Headlines from First Thoughts

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.

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