Headlines from First Thoughts

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Feeling Better

USA Today reported that people turn to television when they are recovering at home from an illness. They suggested 10 different themes or plots that help us recouperate when we are in sick bay. If we watch these television shows, we will feel better comparing our condition to the characters.

Using 5 of USA Today's themes and noting their TV recommendation, I've suggested a few Bible stories that will help you feel better on the road to recovery. Happy Healing! Listen to these on audiotape....
1.) There are people who feel worse than you.
Show: Maximum Exposure
Bible Story: Jezebel and the Dogs
Description: Jezebel's fate is sealed when she dies falling out of a tower. Not a pretty sight.
Why you should read it: What could be worse than to fall out of a tower, only to have dogs eat you?
2.) There are people who look worse than you.
Show: What Not to Wear
Bible Story: Leah
Description: The text tells us she was "soft in the eyes," or in modern terms "ugly."
Why you should read it: Thank goodness no one is commenting on your eyes--or looks--when you're ill.
3.) There are people who are bigger slobs than you.
Show: Clean House
Bible Story: Noah and the Ark
Description: Noah spends 40 days and nights with animals.
Why you should read it: Even after an illness, your house is still cleaner than the ark.
4.) Learn pain management
Show: Anything on C-SPAN
Bible story: The man at the pool of Bethsaida (John 5)
Description: The man relies on a superstition to heal him.
Why you should read it: Be thankful we have medicine to go with our prayers.
5.) Sooner or later your appetite will return
Show: Paula's Home Cooking
Bible Story: Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
Description: A little boy has more faith than trained disciples.
Why you should read it: When your son offers chicken soup, take it.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Inward Thoughts

Getting inside a church is a tough challenge. Inspired by some of the concepts that Dan Yeary at North Phoenix Baptist Church uses, let me offer a few "in"-words for church.

1.) Inform
Always be informing others about what's going on down at 1-B. It makes for great conversation with neighbors.
For someone to come to Christ, we must be constantly investing in the lives of others. People respond to invitations from someone they trust.
3.) Invite
The better we do number 1, the easier number 2 will be. Invite your friends to meet you at church. Save them a seat. Better yet, pick them up and ride together.
4.) Include
Saving seats, seeking out people sitting alone, and extending invitations to lunch afterward make a big difference. Make sure prospects are on your email lists for your Sunday School class. Don't have prospects? Call the office.
5.) Intercede
Intercessory prayer sensitizes us to the needs of others. Pray for the guests and members around you each day. It opens your eyes.
6.) Inspire
Your singing inspires others to sing. Our worship services provide the venue for experiencing God's presence. Our service opportunities give people a chance to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
7.) Instruct
At church, we teach others about following Christ's path. Do this in your neighborhoods and offices too.
8.) Invite
Don't let them fall through the cracks. A reminder email or phone call that says, "we missed you," goes a long way. Our staff continually follows up with guests as well. At the end of each service, we provide an opportunity for public commitments of faith.

Restaurant Ratings

I've read many columns about restaurant ratings, but I rarely see a "kid-friendly" restaurants rating systems. So, here is Bill's first annual rating system of local restaurants. These are based on very objective criteria: color pages, color crayons, few stares from customers, manager doesn't cringe when we walk in, taste of food. It's all about Parker, you know.

1.) Sullivan's *****
Close to the house, good color pages, great tasting lemon ice drink. Me-Maw knows how to find it when she's in town.
2.) Bravo! *****
This Italian restaurant has it all. Color crayons, color sheets, dough. You can color right on the table, you can make your own something to bake in the oven. If you have the right server, you can watch them make your pizza. Downside: can we really afford this once each week?
3.) Texas Roadhouse *****
Running a close third, this place is a carry-over from Texas. Not only does the "Roadhouse" have peanuts you can throw (literally) on the floor, but they have a great window to watch the food preparation. Watch out, health department! Added bonus: real saddle to ride while the chef makes the flames go higher!
4.) McDonald's ****
All the major food groups, except Parker always orders "Chicken Nuggets and French Fries." Can't beat the toys. Dad loves the sweet tea. Where's a server to bring it to my table? Oh yes, this is fast-food.
5.) Chick-Fil-A ****
Better nutrition in the "Chicken Nuggets and French Fries." Needs better toys.
6.) Outback ****
Great for boys night out. Can't beat the cheese fries. Key boys night out rule: no vegetables!
7.) Chuck-E-Cheese ****
Great fun, not so great pizza. Bring your wallet and your watch; you'll need plenty of both.
8.) Our house ****
Cooks better food than most, healthiest cooking. Downside: we'd rather eat out.
9.) Snappy Tomato Pizza ****
Best pizza in town, worst seating (there's only one place to sit down). Order early; it takes awhile to deliver. Even better-- pick it up and see #8.
10.) Firehouse Subs ***
Firehouse effect always great conversation starter. How many times do we go over the fire equipment? Plastic fire helmet souvenir is nice touch. Not dad's favorite place. It's good and fast after church.
11.) Mellow Mushroom ***
Great pizza, closer to the church than most places. Big mushrooms make for nice atmosphere. Slower service, but good color pages.
12.) Pizza Kitchen ***
No color crayons or color pages, but makes up for it in location. You can usually spot a First Baptist celebrity working behind the counter and/or a parent leaving big tips for said celebrity.

Imagine how a parent, or any other adult, rates an experience at church. My guess is that several criteria are used every Sunday as people visit our church: parking, accessibility (can anyone find where things are?), nursery, friendliness, inspiration, location, people, safety.

It's comforting to know that as I read the New Testament, church has to be more than just what we offer others. We are extending an invitation to people to help us make this a better place and make a difference in the lives of others in downtown Knoxville. Instead of worrying about our weaknesses, we equally emphasize what our guests can offer us. Need a greeter in the parking deck? Come and be one! Difficulty finding a room? Stand in the hall and direct traffic. Want to provide something for children? We'll empower you to serve.

A relationship with Christ and participation in the church community is a journey together. It's all about each person serving together, you know.

Ring, Ring

Last week, I began series of sermons on the call of God. Unfortunately, we are currently in a vocational ministry crisis. Curtis Freeman, director the Baptist house at Duke Divinity school, states that 30% of Southern Baptist ministers are older than 55 while only 10% are younger than 35. In North Carolina, statistics suggest it’s as low as 7%. For every 3 ministers retiring from serving in ministry, we have only 1 person entering ministry to replace them. To make matters worse, only 1 out of every 3 of these new ministers is even considering a position in church.

God continues to call, however; and this time, someone is answering. Seminary enrollment has increased 47% since 1980. Seventy percent of students now are over the age of 30. They are second and third career individuals, sometimes going back to that role that God first nudged them to do.

We have seen evidence of this at First Baptist Knoxville. Last Sunday, three people expressed publicly that they were accepting God's call to ministry. Two women and one man said, "Yes." All are over the age 30. One is starting a new ministry; one is taking seminary courses; another is applying to seminary.

God is calling, and people are listening.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Holiness and the Priorities of Life
Matthew 6:19-34

In their book, Kingdom Ethics, Glen Stassen and David Gushee cite a Chinese Proverb: “Ninety percent of what we see lies behind our eyes” (Stassen and Gushee, 65). If we use money generously, we see the needs of others and give generously. If we invest in earthly goods, we hoard possessions and worry about tomorrow.
Jesus discusses these same concepts in this section of the Sermon on the Mount. A person’s vision of the end affects how he treats possessions. Living generously creates a window of light into one’s heart. Obsessing about material things keeps a person in the dark (vs. 22-23). In order to have a vision for healthy priorities, believers should remember two important principles.

God never demands what we are to supply (vs. 19-24).
Modern Christians associate “holiness” and “money” with a word carried over from the Hebrew Bible: tithing. Jesus goes beyond the tithe and points to motives. Believers are to look at their possessions as a steward takes care of property entrusted to him. We put God’s priorities first and prepare for the next life accordingly. Jesus does not urge tithing. He tells his disciples to give everything to God because everything they own is God’s anyway. Our lives of faith are not reduced to a measurement (like a tithe). We live in light of the end, keeping our focus on the light of Christ.
After the Katrina disaster, a friend of mine commented to me, “I’m tired of hearing people say that they hope this might give people a new perspective on their possessions. If 9/11, tsunami, and Katrina don’t change your perspective, nothing else will.” Priorities should be the buzzword of every person facing 21st century challenges. Jesus reminds us that God’s economy changes the value of everything.
We could paraphrase Jesus’ words here in this way: “Don’t just look at the minimum you can contribute; give like you have a 401K in heaven; donate money as if you were investing in a guaranteed return on the interest. When you give, don’t wait for the “thank you note” to come from the benefactor. Don’t concentrate on how the benefactor distributes the money. Focus on your faithful responsibilities as God’s people. In doing so, you will live as if the bank is in heaven, where the dividends pay back in full; and the owner matches spiritual blessing-for-dollar in this life and the life to come. Look for ways to give everything to God, because everything is God’s anyway!”

God always supplies whatever the needs demand (vs. 25-34).
The second principle relates to the first. We are liberated to give resources to God’s causes because we trust in God’s provision. Jesus asks a series of rhetorical questions, reminding the audience that they worry too much about material needs. By trusting in God’s provision first, we become less anxious and more peaceful.
When Hurricane Katrina flooded the Gulf Coast, I called Dr. Jay Hogewood at University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. They were serving as a distribution point in their area for hurricane relief. We gathered pillows, bed linens, toiletries, towels, and many other items to load in a semi-trailer truck for a fast trip to Baton Rouge in the wake of the disaster. A day before the truck left, the Red Cross activated our church as a disaster shelter. Suddenly we needed bed linens and towels; we had a difficult decision to make. We had tons of relief supplies to ship to Baton Rouge, but we were facing needs of hurricane victims within our walls. After talking with our leadership, we decided to live out our faith and trust that we would have enough to take care of evacuees here and Baton Rouge.
We sent the truck full of the things we needed for the evacuees. About ten minutes after the truck left the church, another linen supply truck rolled up. They had heard about the evacuees and were coming by to help. They volunteered to provide free bed linens, pillows, pillowcases, and towels and to wash the items for each person in the shelter.
I assure you that I am not the kind of preacher who says, “Write the check, and God will fill the bank account.” Jesus, however, reminded his disciples that God is in charge of supplying the needs when it comes to kingdom of God issues.
Believers can apply these two principles in their lives because they know that the end is not an event to be feared. They see a heavenly kingdom and know that the end of life is only the beginning of an eternal life with God. Their eyes are opened to a new way of seeing things in this life and the life to come.


Boring, M. Eugene. “Matthew.” In vol. 8, New Interpreter’s Bible, 176-207. Nashville: Abingdon, 1997.
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: a Literary and Theological Commentary on the First Gospel. New York: Crossroad, 1993.
Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 1-13. Vol. 33a, Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word Books, 1993.
McLaren, Brian D. "Emerging values: the next generation is redefining spiritual formation, community, and mission. (Emerging Leaders)." Leadership (Carol Stream, IL) 24.3 (Summer 2003): 34(6). Religion & Philosophy Database. Thomson Gale. Knox County Public Library. 30 December 2005.
Miller, Donald. Searching for God Knows What. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004.
Stassen, Glen H. and Gushee, David. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. Downers Grove: IVP, 2003.
Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God. New York: HarperCollins 1998.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Holy Religion

Holiness in Relation to Religion
Matthew 6:1-18

In my community, we have three 24-hour Christian cable channels, three Christian radio stations, and several Christian magazines, newspapers, clubs, and schools. There is a church on every street corner, a coffee shop with every kind of worship style, and facilities with state of the art sound and lighting. Even with these amenities, I have wondered with Brian McLaren, “If Christianity is all around us, why are so few ‘good Christian people’ actually good Christians?” We have plenty of outward practices of religion in society, but individuals struggle to experience transformed relationships with God.

Jesus critiques the Pharisees for failing the Jewish people in a similar way. With the temple, synagogues, and religious ceremonies, why were the Jewish people struggling? In this section of the sermon, Jesus reminds them that outward displays of righteousness do not create change in the heart. The opposite is true. When one’s relationship with God is pure, a person changes how he lives.

Because this section of the sermon shows how the Pharisees were like actors, we can expect that Jesus and the lectors who read this Gospel in the early church imitated the Pharisees’ strange behavior. As we read this section of the Sermon on the Mount, we can imagine that Jesus likely followed conventions of ancient rhetoric to engage the crowd and disarm his opponents. He used humor, sarcasm, and parody to imitate the Pharisees’ voices and gestures to remind the disciples that they should reserve the show for the theater. A lector/reader in the early church recited these passages similarly.

From Acting to Authenticity
Most devout Jewish people in Jesus’ day followed a pattern of three practices: praying, almsgiving, and fasting. These were the basic expectations of any believer and were observed by others in society. The visibility of these practices became the problem for the religious elite in Jesus’ day. The leaders wanted to notice what others were doing and were not concerned if their lives reflected these practices. They were much like actors (“hypocrites”) who appeared frequently on the stage in Sepphoris near Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. They played the parts by wearing the masks of their characters but lived differently when they were off the stage.
As David Garland notes, Jesus tells them to take their obedience backstage (Matthew, 78). Jesus calls for authenticity in the life of the believer, marked by unseen practices of giving, praying, and fasting.

Almsgiving (6:1-4)
A text from the Mishnah indicates that 6 trumpet-shaped chests were placed in the temple for the collection of coins. The sound of the coins reverberating in the chests drew attention to the giver. Instead, Jesus says to give hoping that no one will know who the benefactor is (Hagner, Matthew 1-13, 139).

Praying (6:5-15)
The location of prayer and the attitude of prayer affect how the believer seeks God’s will. Prayer should be handled in a secret place. The language of prayer should reflect a desire for God to get what God wants. As A. J. Conyers said, “The Lord’s prayer does not contain the phrase, ‘Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done in my life.’” Prayer creates dependence on God for direction and yields to God’s wishes.

Fasting (6:16-18)
The practice of fasting follows suit. In the only New Testament passage that teaches people how to fast, Jesus shows that fasting is a private act designed to cleanse the mind and body to be more open to God. No one should be able to notice that another person is fasting.

The Authentic Believer
For believers to become better people, they must encourage practices that direct attention away from the believer and toward God. Piety must be lived anonymously; relationships with others reflect what goes on behind the scenes.

Modern believers must be wary of outward displays of piety masking as devotion. The church can become engaged in a culture war, caught up in politically inflammatory rhetoric, rather than devoting attention to secret matters of the heart that affect Christian behavior. We must ask, “Have recent political movements caused anyone to behave better? Have they furthered the secret in-breaking of the kingdom described in the Lord’s Prayer?” We can pretend to be obedient when all we are doing is playing a role on a script.

Buckner Fanning, retired pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio, tells a story about his experience with living authentically. One rainy Saturday night in San Antonio, he stopped at a toll booth and realized he did not have any change. He offered to leave his watch until he returned with the required 50 cents, but the worker told him to bring the money later. When he arrived home, his wife informed him of an emergency at the hospital. After an hour at the hospital, he returned home to put the final touches on a sermon for the next day. Then he remembered the toll booth. He tried to justify why he should not return to pay the toll. After agonizing over the decision, he borrowed 50 cents from his wife and drove back to the booth. The man was still there. He said, “Sir, I’m sorry to be so late. I had an emergency visit with a church member in the hospital.” He omitted the part about sitting at home. The man said, “Reverend Fanning, thank you for coming back. I knew you’d show up because I see you nearly every morning on television. Every time you are on TV, you spend those thirty seconds talking about God and his love. I knew I could trust you.”

Christian behavior should be the same whether we are in the spotlight or backstage. Character does not require a performance.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Holiness that Exceeds Expectations
Matthew 5:17-48

John and Julie arrive at the office for premarital counseling. John has never been married; Julie has two children by a previous marriage. With a wedding date imminent, we discuss the basics of healthy relationships with them. At the end of the conversation, Julie says, “Pastor, I need to ask a question. John and I love each other, but we are not sure if this relationship is going to last. We would like to ‘play the field’ a bit more just to make sure that we are meant to be together. Do you think it would be all right if we continued to see other people while we are engaged?”
No counselor would agree to this arrangement. Once a couple is engaged, they expect loyalty and commitment. If they have not done so, couples will spend more time with one another, get to know each other, and take inventory of their lives so that their marriage can begin on the right foot. A counselor expects to see evidence of extravagant devotion to one another leading up to the wedding.
In the same way, our relationships with the Lord are a long engagement between a man and woman. We are the bride of Christ (Rev. 19:7-9). We commit our lives to Christ as his bride, pledging faithfulness and loyalty knowing that one day we will be with him forever. As Jesus said, once the kingdom comes, we will celebrate as if we are at a wedding feast (Matt. 25:1-13). As we await the banquet, we commit to him and grow in our relationship with him.
Like most relationships today, we can be motivated to be in this relationship for a variety of reasons. Some people are motivated out of fear of religious leadership, pressure from their families, or misperceptions of God’s law. Christ points us to a lifestyle that exceeds expectations of the individual or others. He shows that complete devotion or “perfection” (Matt. 5:48) involves heart attitudes, boundaries, and obedience so that we will be better prepared for the fulfillment of the kingdom of God. According to Jesus, this obedience is shown coincidentally in our most intimate relationships with others.

The Boundaries of a Relationship with God (5:17-20)
Jesus does not discard God’s law. He deletes the Pharisees’ prescribed oral traditions. He says the law should be used as a guide to lead toward pure heart attitudes. He disarms the crowd with a tongue-in-cheek comment about the Pharisees’ behavior (5:20). Later, he illustrates the folly of taking the Pharisees’ orally requirements too literally by humorously describing the “one-eyed” or “one-hand” method of obedience (5:28-30). Believers need a different standard, one that shows a relational approach to God.

Obedience through Relationships (5:21-48)
The Pharisees lived by a system of situational oral traditions to handle areas not specifically covered in Mosaic Law. People naturally missed the reason the law was given. Jesus points them back to these matters of the heart as it affects devotion to the Lord and to one another. These heart attitudes affect relationships between people, spouses, and enemies.
One way a Christian shows his devotion to the Lord is through his attitudes toward others (5:21-26). Rather than harboring revenge, a believer goes out of his way to see the other person as a brother or sister, seeking reconciliation even before giving an offering (5:22-24). He preempts bitterness by making friends with those who file lawsuits (5:25).
By avoiding the seed of contempt in one’s heart, he does not plant a seed for adultery (5:27-32). As Dallas Willard notes, adultery often begins with contempt for one’s spouse over petty things in a relationship (The Divine Conspiracy, 163-164). Through love and reconciliation, we prevent adultery. Jesus dismisses the ancient Jewish practice of no-fault divorce. He says that as long as the spouse is faithful, believers demonstrate faithfulness to Christ by remaining faithful to their spouse.

Another important characteristic of faithful relationships to God and others is honesty (5:33-37). Because God sees the matters of the heart, the standard for integrity is measured outside of a court of law. A believer does not need to swear to prove veracity (5:34). A believer would be so trustworthy that people know that she can keep her word (5:37).
Believers find ways not to retaliate (5:38-42). They disarm opponents by turning vengeful acts into opportunities for service (5:39, 42). They do not keep a mental scoreboard of the ways people have treated them. They do not play the victim in office disputes, courts of law, or family squabbles. As people in love with Christ, believers intentionally behave above the normal expectations.

Enemies are to be treated with the same respect and forgiveness as fellow believers (5:43-48). Jesus reminds the crowd that a person’s belief in God is not a crutch for right conduct. Average citizens follow a basic moral code. Instead conduct must flow from love for Christ and must show greater love than the average person. Exclusive devotion to Christ is the basic arrangement between the heavenly Father and the believer, because the Father has demonstrated this devotion to the individual (5:48).

Motivation from Relationship
If Jesus based his discussion of Christian conduct using relational metaphors, standards of Christian obedience in today’s society would follow suit. Donald Miller has noted that Shakespeare gives just a glimpse of the devotion that God has for us, and we in turn can reciprocate (Searching for God Knows What, 226). In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet invites Romeo, “Romeo, doff thy name, And for that name, which is no part of thee, Take all myself.” Pledging commitment, Romeo says, “I take thee at thy word. Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptiz’d; Henceforth I never will be Romeo.” Such faithfulness can only come from the heart of relationship.


Boring, M. Eugene. “Matthew.” In vol. 8, New Interpreter’s Bible, 176-207. Nashville: Abingdon, 1997.
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: a Literary and Theological Commentary on the First Gospel. New York: Crossroad, 1993.
Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 1-13. Vol. 33a, Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word Books, 1993.
McLaren, Brian D. "Emerging values: the next generation is redefining spiritual formation, community, and mission. (Emerging Leaders)." Leadership (Carol Stream, IL) 24.3 (Summer 2003): 34(6). Religion & Philosophy Database. Thomson Gale. Knox County Public Library. 30 December 2005.
Miller, Donald. Searching for God Knows What. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004.
Stassen, Glen H. and Gushee, David. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. Downers Grove: IVP, 2003.
Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God. New York: HarperCollins 1998.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Sermon for the New Year

The sermon on the Mount is worth reading at the start of each new year. This week, I'll feature a few comments about Matthew 5-6.

Holiness as a State of Being
Matthew 5:1-16

The Academy Awards roll out red carpet for the best actors of the year. No one wins, “Best Custodian of the Year” or “Best Dining Room Server.” The winners are those who have produced revenue for the studios and have helped them build a profit.
The opening of the Sermon on the Mount reads like words of congratulations bestowed on award recipients. These “Kingdom of God” award winners, however, do not fit the profile of modern success. Jesus says, however, they are just as great as the rich and famous. He then challenges his disciples to live among these people, because they are living illustrations of the qualities of holiness that should mark disciples.

Congratulations to those in Crisis (vs. 3-12)
Each person congratulated has experienced a crisis. As a result, they are now living near the bottom wrung of society. They are blessed, however, because they fit two categories: those in right standing with God and people in right relationship with others.
1. People in Right Relationship with God.
The poor in spirit (vs. 3): These are people who know that they need God. Their lives are in such bad shape, they are dependent on the Lord to deliver them.
The mourners (vs. 4): They grieve because God is not pleased with the world. They understand that the world is falling apart, and God must intervene.
The meek (vs. 5): They are simply powerless to do anything. Not only are they poor in spirit, but they have no power to get out of the condition. They are the doormats of life as the people who clean offices and sack groceries.
The thirsty (vs. 6): These people have an insatiable desire to live rightly; they are perfectionists. They want their homes and society to live with justice, and they take action accordingly. They pray constantly about these matters.
Just as the first four kinds of people are in right relationship with God, the second group is in right standing with others. They love their neighbors as themselves.

2. People in right relationship with others.
The merciful (vs. 7): These people will forgive anyone for anything. As Peterson says, “At the moment of being care-full they are cared for.” They do not keep score and can forgive and forget.
The pure in heart (vs. 8): With childlike simplicity, they believe whatever people tell them and believe the best in everyone.
The peacemakers (vs. 9): Not only do these people have the ability to forgive, but they risk their reputations to reunite others.
The persecuted (vs. 10): They are not just the persecuted who will die as a result of Jesus’ death in his time period; they are the martyrs of subsequent generations.
Although these are lofty qualities, Jesus is not distributing a spiritual checklist. He does not say, “Blessed are you when you become….” He lists responsibilities later in the sermon. In this section, he describes the people standing around him who receive no accolades from society but are equally blessed by God.

Challenge to the Believers (vs. 13-16)
After hearing the accolades for those in crisis, the disciples hear a challenge to live holy lives among them in two ways, as salt and light. Holiness means living like salt, different from the other sandy lives around them. The concept also means to shine as lights in dark places. Believers cannot withdraw into isolated communities. Instead they come out of hiding. Holiness is not withdrawal from society; it is the beacon in the secular world.
By listing the crisis-stricken first, Jesus implies that the believers can refer to this list for models in living as salt and light. Believers who do not naturally associate with the lowly should change their attitudes about them. The challenge for believers is to make a new list of priority people and to use them as guides in living as salt and light.
The crisis times for the lowly are laboratory experiences for disciples. A meek person is only meek because he has been walked on; a person is persecuted when someone has ostracized them; a person poor in spirit is only so after being beaten down. When we walk beside these individuals, they teach us how to minister in these situations because they are living in these circumstances. Perhaps it would challenge our modern standards of the best deacons, committee chairs, and leaders if we based their qualifications on their levels of grief they have experienced. Jesus indicates that people in crisis become teachers for salt and light living. As we walk with them, we learn to live in a holy way.My church hosted a brunch for homeless and working poor in the Knoxville area last December. People brought their families and selected a winter coat, shopped for toys, and chose clothing items. One woman came dressed as if she were going to church on Sunday morning. This proud, dignified person met with one of our volunteers and admitted that she needed a size 10 shoe. The volunteer discovered that we did not have any size 10s. Another member of the church overheard the need and told the volunteer working with the poor woman: “I wear size 10s. I have plenty at home. I’ll take my shoes off and give them to you to give to her. I do not want you to tell her where they came from.” The anonymous, touching moment transpired in a matter of minutes. The poor woman stayed and received spiritual care, a meal, and cried with the volunteer who helped find the shoes. Her spiritual testimony and opportunity to serve, however, taught us how to live more like salt and light in the world today.

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