Headlines from First Thoughts

Sunday, November 23, 2008

First Baptist Church - Knoxville: Home

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First Baptist Church - Knoxville: Home

Sacrificial Gratitude

This week, we gather around tables and televisions to remember the things, people and country for which we are thankful. Thursday, however, could be more than a sentimental journey through the Norman Rockwell moments of life. This day we should be grateful for gratitude.

Robert Emmons has studied gratefulness in his book "Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier." He explains scientifically that the right kind of gratitude is actually good for your health. Gratitude can sustain us through the struggles of life and improve our well-being.

Our cultural concept of thanksgiving, however, is usually limited to a form of reactionary self-gratification. We wait for good things to come, and we appreciate what has happened to us. We list the standard faith, family, friends and freedom elements, "count our many blessings" and enjoy the "Hallmark Hall of Fame" style moment. We are the recipients of the gifts; and in reality, we are thankful because someone has been looking out for me.

This attitude of gratitude wears off as soon as the Macy's Parade is over. The sentimental journey of personal blessings does not match up with reality. Life is a complex series of simultaneously exhilarating, exhausting and excruciating events. When you get the promotion at work, you arrive home to find your kids are out to get you. The moment that your son passes the test, the volunteer in the community foundation pulls his funding for a project. Success and sadness go together. If we wait to count our blessings just once each year, we will continue the vicious cycle of struggle, stress and selfishness.

Another form of thanksgiving can actually transform life. Instead of a sentimental version of gratitude, we need sacrificial behavior. We set aside what has happened to us and look to others. We seek ways to express gratitude to people for the things they have done for someone else. We are not being thankful for what we have received; we are grateful to have the chance to thank someone else for who they are.

Consider how this might work in a marriage. Psychologist John Gottman suggests that successful marriages are marked by a 5:1 ratio of positive-versus-negative communication. For every one negative thing spoken or done, a marriage needs five good things to offset the negative. Married couples can strengthen their relationship by finding ways to say thanks before the other person does something for which she is thankful. Instead of waiting to respond to a meal that is served or a car that is washed, successful spouses thank each for being who they are or appreciating something the other person has done for someone else.

Imagine how sacrificial gratitude could affect the office, school, university, athletic field and government. Instead of sending a thank-you note for a present, we offer unconditional gratitude to another person before a gift is given.

Last summer, my church collected backpacks for underprivileged kids unable to afford school supplies. I received a note from a woman who contributed to the project because she was grateful for the chance to give. She wrote, "One year my family picked 100 gallons of blackberries which we sold for 10 cents per gallon to pay for our school books. I was one of a family of ten children, living in a rural (poverty) area. A hint at how long back that has been: I just celebrated my 82nd birthday. Enclosed is a check in honor of my five sisters and four brothers."

True gratitude can give someone more than just a warm, fuzzy feeling. This kind of gratitude can change your life.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sabbath from Turbulent Times

Right now, we are waking up each day to discover what is new about this kind of normal. Until we find the bottom or at least some sort of calm in the storm, we can control the one thing that comes as a gift from God: our time.

People typically respond to a crisis in material things as consumers. They gather more, and in so doing, their consumption consumes them. It’s the age-old problem of greed. The Israelites gathered too much manna just in case they ran out. People think they need more fuel when gas is scarce, and they cap off a ¾ full tank. Investors and lenders want more money, and they risk what they do not have.

In scripture, the gift of Sabbath broke the pattern of greed and returned the people of God to basic trust through anxious times. A little time each day and one day each week separated the people from the very thing, job, or activity that produced stress in their lives. In most cases, they took a break from the material source of provisions so that they could focus on the Source of those material things.

Jesus knew, however, it would not be enough to simply retreat from work. The day itself would turn into an excuse for self-righteousness. He used the day to advance the kingdom of heaven. He replaced the time spent clamoring for more and used the time as a day to spread the good news and fill the earth and life with good things.

Sabbath can be yours today by
….throwing a rock in a stream
….visiting a nursing home
…...holding the hand of a child
…..worshipping the living God
…..singing the song of salvation
…..extending God’s mission in the world

Sabbath practices are so counter-intuitive to the normal lives we lead. But if we’re going to break the cycle, it will take a new kind of normal living.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Diary of a Response to Gustav

Three years ago, the victims of Hurricane Katrina washed ashore to the mountains of East Tennessee. This past week, the Gulf of Mexico has displaced more victims. We have hosted evacuees from New Orleans, LA and Hattiesburg, MS who came as a result of Hurricane Gustav. They flew into McGhee-Tyson airport and arrived during the Boomsday festivities aboard three KAT buses with one bag or two to fit their most valuable possessions. With the exception of two babies and their mothers, most of our guests are men. Most have been able to care for themselves and enjoyed the hospitality. A few were taken to local hospitals for special needs related to drugs, disabilities, and specialized care. All have appreciated your Good Samaritan approach to the facilities.

The Disaster Response Team has met needs internally and externally. Chaired by Andy and Wanda Edmondson, this group executed their plan to perfection. Carol McEntyre, our Buckner Community Minister, has led our staff efforts. Sandy Wisener has handled the Red Cross shelter. Ethel Powell has coordinated the relief supplies drop site on Hill Street. We truly could not do this without each one of these leaders and their capable team members. In addition to the Red Cross, well over 100 First Baptist people have been in the building to help in whatever way possible. They have worked around the clock since Thursday morning to make preparations and provide a safe, comfortable refuge and a way for people to share with those in need. Many of these volunteers were already committed to working at the BCM this week in a mission project to renovate our local campus ministry. They have rearranged plans and found an extra boost of energy to be able to do both.

What’s next? We will be sending a truckload of supplies collected here and at Cedar Springs Presbyterian to the University Baptist Church, Baton Rouge, LA.
They will distribute to those recovering from the storm. The cash donations will also help us assist the victims here and along the Gulf Coast. We will continue to monitor needs in the Southeast and direct our supplies and efforts to the places where we can be assured that supplies will be used directly for the victims of storms. We know that many other churches in our area will be deploying recovery teams to the affected areas. We will be praying for them as they go and the victims to whom they minister. We will continue to host evacuees as long as we are needed. Continue to check the website for updates from the Red Cross.

Like the Innkeeper whom the Good Samaritan charged with taking care of his victim in the road, you too have taken care of those entrusted to you. Through your prayers, support, flexibility, and time, you have answered the prayers of the broken hearted. You have bandaged the wounded and cared for the traumatized in their time of need.

Innkeepers for Gustav

When Jesus described love of neighbor like a Good Samaritan taking care of a victim, he also mentioned an innkeeper who received the victim while the Samaritan went away. FBC Trentham Hall has been temporary quarters for over 93 victims of Hurrcane Gustav. Three years ago, the victims of Katrina washed ashore to the mountains of East Tennessee. This past week, we've seen the new faces of disaster victims. Each has a unique story. All have been brought together not because of neighborhood or ethnicity but because they share in a common disaster.

David is a Katrina survivor. He lives near Tulane University. Grace is from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Her face tells the story of many disasters. She celebrates her 60th birthday on September 17. Don moved from Dallas to New Orleans following Katrina to work in the construction industry. He and a roommate live near the Superdome in a four-plex, a two story duplex. Three Guatemalan men are part of the group. They live in New Orleans supporting families back home in Central America. While here, they have contacted relatives to let them know they are safe.

Thanks to our Disaster Response Team, the generosity and hospitality of volunteers, Carol McEntyre's work as Community Minister, and the willingness of First Baptist, we have been able to serve as the Innkeeper this week for these and many others. Other volunteers from First Baptist and Cedar Springs have been collecting supplies for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and other victims of the hurricane.

We are not the only ones responding. Already teams from other churches are en route to the affected areas. Their role of clean out and clean up will be just as significant. This need is not the only one FBC is addressing. Many of the same volunteers who have worked throughout the weekend will redirect energies a few blocks away to the Baptist Campus Ministry at UT. There they will find some adrenalin and help in the ongoing renovation efforts.

For this week, however, Gustav has brought together people whose paths will likely never cross again. Candidly, life would never bring this collection together for reasons that are painfully obvious. Each one, however, has been part of a living parable. This is what neighbors do to demonstrate love and to illustrate what Jesus had in mind when he said the "Kingdom of God is near."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Gustav Evacuees

We have been notified by the Red Cross that we will receive 50 evacuees at 4 pm and 100 evacuees at 10 pm today. We have also received a request from the pastor at University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge for hurricane supplies, as a result we will begin collection of supplies tomorrow. We will collect Sunday from 12-5 pm, Monday and Tuesday from 8:30-5 pm. The following supplies are needed:

1. diapers and baby wipes and baby food
2. adult disposable undergarments
3. hygiene products (regular size: toothpaste, toothbrushes,
soaps, shower gels)
4. wash clothes and towels
5. adult underwear
6. *secondary need --> household cleaning items
(bleach,cleaners/sanitizers)

If you want to volunteer, we could use people to receive and sort items. We could also use a team leader to coordinate a cleaning team for the Trentham Hall showers and bathrooms.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Light of Hope

Tomorrow came tonight at Second Presbyterian Church. I gathered with at least 1,000 others Knoxvillians at the Candlelight Vigil for the TVUUC. People from across the faith community attended, primarily from the Unitarian and Jewish congregations. But nearly half of the crowd were from congregations beyond these. We've all been touched, and we lit candles of hope.

Throughout the evening, you could hear the cries of children break the silence of the service. Their sobs were soothing reminders that life continues to break into grief. The surprise of tomorrow literally came at the end. The students whose Sunday performance of "Annie" was so tragically interrupted were stationed on the platform during tonight's vigil. On cue, they sang a rousing version of the popular song "Tomorrow" from the musical to close the service. We raised our candles together knowing that tomorrow has already come. Light has dawned. Hope is here because we were together as a community.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Helping Children Cope and Understand

The tragedy at TVUUC involved children, and certainly children will be talking about the issues. A Methodist friend of mine shared these insights with me, and I have adapted them to this situation as we deal with this tragedy.

Needs of Children

Be Accepting
Children need your acceptance of their feelings and behaviors during this time of fear, grief, anxiety, loss, anger, and confusion. Let your children know how you feel and how you cope.

Be a Listener
Be a good listener and non-judgmental in your attitudes toward children's feelings and concerns. Children will have difficulty expressing what is wrong, but you can help them name their feelings and sort out why they feel the way they do.

Be Assuring
Children need assurance of safety and security expressed honestly, realistically, and in terms they can understand. They need reassurance that they are not in danger and are cared for by family members or others who love them. The likelihood of a similar event happening at their church is very small. Avoid being overly protective. Talk with your child about concrete things you can do to help make things better for those persons who were involved. You might be surprised at what your child comes up with.

You can send notes and cards to TVUUC to be sent to children and their families.

Be Comforting
Allow your children to be more “clingy” than usual. They are seeking security in a time of chaos.

Be Encouraging
Children need opportunities for venting their feelings, acting out the experience, and telling their stories. Encourage them in means of self-expression that are non-destructive to themselves or to others.

Be Loving and Caring
Love, love, and more love. Children need to know that you care. That you are available. That your love is deeper and longer than anything they can imagine.

Be Trustworthy
Children need to know they can trust you—your feelings, what you will do, and what they can expect of the future. Trust is always important to a child, but especially so now.

Be Honest
Be honest in answering children's questions. Give simple facts, without too much information, in a loving, caring atmosphere. Children cope best with what they know. Yes, this happened. Yes, it was a bad thing. Yes, it could happen at any church. But the odds are that it won’t. Sometimes all we can say is "I don't know" or "Let's try to find out." Don’t be afraid to use words such as “death,” “dying,” or “evil.” Your children understand these words on their own level.

Be Hopeful
Children need to know that events like this will not happen all the time. If these things do happen, God is still there with them to help them and strengthen them. People all around them are working to keep them safe at their churches, schools, and in their communities.

Be Real
Children may have difficulty distinguishing between fact and fantasy in watching television. Help them know what is real and what is a story. Journalism in today’s world sometimes goes for the worst stories or only covers a part of the story because of a deadline or a short time frame. Remember, ninety percent of what a child learns comes through the eyes. Avoid watching the news accounts of this tragedy over and over and over again on television. After watching the news, talk about what you have seen.

Be Normal
When children's lives have been turned upside down, put some semblance of stability back into their lives. Keep routines such as bedtime, mealtime, church attendance, and activities, as close to normal as possible. This will help children have a sense of being in control.

Remain active in church. The best way to reinforce safety and security is to come and demonstrate safety.

Be Supportive
Children need your support when disturbing videos are shown on television or when other children make disparaging remarks that hurt. Children may want to focus on a positive activity that will make them feel that they are in control. Talk with children about ways to help other children feel included. Support them in this role wherever possible. Whenever a child feels threatened at church, school or in other public areas, take it seriously.

Be Understanding
Children need the calm presence of and contact with family members or adult care givers who understand their feelings and needs. Your role will be to interpret, clarify, and respond to the children's questions. Avoid withholding important information. Children can tell when something is not right.


Ways Children Respond After Violence

Children may respond:
physically
—to the sights of the event as seen through television, newspapers, and magazines
—to the sense of not being “safe” in formerly familiar environments
––to loud noises and unsettling crowds

emotionally
—by becoming hyperactive, overly busy, active, or restless as they try to make sense of the event
—by becoming egocentric, feeling they are the only ones affected and thinking only of self (Will someone shoot me?)
—by being fearful of injury or death to a loved one (such as a sibling who may be in another church)
––by reacting negatively when separated from the family, or by being afraid they will be left alone
—by becoming friendly and glad to be alive
––by becoming very talkative and wanting to share his or her experiences with everyone
—by overly responding to their emotions of anger by hitting, kicking, or throwing objects
––by being upset more easily or showing worry unnecessarily
psychologically
—by needing to tell their own story over and over
—by becoming dependent and fearful
—by feeling guilt and seeking theological explanations (God did not “allow” this to happen.)
—by role reversal or transference. (If a family member were killed, they may try to fill the missing person's role in the family.)
—by having a higher than normal anxiety and stress level
—by being afraid to go to bed at night or to go to sleep for fear of something happening
—by coping through denial that certain feelings are present, or by suppressing that this is actually happening

socially
—by becoming shy and withdrawn from both adults and peers
—by being overly fearful of strangers, especially if they are in uniform
—by clinging to parents for fear that one or both of them will leave (They may refuse to go to school or church, feeling it is unsafe.)
—by becoming upset more easily (shown by crying, fighting, or exhibiting other forms of disruptive behavior)

spiritually
—by asking questions about God. (Why didn’t God stop the shooter? Why didn’t God protect the young men and women on that college campus? If these people were doing nothing wrong, why did God allow this terrible thing to happen?)
—by lacking trust in God (Will God take good care of me? If someone shoots my daddy or mommy, who will care for me?)
—by questioning God's presence with us (If God is here, why do I feel so bad? Why didn't God keep the killings from happening?)


Ways to Help Children Express Their Feelings

Send Cards
Channel their fears into helping them support others who are grieving.

Water Play
Playing in a tub of warm water stimulates inhibited children and soothes explosive children. A warm bath may help relieve stress.

Play dough
Play dough can be worked or reworked to express feelings of anger, frustration, and anxiety.

Painting
Painting can help children express moods of joy, sorrow, fear, or anger. Children paint what they feel or what matters in their lives. Finger painting is a good medium for such expression.

Puzzles
Puzzles can be a way for children to create order out of chaos. Children whose lives have become disoriented, confused, or disrupted will often feel better after putting a puzzle together.

Toys
Toys can help children relive a bad experience or play out their feelings. Often the victim becomes the rescuer, the one in control.

Puppets
The use of puppets enables children to become talkative and to reenact an unhappy experience. Puppets are good listeners.

Books
Children often lack the vocabulary to express their feelings. A book can help define a child's understanding of death, violence, and anxiety.

Cuddly Toys
Sitting quietly with a cuddly toy can soothe an angry or fearful child.

Music
Music allows an emotional release and the free expression of feelings through songs, creative movement, and games.

Play
Active play allows for release of emotional energy in a socially approved way. Quiet games may be comforting to a child who chooses to be alone.

Storytelling
Storytelling, drama, and role plays are ways to help children tell their stories, to act out feelings, and to resolve conflicts.


What Parents Can Do

• Help your children distinguish between the reality of television coverage of the event and the fantasy of movies, especially for young children. These people died. They won’t get up after the cameras stop rolling and walk away.

• Limit the time you permit your children to watch the news. Watch the news with them and encourage them to talk about what you saw. Correct any misunderstandings and answer any questions.

• Keep routines and expectations of behavior as close to normal as possible to give children stability in their daily lives.

• Be honest in answering children's questions. Keep answers simple, without giving more information than the child needs at the time.

• Be honest with your own feelings. Discuss these with your children or help them know that you have some of the same feelings that they have.

• Assure them of your love. Reassure them that you will keep them safe and will be there to care for them.

• Help children realize that they are not responsible for what has happened and could not have prevented it.

• Provide comfort in ways that feel reassuring to you and to your children.

• Watch for signs of maladjustment to the event. Spend extra time putting children to bed. Leave the night light on, if needed. Give opportunity for them to ask questions, express concerns, or share their feelings before going to sleep.

• Listen to what the children say, how they say it, and what they play. Is there evidence of fear, anxiety, or insecurity? Talk about and clarify any feelings shown in the conversation or play.

• Have quiet family times together. Spend time sharing concerns, expressing feelings, feeling God's reassuring presence, and praying to God to express your needs and concerns.

• Assure children that God listens to our prayers and answers them. That God continues to love us. That God is a forgiving God. That God knows our needs. That God cares how they feel, think, or act. That God can take away their fears and anxiety. That God is always with us and will guide us and strengthen us to meet whatever lies ahead.

• Plan for the family to attend church and Sunday school regularly to feel the support and strength of this community of believers.

• If a child's adjustment does not return to normal after a sufficient time, consider talking with someone (minister, school counselor, or professional counselor) who understands children and their needs.

*Reach out to loneley people. Jim Adkisson was a lonely man with no family in town and lived by himself. Look in your neighborhood, school, and church for people who are isolated. Befriend them and let them know you care.

Downtown Community to Gather for Prayer

The downtown community will gather for prayer Tuesday, July 29 in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church. Doors open at 11:30. Prayer service at 12:00 noon led by ministers from downtown congregations. All are welcome to come, participate, and gather to pray for the congregation of Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, victims, their families, and all who are affected by this tragedy in our community.

A candlelight vigil will be held tonight at 2nd Presbyterian Church at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Knoxville Tragedy at Tennessee Unitarian Universalist Church

The last place anyone expected a lone gunman to destroy the lives of innocent people was Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. Rev. Chris Buice has been a voice of peace, unity, and harmony throughout his ministry in East Tennessee. He has led reconciliation movements, and First Baptst has followed his lead through the End Violence initiatives in Knox County.

The forces of evil are random enough to pick the good people and congregations who care about peace to try to silence the voices of people like Chris Buice and the good people of TVUUC. But today is not a day to be quiet. Instead, it’s a day to be reminded that the forces of evil do not determine our perspective on the present. The cross determines our present, and through the power of the cross, we can see that God has already intervened in this tragedy; and the forces of evil lost again.

As Christians we believe that God intervened in the worst of the world’s darkness. Even worse than the actions of Jim Adkisson was the heinous world of the first century when God came through Jesus. In Romans 8:26-29, Paul reminds us that God began a long process of stopping evil in its tracks through his suffering on the cross. God entered a world through Jesus’ death to engage in a love that conquers all forces of darkness. Through the cross, Jesus suffered with the pain of this world that continues to this day.

This is not a love limited to the first century; God’s love suffers with us today. God’s love through the cross shows us that God suffered with the victims of this terrible tragedy. Through the pain on the cross, God demonstrated that he suffered with Greg McKendry and Linda Kraeger when they died.

God not only suffers with the world; but through the cross, God has been working continually to redeem the world. When God could have given up on this world, he sent Jesus to work beside us to have help, hope, and healing in the midst of the darkness. Jesus’ presence was felt today. When evil interrupted a children’s musical, three people jumped on Jim Adkisson and prevented the violence from becoming worse.

Imagine what the world would be like without a place like a church to pray. Imagine a world without a house of prayer for all the nations. Our greatest testimony will be when we return to church on Wednesday night and Sunday morning and unite as a common people of faith to say we have heard the words of Jesus in the midst of the storm: “Peace, be still,” and we will not be afraid.

For God is still working. God does not necessarily just work everything out. But God does work with all things, even the worst things imaginable. The forces of evil cannot stop the voices of Chris Buice and this fine church. Our voices grow even stronger as we engage as salt, light, and peace in a difficult storm. Our voices grow as we offer prayers for the McKendry and Adkisson families. Our unity increases as we pray for children who witnessed this tragedy, as we comfort and pray for hearling for the other victims, as we offer counseling to loved ones, and as we look this church in the eye and say, “We are working with you and God for the good of those who love God to those who are the called according to his purpose.” God’s work is not random. God’s work has a purpose of love that still triumphs over the worst of the forces of evil.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Shaw Family: Survivors



Chris Shaw

Kim Shaw shows the storm shelter to Marion Graybeal

Kim Shaw still finds shards of glass in her carpet from the devastating Williamson County tornado 6 months ago. Long after FEMA, disaster relief teams, and immediate responders have moved onto other needs, the Williamson County long term recovery committee still works. They provide hope to families like the Shaw’s and many others in this forgotten region of rural Tennessee.

In February, this storm ripped a swath of destruction from Jackson to Macon Counties, a stretch of over 200 miles. The path of the storm left homes and property like the Shaw’s unlivable. A few mailboxes away, horse farms remain untouched. Ironically this is one of the wealthiest sections of Tennessee. Some say this is the most lucrative county in the state. But families like the Shaws do not share in that wealth. They are still picking up and finding pieces of their lives scattered down Hwy. 46.

The problem with recovery is that there is no easy path from shelter to survival. As I talked to Kim Shaw Tuesday, it’s much like putting together pieces of a puzzle that are lying around with no picture, however, to guide you as you fit each part together. Jobs, education, teenagers, and nearly 5 acres of land would be the usual responsibilities for a family living in a small modular home in the country. Two kids are out of high school. One has two years left. All members of the family work. Chris is a plumber. Kim is a caretaker for elderly people. Even if they wanted to send kids to college, as Kim says, “We can’t afford that.”

Now add a storm from 6 months ago. They rode out the storm in a 4x8x8 storm shelter just large enough for the five of them. The storm lasted only 10 minutes, but the winds were so fierce that it blew the barn into the side of their house, and boxed them into the storm shelter. They had to beat the door open just to get outside to see the damage.

Some 6 months later the only ones left to help the estimated 10-12 families like the Shaws that are still recovering in Hickman and Williamson Counties are local people and volunteer teams.

The Shaw’s live in their old home that has plywood in holes where windows once stood. They purchased a slightly used modular home with what little money they received from FEMA and income they had when the storm hit. They are putting on the finishing touches with the help of volunteers like ours so they can move in. This is not “making ends meet.” This is tying a knot in the end of the rope and hanging on until help arrives.

Yet they are not without hope. Their spirits are good. Kim says, “If we can just get everything back together,” we can move on with our lives. Still some 6 months later, they wait among the shards of glass to turn a used house into a home.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Mentoring Works


Mentor Gene Hale and his "Little Brother" Tyler.


Every hour in Tennessee, a child is abused or neglected. Every 35 minutes, a child is born into poverty. Tennessee ranks 36th in the nation for children living at or below the poverty level with 45% enrolled in the Free and Reduced-Price Lunch Programs. In Knox County alone, 365 students are homeless, living in shelters, in cars, or on the streets. Among Tennessee fourth graders, 74% read below grade level, and 76% score below grade level in math. Only 60% of high school students in Tennessee graduate.

In one month, the faces behind these statistics will converge in our schools.
Pundits and preachers blame these alarming numbers on everything from poverty and race to families, sin, and God.

Beyond the sound bytes and applause lines, however, one solution changes children’s lives. By offering the gift of time, volunteer mentors make a difference one child at a time. Through mentoring, caring adults establish long-term one-on-one relationships with children who do not have nurturing family support. Mentors cross the barriers of race, economics, and literacy. Through the common kinship of the heart, they provide help when a child or teenager needs love the most. And the results are impressive: Studies indicate that children in a mentoring relationship are 46% less likely to use drugs (minorities 70% less likely), 27% less likely to use alcohol, and 33% less likely to hit someone. School attendance of mentored children increases 50%, resulting in improved grades.

This fall, I am calling on East Tennesseans of faith to mentor at-risk students. Many congregations already serve as volunteer mentors in their neighborhood schools throughout the school year. I am convinced that more East Tennessee churches can mobilize volunteers to mentor in elementary, middle, and high schools. As people of faith, we have been trained in the great commission. Now it’s time to live out the great commandment. By setting aside the desire to proselyte and by respecting the boundaries of church and state, we can meet the needs of deserving children. We can demonstrate love in action.

My church has done just that through KidsHope USA, Buckner International, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Knoxville at First Baptist’s neighborhood school, South Knoxville Elementary. We do not visit campus to sell our brand of faith. Instead, we go with open hearts, listening and providing hope to children. Our philosophy is to follow the school’s rules and to read, tutor, assist, play….to do whatever dedicated educators and social workers ask of us. I am proud to have worked with South Knoxville Elementary’s faculty and administrators. Principal Roy Smith who retired this year acknowledges the difference between the grades of at-risk students who were mentored and those who did not have that privilege.

Imagine the possibilities if every local elementary, middle, and high school principal had mentors available to devote time to children. What could happen if every at-risk child in Knoxville had a friend who cared not just about his grades but about his life? Not only would more children avoid being left behind, but the lives of the mentors would be enhanced. In working with my “little brother” at South Knox, I have received the greatest benefit from the relationship. My life has been enriched because I served a child whose father is in prison and saw this little boy’s face light up each day I met with him.

Perhaps at the end of your life you would like to say, “I made a difference with one person beyond my immediate family.” Three weeks from now, you can begin working toward that goal. On October 7, I’ll be hosting a group at First Baptist downtown to challenge more people of faith to become faithful mentors, and everyone is welcome to come and learn how your congregation can serve. Together we can change statistics into solutions.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

For Independence Day


In 1771, "America" was a much different place spiritually. Most of the first colonies subsidized their "chosen" ministers' salaries with tax revenue. Separate Baptists like Isaac Backus in Massachusetts were arrested and John Leland, John Weatherford, and David Barrow were assaulted by mobs and beaten with whips. In Caroline County, Virginia, 6 Baptists were arrested for the "immorality" of adult baptism. At that time, most people thought adult baptism was like a "get out of jail free card" in regards to sin. We were not alone. New York celebrated the anti-Catholic "Pope Day." Only 3 of the thirteen colonies allowed Catholics to vote. Most settlers had come to worship separately from other forms of religions. And Baptists, Catholics, and everything else besides the state's chosen (usually Puritan) religions were that other way. They wanted to worship in the way they chose and to still kick out those who did not.

Obviously, we are a much different place today. What caused such change that brought not only a spiritual change called "relgious liberty" but its political equivalent termed by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury, Virginia, Baptists, "a wall of separation between church and state"? Two things among others made it possible, according to Steve Waldman, author of the new book Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the birth of Religious Freedom in America.

The first was the persecution of Baptists in the state of Virgnia. Baptists did not want the state governments to use tax dollars to pay the salaries of clergy or to force them to baptize their children until they could speak for themselves. Separate Baptists could be exempted from the taxes in Virginia, they had to verify their Baptist heriage, be certified, and prove they still attended church. How times have changed. Roger Williams started the first Baptist church in a free state called Rhode Island, but it took John Leland's problems with the magistrates of Virginia to awaken the concerns of James Madison.

The second was a good old fashioned revival. In 1739, the fiery, cross-eyed preacher George Whitfield spread a message that ignited the flames of spiritual fervor so great in early America that more people started attending church, and more churches were started. There were so many different kinds of beliefs, religious liberty as expressed in the first amendment to the constitution provided freedom to all the new growing movements (like ours) but made sure that churches did not try to meddle in the business of partisanship. Thanks to James Madison, the first amendment became the way to hold the churches accountable to each other. Competition was good for religion. The founders, many of whom were godly people and even "Christians," eventually realized that faith coerced, compelled, or even funded was not true faith. It was neither good for the kingdom of God or for the new nation. When states stopped subsidizing salaries, America became more spiritual and more dedicated to God.

In this part of the world, Baptists enjoy the blessing and responsibility of being a part of a vocal evangelical majority. We should never forget the freedoms forged through conflict, and for which many brave men and women still serve so that others can enjoy this blessing. And we should share this position of favor with the same servant role of Jesus to others in this country who worship differently than we. If memory serves right, many people we call "Christians" imprisoned us for our view of Jesus. And to preserve the goodness of government and the godliness of society, we should take a page from the founders. Keep the church and its agencies free from governmental support, restrict government agencies from blessing one form of faith, and ask God to send a revival. That would be a blessing to all on this day when we as Baptists are so grateful to be independent.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Front of Temple of the Gospel Church


The outside of the church intentionally shows the same look prior to 1990

The Youth Group at Temple of the Gospel

Choir at Temple of the Gospel


Preaching in the Temple of the Gospel Church


On Sunday, I preached at the Temple of the Gospel Church where 18 years ago, Bob Hall led a group of young college students (including Matthew Evans) and renovated the basement. His group was the first of two years' worth of student groups that helped launch this church.

The service lasted two hours. The choir (approx. 25) sang in bright red robes, and the service felt very simlar to a 2 hour version of the 11:00 service--except in Russian. In good Baptist fashion, most people did not arrive until after the music was finished. Oh yes, they had two sermons. One from yours truly, and another from the Senior Pastor, Sergei Nikolaev. Just between me, you, and the web, mine was shorter....even with an interpreter.

The congregations was warm, loving, and gracious. I had a chance to meet with the youth group following lunch. They left afterward to visit a student from their group who could not be at church yesterday because of a broken arm.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Video Clip outside the Hermitage

In front of the Hermitage



The Hermitage rises as a Fortress of faith and strength for a city that’s seen its fair share of trouble. The Hermitage houses some of the best in 16th and 17th century paintings from Europe and a wide collection of Ancient Near Eastern, Persian, Chinese, Islamic, and Greco-Roman art. Protected by sandbags from Nazi invaders during World War 2, the curators stored the art and sculptures underground while the Germans attacked. When the War bombing ceased but before the art had been returned to its place, the curators offered free tours of the museum to the residents as a thank you gift. They pointed to the location of each piece in the gallery and each sculpture on display and described in detail what each one looked like even though the piece was not there. The curators offered a vision of something that they could faith-fully "believe without seeing."

Visit to the Hermitage

In front of Rembrandt's masterpiece

The Hermitage is known for housing Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son. I had been preparing for this visit ever since Carson-Newman invited me to teach at the Academy in St. Petersburg. I was first introduced to the painting during a Ph.D. seminar on the parables at Baylor in 1998. My assignment was to research the history of interpretation of a parable unique to the Gospel of Luke through art. I chose the Parable of the Publican and Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14). During the seminar, Mike Parsons pointed me to Henri Nouwen’s book The Return of the Prodigal Son about his encounter with Rembrandt’s work of the same name. Nouwen cited Barbara Haeger’s 1988 dissertation on the painting where she stated that Rembrandt combined two parables into one: the Prodigal Son and Elder Brother and the Publican and Pharisee. I was hooked. Nouwen’s book gave the painting even more spiritual depth than it already had, and I hoped one day to see the real thing.

When Carson-Newman called, I honestly could not believe that I would be teaching the “Parables” in St. Petersburg to Russian seminary students. I decided to build the class around an encounter with the painting. On Thursday, I lectured on both parables and then revealed to them Haeger’s interpretation. The looks on their faces were like mine when I learned the information. The elder brother dressed as a Pharisee and the seated man to his right with arm across his chest looking as if he could beat his breast—-both elements surprised them. They did not take my word for it; one student asked me to cite my source. I looked it up in the bibliography of Nouwen’s book just to prove my case.

The building of the Hermitage was worth the trip. As my interpreter told me, you should spend your first trip to the Hermitage looking at the floors, the second at the ceilings, and then the third at the walls. The students’ time was short, so we went straight to the Rembrandt. As we passed one corridor of paintings after another, I felt like I was running past the Jefferson Memorial to get the Capitol. (I later retraced my steps).

I arrived from behind the painting with a large group of tourists standing in front of the giant canvas. The 8 foot high portrait was astonishing to say the least. On this beautiful day, the light bursting through the window made the forehead of the father glow as if he had been holding his head in his hands for a long time. The real thing revealed that the seated man not only held his arms over his chest, but he crossed his right leg with his boot atop his left knee. I stood for a little while at eye level with the prodigal’s bare left foot. You could almost smell the pig slop still between his toes.

The painting was hard to take in with one visit. After the students left to go back to a late afternoon class, my interpreter and I returned to see the painting in the afternoon light. The colors were even better then. This time, I decided that the prodigal’s mother stands in the background barely visible at the top left corner. She lingers in the shadows always knowing he would return; she was ready to see her baby; but dad gets the first hug.

The art, like the parables themselves, evoke a response from the observer. But there really are not words to describe this meeting, reunion, and moment. Rembrandt saved his best work for last.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Morning People

Russians are not morning people. This is surprising since right now we have only 5 hours of darkness. It's still daylight at 11:30 p.m. I'm usually in bed before the sun is. Daylight comes through the window around 5:00 a.m. But we do not begin each morning until breakfast at 8:30 in the dining room. Most shops do not open until 9:00 a.m. Class does not begin until 10:00 a.m. Lunch is at 2:00. We eat at 7:00. I think American college students would love this schedule.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Technology


This is Alexi, my interpreter. He is pastor of a Pentecostal church in St. Petersburg with about 20 people on Sunday morning and is also a professor of systematic theology here. He became a Christian at age 15 when Swedish missionaries visited his town. You will also notice that he handles the technology needs too.

Chapel at the Seminary

Chapel Service at 9:30 a.m.


Each morning, the students gather for a brief chapel service of music and prayers.

Wednesday in St. Petersburg

Eating Lunch in the Dining Room

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

From Knoxville to St. Petersburg....18 years Later

What were you doing 18 years ago? First Baptist's own Bob Hall can tell you. In 1990, he led the first team of Baptists into St. Petersburg to renovate the Temple of the Gospel Baptist (now called "Evangelical") Church. Accompanying Bob was a young college student named Matthew Evans and several other students from the UT BCM. They arrived in the city still opening from perestroika to help a man named Dr. Sergei Nikolaev. Sergei had been given a bombed Orthdox Cathedral to start a Baptist church. Structurally, the building was sound. The interior, however, needed plenty of TLC. Bob's team began the renovation process, and I am grateful to say his efforts paid off.

Under Dr. Nikolaev's leadership, this same church started the Evangelical Theological Academy that now trains pastors and church leaders from across the Russian Federation. And I am teaching this week in their seminary that is a direct result of Bob and Matthew's work.

Yes, it is a small world after all.

My Class in St. Petersburg



The schedule each day--

8:30- Breakfast
10:00-2:00 p.m. Class
I teach with an interpreter who is a professor here at the seminary. He teaches systematic theology and speaks very good English. We take 10 minute breaks (with a bell) every 50 minutes.
2:00 p.m.- Lunch
7:00 p.m.- Supper

Greetings from St. Petersburg


Standing in front of the St. Petersburg Seminary.

Carson-Newman has a partnership with the Evangelical Theological Academy. They have sent me as an Adjunct Professor to teach "Parables" to Bachelor's and Master's level seminary students.

From St. Petersburg

My "kitchen" in my apartment.

I have arrived safely in St. Petersburg and have taught my first class on "Parables" to about 20 students. My accomodations are great, and I have a nice little apartment in the seminary building.

The seminary is a renovated 3-story Kindergarten in the suburbs of St. Petersburg. Many of the students live in dorm-style apartments in the building. We eat together in a dining hall. It's a true community of learners. Shopping and groceries are within walking distance.

I'm attaching a few pictures to this post.

Thanks for your prayers.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Splash Nation


I have officially reached the pinnacle of "Home Birthday Party world." Somehow we have managed to avoid the Chuck E. Cheese nation of party land. There is nothing wrong with rubber pizza, but we've tried to stretch Parker's parties every year into another event at home. This is our gift to him and hopefully to ourselves. I think.

For Parker's 7th Birthday party, our theme was "Splash Country." Kelly and I rented a dunking booth and a Bounce House (Moon walk for people my age and up), and we went all out one more time. Believe me, it would be hard to top the Choo-choo train party (age 2), Fireman party (age 3), Sports party (age 4) Cowboy Roundup (age 5), and Pirate party (age 6), but I think this year took the literal cookie cake. The weather cooperated, and so did the people. Over 40 kids and 20 adults arrived. By my arithmetic, that felt like 423 people in the yard at once. We shot water with our water syringes (think big tube here), threw wet sponges, walked on ice, and jumped in the bounce house with body parts that we did not know could bounce. And I think I fell into the dunking booth enough times to make me want to become a Methodist.

Instead of doing the traditional presents, we exchanged towels. Seriously. Every kid brought one for the wet elephant. This was the 7 year old version of white elephant. I wish I could say that was my idea, but most of the creativity, and smart thinking, at our house comes from Kelly.

Parker still went home with some cash in his pocket, and every child left with a gift. They left us with plenty of gifts as well: smiles, laughter, mud between my toes, leftover shoes, water in my ears, and some great memories. And after everyone went home, I ordered pizza.

Graduating into the Missing

Christians and especially churches have created the culture of the missing. We’re the ones that have caused many people to go missing. How? We have treated evangelism as strategy, labeled the nonChristians as the only sinners in the world, have turned funerals chances to threaten people out of hell, have outsourced healthcare and disease to someone else, and all the while overlooked the missing in need of relationship right before our eyes. When the paralytic needed additional assitance, we were too worried about whether it would cost too much. When an immoral woman came knocking on our door, we were too busy arguing about worship styles. When over 5,000 hungry people needed to be fed, we were too busy arguing about problems at church.

And when high schoolers, college students, and young adults cried out, we answered with programs, trips, and gymnasiums. But not relationships. This is especially true for our high school graduates. Everyone knows that most people who attend church as young people drop out of church after high school. We assume they'll eventually return, but unfortunately they're just going missing.

One of the most haunting books that I have recently discovered is Unchristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. The authors describe the world of former church attenders and non church attenders, primarily age 18-35.

We’ve always noticed that people leave church after high school. No surprise there, but this generation departs faster than we can imagine, and fewer return by age 35 than ever before in America. Roland Martinson, in a recent study of Lutheran demographics said, “75% percent of young men and women leave the church between ages 16-24, and 40% who leave return by age 35; 30% of those who return go to other denominations.” This is probably the same for Baptists.

Kinneman and Lyons report that 40% of people age 18-29 (about 24 million people) are outsiders to Christanity; that is, they are not Christians or are not attending a faith community of any sort. That’s the highest rate of any generation in America today. Compare that to Baby Boomers. About ¼ of all Boomers go to church (21 million people).

Kinnaman and Lyons are beginning to identify the reasons why. 9 out of every 10 people age 18-35 know someone who is a Christian in our country, and most have attended at least one church for several months at a time. The statistics suggest that 9 million young people have said they have had negative experiences at church with Christians or with Christians in general.

Young people who do become Christians, however, make the best evangelists. They’re so dialed into these bruising experiences that most of them try to organize their time in such a way to have friendships with nonbelievers so that they can explain their side of faith. They know how badly we’ve handled it, they want to have a chance to get in another perspective. (Kinneman and Lyons, p. 34)

On these weekends, where we watch graduates walk through newly-opened doors, we are also praying for new ears to understand the language of the missing.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Listen to Me

“Listen to me…when I am lonely. Oh, I know most people think that because I am busy I have a full life. And I am glad I have been successful in avoiding their pity. But sometimes, when nights have been long, the club meetings few, the volunteer work routine, the neighbors busy, and the telephone silent, I want to cry out for human contact, but there is no one there to listen to me.

Listen to me…when I am angry. And if I tell you I am angry with God, will you reject me?

Listen to me….when I want to celebrate, or express joy, or tell of a success without appearing to be a braggart. And, please remember, if you are listening to me, you won’t top my success with one of your own, or stick pins in my balloon of joy by telling me what problems may arise.

While you are listening to me, for those moments that I am the focus of your attention, you are giving me a part of your life. This gift will help validate me, help me see myself as a person of worth. It could even happen that through this gift of yourself, I may be strengthened in my awareness of the infinite power of love. And in spite of the confusion, the anger the fright, and the loneliness I may be experiencing, when I again feel love, I am touched by God.”

Written by a Stephen Minister in Enid, Oklahoma

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Missing Healthcare

Video of RAM's Work in Knoxville

Healthcare is the buzz these days. Politicians, pundits, and pollsters have their spin. What about preachers?

Jesus walked by the first century version of a hospital in John 5. The place was the pool of Bethesda. He demonstrated that we can love the missing who are sick, paralyzed, blind, and lame. All needed physical and spiritual healthcare.

The issue of healthcare in America runs much deeper than insurance coverage, pharmaceutical companies, and lawsuits. For Christians, healthcare is a platform for listening to the missing. You can find them at the doctor's office, Emergency Room, clinic, or in the case of one group in Knoxville- the Chilhowee building on Magnolia Avenue. In this video, RAM set up a clinic in Knoxville, treated 920 patients, gave away 500 pair of glasses, administered 94 mammograms, and pulled 1006 teeth. They turned 400 people away.

In John 5, Jesus showed us that for believers, healthcare is about two things--

1.) Showing up. No matter what you think about the political solution, Christians show up during a time of crisis. Jesus demonstrated how to go and be with this one paralyzed man.

2.) Asking a question that invites someone on a journey. Jesus' question, "Do you want to be made well?" is more than just, "Can I fix you?" The question implied, "May I journey with you into your soul?"

For the believer today, the most important question we can ask someone we know in a healthcare crisis is, "May I pray for you?" This question has the same effect as, "Do you want to be healed?"

As we pray, we share their needs with others. People become engaged. We remember the other person's needs. We look for answers together, and most importantly, we listen to their spiritual needs. We provide relationship, friendship, and introduce them to the one who offered something more than a new body. He offered eternal relationship that was worth something in the present.

One person at a time, all of us are made well.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Platforms

Everyone needs a platform for making friends with the missing.

I preach from a platform every Sunday, but it's not a good place for relationship.

Talking to the missing requires a venue, a location, or a platform.

In John, Jesus' platforms were
Family relationships in a fishing business- John 1
Water Well- John 4
Healing pool- John 5
Business to buy bread for a mountain full of people- John 6
Cemetery- John 11
Beach- John 21

By extension, our platforms can be the natural places of life where we run into the same missing people every day.
Family relationships
Coffee Shop, Starbucks, Panera Bread. A "Third place" in between home and work.
Hospital
Business
Funeral
Beach

Monday, April 07, 2008

First Baptist Knoxville Receives Award

FBC will receive the prestigious RC Buckner Award for Dedicated Church service this Friday evening in Dallas. For more information, click below.

http://religionblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2008/04/buckner-to-honor-volunteers-do.html

Read Dr. Kenneth Hall's comments here.....

http://www.typepad.com/t/trackback/2048430/27937248

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Needing the Missing

The most important step a Christian must take in developing a relationship with nonbelievers is in his perspective on the relationship. We actually need missing people.

In John 4, Jesus demonstrates how to talk from a position of need rather than a position of superiority or arrogance. He asks, "Will you give me something to drink?" The question is not a strategy; it's a simple request for help. The question indicates how we should approach nonbelievers. We need them, we want them, they can help us, we can learn from them. The process creates conversations, dialogue, and in the case of the woman, conversion.

Imagine how this might revolutionize our relationships and our churches. We have so much to accomplish as Christians in the work of the gospel. We have good news to share, the poor to feed, justice to deliver, mercy to show. We cannot do it alone; we need our communities, friends, and neighbors. We need believers and nonbelievers alike. Non Christians actually share many of our desires. They want to help the poor, serve communities, make a difference, love neighbors, and volunteer. When we ask them to help us, we create opportunities to have conversations. We give them a chance to change their lives. And we learn again what it's like to follow Jesus' model in relationship with others.

Need the Missing

The best kind of evangelism happens when we show the people we’re trying to love into the kingdom of God how much we really need them. Take one example from my life. Mr. Holt was in charge of the bus ministry at First Baptist Pensacola, Florida, when my parents joined in 1972. They picked up kids in the neighborhoods, brought them on Sunday mornings and had a special children’s church for the bus kids. In the 1970s, this was one of the many popular ways to draw people to Jesus, drive up attendance, baptize a bunch of people, and yes, do evangelism. The church bought 5 used buses from schools, retrofitted them for church, painted them blue, and emblazoned them with large letters, “Follow me to First Baptist.”

Mr. Holt recruited two people for each of the five buses. One was a college student who could knock on doors, invite kids, and maintain order in the back of the bus. The second was an adult driver who could navigate the neighborhoods. For bus number 5, he asked the son of the local district attorney, Jimmy Magaha, to ride along. Jimmy knew every B.J. Thomas hit on the radio especially two that he loved to sing and taught to all the kids—“Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” and “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

He asked my dad to drive Bus #5. My dad was everything a late 1970s conservative Baptist church in the South was not looking for in a member. He drank; he smoked, even while he was a member at First Baptist. He had been married previously. At the time, it was not your average “church leader” or volunteer resume. This was still the era when the Southern Baptists prided themselves on how much better they were than the culture. Somehow none of that mattered to Ed Holt. He needed a driver, my dad was willing, and Mr. Holt knew something. That sometimes the best recruits come from the ones who actually need to be needed.

Mr. Holt could tell that my dad was very good at relationships. He was usually the quiet guy in the back of any party making funny witty comments under his breath. And he had a natural warmth about him around others. My dad wasn’t the type to just sign up to volunteer. Like most people, he needed to be asked because he didn’t think he was qualified for most church positions. Even if they sent around a list, he would not have signed his name. But Mr. Holt did not need a list. He had met him at church, and that was enough to qualify him.

So on Sunday mornings, my dad became the first evangelist I ever met. He never preached a sermon; but because someone needed him, he was willing. He became the best church bus driver there ever was. He drove Bus #5, and I sat side saddle on a small metal box that fit my backside perfectly between the steering wheel and the driver’s sliding window. I’m sure today the police would have arrested us.

Early Sunday morning, we drove the Pontiac station wagon, got the keys out of the church office, unlocked Bus #5, and met Jimmy McGaha. From neighborhood to neighborhood we drove knocking on doors and singing to the top of our lungs, “Like a Rhinestone Cowboy, riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo.”

The bus ministry did not last forever, but the memories, and the legacy, still do. For me, my first good taste of church life did not happen on a pew but when someone had the vision to ask someone in need if he could help meet a need.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Listen to the Missing

Easter is the season for sharing this good news, a concept modern Christians call evangelism.
Everyone at church has received the good news, but the idea of evangelizing a nonbeliever is as intimidating to believers as nonbelievers. Either we can tell the story of a really bad Monday night cold calling on the doorstep of a very leery church prospect, or we would just prefer to follow parents’ advice—“Don’t talk about politics or religion with anyone.”

In the Gospel of John, Jesus engages people where they live in a series transformational conversations using the right questions at the right time. For Jesus, evangelism is not about selling a product, telling people what they need, or forcing God down others’ throats. It’s certainly not about knocking on doors Monday night. It's not about counting how many conversions you have.

John shows us that Jesus loves people who are missing from the kingdom of God. He demonstrates that love by showing them how much he needs them in his life. He asks critical questions to Andrew, the Samaritan Woman, a man at the pool of Bethesda, the disciples, Mary, and Peter. Through listening, conversing, and being real with others, he reveals to us how we can simply be ourselves. We listen, we respond, we ask questions, we learn from others, and the Spirit changes lives.

Ironically, he uses the platforms of daily life as the place to converse. A fishing spot, a community water well, a healing pool, a business, a cemetery, and a beach all become the venues for friendship. In today’s language, we call these platforms a family, a Starbucks, a hospital, a job, a funeral, and a beach.

I'll be sharing more thoughts on this post as well as recommendations.

Go Deeper
I've posted some book recommendations to the left of this blog.

Ask Great Questions
Here are some questions you can ask a nonbeliever that lead to greater opportunities for listening and open the door to conversations about life and faith.

1.) How are you really doing?
2.) What are you looking for in life?
3.) It sounds like you're struggling with this issue, may I pray for you?
4.) How is your family dealing with this crisis?
5.) Do you want to get past through these struggles?
6.) What have all these things taught you?
7.) Will you help me with this project?
8.) What do you think I should during this struggle in my life? Why?
9.) What role does faith play in your life?
10.) What is your perspective on church people?
11.) What are some of the greatest challenges today? How would you address them?
12.) Is there a way that I can help you with this issue/crisis/struggle in life?


The Conversations in John
Jesus counted conversations, not conversions. The opening chapter of John is like a week in the life, a series of the first 8 days of Jesus’ life that set the stage for the rest of the book—how do you go about discipling future disciples? That is, how does Jesus go about the process of getting from point A to B. John doesn’t deal with the same things the Synoptics discuss for a lot of reasons, but one reason (of several) is that the church in Ephesus to whom John has already written three little letters and now a biography, is struggling with this issue—we have a great story to tell. We know the resurrection, we know that Jesus is alive, we know that he died for us. Good information. We’re actually motivated to share it. We’re actually willing to do something about it. We’re actually wanting to attract others to this community of faith.

Jesus shows us all throughout the Gospel of John is that he knows how to use the power of personal networks—the network in this case of a family fishing business (John 1:35-51) to ask perhaps the most significant haunting question of Peter, Andrew, Philip, John, and even Nathaniel’s life—what do you want?

There are lots of ways to ask that question, aren’t there? If you’re standing in the line to see Santa Claus for Christmas—"what do you want for Christmas?"-- is one way. If you’re ordering from the menu at a restaurant, the temptation is to just say "what do you want tonight?" as you look for the hamburgers.

But this question translated from Greek has this effect- "what are you seeking? What are you really wanting out of life? What are you looking for?"

The only way Jesus can ever get the point where Simon can trust him enough to answer the question—is for Jesus to listen, to pay attention right there in the midst of the fishing village.

Peter is responds conversationally—where are you staying. Where are you going to be long enough so I can have access to you—it’s the same language that Jesus later uses to abide, or to remain in God—where are you remaining long enough so you and I can live, work, breathe, touch, I can talk, and you can listen.

Other conversations will follow--
John 3- Nicodemus
John 4- Samaritan Woman
John 5- Lame man at Pool of Bethsaida
John 6- Disciples on a Mountain
John 11- Mary and Martha at the Cemetery
John 21- Peter on the Beach

New Vocabulary
When you’re listening to the missing, you can’t use the same words any more. Here are a few to drop from your vocabulary.

“Soul-Winning”- it’s not a contest any more. This word is not in the Bible. Who really wins anyway if the missing person is rejects Jesus because the Christian is arrogant?

“Going witnessing”- it’s not a program. Christians are always witnesses—good, bad, or otherwise. That’s part of our problem. Everything counts. Even when you’re stuck in traffic or in the grocery line.

“Lost”- you lose things, not people. People are always missing.

“Leading people to Jesus”- something the Holy Spirit does. We don’t lead anyone anywhere. We listen, they talk, we pray, love, and ask great questions.

“Presenting the gospel”- it’s not a speech. It’s news, good news in fact that can be shared conversationally; and the only news we have is the latest way that God is working in our lives.

Platforms
Everyone needs a platform for making friends with the missing. I preach from a platform every Sunday, but it's not a good place for relationship.

In John, Jesus' platforms were
Family relationships in a fishing business- John 1
Water Well- John 4
Healing pool- John 5
Mountainside- John 6
Cemetery- John 11
Beach- John 21

By extension, our platforms can be the natural places of life where we run into the same missing people every day.
Family relationships
Coffee Shop, Starbucks, Panera Bread. A "Third place" in between home and work.
Hospital
Business
Funeral
Beach



New Attitude
The most important step a Christian must take in developing a relationship with nonbelievers is in his perspective on the relationship. We actually need missing people.

In John 4, Jesus demonstrates how to talk from a position of need rather than a position of superiority or arrogance. He asks, "Will you give me something to drink?" The question is not a strategy; it's a simple request for help. The question indicates how we should approach nonbelievers. We need them, we want them, they can help us, we can learn from them. The process creates conversations, dialogue, and in the case of the woman, conversion.

Imagine how this might revolutionize our relationships and our churches. We have so much to accomplish as Christians in the work of the gospel. We have good news to share, the poor to feed, justice to deliver, mercy to show. We cannot do it alone; we need our communities, friends, and neighbors. We need believers and nonbelievers alike. Non Christians actually share many of our desires. They want to help the poor, serve communities, make a difference, love neighbors, and volunteer. When we ask them to help us, we create opportunities to have conversations. We give them a chance to change their lives. And we learn again what it's like to follow Jesus' model in relationship with others.

Take one example from my life. Mr. Holt was in charge of the bus ministry at First Baptist Pensacola, Florida, when my parents joined in 1972. They picked up kids in the neighborhoods, brought them on Sunday mornings and had a special children’s church for the bus kids. In the 1970s, this was one of the many popular ways to draw people to Jesus, drive up attendance, baptize a bunch of people, and yes, do evangelism. The church bought 5 used buses from schools, retrofitted them for church, painted them blue, and emblazoned them with large letters, “Follow me to First Baptist.”

Mr. Holt recruited two people for each of the five buses. One was a college student who could knock on doors, invite kids, and maintain order in the back of the bus. The second was an adult driver who could navigate the neighborhoods. For bus number 5, he asked the son of the local district attorney, Jimmy Magaha, to ride along. Jimmy knew every B.J. Thomas hit on the radio especially two that he loved to sing and taught to all the kids—“Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” and “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

He asked my dad to drive Bus #5. My dad was everything a late 1970s conservative Baptist church in the South was not looking for in a member. He drank; he smoked, even while he was a member at First Baptist. He had been married previously. At the time, it was not your average “church leader” or volunteer resume. This was still the era when the Southern Baptists prided themselves on how much better they were than the culture. Somehow none of that mattered to Ed Holt. He needed a driver, my dad was willing, and Mr. Holt knew something. That sometimes the best recruits come from the ones who actually need to be needed.

Mr. Holt could tell that my dad was very good at relationships. He was usually the quiet guy in the back of any party making funny witty comments under his breath. And he had a natural warmth about him around others. My dad wasn’t the type to just sign up to volunteer. Like most people, he needed to be asked because he didn’t think he was qualified for most church positions. Even if they sent around a list, he would not have signed his name. But Mr. Holt did not need a list. He had met him at church, and that was enough to qualify him.

So on Sunday mornings, my dad became the first evangelist I ever met. He never preached a sermon; but because someone needed him, he was willing. He became the best church bus driver there ever was. He drove Bus #5, and I sat side saddle on a small metal box that fit my backside perfectly between the steering wheel and the driver’s sliding window. I’m sure today the police would have arrested us.

Early Sunday morning, we drove the Pontiac station wagon, got the keys out of the church office, unlocked Bus #5, and met Jimmy McGaha. From neighborhood to neighborhood we drove knocking on doors and singing to the top of our lungs, “Like a Rhinestone Cowboy, riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo.”

The bus ministry did not last forever, but the memories, and the legacy, still do. For me, my first good taste of church life did not happen on a pew but when someone had the vision to ask someone in need if he could help meet a need.

Missing Healthcare
Video of RAM's Work in Knoxville

Healthcare is the buzz these days. Politicians, pundits, and pollsters have their spin. What about preachers?

Jesus walked by the first century version of a hospital in John 5. The place was the pool of Bethesda. He demonstrated that we can love the missing who are sick, paralyzed, blind, and lame. All needed physical and spiritual healthcare.

The issue of healthcare in America runs much deeper than insurance coverage, pharmaceutical companies, and lawsuits. For Christians, healthcare is a platform for listening to the missing. You can find them at the doctor's office, Emergency Room, clinic, or in the case of one group in Knoxville- the Chilhowee building on Magnolia Avenue. In this video, RAM set up a clinic in Knoxville, treated 920 patients, gave away 500 pair of glasses, administered 94 mammograms, and pulled 1006 teeth. They turned 400 people away.

In John 5, Jesus showed us that for believers, healthcare is about two things--

1.) Showing up. No matter what you think about the political solution, Christians show up during a time of crisis. Jesus demonstrated how to go and be with this one paralyzed man.

2.) Asking a question that invites someone on a journey. Jesus' question, "Do you want to be made well?" is more than just, "Can I fix you?" The question implied, "May I journey with you into your soul?"

For the believer today, the most important question we can ask someone we know in a healthcare crisis is, "May I pray for you?" This question has the same effect as, "Do you want to be healed?"

As we pray, we share their needs with others. People become engaged. We remember the other person's needs. We look for answers together, and most importantly, we listen to their spiritual needs. We provide relationship, friendship, and introduce them to the one who offered something more than a new body. He offered eternal relationship that was worth something in the present.

One person at a time, all of us are made well.

Graduating into the Missing

Christians and especially churches have created the culture of the missing. We’re the ones that have caused many people to go missing. How? We have treated evangelism as strategy, labeled the nonChristians as the only sinners in the world, have turned funerals chances to threaten people out of hell, have outsourced healthcare and disease to someone else, and all the while overlooked the missing in need of relationship right before our eyes. When the paralytic needed additional assitance, we were too worried about whether it would cost too much. When an immoral woman came knocking on our door, we were too busy arguing about worship styles. When over 5,000 hungry people needed to be fed, we were too busy arguing about problems at church.

And when high schoolers, college students, and young adults cried out, we answered with programs, trips, and gymnasiums. But not relationships. This is especially true for our high school graduates. Everyone knows that most people who attend church as young people drop out of church after high school. We assume they'll eventually return, but unfortunately they're just going missing.

One of the most haunting books that I have recently discovered is Unchristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. The authors describe the world of former church attenders and non church attenders, primarily age 18-35.

We’ve always noticed that people leave church after high school. No surprise there, but this generation departs faster than we can imagine, and fewer return by age 35 than ever before in America. Roland Martinson, in a recent study of Lutheran demographics said, “75% percent of young men and women leave the church between ages 16-24, and 40% who leave return by age 35; 30% of those who return go to other denominations.” This is probably the same for Baptists.

Kinneman and Lyons report that 40% of people age 18-29 (about 24 million people) are outsiders to Christanity; that is, they are not Christians or are not attending a faith community of any sort. That’s the highest rate of any generation in America today. Compare that to Baby Boomers. About ¼ of all Boomers go to church (21 million people).

Kinnaman and Lyons are beginning to identify the reasons why. 9 out of every 10 people age 18-35 know someone who is a Christian in our country, and most have attended at least one church for several months at a time. The statistics suggest that 9 million young people have said they have had negative experiences at church with Christians or with Christians in general.

Young people who do become Christians, however, make the best evangelists. They’re so dialed into these bruising experiences that most of them try to organize their time in such a way to have friendships with nonbelievers so that they can explain their side of faith. They know how badly we’ve handled it, they want to have a chance to get in another perspective. (Kinneman and Lyons, p. 34)

On these weekends, where we watch graduates walk through newly-opened doors, we are also praying for new ears to understand the language of the missing.



"Listen to Me"
“Listen to me….when I am lonely. Oh, I know most people think that because I am busy I have a full life. And I am glad I have been successful in avoiding their pity. But sometimes, when nights have been long, the club meetings few, the volunteer work routine, the neighbors busy, and the telephone silent, I want to cry out for human contact, but there is no one there to listen to me.

Listen to me….when I am angry. And if I tell you I am angry with God, will you reject me?

Listen to me….when I want to celebrate, or express joy, or tell of a success without appearing to be a braggart. And, please remember, if you are listening to me, you won’t top my success with one of your own, or stick pins in my balloon of joy by telling me what problems may arise.

While you are listening to me, for those moments that I am the focus of your attention, you are giving me a part of your life. This gift will help validate me, help me see myself as a person of worth. It could even happen that through this gift of yourself, I may be strengthened in my awareness of the infinite power of love. And in spite of the confusion, the anger the fright, and the loneliness I may be experiencing, when I again feel love, I am touched by God.”

--Written by a Stephen Minister at First Presbyterian Church, Enid, Oklahoma.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wedding Rehearsal

In Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding for God’s Son. God has invited people to join him at the wedding feast of his Son Jesus Christ. Who would refuse an invitation like that? Surprisingly, the first ones invited did. God sent his servants to ask even more to come. By implication, Jewish people were the first two groups to receive invitations and Gentiles the third. Another surprise awaited.


Jesus indicated that accepting an invitation, knowing the groom as a “friend” (22:12-13), and attending the wedding are not enough. One must be clothed correctly, or prepared through one’s obedient living, in order to enter the feast (Garland, Reading Matthew, 225).



The customs of an ancient wedding banquet are analogous to the modern wedding rehearsal and dinner. Even though our weddings do not last for a week, we rehearse the parts, prepare for the event, and feast together the night before the big day. In a rehearsal, the coordinator positions the attendants, practices the processional, coordinates the instrumentalists, and prepares for the big day. As the rehearsal goes, often so does the wedding itself. In the same way, believers prepare for the wedding of Christ to the church each time we gather for worship and serve others. The bridegroom (Christ) has invited all people to come to his celebration. The guest list is open-ended; he has sent people to invite everyone because most of the first invitees refused to come.


When we gather in a church, the service functions like the wedding rehearsal. When we worship, serve, and study, we are learning our parts. We learn how to be obedient. We learn more about the groom and discover the others in the wedding party. We meet the other members of the family who are also on the bride’s side. We study the groom’s story (the Bible). We serve in other ways, too. We visit people in nursing homes, homeless shelters, hospitals, and prisons
who wish they could attend the rehearsal.


The problem, however, is that most people are too busy to come for the rehearsal. They are busy getting ready for other things. They are either at the office working extra time on Sunday morning, going to the ball game, golfing another eighteen holes, or simply staying at home. In essence, many refuse the invitation. It’s their choice. And it is none of our business to worry about their choices. Most of their decisions come naturally to them, and they would not think otherwise.


God says that in order to come to the wedding, though, we must accept the invitation and be prepared when we arrive. According to the parable, some who attend the rehearsal (called
“friend,” 22:12-13) will not be at the wedding, just as there are plenty at church who are not fully prepared for the end.


To be prepared, we need the right garments. The clothes are not a description of the required attire for a worship service. They are the symbols of obedience. Righteousness is clothing for the feast. It’s not merely enough to accept the invitation; we must live appropriately
as well.



(A selection from Sessions with Matthew available now from Smyth and Helwys.)

Secret Students

Which is more surprising? That Pilate's wife sent him a note or Joseph of Arimathea lived past the burial of Jesus?

According to some scholars, wives of procurators were not even allowed to travel with their husbands. The government wanted the magistrates focused on their duties-- not on their families. Pilate's wife appearance in Jerusalem is shocking.

Joseph of Arimathea possibly risked death to ask for the body of Jesus. If it had not been Passover season, the Romans might have just left the bodies on the poles to be picked off by birds. Most people would not risk association with a crucified criminal publicly.

When both of these characters appear from the backstage of Matthew's dramatic account, suddenly secret practices have real meaning. These people, who have studied Jesus' life privately, have eternal insight.

Pilate's wife listens to her dreams, echoing the dreams of the magi who went "home by another way." Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the same religious establishment responsible for Jesus' arrest, reveals that he has been on Jesus' side the entire time.

You never know who might be lurking-- or learning-- behind the scenes of good vs. evil.

Secret Justice

Lent gives us the opportunity to work secretly—behind the scenes—to do justice. For these six weeks, we go backstage to carry out Jesus’ commands to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned. This kind of work is happening in Macon County, Tennessee. While other agencies have backed off, Christian people are going to work to do justice and to bring hope. Here’s one first hand account from our own Sharon Vandergriff after she returned from one of the groups organized by 1B.

“We were in an area about 7-9 miles from the heart of town. The path of devastation was like all the things you hear and see about tornados – one house leveled and the neighbors, untouched. When we first arrived at our assigned location, I thought, there is nothing very fulfilling about picking up shingles, glass and every piece of debris imaginable in a pasture. I was amazed how my feelings changed over the course of the day. The surrounding area where we worked showed plenty of damage including nearby houses and a mobile home leveled to the foundation. We weren’t at the location of someone’s house - we were in a pasture with lots of tree damage and debris and the final resting spot for the partial contents of someone’s house. The occasion to walk over dried manure was a reminder that this pasture wasn’t home to people, but to other living things… Perhaps means to someone’s livelihood.

“I still can’t seem to get my head or my heart around the things I saw and felt yesterday. Many questions continue to race through my mind…ones that come without easy answers. Do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you? What prevents people from helping others? What is most important to me? If this happened to me, how would I respond…how would I feel? How do you pick up the pieces? If someone found the contents of my life in a field what would they be able to tell about me – what judgments would they make without ever knowing me? How do you pick-up the pieces and start to function? How do you learn to walk in shoes that don’t feel like your own? You find comfort in and through the support of people that will stick by you and help you on the journey.”

More teams are on their way to do justice until Easter weekend. Feel free to pass along this secret.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Update on Disaster Relief


FBC Knoxville continues relief, clean-up efforts in Macon County

KNOXVILLE, TENN. -- First Baptist Church of Knoxville is coordinating teams of volunteers every Friday and Saturday, beginning this week, to go to Macon County and assist in clean-up and relief efforts.
Volunteer teams will depart from the FBC Knoxville parking lot on Friday mornings at 5:30 am, spend the night in Carthage, Tenn. at the Carthage United Methodist Church, and return after working Saturday. Persons interested in working only one day are welcome to provide their own transportation and meet–up with work teams from FBC Knoxville.

Marion Graybeal, onsite coordinator, is enlisting teams and coordinating work efforts. He can be reached at (865) 607-7721 or by email to disasterreliefvols@fbcknox.org. Volunteers must be prepared with work boots, gloves and appropriate safety gear for clean-up and debris removal.
The church is not receiving any donated supplies and materials at this time per the request of local officials in Macon County. Should that change, notification will be made by email and
through local media as well as on the church’s website, www.fbcknox.org.

Ongoing assessments of longer term needs are being made by the church’s disaster relief coordinating team. As details regarding what the church will do to assist in recovery and rebuilding are known, they will be disseminated through all communication channels.
Donations, payable to First Baptist Church of Knoxville and clearly marked “Disaster Relief-Middle Tennessee,” continue to be received by the church. As of Monday, Feb. 18, over $11,500 had been collected for direct relief in Middle Tennessee.

For more information, please contact Sandy Wisener at (865) 803-3093, Wanda Edmondson at (865) 567-5994, or Carol McEntyre at (865) 363-6372. Send email to disasterreliefvols@fbcknox.org.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Macon County for Valentine's Day


I am still overwhelmed with yesterday's experience in Macon County. Thanks to WBIR Channel 10, the people of East Tennessee responded to our call for supplies and cash. In one day, we raised $5,000 for Macon county relief and a 26 foot truck-full of cleaning supplies, toiletries, salt, sugar, oil, and pillows. Another 16,000 bottles of water leave tomorrow. Russell Biven with WBIR's "Live at Five" program led the charge communicating to the community all day Wednesday. On Thursday, he followed us to this hard hit area.
We were at Carl Trent's home in a neighborhood that lost 11 people in the tornado. Carl saved the lives of 3 grandchildren and 1 other child during the storm. With little warning, he placed the children under a couch and held the pillows on top of them as they rode out the storm. This picture is taken from what remains of his front porch. His house is in the rubble behind us. He was in that rubble during the storm.
I can't say what a privilege it is to be able to work with Russell, WBIR, this fine team, and this church. The group pictured with us came from Beaver Dam, Lenoir City, and First Baptist all to help. Michael McEntyre led the chainsaw team, and we helped pick up the pieces--literally-- of Carl's home and place them near the curb where the army truck could go by and haul away his stuff. After the lot is cleared, he will receive a FEMA trailer to live in while his house is rebuilt.
Go to www.fbcknox.org and www.wbir.com to view pictures and learn how you can get involved.

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