Headlines from First Thoughts

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

William Gilmore Simms "Sabbath Lyrics: A Christmas Gift of Love"

The mid-19th century Southern writer William Gilmore Simms offered
personal reflections on the wonder of Christmas in the midst of the
loss of his children. He and his wife Chevillette had 14 children.
Only 5 outlived him. Read his reflections on the birth of the Good

Where among the pasturing rocks
The glad shepherds kept their flocks
Came an angel to the fold
And with voice of rapture told
That the Saviour Christ was born

Born in Bethlehem sacred place
Of a virgin full of grace
In a manger lowly spot
Symbol of his mortal lot
Lo the Saviour Christ is born

Dread and glorious was the bright
Of that sudden shining light
Which around the angel then
Token'd to the simple men
That the Saviour Christ was born

But the voice that filled the blaze
Cheer'd them in their deep amaze
Tidings of great joy I bring
In the coming of your King
The true Shepherd Christ is born

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

First Impressions

Ann Henderson is a faithful member; we just don't see her at church.
She watches us by television and lives at Shannondale retirement off
Middlebrook Pike. A couple of weeks ago, I dropped by to say hello to
Ann. She get a lot of frequent contact from Matthew and Amy Evans as
part of our Deacon homebound team, but I also enjoy catching up with
folks I don't always see in the pew. Like so many at Christmas time,
Ann had a surprise for me.

During our visit we chatted a bit. I shared a few nuggets of church
life; she asked about my family. Then she reached down and said,
"Pastor, my sister wanted to know if there were some people that I
wanted to remember this Christmas season; and you're one of them. Here
are some homemade peach preserves." I went by to give Ann the gift of
presence, and she surprised me with an unexpected gift.

This season is the time for the unplanned gifts. We plan, we shop, we
wrap, and the calendar turns to a new year and a new decade. We look
forward to what we're going to accomplish, look back at last year's
memories, and worry about the unknowns that lie ahead. Along the way
in January though, after the presents are unwrapped, the real gifts
arrive. These are the venues for the bright ideas and epiphanies that
give you a spiritual "a-ha" moment. They happen when strangers wander
into life, your body gives you an extra hour of sleep, the dreaded
activity becomes a memory, or a moment of service becomes a time of

I am not sure what will spark, but I do know that they come when we
are around the kind of people we find in the epiphany season:
foreigners, shepherds, mothers, fathers, babies, and worshipers. Wise
men and television viewers seem to know that best. So, Ann, here is a
very large scale thank you note for the peach preserves. And to all
who stand at the corridor of a new decade, I hope you've left some
time for an unplanned gift.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Brunch @fbcknox today #homeless #hunger #poverty #advent09

William D. Shiell
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church
Knoxville, Tennessee

Christmas Brunch 2day for #homeless, poor & Latinos @fbcknox 8-noon. Free sweatshirts, socks, family portraits #advent09

William D. Shiell
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church
Knoxville, Tennessee

Herman and Bill cooking the grub for the Christmas brunch 2day @fbcknox #advent09 8-noon 500 homeless & poor served

William D. Shiell
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church
Knoxville, Tennessee

Friday, December 11, 2009

Even now the axe is at the root of the tree. Wind damage from this week's storm. #advent09

William D. Shiell
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church
Knoxville, Tennessee

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Young Musicians @fbcknox #advent09

William D. Shiell
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church
Knoxville, Tennessee

1st-2nd grade choir @fbcknox #advent09

William D. Shiell
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church
Knoxville, Tennessee

4-5 year old Children's choir @fbcknox #advent09

William D. Shiell
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church
Knoxville, Tennessee

Friday, December 04, 2009

If Elizabeth & Mary Wrote Carols for Advent

Unlike the modern conventions of baby showers, nursery renovation, and birthing classes, the conceptions in Luke were greeted with isolation and withdrawal. When Elizabeth learned she was expecting a baby, she left town for 5 months. Mary withdrew to Elizabeth's home for a retreat.

This pattern hardly fits the carols of the season. We urge people to "come" as the faithful, and we sing of halls that are decked with holly. If the women of Luke's Gospel could rewrite the titles, the carols of Christmas might be:

"O Run Away all Ye Faithful"
"Silent Night, Lonely Place, Zechariah sure has a Funny Look on his Face"
"Go, Flee to the Mountains, Over the Hills and Everywhere."

Their withdrawal had a purpose. Out of isolation and silence, Elizabeth emerged to greet a teenager standing on her doorstep.

Before we run to the manger with the joy of the shepherds, we need to withdraw. Who knows which relative might greet us when we emerge with the surprising news of Advent?
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Brown Bag, Green Book, Wednesday, December 2

Shiell discusses Shell
Brown Bag, Green Book

Wednesday December 2
12:00 noon

East Tennessee History Center

I'll be leading a discussion of the book Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell. It's a great discussion-starter right around the mad rush of the shopping season.

Advent Neighbors

“Honey, call the neighbors. I think there is someone outside.” The best kinds of neighbors are those who make it their business to help protect your business. If you’ve ever witnessed suspicious activity next door, you appreciate the heads up, the warning, the watchful eye, the safety and comfort of friends. But what if your life is the disturbance? What if something happens to you that so changes and alters your world that everyone takes notice?

According to the Gospel of Luke, that’s exactly what happens to a group of neighbors some 2,000 years ago. Jesus enters the world at a time of relative calm. People were filled with the optimism of the Caesar, the celebratory satisfaction of Roman dominance, and the virtuous spirit of Greek philosophy. With little fanfare, a small family in Galilee experiences an upheaval to their world. Highly unusual things begin. A senior adult discovers she is expecting a baby; a virgin betrothed to a faithful man is pregnant; a prominent priest in the community goes mute. Taken separately, these signs might have been dismissed in the neighborhood as strange. As Luke describes the events, however, they are part of a divine domino effect. This heavenly sequence of events occurs over the period of nine months and turns the world upside down.

Before the “all is calm, all is bright” of a “Silent Night,” there is Advent. When society seems to be in the midst of darkness, Advent announces a new beginning. Advent says that life is seasonal. Just as fig trees sprout leaves twice each year, so believers have the chance to sprout with new life in winter. Consider the examples of Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist, Mary, and Joseph. Each one has a story to tell. Each one heard the news differently. Each one saw God’s work begin in their lives and in their neighborhoods.

In the process, things changed. They worshiped differently. They remained calm and served the needs of others under intense oppression. When necessary, they went into seclusion to collect their thoughts and renew their spirits. They unloaded things when others said to “acquire more.” They lived life from the bottom-up rather than the top-down. The world has never been the same.

We have the chance to experience their lives and decisions for 27 days during the Advent season. We have the opportunity to ask each other, “In our world today, what would it mean to make the same decisions in our neighborhood? How would our neighbors be affected? Do we see signs of life sprouting already that give us an indication that God’s work that has already begun?”

Wake up the neighbors. They won’t want to miss this. Advent is here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

6 Ways to Change a Life This Season

Before you make your shopping list, compose a serving list. Need ideas? Here are six of my favorites.

1.) Drop a coin in the kettle. Salavation Army's goal is $400,000. That just about $1 from every person in East Tennessee. We can do this.

2.) Serve at the Christmas Brunch. First Baptist sponsors an annual Christmas brunch for the working poor, homeless, Latinos, South Knox families, and many more on Dec. 12 from 9-12 noon. Each person gets a free family portrait from Lisle Newlon studios, blanket, sweatshirt, a hot meal, and lots of love. Sign up here.

3.) Adopt a family at South Knoxville elementary. We work directly with the social worker at South knox to identify needy families at Christmas time. What better way to help than with gifts of clothes, love, and food. Contact our community ministry office today.

4.) Shop Candy Cane Cottage. The PTO at Rocky Hill elementary sponsors this week of shopping for kids to be a "secret santa" to their parents. But this year, there is a twist. Monday night, 5-8 p.m. is the Holiday Market. Ellenburg's, Kohl's, Lisle Newlon studio, and many more will be there for people to shop. Proceeds from all these vendors go directly to needy families in Rocky Hill. For more information go to the Candy Cane Cottage Site.

5.) Visit a home bound person or resident in a nursing home. Drop by, say hello, take a church bulletin or devotional guide. A simple touch of presence goes a long way.

6.) Attend the Knoxville Nativity Pageant. Now in its 41st season, the Nativity Pageant presents the simply message of Christmas with no hype, no gore, but the greatest story ever told with live animals, a great choir, and beautiful scenery. It will take 1 hour of your time, but will be a meaningful part of your season. You can pick from three performances December 13-15. For more info:

Those are my 6-- How will you serve this season?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Treasure found- Op-Ed In Sunday's News-Sentinel

This article will appear in the Knoxville News-Sentinel's Community Columnist section Sunday, November 22.

My dad left one treasure for me to find after he died. Without a map for guidance, I needed providence and social media on my journey to discovery.

My father’s life was not scripted for a bookstore’s family section. After attending the University of Florida, his world, including his relationships, turned upside down. In the late 1950's, he and his wife Hilda had a son, David. After a few years, they divorced. My dad lost contact with David. Hilda remarried. The rest became a well-kept family secret.

Working in his brother's accounting practice, my dad met my mother. They married in 1970; I was born in 1972. While innocently flipping through a photo album as a child, I discovered a picture of a boy who looked like Dad and me. The long-buried secret was open, but the mystery endured. My father died in 1983; my mother did not remarry; and my half brother became the subject of much discussion and speculation. Dad's brothers began searching for David, but every road turned down a blind alley.

Upon moving to Knoxville five years ago, I resumed the search. Closer to my family of origin, I felt I had a chance of locating my half brother. In December 2007, I shared with my church a bit of Dad's past and my family’s odyssey to explain how God's providence works with divorce, redemption, and healing.

A strange series of coincidences followed. Two weeks later, I received a call from North Carolina. A critically ill great uncle, who had not heard the sermon, wanted to meet his “preacher great nephew” and give me pictures of my half brother, Dad, and Hilda. Before I had time for a visit, my great uncle and his wife died; I never received the pictures. Yet I chose to view this experience as a sign I was getting closer, a reminder to be faithful in my search. Turning to the social-media network Facebook, I posted family-tree information and waited. Occasionally, I googled my last name, checked ancestor.com, and hoped.

On October 2, 2009, I received an email message from David Andrews, a pathologist in Miami, which read: "I am most certainly your half brother David, son of Hilda, our father's first wife." On a whim the night before, he googled the name David Shiell, landed on my Facebook family tree, and discovered a half brother that he never knew existed. Our stories are remarkably similar, only 15 years apart. He’s 52; I’m 37. We were only children; we completed doctoral degrees; we have two sons.

When his mother remarried, his step-father adopted him when he was 12 and sealed the adoption, locking away his “Shiell” heritage. His mother and step-father never had children, and David has one memory of our father when he was four.

Most stories like ours do not have fairy-tale endings. Just because people are related does not necessarily mean they want to be family. Our case is different. Two weeks later, I flew to Miami and had my first sleepover at my big brother’s house. This week for the Thanksgiving holiday, David, his wife, and sons will travel to stay with us. We’ll join our uncles, their families, and my mother on Thanksgiving Day in Crossville for a reunion 48 years in the making.

If David had not reached out to me, he would have never been found. And somehow I think if my uncles and I had not looked faithfully, he would not have found me. To me, that’s providence: our faithfulness, God’s timing, and the surprises of social media and grace. This treasure named David courageously unlocked the mystery and found relationship. I am truly thankful.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

First Baptist and the Next Door Launch Women's Prison Ministry

Starting December 2009, First Baptist welcomes The Next Door to begin using office space in our building. The Next Door is a ministry with women coming out of prison that was was started by First Baptist Nashville in 2004.

In Nashville, the program is a six month residential transitional living program for women coming out of prison. The program offers case management, job placement, and recovery support services to help these women get on their feet. Since 2004, over 450 women have had the opportunity to go through the six-month curriculum designed to prepare them for living independently and establishing stable families.

The program has been so successful that it has gained national attention. President George W. Bush highlighted The Next Door as a top national model of a faith-based nonprofit providing recovery support services in his remarks during the national "Innovations in Effective Compassion Conference" hosted in June 2008 by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Statewide, it is estimated that at least 65% of women return to incarceration. The recidivism rate for women completing The Next Door’s six month program is 10%; for women staying at least 90 days in the program, the rate is 21%. Because of their success, The Next Door is expanding to Knoxville and to Chattanooga.

First Baptist Church of Knoxville is going to help launch this ministry in Knoxville by providing office space. Until a more permanent location in our building can be found, the Next Door offices will be housed in one of the small classrooms off of the pastoral class on the 3rd floor of the education building. In addition, since the jail is in our back yard, it makes sense for us to help reach out to this population. This is a wonderful opportunity for First Baptist to help a new ministry get started in our city.

Read more:

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Homecoming Worship with the world's greatest music minister

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

New Members filling out the Get Connected information @fbcknox

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A Halloween Scandal of Pumpkin Proportions

The Great Pumpkin visited our house Friday to steal our pumpkins. I am not sure when the visitor came, but we awoke Saturday to realize we had no pumpkins for trick-or-treaters. We could not carve a pumpkin, and of course, no Jack or Jill o'Lanterns.

The theft greatly disturbed Kelly, slightly relieved me, and inspired Parker. Kelly did not like that someone stole her pumpkins. She is the responsible member of the house. I was glad that I did not have to dispose of an old rotten vegetable. Parker called in the troops. This was going to be the "Case of the Pumpkins stolen on Halloween Eve."

He and the neighborhood investigators converged on the staircase for an impromptu meeting of the Dunbarton Detective agency. They listed the likely suspects on the back of an envelope. Sherlock Holmes would be proud. Of course, the most recent neighbor to move into the 'hood was at the top of the list. We tend to suspect the people we know the least about. Others were listed-- including the middle school kid next door. He has a long record of mischief- 1. He "accidentally" slid into the other neighbor's mailbox during last year's winter storm. A few others were on the list.

I told one of the detectives, "You guys sound like the Hardy Boys." "Who's that?!" they asked. "Probably the people who stole the pumpkins," I said. With wide eyes, he said, "Let's get 'em!"

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Power Holds People Hostage

Power imprisons like a person being taken hostage and held for ransom by a supposed friend. At least that's the imagery in Mark 10:35-45. James and John want to be on the inside track to the banquet feast of heaven. But Jesus warns them that before they seek the power of "the inner ring" (to use C.S. Lewis's image), there must be a hostage exchange. His life for theirs. They get released from the prison cell of power. He offers his life and conquers the prison in the process.
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Monday, October 19, 2009

A Meeting 37 Years in the Making

Pictures from My Trip

Three weeks ago, I received an email that opened a new chapter in my life. It's a journey of discovery that has been 37 years in the making for me. For my family, this has completed a puzzle that is part odyssey, part reunion, and part mystery solved.

My father lived a rather interesting and varied life. His was no scripted novel for the family bookstore section. After some time at the University of Florida, his world changed and turned upside down. His relationships were no different. In the late 1950's, he and his wife Hilda had a son named David. My dad's siblings knew him. Dad, Hilda, and David stayed with one of Dad's brothers for awhile. But Dad and Hilda divorced after a few brief years, and my dad had little contact with his son. Hilda remarried. And the rest became a well-kept family secret.

My Dad was working in his brother's accounting practice when he met my mother. They married in 1970, and I was born in 1972. I knew very little about my half brother. I found his picture in a photo album after my dad passed away in 1983. The buried secret became an open secret. By the time I was in college, this boy named David became the subject of much discussion and speculation. Dad's brothers and their wives began looking for him, but every road turned into somewhat of a blind alley. All of them were into genealogy, but none of them could find David.

When I moved to Knoxville, I decided to take up the search myself as best as I could. Living closer to family of origin, I assumed that this might be a chance to locate the long lost half brother. In a strange series of coincidences, I told the story to my church one Sunday morning during the Advent season. I shared a bit of Dad's past and my own family odyssey as a way to explain how God's providence works with divorce, redemption, and healing. I shared that many of us have family members we had never met but hoped to meet one day.

Many people responded to this sermon. I discovered others on a quest to find lost siblings and relatives. Some shared the painful and promising discoveries from their past. One of my church members, Dr. George Schweizer, offered his genealogical skills to help me find David.

Two weeks later, I received a phone call from North Carolina. Some relatives from my paternal grandmother's family heard that I was in ministry. One of my Dad's great uncles was almost blind and was facing death. He had become a Christian and wanted to locate someone in his family who was a minister. I spoke with his wife. They shared that they had pictures of my half brother, Dad, and Hilda. They promised to send the pictures.

Since this was the Christmas season, I thought the call was some sort of gift from beyond. But I was extremely busy and could not go to North Carolina to visit. Two weeks later, he passed a way. A few weeks afterward, his wife passed away. The pictures never arrived.

But I took this incident as some sort of strange signal that I was getting close. Even though it was a literal dead end, the experience reminded me that I needed to be faithful.

The next step was Facebook. I found a group on the social networking site called The Shiell Clan. There are relatively few of us in the world. Even though none of the folks matched the description of my brother, I posted some basic family tree info and waited. Occasionally, I googled my last name, checked ancestor.com. My genealogical friends occasionally reported their lack of findings; but generally I just wondered, hoped, and kept his myth alive.

On the week of my birthday, I received an email early Friday morning, October 2, which read, "I am most certainly your half brother David, son of Hilda, our father's first wife." After years of searching, he found me.

We talked that day for about an hour, shared stories that neither of us knew. David's mother Hilda is still alive and well. He grew up in Miami and returned there to become a Pathologist. He is 51 and married to Isabelle de Gaulejac Andrews. He has two sons, Thomas and Vincent Andrews. Thomas is on the development staff at McGill University in Montreal. Vincent is a student and sailor at Cornell.

David has been an only child his entire life and has quite a story to tell. But it's his to share in his own way.

Today I am boarding a flight to Miami to meet David and Isabelle. Thanks to a gift from Matthew Evans for my birthday, I am going to be able to meet my brother today. He, Isabelle, and Thomas plan to visit us for Thanksgiving. The Shiell clan-- at least the ones closest to me-- are planning to welcome these new members of our family at a big Turkey dinner at my cousin's house in Crossville.

Over the last few weeks, I have been overwhelmed with reflections on family, God's providence, blind alley's, and mystery. If David had not reached out to me, he would have never been found. And somehow I think if we had not looked faithfully, he would not have found us. Or at least, right now that's all I can put together.

But I do know this, some things come out of the blue and touch life in ways we never imagined. And when we they happen, they are even better than we ever hoped. This is one of them. Because I just became a new uncle, for the first time last night, I addressed birthday cards to my nephews that have been waiting 20 years to be sent. It's a new chapter for all of us.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Salty Sacrifice

The metaphor of salt, used only 6 times in the New Testament, is usually associated with the work the church does outside the walls. We are the "salt of the earth" as Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew. Before we shake outside the dispenser, Jesus said we had to salt each other.

Salt was not only a preservative for things outside the shaker. Our word came from the Roman practice of the "salarium." Officers paid soldiers a salarium as their wages so they could purchase salt. "Salary" and "salt" share a common latin origin. In fact, our expression, "Are you worth your salt?" echoes the tradition of earning your wages.

Christians are given the salt of trust to share peacefully with each other. We are paid in trust and we give others our trust. In Mark 9:45-52, Jesus uses salt in the context of the work the community of disciples performs inside the shaker. We "have salt among ourselves" by exhibiting trust in each other.

Moving in 65 Directions Simultaneously

Is it possible for a group of people to move in 65 directions at once? First Baptist does it every day, and we're quite good at it. We're organized about it, but we have no plan for it. We know it happens, and this scattering actually makes us who we are.

Before I explain how and why, you might recall that Jesus assumed that the church would act like salt and light. We would go everywhere spilling and sparking ourselves into the dull and dark places of the world. The church, just by virtue of its service in the world, and its need to move out from closeted spaces, simply adds zest and color to God's space.

The First Baptist version of salt and light cranks up the engines, waits at the bus stop, and opens car doors every day to do precisely that. Our church moves simultaneously in over 65 directions each morning just to go to school. Michael McEntyre and Susan Tatum have recently updated their information about the students who attend church here on Sunday morning. What we do on Monday, however, is quite fascinating. With no plan from headquarters, we move out in an organized orderly fashion to over 65 campuses as students and educators. We attend 20 high schools, 20 middle schools, and 25 preschool and elementary schools throughout East Tennessee. We are Smoky Bears and Bulldogs, Rebels (both kinds) and Spartans, Private-, Home-, Public-, and Pre-Schoolers of all stripes.

Educators and students scatter across this corner of the world, and we do one thing. We live the church. And that's exactly how Jesus planned it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Finishing First in Service

Competition drives so much of our society, but it's not the m.o. of the kingdom of God. Jesus actually talked about finishing first. But first place for him was a "First" at the bottom of a very long list of servants. It meant setting aside the impulse to win and to look for ways to carry others.

A life centered around competition creates envy and jealousy. But a goal of finishing first in service leaves room for a rivalry of love. See this article about women from Western Oregon who illustrated how we might begin the journey to a new kind of first place.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Perseverance or Resilience

I love perseverance. I grew up on it. You buckle down, you work hard, you keep going. You overcome the enemies. You do as Hebrews suggests, "throw off what hinders you" and run the race. Perseverance works when you are in control of your problems and when you have the power to get rid of what oppresses you.

But what if you don't? What if the weight on your back is placed there by an oppressive boss, neighbor, family member or disease? What if you can't control what's hurting you. That's where resilience comes in. Little discussed in scripture, but often used, resilience is the quality of "bending but not breaking," of bouncing back. Resilience feels like those spongy balls that you squeeze to exercise hand muscles. They take their original shape after you squeeze tightly.

The Psalms sing of resilience as much as perseverance. In Psalm 129, for instance, the Psalmist speaks of a time when the oppressors were on the backs of the people with little hope of release. But somehow, some way, the Lord cut the cords. The people bounced back with new hope and trust in this saving God. Resilience is the quality we need when we're not sure they're going to get off our backs. Or when the work breaks our backs so much that only God can stop it and no amount of perseverance can change it.

Finishing First but Not Winning

Jesus taught his disciples how to finish first without competing against each other or other faith traditions. In Mark 9:33-41, he shows disciples how to "be first" in service.

We compete is against the very principalities and forces of darkness that use human rivalries to breed envy, jealousy, and scapegoats. By faithfully working downward to first place in service, we defeat the Enemy and trust Jesus to operate the scoreboard of faith.

See one example of this competition for service in an NCAA softball game that cost a team a victory but gave one woman a chance to complete her only home run.

Monday, September 21, 2009

25 Questions before Engagement

The most important questions in marriage are the ones asked before a
man and woman are engaged. Romantics speculate about a variety of
topics: “Is she/he the one?”; “Can I imagine myself with this person
the rest of my life?”; or “What will my parents or my preacher think?”

A person can be theoretically compatible with any number of
individuals in the world. The mythical “one person for you” is just
that. No amount of imagination or parental influence can prepare a
person for the daily commitments of a marriage. Abstinence, fidelity,
and a shared faith commitment prior to marriage do not guarantee
life-long commitment either. They are important in relationships but
do not function as a life time warranty of trust.

Three years ago, I picked up a suggested list of questions that
counselors should ask engaged couples. I have modified them to be
questions we should ask before engagement. With the help of trusted
clergy or a trained counselor, men and women can ask questions that
lead to deeper discernment.

1.) Would you change anything about the other person and why?
2.) What annoys you about each other’s parents or siblings?
3.) Have we been completely honest with the other person about our
previous relationships?
4.) What debts are you carrying into the relationship? Who will pay
for this debt and how?
5.) How will finances be handled? 1 Bank account or 2? Do we share
the same views about debt, retirement, and insurance?
6.) Do you have a will? Have you discussed with each other how you
want to be treated should you become incapacitated? Have you signed a
medical power of attorney?
7.) When will you take out a life insurance policy, and who will be
the beneficiary?
8.) Where will you spend Thanksgiving and Christmas?
9.) Will there be a television in the bedroom?
10.) Will you work outside the home? If one or the other is offered a
better position in another state, will you be willing to leave your
11.) If you have children, will one of you quit your paying job? If
so, which one?
12.) Is there anything you are not willing to sacrifice for the other person?
13.) How do you plan to communicate your schedule with the other
person? How often do you need a night with “just the guys” or “just
the girls”?
14.) Will you have alcohol or tobacco products in your home?
15.) Have you argued and been able to resolve the conflict peacefully?
16.) What, if any, forms of birth control will you use?
17.) Will you receive money from the other person’s parents for help
with a car or down payment on a home?
18.) Have you made a list of household duties (cooking, cleaning,
yard)? Who will carry these out, and how do you expect them to be
19.) Do you have student loans? Who will pay for these or future
tuition payments?
20.) Do you want to have children; and if so, how many?
21.) Will you raise your children in a religious environment? If so,
which faith tradition and why?
22.) Have you deleted all internet dating profiles?
23.) Have you fully disclosed each other’s physical and mental health histories?
24.) Do you get along with the other person’s friends? Are you willing
to make friends with other couples together?
25.) How far are you willing to live from your family of origin, and
how often do you need to see them?

People change in marriage, just not in the ways either person expects.
Commitments are fulfilled with the many decisions made to keep
promises. We prepare with better questions.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Partnering, Collaborating, and other Ways of Doing Church Across the Street

The ecumenical impulse has never been stronger. The mechanisms, however, have never been more frail. The moment a person joins a church, particularity breeds togetherness. We want to say, "We are not alone," and yet we have programs and benchmarks for our fellowship. With multiple churches, ministries, associations, networks, fellowships, and conclaves competing for theological airspace, how do churches work together to demonstrate how Psalm 133 works: for people to dwell together in unity.

Three sprouts of partnership have blossomed over the last few months here at First Baptist. Most of you saw the first. We loved reuniting in September with our daughter church Mt. Zion Baptist. After the concert was finished, some people had enough freedom and humility to admit, "I didn't know they were once part of us." Togetherness does more than make you feel good; it offers an education in heritage.

Michael McEntyre has forged a partnership called Merge. Here 20 churches (Baptists and otherwise) work together to offer a youth retreat called DiscipleNow in the Spring. It seems that 1,500 or youth worshiping together work better than 50. But they also brought us Parent Merge, where newbies like me could prepare for the adolescent years ahead. At my table were experts like Ron Holcomb and Jim Decker to assure me that they were still learning as well. Parents across churches share the same concerns.

Throughout the summer, the Methodists invaded our building. While our Church Street neighbors renovated their kitchen, their homeless ministry worked with Herman Weaver and his staff to offer a lunch here. They did not want to let improvements shut down ministry during the hot summer. Church Street's minister Andy Ferguson gave us high praise for our hospitality on their television broadcast. We were happy to work with them and pleased to share the space and grace.

Last, six new churches have begun KidsHope programs at area elementary schools. With the work of Carol McEntyre and our Buckner partnership, more students will have mentors through Christ's love.

We might not see this kind of togetherness around a hymnal, baptismal, or communion table. But we surely sense this growth in the places that matter most: united around human needs.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Campus Tour

I'll be speaking next week for the college community in Knoxville. You're invited.

Wednesday night, September 16, 9:00 p.m.
Panhellenic building at UT
"The Cross" Worship Service

Thursday Morning, September 17, 11:00 a.m.
Pellissippi State Community College
Constitution Day
Topic: "Between the Walls of Church and State: Slicing the Cheese of Religious Freedom"

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Caregiver becomes a Care Receiver

Stephen Ministers train 50 hours to do one thing: to be there for the long haul when someone needs them. You would think this kind of thing comes naturally to people. As Christians, we're taught to love our neighbors as ourselves. We're also taught in the South to run by, say hi, and leave quickly. We're taught to fill in the silence with glib words pulled from the cliches of life. So Stephen Ministers spend as much time untraining themselves from bad habits to get to the root of what a believer does. Be there. And Listen. And ask great questions.

Margaret Woodhead was one of the first. She was part of that group of guinea pigs who take things when few know what they're getting into. After our first team of leaders came back armed and loaded for training, Margaret signed up. She took to Stephen Ministry like it was her very own. And it was. She lived such a varied life that her experiences probably prepared her for care giving as much as all those Sunday School lessons she attended. From parent, to hotel management, to telephone engineer, Margaret did a little bit of everything. She saved the retired years for a significant gift to the kingdom of God. She was commissioned as a Stephen Minister and became a caregiver to others. She was assigned confidentially to women who needed her, and she walked with them through their hurts.

But as the seasons of senior adult life shifted from independence to dependence, Margaret willingly laid down the mantel of caregiving to become a care receiver. She received help from two different care receivers as she took the long slow journey from health to Hospice to her eternal home.

When we gathered at the Veteran's Cemetery this morning to say a final comforting word to one another, Margaret's legacy was already speaking in and through this ministry. She left big shoes to fill as a giver and receiver. But that's what grace does to a person. You can't give grace unless you've learned to accept it. Thanks for showing us how, Margaret.

And if by chance, you would like to be a part of our next class of Stephen Ministers, applications are due by September 10. Please fill this out, and consider how you can be a part of this vital ministry at First Baptist.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Giving a Ride and Other Small Parts of Church Work

Church can be described as lots of big events. We run from retreats, to Advent, to Easter, from Sunday to Sunday. You can plot the movement of God on a calendar if you want.

Church, however, is really plenty of litle moments. Small, behind the scenes gestures of intetionality that make the big events possible, feasible, and do-able. Because church is about people caring for others in relationships as a community of love, the buildings and events are just signposts pointing to people working or collection points where people work.

For example, look at the process of getting two people to church. These two have driven themselves for years. They love the church; they would do anything for the church. Because of physical and mental limitations they can't make it as frequently as they want. Neither asked for help; both gladly received the help when offered.

A team of intentional church people with eyes to see the need took care of the problem. Behind the scenes, Bob and Lorain Child, Bill and Betty Coley, Jo Cochran, Ed and Christine Dexter, Andy and Wanda Edmondson, Bill and Susan Higdon, Gerry Jack, Ray and Arleen Malcolm, and Jeff Sharp, work to get these two church members to church. They noticed that they were struggling. They made space in their schedules. They rearranged family lunches and post-church plans. They coordinated with family members, and they did the legwork of making sure bases were covered so that just two people could share fellowship with the gathered church. My guess is that there are many others doing this for other people each Sunday.

Little things do mean a lot; and lots of little things require intentionality and follow through in ways that a church rarely sees on the platform.

Keeping the Big Picture in Mind

Today marks the end of what I refer to as the "Silly Season." The two weeks when school begins are filled with more churchwide events than Advent. Excitement abounds, and the "Fall" begins with a flurry. From the big picture perspective, we've caught a glimpse of First Baptist life, what church people are doing to transform and engage the city, and marked celebration points along the journey here.

Here are some of the groups FBC people connected with over the last two weeks.

College students
August 18- Progressive dinner with college students
August 27- Maplehurst Park Block party
August 29- Dedication of Baptist Collegiate Ministry

Downtown Business Community
August 19, 26- Bridge Luncheon @ noon

African-American Community
August 22- History Walk
August 23- Joint Concert with Mt. Zion Baptist

Each Other in the 1B Family
August 20- Deacon and Spouse Picnic
August 27- Golden Notes Picnic and Dave Ward's 80th Birthday Party
August 30- Church Picnic

Parents of Teenagers from Area Churches
August 22- Merge Parent Conference

August 26- Fall Kickoff for Music and Missions
August 28- Movie Night

What does this mean? We've had a busy couple of weeks. We also have a great group of staff and volunteers. Behind the scenes on all these projects are two guys that seem to show up at more events than the staff: Herman Weaver and Jim Snell. They cook, set up, tear down, rearrange, and coordinate schedules for kitchen and building staff. They keep the 3-ring circus of events flowing smoothly. We have not had the kind of compatiblity between kitchen and building crews in a long time. One of the other is usually great. But rarely doe we have two who complement one another so well.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What the Other Boats Know: How God Rests in a Storm

In the ancient world, people used stories about miracle workers to show people how great they were, how they attracted more followers, what cool tricks they could pull off in a pinch.

Today if someone has a miracle, they put it on Youtube; if the Virgin Mary shows up, the place becomes a tourist trap; if a flame never dies, we make it a monument. Jesus miracles in Mark, however, are not this way. They’re not a sideshow for the carnival of faith; they’re not prayer requests on your list for Wednesday night; they are invitations to enlarge our picture of God. The disciples didn't experience them to answer the question, "What would Jesus do?" The more Jesus did, the less they understood.

We're not being asked to perform an exorcism, or calm stormy seas. We're invited to see this picture of God that Jesus is revealing and to enlarge our own.

In Mark 4:35-51, the disciples go out into a boat. Jesus, however, is accompanied by other boats. They are part of that nebulous group of folks showing up throughout Mark who are following Jesus outside the band of disciples. In this case, they know something the disciples are about to learn. They know that Jesus is going to show us a larger picture of God.

In this case, the God-man, Jesus, rests. Like God in creation on the 7th day (Genesis 1), he takes a nap. This isn't Jesus the "human," this is Jesus' full humanity and divinity paradoxically demonstrating his cosmic power over a storm by sleeping it off. Sovereignty is revealed in his restraint.

It's no wonder the disciples were more terrified after the wind and waves ceased. This man was simultaneously from this world and not of this world. And he was in the boat with them.

This means that some of the normal squalls of life are just that: normal. An emergency on my part does not constitute a crisis on God's part. Instead it calls for us to pay attention to what some of the other boats know around us. It calls us to recognize the presence of the God-man in our midst. In this case, if he's resting, you can rest. If he's sleeping, you can sleep. Like a parent who crawls into bed during a storm with you, sometimes Jesus rests beside us demonstrating the best response to some of the "storms" is a nice nap.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

#College students, free food tonight with our friends @ UT BCM. Progressive dinner. We serve @ 6:15.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back to School after Retirement

Emagene Reagan is going back to school...after retirement. This is where vocation intersects with calling, fulfillment, and an encore opportunity. Great story in the Mountain Press about one of our own.

Higher Math

Let's do the math. 1+1=2. Except in relationships. How many people does it take to befriend a church person? If you walk into the room knowing the drill of church but new to our shop, probably 8 unique contacts from people. If you're a complete stranger and have never been to church before, we need a different formula entirely.

In the old days (did I just call myself old), we had all kinds of gimmicky lines, "Each one, reach one," "Bring a friend Sunday," presuming of course that one person knew everything to say about life, faith, and yes, the ultimate example of your walk with Christ, church attendance.

But what if we had a higher form of math? What if it wasn't an equation? What if we could mix the skills, personalities, and even opinions of people to introduce them to the whole life of Christ? Since no one person has a corner on the market of answers, or the life of Jesus, we need more people talking and engaging one person, rather than one person focusing on a stranger.

Consider the math of our mentoring program called Circles of Concern. This is part of the Knox County 10-year plan to end Homelessness. Here 5 First Baptist folks share life with one person. No one hands out money. They help navigate the waters of utilities, housing, jobs, healthcare. You name it. These friends support. They provide relationships, prayer, and most of all wisdom. No individual can help someone into sustainable living. Five people with a passion can use their networks to invite others into the cause. Instead of 1:1, 1 person helping someone in need, 5 or more help 1 person. It's a 5:1 ratio.

Could you do the math in other areas? Sunday School classes doing life with 1 new member in the church. Parents adopting college students to show them the ropes along the way. Lives touching lives, not 1:1, but as many as needed to spread the load tap the best gifts and skills that people need. That's an equation worth celebrating.

Enlarging the Circle

What do these folks have in common?

Sydnor Money
Mary Helms
Aldena Phillips
Ruthie Johnson
Jeff and Julie Sharp
Pat and Mike Harper
Benna Hudson
Jeannie Maples
Joel Maples

They share a passion to end homelessness. They desire to make a difference. All of them are doing something about it. And they're not the only ones. They were, however, trained to be a part of First Baptist's Circles of Support mentoring groups. Two teams of five each are mentoring a man and a woman who are no longer homeless. They are, however, ready for the full abundant life of following Jesus. They need more than a good word; they need good news.

Circles of Support is part of the 10-year plan to end homelessness for Knox County. We are the first Baptist church to participate, but we're not the first church to do Circles of Support. We join with the larger ecumenical faith family to help with all the things that you find in life when you're falling through the cracks. Job placement, medical support, transportation, utility installation. You name it; we help with it. Put all that together with people living out their faith, and you have a power prayer team that answers most of their prayer by doing some great work. Pray for this team as they enlarge FBC's circle of love.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Confirming, Affirming, Ordaining

On Sunday night, we ordained one of First Baptist's own to ministry. Ordination is to Baptists what Graduation is to College. You've got the degree, but the ceremony says what has happened already. We go through this rite of passage because of what is whispered in the ear and shared to the heart. As Bill Leonard challenged us, the early Baptists knew best. The gathering of the believers conveyed and confirmed the presence of the spirit. We touched base with Thomas and others who trusted the words of 1st century women about as much as society does today. In this case, however, we blessed a woman's work in whom we can trust.

Emily is a third generation minister. If ministry can be a family business, the Hull's would be in a skyscraper. But it's not, and it can't be. This is as individual, personal, and private as the salvation moment itself. In fact, family connections probably fight against ministry more than we realize. The preacher's kid resists a call more than the average person to make sure that it's not just what "Momma wants," or what is most familiar to the person.

As the line snaked around the historic sanctuary, I enjoyed several warm moments. On the platform, I sat next to Bill Leonard who willingly put up with my pontifications as a know-it-all undergrad. He pushed me to meet Glenn Hinson. My senior thesis was supposed to be the beginning of a good treatment of his work. Hopefully someone else has written it by now.

I watched the line filled with senior adults, single adults, and seminary adults. These cohorts and clusters called to mind the goodness of a church, the blessing of a community, and the trust and faith that God is still whispering in the night to women and men. And sometimes we get to bless those who got up, moved past their Eli, and said yes to the open door.

I saw another line form in my head. The group of men that snaked around First Baptist, Pensacola, FL, to breathe on me some words I've long forgotten but from which I still draw in the recesses of the soul. It was much different then, but that was still good and meaningful and necessary. Graduations are nice, but ordinations are grace. God's grace to us.

Relocation and Repentance

Realtors cause problems, and we like it that way. It's been awhile since I've moved, and I don't plan to move for a long time. But I've been reflecting on relocation since so many of our college students are moving over the next few days. The U-Hauls are rolling. It's just preparation for the time when one day, they want to experience the "American dream," take out a sub-prime mortgage, and relocate.

After a year of trying to sell "by owner," you finally make a decision. Call a person who will make a lot of money off you. Your realtor. But you call her because she will tell you something no one else can. The truth. After the tour and inspection, a good realtor has the courage to tell you what must be fixed, repaired, and replaced. That 1970's countertop- gone. The landscaping you've put off-- plant shrubs. The brass kickplate on the door-- polish it. You invite the realtor to help you make changes. By the time that you have invested $20,000, you say, "Why didn't I do this a long time ago so someone else could enjoy it?! This is a great house."

The Christian equivalent to relocation is repentance. Not the decision to move (much easier). Not the regret over waiting to relocate. It's the process of going from one place to another. The fixing, replacing, boxing, repairing, changing that requires a life time consult from the city of Zion. Believers understand that they have been given to the world in order to relocate home again as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. They are on the long slow process of change, divesting oneself of the trappings of society. And moving toward a new city. They move toward a place that feels like home. And they experience the joy of repentance.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

We bless school supplies for needy families in South Knox & commission educators and over 30 mentors of at-risk kids today @fbcknox.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Against and With the Wind

I love running on the beach during vacation. The shoreline stretches for miles, and I enjoy the packed hardened sands of Hilton Head beaches. The waves offer a sound and sights display unlike any other. The problem, of course, is the wind.

This year, when I ran along the shore, the wind seemed to blow with gale force against my face. Running on vacation requires some degree of motivation anyway, and this year was no exception. This was not how I wanted to be greeted by the sea. "No problem," I thought, "when I turn aroud things will be fine. The winds in my face will send me back to my point of origin."

When I reversed course, however, the laws of physics took over. Or maybe they were Murphy's laws of running. The wind at your face feels much stronger than the wind at your back. When I started back, all I felt was the faint breeze blowing. With a sweaty shirt, and an even hotter head, I struggled back wishing I had brought a bottle of water for my thirst.

In life, we know what it's like to feel the wind in our faces. We don't have to be reminded of the gale forces. Just because we turn around (the New Testament calls this repentance), however, does not mean we are guaranteed an adrenaline rush of spiritual wind. Sometimes we get a sweaty slog of faithfulness. So we are then invited to enjoy the show. God offers us waves of grace and guidance to wash ashore that keep pace with life. And it's ok to slow down too. You're on a vacation that leads back to a vocation.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Some things in life are free. FISH pantry open this morning @ First Baptist. Free bag of groceries per person.

Friday, July 31, 2009

What are the best movies in the last 2 years on the practice (and perils) of church ministry? I'll start-- "Doubt" and "Grand Torino". Your thoughts?

The Lord's Supper is a rite of passage. New believers share their first meal in a faith family. The church demonstrates how God delivers

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Birthday Gift for Baptists

Baptists have not always held a majority in Knoxville. From our beginnings in Amsterdam 400 years ago this year, Baptists formed a minority religious sect. The early colonies offered hope for freedom. Baptists found, however, that they needed more than just freedom of religion. They also needed freedom from other Christians.

As Steven Waldman wrote in his book Founding Faith, the question for the founders was not whether there would be Christians in America. The early settlers questioned each other’s brand of Christianity. People wanted liberation from the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. One thought the other was going to hell, and both of them assumed that we Baptists were living there already. Virginia financed the salaries of their Anglican church priests through taxes and unleashed a wave of arrests on those they deemed to be traitors, Baptist ministers. Massachusetts supported the Congregational Church through tax revenue. Baptists were not alone. Depending on the region, Quakers, Methodists, Unitarians and many others paid dearly for their decisions to practice faith by suffering imprisonment, mockery, and beatings—all from other “Christians.” The first place a Baptist could gather freely was in Rhode Island, but even this state had problems with Catholics.

James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and a coalition of others offered Baptists and our communities a gift. This remains a good birthday present to share today. The 1st amendment and later the 14th amendment guaranteed that federal and state governments could not prohibit or enable worship. The boundaries between the two institutions of church and state were guarded with the walls of establishment and expression. In between, the devout found enough room for radicals like us to thrive, governments to do their work, and for religious people to keep from hurting each other.

Religious liberty has been one of the great gifts of our founders to community. In public school education, for instance, religious liberty creates space for children to interact with people of different belief systems. Liberty allows students to express faith personally, gives faith-filled volunteers a place to serve, but avoids the conditions where the unfaithful are intimidated.

Liberty benefits the church as well. A rigorous, vibrant faith cannot be coerced. It can only be lived and believed as individuals in community with others. By creating a place for all forms of belief to learn from each other, we keep each other accountable to focus on our principles and relationships. Faith thrives when we do not depend on public dollars or coercion.

By sharing the gift of liberty, we avoid the problems so prevalent in European cultures. Until the 1990s in Northern Ireland, families chose public education based on religious preference and thus financed sectarianism. Children, however, who attended these Catholic and Protestant public schools knew very little about each other. Some argue that this was the root cause of violence that lasted into the late 1980s. Even though they have moved past these problems, intramural disputes among Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox still comingle with partisan pressures and public financing throughout the continent. The result? Very few faithful people and churches filled with more tourists than testimonies.

By 1843, two newspaper men from New Hampshire had arrived in Knoxville, borrowed a few members from outlying churches, began dunking in the river, and started my church. Soon these Northern Baptists would be caught up in much more than immersion. But the legacy of religious liberty is a gift worth preserving and sharing for the next generation of Americans.

George Washington’s letter to the Jewish congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, expresses this spirit: “May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while everyone shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

This column will be published in the Community Columnists section of the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Sunday, July 26.

Join us on Sunday, August 16 as the choirs First Baptist Church of Knoxville and Mt. Zion Baptist perform together in Concert celebrating our common heritage as churches.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

@nytimes Brooks-You don't succeed at [high achiever] level without developing a single-minded focus, and struggling against its consequences"

Monday, July 13, 2009

@fbcknox Great day today @ camp. We are finishing supper. Service tonight @ 7 CT. Group leaves for home tomorrow morning @ 8 am

@fbcknox Great day today @ camp. We are finishing supper. Service tonight @ 7 ET. Group leaves for home tomorrow morning @ 8 am

First Baptist was Youth group of the day http://beach.studentlife.com/experience/group-of-the-day.php?cn=09ORBH08&pg=3953

On our way to morning worship and family group Bible studies. These are small group Bible studies for our students led by our sponsors.

First Impressions- A Public Faith

Seven floors above the Gulf of Mexico, a new day begins. The tide rolls in to wash out last night's footprints and prepare the way for new impressions. The early beach walkers, lifeguards, and tourists mingle on the sands. It's still cool enough to run through the sugary sands of Alabama's shore. The sea gulls swarm ready for the morning grab. The porpoises ride the waves effortlessly.

Inside 33 students go through the rituals of youth camp. The rite of passage from late night doritos to early morning grogginess. Long-winded sermons and even longer music designed to meet them in a deeply personal moment that only an adolescent can know and only sponsors open and willing enough to be here can experience. It's another step when faith goes from personal to public.

At church, we do our best to make the jump from a parental faith to a personal faith. It's the challenge of being a baptist today. Parents make rules that are easier followed with the body but not the brain or heart. Camp is desgined to take the personal statement of faith and for one week invite a student to publicize it. This is a place where all your peers believe in you and want the best in you. And they reflect a glimpse of what God is cheering for. Here God calls in the safe confines of the beach, staged, rehearsed, and expected-- to awaken a student to the possibility that the next time God calls, it won't be on such friendly or feel-good terms. We need these weeks because we need Sabbath, and we still can't figure out any better way today to recreate a place where faith, friends, mentors, and Jesus can all mash together.

Jacob found his ladder to heaven in a dream. These students climb 7 flights of steps to live that dream.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device from U.S. Cellular

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I made it to Orange Beach via Mobile airport. I will be updating live from youth camp for a couple of days.

I am off to youth camp @ Orange Beach, AL. Tough assignment!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

First Impressions- Summer Reading in the City

Nehemiah challenges us to take an infrastructure project (a wall) and think how God could use the tangible to renew the intangible- the lives of those in our neighborhood. In our case, we have a new platform that gives us the chance to dive into the lives in our community. But as you jump into the pool of need this summer, grab a book along the way. Several resources have educated me for this series, and I hope you will learn from one of these.

Robert Lupton wrote the little exposition of Nehemiah entitled Renewing the City. The first half is narrative explanation of the book. The second contains theological themes. Scattered throughout are fascinating stories from his work renewing the city of Atlanta and his work with his urban renewal group, FCS Urban Ministries.

Another Robert (can there really be too many Bob's in the world?), this time Robert Linthicum, wrote a book about city renewal called Building a People of Power. You might recognize Lithicum; he was the president of World Vision and has done city transformation in Brazil, Chicago, and other places throughout the world. The book is part Bible study, part training manual, and part sermon. Linthicum moves so fast, you're exhausted just reading it. But it's a good tired.

Thirdly, WMU's publishing imprint "New Hope Publishers" has produced a very nice workbook on renewing a city called City Signals. Our staff read this for staff retreat, and we had some very engaging conversations around the themes. Brad Smith is the author, and if you enjoy doing Bible study in a workbook along with your regular reading plan, this is for you. Great for group study as well, and they offer an optional DVD to go with the book. Brad knows about ministry in a city because he lived in a rough neighborhood in Chicago and practiced ministry in the worst kind of conditions.

Fourth, I will do a bit of shameless self-promotion for my little journal that I assist with through Baylor University: Christian Reflection. A few years ago, we published a volume entitled "Cities and Towns." We focused on the changes in cities, the new people moving in, and the role of churches like ours in the cities across the world. Best of all, if you have an internet connection, you can download the entire volume for free from their website. The real credit goes to Robert Kruschwitz (another Bob), Heidi Hornik, and Norman Wirzba who did the bulk of the work. I am just happy to be associated with the group.

Thanks for your responses and questions along the way over the past few weeks. I'm ready to dive in. How about you?

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Students who build outhouses, love gypsies, and share Christ. Hear their report in worship Sunday @ 1st Baptist. Live webstream @ 11

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Preaching workshop today @ 3. Book signing @ 9. Hope to see you in Houston @ Brown Convention Center. #cbfassembly

Monday, June 29, 2009

First Impressions-- A Straight Path through the City

Which is more surprising? How wonderfully the new I-40 traffic flow, or how smoothly the transition went?

When I arrived in Knoxville, I thought our state flower was the orange barrel. I-40 was a parking lot from Papermill to Cedar Bluff Road, and rumors were floating around that "they" were going to close the interstate downtown. No sooner had TDOT expanded the interstate from 4 to 8 lanes in West Knoxville than traffic downtown came to a halt. They re-routed all through traffic in a plan called "Smart Fix I-40" to straighten a road through the heart of downtown. We planned and fretted over what impact the closure of downtown would have on traffic Sunday morning and programs Wednesday night for 19 months.

Our worst fears were never realized. In fact, traffic improved during and after construction. So many people detoured around the center city that we downtowners had smooth sailing all the way to 1B. The only time decrease in traffic came from gas prices higher than $3/gallon. There's nothing like paying more for fuel than for milk to make a person flip on the television and catch it live.

What's the lesson?
1.) We could certainly hope for fuel prices to stay under $3 forever (not likely)
2.) We could learn the lesson that most of our fears are never as bad as we imagine. Anticipation of change is much worse than the change.
3.) We should be grateful for people in public service who make our lives easier.

Isaiah prophesied about the road through the wilderness. This Smart-Fix made our paths straight and set our minds at ease.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

fbcknox_croatia: If weather holds, we leave at 7:30am to try and build 10 outhouses in 1 day! Pray for a miracle. Seriously

Monday, June 22, 2009

I have been working w/ the phrase "enter into the joy of your master" (Matt 25:21,23) Do you enter the Master's joy? Share your thoughts...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

First Impressions- Pee Wee Summer

The final play of Pee-Wee baseball ended on a double play. Parker's Red Team beat the Gold Team 10-9 in the bottom of the 6th. On this hot sticky day on the banks of the river in Sequoia Hills, however, another little boy was playing for the first time without his mother.

This space was supposed to be a season-ending column to thank Vance Link for another year of throwing pitches to 6/7 year old boys. Vance puts together a little two-day triple dip for the 7 year olds who will move up to Little League next year. We play on his field--Link-House field-- where he first played as a Knoxville boy. It would be enough to thank Vance for another great season. But he and his helpers go over the top with All-Star uniforms, public address announcements, and music in between innings. It's a Major-League-Style moment for the Pee-Wees-- and their parents.

Gratitude took a deeper and more sobering turn Saturday morning. Nancy Feist passed away suddenly early Saturday, and 5 children were left on this earth without their mother. I didn't know Nancy, but many of our folks did. She was a devoted Catholic. She and her family were Little League lifers. And one of the members of the gold team was her 4th child, Craig.

Vance Link broke the news to us Saturday morning. We were midway through the 2nd game of Parker's tournament. The first game was the night before. The 2nd and 3rd games were on Saturday. Craig Feist was on the field Friday night. He wasn't on the field at 9:00 a.m. for the sad announcement. Vance led us through the shocking news and coached us through what to do, how to feel, and how to respond as best we could. After a period of prayer and silence, we did the thing we knew to do. We played ball. By 1:00 p.m., for the 3rd and final game, some friends brought Craig so he could join his team for the last game. He batted first and played catcher. Vance introduced each member of each team as if they were future Hall-of-Famers moving up to the big leagues. For Craig Feist, the only thing a heavy-hearted crowd could do was cheer, and pray, and hope.

God's gift of living one day at a time is also a risk of tragic endings and great beginnings. We don't know when they are coming from either direction. But there was something about a beautiful spot and a great sport that made this the best place to be in such heartache. And we were all taught Saturday how to face grief with class and tears by one man who's been throwing and catching balls for 38 years. Thanks, Coach.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

From the team-Croatia welcomed them with 55 degree weather and rain. Quite the shock! See them on Skype tomorrow @ 8:42

The team is safely in Zagreb. Pray for a key meeting today with gypsy leaders

Friday, June 19, 2009

17 students taking justice to Romani people in Croatia. What can 5 outhouses do for the gospel in a community? Follow @ fbcknox.org

At the airport to see the team off. Please pray for safe travels and that all our supplies arrive with them.

Live from Croatia Sunday @ 8:42. See a report from Michael McEntyre on Skype during worship @ First Baptist

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Nehemiah’s Spiritual Formation of People

Spiritual Formation in Nehemiah

1.) Confess sin.
2.) Organize relationships where God has placed you around serving those in authority over you.
3.) Scout the project and reflect.
4.) Rebuild infrastructure first, study later. Get people moving in a project so that they can see the work, have success, and learn where their strengths and weaknesses are.
5.) Confront the powers. Use the project to expose the powers, and name the issues. There is as much danger in doing good as doing nothing.
6.) Bring justice by taking care of little old ladies and orphans. Follow the iron rule: "Never do for others what they can do for themselves."
7.) Let the Bible read you. Commit with new vows of time (Sabbath), generosity (money), and relationships (marriage). Scripture comes after the hands get dirty. Use the lessons learned from the project to guide thinking as you listen to scripture.
8.) Neighbor the city. Use principles you've practiced before to neighbor (as a verb) the city. The Golden Rule with the Iron Rule. Ministry centers on the assets of the community, not the perceived needs.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Keep up with the First Baptist Knox youth while they are in Croatia on Twitter @fbcknox_croatia more info at http://www.fbcknox.org

Tonight @ 6- Salvation in the Shack: Relationships need more than people. They need institutions and belief.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Why would 17 high schoolers from Knoxville build outhouses in Croatia? Find out here: http://fbcknox.org/missions/youth-croatia

First Impressions

Can you imagine a world where 99% of the people are unemployed in any
official work; 50% of people work in some kind of black market
occupation, 90% of families have an alcoholic living at home, 75% of
wives are physically abused, 80% of children start school, less than
1% graduate from high school, less that 20% finish elementary school.

This is the world of the Roma people. We call them "gypsies" for short
because their tribe has lived a nomadic lifestyle from India to
Western Europe. They stretch across the globe and repesent one of the
many unreached people groups in the world. They are maligned,
mistreated, and exactly the kind of people that Mary sang about in the
Gospel of Luke. She imagined a world that one day people like gypsies
would be on top, and that could only happen when the kingdom of God
breaks in.

That kingdom is colliding in northern Croatia. This is certainly not
the only place gypsy ministry is bearing fruit, but this is the place
where First Baptist has been a small part of God's work there. When we
began our ministry in Cakovec over 7 years ago, we helped Croatians
sustain and build a center to reach Croatians. That vision has grown
to help the Croatians deal with their version of poverty, race, and
justice issues. Through our work with other Croatian nationals who
serve as missionaries, Elaine Childs has developed a relationship with
more Roma people.

Our team of 27 students and adults will be working in two separate
villages next week. In both they will present the gospel with Bible
pictures and stories that cross cultures and worlds. In one village,
they will share the gospel through manual labor. They will build
out-houses for a village of 10 families.

All of this is possible through your gifts, support, through the cars
that park during ball games, and this year, a unique partnership with
the East Tennessee Foundation. Michael received a grant from a
generous family who supports local youth group projects through the
churches in East Tennessee. The foundation made it possible for these
outhouses to be built, and I am especially grateful for the

Follow and track their progress on our website, and join me in prayer
as we minister to people whom we believe one day will be so much more
than a statistic.

More info about the Team
First Baptist's Ongoing Partnership
Elaine Childs' Work in Croatia

Sunday, June 14, 2009

New photos on Flickr : 2009 FBC VBS (77) http://bit.ly/QbI65

Saturday, June 13, 2009

There is a difference between choosing to serve & being a servant. Servants surrender control & seek the best interests of those in charge

Sunday, June 07, 2009

First Impressions- Diving In

I attended my first swim meet last Monday ever. I missed out on the joy of this kind of controlled chaos as a child. Now we have an ocean full of meets and mania lined up for the summer for our 8-year-old fish named Parker. For many of these second graders, Monday was obviously their first attempt at diving into a pool from a platform. They stood above the troubled waters at their post and chose whether (or not) to take te leap like the rest of their peers. The platform gave them a place from which to jump. But the swimmer had to take the leap.

Like the summer swimmer taking his first leap from the safety of a poolside platform, we are building a platform this summer to prepare ourselves for the next leap. Our platform and complementary media equipment, organ, and expanded choir loft positions us with all the evidence we need to back up the next test of faith. The question asked of our project is, "What kind of leap will we take as a church family?"

In our Reaching Beyond moment, we are expanding our capacity and vision to minister in the center city. We'll always be located downtown; the question for us now is how involved will we be in the assets of our center city community.

Throughout our region we can find all kinds of spiritual pain. Most people (over 30%) who have no faith involvement or significantly decreased their faith involvement in the last year live within a 1 mile radius of our church. Knoxville rates 15% higher than the national average for households touched by divorce or death of a spouse. Most children in our community live in either single-parent households or live in multiple homes. The Knox County school system has 350 homeless children registered for school each day.

Is this the kind of pain we are positioned to respond to? God doesn't ask us to fix every problem or even to address every problem. But could this moment give us the chance to minister to people who are going through these kinds of transitions? The waters indeed are stirring.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Prayer first- then Travel

When Hanani reports to Nehemiah about ancient Jerusalem, Nehemiah does not pray for a wall. He confesses his and his family's sins to God.

How does confession position you to discern your call and responsibility?
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device from U.S. Cellular

Monday, June 01, 2009

Shack Discussion- Audio Feed

Listen to the Audio feed.

The Shack-- The Place of Violence and Healing?

William Paul Young's The Shack is a provocative novel about the one man's recovery from the pain and tragedy of the worst kind-- abuse and murder of a daughter. The location of the Shack forms not only the center piece of violence but also is the headquarters of healing. He not only recounts the pain encountered by his daughter in the Shack, but the speaker/author goes to the place of pain to begin and continue the healing process.

Going to your place of pain is not for everyone. In fact, only people healthy enough should really go to that place if they are able...and only until they are able.

This Wednesday night, I'll be discussing this topic and raising these questions. I welcome your feedback now....

When is it right to go to that place? How does this work for you in the book? How does the location affect the outcome? Does it?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Platform Construction- Week 1 Report

This is from Russ Linger...

Today wraps up week 1 on the platform construction project. Much
progress has been made, and today two tasks will be performed. First,
the initial sub-flooring structural members have been installed where
the old organ console stood. This will allow flooring to be installed
in the choir loft and for the choir chairs to be re-located in
preparation for Sunday's service. Second, a major cleanup will take
place and black draping installed over the rear choir loft walls where
the monitor cabinets will eventually be installed. It will be obvious to
all on Sunday that something major is going on at the church!

The new organ console is being hooked-up as I write this. A team from
Colby will continue working over the weekend, but the organ will be
ready to perform on Sunday from it's temporary location on the main
floor level, to the left side of the stage, as the congregation faces
it. This will allow everyone a close-up view of the new console Sunday.
For anyone interested, sample of the new choir loft flooring will be in
the choir suite this weekend.

Week 2 activities include continued work on platform structure,
installation of monitor cabinets, and continued work on organ and pipes.

It's been a good week....everyone is on schedule, and no major
show-stoppers at this point.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device from U.S. Cellular

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Renewing a City with Nehemiah

The book of Nehemiah is a memoir of a construction effort on the walls
of Jerusalem. The story opens with a clever refugee trapped in ancient
Susa who leverages his influence to be appointed as a governor in
his family's homeland. Nehemiah supervises a process that leads to
spiritual renewal in the land. Because the people were reformed, they
read the law (not the other way around.) He was about doing justice
for people who were being mistreated by opponents of change in the
city. He was about setting appropriate boundaries for people. Nehemiah
was about reestablishing identity for a community ruled by outsiders.

This sermon series will guide our thinking as we watch the
reconstruction of our platform. As we replace the platform, we will
get organized with Nehemiah to reorder our lives. We will see our city
as the place that God wants us to do justice. We will look to reform
our lives so we can listen again to God's law. We will establish and
shape our identity rooted in the tradition of ancient Israel.

Because after all, it was never about building a wall. It was about
building a community of people.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sanctuary Platform Renovations

The Spiritual Life

We are living with the successful achievement of two modern myths here at the bottom of the great recession. These are the questions that people are trying to answer today. 1.) How can I make my life better for me, myself, my family, and my country so this doesn't happen again? 2.) How can I do that in such a way as not to offend you?

We know that’s preposterous. Humans are not islands so the world can’t be all about me or my people.

Humans cannot live a discernment-free life. We are told that we are either rich and poor, black, latino, and white, democrats/republicans, north/south, red/blue state. But in reality, based on the people that I know across the country, we don't fit in nice little boxes on a census form. We are a thousand different iterations of a thousand different views.

Playing the non-offensive game leads to greater judgmentalism. The only thing that people who are trying not to offend each other do is dogmatically agree on how offensive everyone else is. These are the questions that got us into this problem, and we certainly can't use them to get us out of our society's issues.

Some Christians have been pleased to accommodate these myths over the last 20 years. By retreating to the safe confines of Bible studies, bestselling self-help book clubs, and seminars, we have unwittingly withdrawn from the culture hoping for a better world to come. On the other hand, some choose to just take all their energy taught from faith, form a nice community non-profit keeping their churchianity to a safe hour on Sunday morning. Both of these forms of Christianity are important but cannot be ends in and of themselves.

Pentecost changes all that. The spirit of God is already at work in the world through one visible sign-- the believers in community together. Wherever two or three of you are gathered, you are showing the world a new way. By demonstrating what Jesus preached, and how churches like those described in 1 John lived, we are showing the world a better way.

We join in the victory over the myth of pride with self-sacrifice, generosity, and mentoring people in the love of Christ. We participate in the conquest by giving witness to what God is doing. We report like a herald on the field of battle showing and telling to each other that God continues to overturn society's values with a new all-conquering love through Christ's people. While society competes over the best condo at the top of the tower of Babel, we gently rescue children, orphans, and widows announcing the world, "the kingdom of God is here."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Stop-Doing List to End Chronic Homelessness

The next steps we can take to help our community achieve the goals of the Knox County 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness require no money, resources, or time, and less effort than ever before. These steps do not require a “to-do” list.
We need a Jim-Collins-style “Stop doing list.” As caring citizens, we need to match our good intentions with good outcomes. We need to evaluate whether our good deeds enable a problem to continue or lead to a reduction in homelessness.

Most people see needs and want to do something to fix them. We have learned, however, that this “needs-based” approach does not always fix the problem of homelessness. Just because a person is hungry does not mean he needs cash. Even if a person is thirsty does not always mean the answer is a free meal.

Social workers, faith-based groups, congregations, and agencies are collaborating now in an “asset-based” approach. This approach states that every homeless person has something she can offer, even if all she has is time. Everyone knows the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The asset-based approach takes the golden rule to the level of an iron rule: “Don’t do anything for others that they can do for themselves.”

The asset-based approach requires the helpers to change as much as the clients. Compassionate hearts must be joined with tough love and sustainable practices. To do so, we need a stop doing list: areas where your help is no longer needed.

1.) Giving cash with no strings attached. You know the drill. The pitiful-looking person gives you the sidewalk speech: “My baby is in the car (conveniently around the corner), and I need money for baby formula. Do you have a few dollars you could spare?” Most people have two reactions: pity and fear simultaneously. We pity the individual and are afraid of what would happen if we say no. Statistics tell us, however, that homeless people usually do not attack others. There are resources in the community for people to have food for babies. Formula, however, happens to be a commodity re-sold at higher prices to pay for addictions. A few dollars can go a long way to purchasing the street value of a rock of cocaine that ranges from $10-25. The best answer to the request is to offer to accompany the person to the nearest social service agency, but no means give money.

2.) Giving away food with no strings attached. We don’t need any more free food programs in Knoxville. Just in case you are considering one, agencies and churches offer 3 free square meals every day in our great community. On Sunday, some estimate there are 8 free meals. More free food enables dependence and drains the resources and energy from volunteers that could be trained to coach, mentor, and walk beside people. Local food programs should be evaluated. Are they helping us reduce the number of people in the food lines? Are these programs following Health Department regulations designed to protect everyone in the community?

3.) Sharing dingy clothes and furniture. As Ron Hall suggested at last week’s “Carry the Torch,” banquet, if you wouldn’t wear it, why would a homeless person? Let’s treat these people with the respect and dignity that they deserve. Clothes closets need good clothes, business suits, and professional outfits to give clients healthy self-respect.

By stopping practices that enable poverty, we give each other time, energy, and resources to focus on what works: relationships with people, mentors who walk beside those in crisis, neighbors who treat others with respect, and housing to stabilize the indigent. Let’s match our good intentions and generous hearts with great outcomes. Our homeless friends deserve nothing less.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Created for Each Other

We were made for each other. This place we called First Baptist is the
fulfillment locally of the dream announced in Genesis 1, a community
living out God's creative work together. Our church completes the
mission announced to the Israelites: to be a light for the nations. The
folks at 1B demonstrate through our lives what Jesus commissioned: "Go
ye therefore and disciple." According to 1 John, by the way we conduct
ourselves with each other, we show what Christ's sacrifice looks like.

As Stanley Hauerwas suggests, the most important thing the world needs
from us right now politically, socially, spiritually, economically,
and relationally is to be this kind of church. In modern terms, that
means more than becoming a member of a church. Culturally, the word
"member" sounds more like a fraternity rush or a civic obligation
renewable because the group provides a service to us or is a good
cause to join. The Christian notion of membership, however, suggests a
lifestyle change. I am using this term as Wendell Berry does when
referring to the Port William community's membership. We are the kind
of people who "member (as a verb) one another, that when we're
together or apart, we take a piece of each other with us. The
difference is not between who is a member who and who isn't but who
knows it and who doesn't."

This month, through the lens of 1 John, I'm asking us to renew our
membership vows we made to God and to one another. Community life in
Christ is so different than the paths we were on that we need the
review occasionally. Baptists are good at backsliding into the old
habits of life before joining a community. We fall back into the
patterns of individualism, family life, club membership, self-help
books, friendliness, and random acts of kindness. All of these are
important, but none of them represent the church.

First Baptist Church is a Christ-formed community of shepherds who
move from saved individuals into a community of the forgiven. We take
all of our family ties and learn to grandparent one another in the
faith. We shirk off the self-help advice of bestsellers and engage the
culture with the mind of Christ. We move past friendliness into a
radical hospitality that shapes us as apprentices in love. We allow
the spirit to take our random acts of kindness and form us into a
vibrant community together.

None of this sounds very easy to do, but that's precisely why these
times ask us to thing differently about the commitments we have made
to each other. We were made for such a time as this.

Friday, May 08, 2009

A Culture of Call

Check out the folks who have served as interns at First Baptist. Where are they now? God is using them across the country.

We're looking for more info. If you have served, or know of others, please let us know.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Loving the Church

Christians can't understand the life of Jesus without the church. The church can't understand Jesus without living out the Christ life to and for one another.

As people of First Baptist, Knoxville, I am asking each person to commit to a new kind of membership in the church. You won't find these commitments on the "new member" card when you join. These are the steps members take to and for one another as they grow in their understanding of Christ and their commitments to First Baptist. These commitments are an expression of love that we have for one another as reflected in the book of 1 John. Each step comes with a place where we are now to a place where we are going.

1.) From saved individuals to a community of the forgiven
1 John 1:9-2:2

2.) From multiple generations to grandparents and grandchildren in love.
1 John 2:7-17

3.) From members in a group to owners of a community
1 John 3:16-20

4.) From good advice to engaging the culture
1 John 4:1-6

5.) From friendliness to apprenticeship
1 John 4:7-21

6.) From random acts of kindness to the spirit-formed community
1 John 5:1-12

Friday, April 17, 2009

Croatian Baptist Pastoral Center

I've arrived in Cakovec, Croatia, for the Croatian Baptist Union Annual Convention. Michael McEntyre, Matthew and Zeb Evans are here with me. Matthew and Michael are scouting sites for the youth mission trip in the summer. I will be preaching tonight for the convention meeting and leading workshops tomorrow.

This is my first time here in two years. When I was here in 2007, the adults tiled rooms; the auditorium was still not finished; and the roof needed patching. Since then, thanks to the generosity of First Baptist and others, the roof is finished, the auditorium and foyer have beautiful marble tile. A large Croatian cross hangs on the wall of the auditorium. The room is illuminated by new light fixtures, and the insulation is complete in the auditorium.

This project is a great testimony to the 6-year partnership that FBC has had with the Croatians. We are even sleeping in rooms that our group tiled.

This summer the youth return for their second trip. Michael will be working with new gypsy villages that Elaine Childs has located. More about that trip on another post....

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