Headlines from First Thoughts

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."

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