Headlines from First Thoughts

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Getting Connected Naturally

Doing What Comes Naturally
Matthew 25:37 “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you something to eat?”

In Jesus’ familiar parable of the sheep and the goats, the focus of interpretation is usually on the rationale for separation: “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brothers, you have done it unto me.” The sheep and goats conduct themselves differently, and their conduct has eternal consequences. We rightly apply that to our lives.

There is something that sheep and goats share in common in the parable however. Eugene Boring notes that both groups are quite surprised—even dumbfounded—when the shepherd explains the reason for separation. They say, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you something to eat?” (25:37) The goats say the same thing, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry…..?” (25:44) In both cases, neither one of them knew that they were doing anything good or bad, they just did whatever came naturally to them.

This parable focuses on the significance of the ordinary decisions of life. The only thing that sheep (and goats for that matter) really do well is what comes naturally—the things that they have been trained and conditioned to do; and they do them repeatedly.

At the last judgment people are not rewarded or condemned for the things that they can remember that they have done; they are judged on the unnoticed acts. They are judged on the things that just come naturally.

The most significant question for our lives is not, “What would Jesus do?” Even more critical evaluation is required. We must look into our hearts and schedules asking, “Whom do I ignore when I am not even thinking about it? Whom do I miss because it comes naturally for me to rush by? Who never gets the cup of cold water because my calendar says it’s time for a meeting? Who doesn’t get the invitation to dinner because I am not sure if it would be safe to do something like that?”

The power of the cross and the resurrection is that it changes even what comes naturally. Christ’s work changes the way we think about what we do and the way we do things. He has the power to take our lives, our record-keeping selves, and change them into the kind of sheep who take in his brothers and say to him, “Lord, we had no idea we were doing that, but thank you O God for giving us your kind of deliverance, your kind of suffering, your kind of love, your kind of shepherding.”

An excerpt from Sessions with Matthew, forthcoming from Smyth and Helwys publishing, Summer 2007.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

God Works with All Things-- Message

On Wednesday, I shared this message with our church regarding the Virginia Tech tragedy. You can listen to it at


Save Our City Prayer Rally

Save Our City – People of Faith Stand Together Against Violence in the Community
The Knoxville Interdenominational Christian Ministerial Alliance has joined with religious leaders, members and organizations from across Knoxville to invite broad participation in an important effort to address rising violence in our city. “As people of faith, our concern has been awakened…with regard to the senseless and unnecessary killings that have occurred in our city.”
THIS Tuesday, April 24th, you are invited to join leaders and members of religious groups from across the city as we gather at the City-County Building in downtown Knoxville for a press conference (5:30-5:45 PM), followed by a community prayer vigil at First Baptist Church (6:00-6:45 PM) and a presentation at the Knoxville City Council meeting (7:00 PM).
Next weekend, April 27-29, communities of faith across the city are urged to display green ribbons and take time during worship to pray for an end to violence in our community.
In coming weeks, community conversations and other actions will be held to consider the root causes of violence among us, as well as what each one of us alone and all of us together can do to help end it.
KICMA is joined in this effort by Knoxville Inner City Churches United for People,
Knoxville Interfaith Network, and the Knoxville Ministerial Alliance. Join us!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

College Students--Crisis and Hope

This has been a rough few weeks on the college campuses in our country. We have seen what a handful of people can do to shame, change, and destroy the lives of innocents. At Duke University, one woman and a rogue prosecutor changes the lives of a LaCrosse Team. In New York, the bigoted Don Imus and his sidekick treat the Rutgers women’s team as just another object to be scorned. In Blacksburg, a student destroys the lives of 32 students and mars their families forever.

What’s happening here? Each incident is different, but all have a common element. College students whose lives are changed by a handful of people wreaking havoc. When placed alongside each other, one act of violence builds and reaches a climax with killing. In a very short window of time, we catch a glimpse of the ongoing issues in our society, and the intersection of these events is the university campus.

Jesus warned us that angry words were just as harmful as weapons. We have known that for a long time. But what remains to be seen is whether we can stop the spread of this kind of vitriol, if we can do more than simply control weapons but if people can get a hold on culture that seems to glorify hate, anger, and retribution toward others.

This was not the first time people confronted anger and hostility toward others. In the book of Acts, we read of one trial scene after another when ethnic Jewish and Gentile people were at odds with one another. In Ephesus, the tensions were so heated that it took a magistrate to calm them down before the violence got out of hand.

In light of what he learned in the real world of violence, Paul said, this does not have the last word. He places the world’s systems on trial and announces that the charges against humanity have been dropped because of the power of the cross. A handful of people may seem to control these things, but one Person is really in charge. The cross is the beginning of the last word. He asks in Romans 8, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?” he asks rhetorically. The power of the cross says that the past actions of people do not determine the present. God’s work in the past on the cross and his work in the future to bring about the redemption of the world changes the present of our lives. God has not given up on the world, even on those who seek to harm others.

In my view, this solution is being seen ironically on the college campus. In 2001, two women defied the odds and went into the heart of hate, vengeance and spite against women. Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry left the safe confines of Waco, Texas, where Heather had recently graduated and Dayna was finishing a degree to become missionaries among the Taliban. People thought they were stupid; they felt it was their mission. These two women were kidnapped in Afghanistan but became examples of what college students are doing. Despite the hate, blame, arrogance, and vitriol hurled at innocent lives, they are ignoring the voices and rushing into the action. The world has hope because of many more like them who know that kind of strength that only comes through the power of the cross.

Getting Connected to Blacksburg

As the hearts of a nation go out to the people of Blacksburg, I am reminded of Jeremiah’s words,“For I know the thoughts and plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:10-14).

When Jeremiah spoke these words, the plans had changed. Israelites were deported. Invaders slaughtered innocent lives. Families were torn apart.The lessons from centuries ago still apply today. In the midst of tragedy, I think we find what it means to live by faith as the people of God. By reflecting on Jeremiah’s great words we understand that the people of God today should do three things.

Expect God’s plan to be accomplished.Obviously, the exile wasn’t part of the Israelites plans; and neither were Cho Seung-Hui’s actions part of the plans for Blacksburg. But there is One whose plan transcends the deeds of gunmen, and that is the Living God. His plan is that we will have a hope and a future. God’s will was not that Cho Seung-Hui would carry out this heinous act, but neither did God step into human freedom and prevent the action. There are numerous examples in scripture to show paradoxically sovereignty and freedom work together. Even God did not stop Roman guards from crucifying his own Son. God does however work in the midst of the tragedy to secure a hope and future for everyone.

Live God’s grace redemptively.If we have been the people who are expecting God’s plan to be accomplished, then we will live God’s grace redemptively. The nation will respond to this act in some way. As believers, we serve an even higher calling. We will be people who live righteously, stand for justice, and at the same time, exercise God’s grace among people.Our tendency is to cocoon ourselves safely into our homes, neighborhoods, and universities, fearing the outsiders or the mentally unstable. But Jeremiah reminds us in 29:5, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” Get connected because God calls us to live among all the people. In so doing, we find a chance to share that grace with others. We show them what true salt and light do—we enliven the world around us. As people of grace, learn to live with people and show them the good news of the grace of Jesus Christ. 3.

Seek God individually.When we have expected God’s plan to work and lived out his grace, then we seek God individually. “Then you will call to me,” says Jeremiah, and “seek me and find me,” and the Lord promises, “I will be found by you.” Jeremiah tells us, in our times on the backside of Babylon, or a modern tragedy, we cry, weep, and mourn; but we also seek and pray to the God who has a plan. That plan is to come to us and bring us back. What God wants from us is a simple response—to seek God. The emphasis is not on figuring God out but obediently praying and seeking him wherever life takes you. “I will be found by you,” says the Lord in verse 14 because I have never left you. Notice that I have already come to you through believers on the scene and churches and communities of faith lovingly standing by the side of grieving loved ones.

In 1999, 9 people died as American flight 1420 crash landed at the Little Rock Airport. You may remember that on board that plane were 25 members of the Ouachita Baptist University faculty and choir. I had a friend who was supposed to be on that flight but had to change flights at the last minute. Somehow in the middle of the tragedy, God used the survivors to help rescue the wounded and many others who were trapped in the burning plan preventing further things from happening. Others such as James Harrison died while trying to save others. On “Good Morning America” the next day, Diane Sawyer interviewed music professor Charles Fuller, and she asked him about the experience. Fuller declared, “There are times in life where your faith has to mean something. It can’t be something that you just talk about. It has to be something that empowers you to live life.” (Trennis Henderson, Baptist Standard, 6/9/99)

Today, let your faith mean something. Your faith can be a part of God’s great plan.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Take Me out to the Ballgame

“Take me out to the ballgame,” never sounded as good as this past Saturday at the ballpark. After 7 weeks of intense and grueling practices, The Defending T-Ball Champion Little League Team “The Braves” opened the 2007 Season. The team, marred in the off season by a rampant Kool-Aid Scandal, recovered and had a remarkable showing against their rivals, the “A’s.” As many people know, the scandal began following the World Series of T-Ball when a trainer allegedly began to distribute grape Kool-Aid to members of the team to provide off-season strength and power. This, of course, is banned by Little League Rules 4.01-5784. A committee was appointed to investigate the allegations, and they discovered that the Kool-Aid had been received by the team but no one ever ingested the beverage. The team acted as if the scandal never happened. After an opening out by the leadoff hitter, the second batter, Parker Shiell, emerged with a double off the first pitch he saw. He went 3 for 3 with a double and two singles.

If the Kool-Aid scandal weren’t enough, this year is the big transition from T-Ball to the Coach Pitch League. Coach Andy Beam, spoke to the press following the game, “The team looked good against the A’s. It’s really all about hitting and defense. We struggled in the infield with a few bobbles, but it’s only the first game of the season.”

This marks Coach Beam’s 51st Little League Team he’s coached. He began coaching in Middle School for the Minor Little League affiliate of the Blue Jays. After a stunning 9-0 record that year, he’s never looked back. He’s successfully coached such Major Leaguers as Daryl Strawberry, Alex Rodriguez, Hank Aaron, “Little” Andy Beam, Chipper Jones, David Beam, and John Beam.

“I’m awfully proud of this team,” said Beam, “we really are looking better than any team I’ve coached at this age. We have several likely All-Star caliber players here. We’ve put the scandal behind us, and we’re looking to the future. This game was a real test of our fortitude.”

Beam’s wife Meredith is just wild about the season. “I think if we can really come together as parents, this can be the best Little League year yet. It really all comes down to the post-game snack. If we can remain unified in healthy snacking, then the game will take care of itself. These parents are really committed to healthy snacking this year, and I can see an improvement in their energy level.”

No parents were available to comment on the validity of these events, or this story. But by all accounts, they had fun. Let’s play ball!

Saturday, April 07, 2007


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Sleeping Drake

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