Headlines from First Thoughts

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

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