Headlines from First Thoughts

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!"

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