the year. On this day, it was good to be together working collectively, seeing each other doing good together. We saw wealthy 7th graders serving poor 3rd graders. We heard a poor musician serve a feast of music to a room full of needy people. Once again, I am reminded that in God's eyes, we are all the same. We need to work to help our eyes see things from God's perspective.

We had church today. No sermon will ever top this experience. May this be the first of many rest areas for 1B.

If you have a story from today that you would like to share or to continue the conversation about this incredible experience, simply post a comment to this Blog.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

On the Way

Road construction in the ancient world was no easy task. Without the modern conveniences of bulldozers and steamrollers, rock, trees, and stumps took years if not decades to remove. Isaiah's paving work described in 40:1-11, a highway through the desert, probably sounded like a wish dream to the people who heard his cries. God was involved in a larger plan: a redemptive highway project to bring peace and comfort to God's people.

Perhaps this is why the first believers in the early church chose to call themselves, "The Way." Their lives were the paving stones along the way to take Christ's love into the spiritual desert of the Greco-Roman world. They carried out Isaiah's good news and became the heralds of a new pathway to life.

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