Headlines from First Thoughts

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ezekiel: God's Presence in Performance

Join us for my study of Ezekiel at First Baptist Church of Knoxville.

"God's Presence in Performance"
Wednesdays, January 9-February 6

12:00 noon
Trentham Hall
$6 lunch

Prayer meeting
6:00 p.m.

Ezekiel was a priest who became a street-corner prophet. He used pantomime, gestures, parables, and visions to call the exiled people in the ancient city of Nippur to repentance and fidelity to God. Wherever we are scattered, God is present with us. We respond to God's word and renew our lives when he hear and obey the message.

January 9
Act 1: Watch, Listen, and Gesture
Ezekiel 3-4

January 16
Act 2: Perform the Message
Ezekiel 17

January 23
Act 3: Shepherd the People
Ezekiel 34

January 30
Act 4: Re-member and Visualize God's Presence
Ezekiel 37

February 6 (Bridge only)
The Lord is There
Ezekiel 40-48

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pairing up to Believe #Advent

Some stories are meant to be together. At night, a bedtime story is shared between two people. In counseling, the minister and the client share confidential stories. Conference calls just are not nearly as personal as one voice speaking to another. In the same way, Luke tells the story of Jesus through characters paired together, some side by side, others in conversation. One character parallels another. Disciples go out two by two; two disciples walk on the road to Emmaus. In the drama of the nativity, the story happens in pairs of people who anticipate, teach, and demonstrate how to believe.

In Luke's account of Jesus' birth, you can find plenty of literary features. There are four hymns and two annunciations, two births, and two circumcisions. The characters are also paired together uniquely. They form doublets, running parallel to one another for readers and listeners to compare and contrast. Zechariah and Joseph are two fathers who perform their parts silently. Two mothers rejoice and sing the news: Elizabeth and Mary. The birth of two sons runs parallel to each other. The birth of John the Baptist anticipates the role of Jesus. Two sets of messengers spread the news: angels and shepherds. Two witnesses around the temple offer instructions, blessing, and warnings when they see the child: Simeon and Anna. 

One of the first artists to depict this motif was one of Leonardo da Vinci's students, Jacopo Pontormo. In his painting for the atrium of the SS. Anunziata in Florence, Italy, he paired Elizabeth and Mary with Joseph and Zechariah. These mothers and fathers (and their sons), bear the promise first described in Malachi. The messiah would "turn the heart of fathers to their children and children to their fathers." (Malachi 4:6). Luke elaborates a bit on that prophecy and states more directly that this would turn "the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17).

These doublets will shape each of my messages in Advent. We will compare and contrast these characters to prepare our lives for the coming of the Lord. We will look at their attributes, habits, attitudes, difficulties, and emotions. By doing so, we close the gap between the strange world of the first century and our world. We realize that through their emotions, frustrations, and fears, we share a life that was not meant to be lived in isolation. We live out the coming of the Lord with friends, parents, children, and messengers learning how to believe. Through the message of Advent, God invades each person's life and works in miraculous ways, especially when we share the story with someone else.

Above: Pontormo. Visitation. 1514-16. Fresco. S. Annunziata, Florence. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Heart of Knoxville receives donations for the Jones family

Many of you may have seen or heard about the unfortunate situation of members of our church, the Mary Cate Jones family and their potential eviction from their home. First Baptist has been in touch with the family and has agreed to accept donations on their behalf through our church's non-profit organization, The Heart of Knoxville, Inc
Checks should be made out to The Heart of Knoxville, Inc., and mailed to:
The Heart of Knoxville, Inc.
510 W Main St
Knoxville, TN 37902
Please include in the memo line: Jones Family.
Thank you.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

@fbcknox Graduates launch on mission

Today we commissioned our graduates. Thanks to Michael McEntyre and Jonathan Higdon for putting together this video.

Resurrection is our home in a world upside down. See Ryan Boyette as an example

Today in my message, I mentioned Ryan Boyette's ministry in the Nuba Mountains. Check out these links to his work.

Video of Boyette's work

Nick Kristof's story about Boyette

Ryan Boyette's Twitter feed

His Facebook page


Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Bearden High School @fbcknox Seniors Open a Door of Hope in South Africa

How do you measure the success of a church program? It’s easy to count inputs—registrations, attendance, money, and decisions. But the real measure is the outcome. What happens as a result of a group of people participating in studies and projects? Two ministries live on through the lives of three seniors in this year’s First Baptist class of 2012.

Anna Cate and Annie selling jewelry for the Door of Hope
In January, Taylor Burkhart participated in a unique poverty simulation as part of Disciple Now/ Merge weekend. The group learned what it was like to be a part of the 20% of the world that has most of the food and resources and the 80% who don’t. The world has abundant resources; relatively few share what the rest of the world needs. Through a simulated dinner of beans and rice for the impoverished, and steaks for others, the group learned to receive and give to each other. In April, Taylor took this experience on the road to Maryville Christian School students. Michael McEntyre and Taylor introduced the concept to the principal, and they conducted a living poverty simulation for the students beyond our walls.

Annie Pickle at the Door of Hope

Last summer, Anna Cate Hale and Annie Pickle encountered living poverty in South Africa. Each month 200 babies are abandoned by mothers and parents in South Africa. Some are dumped in rivers. Others are left in the open. An organization called Door of Hope is trying to change that. By providing a safe, anonymous way for people to leave their unwanted children, the Door of Hope ministry in South Africa receives, cares for, and places children into forever families. They literally build doors for people to place their babies and care of the babies that are left. Through their Leadership Class at Bearden, Anna Cate and Annie shared the mission of Door of Hope with their fellow students. They are seeking to raise $2,500 to launch a Door of Hope in Soweto, South Africa, to provide even greater access to parents so that baby’s lives can be saved.
Taylor, Anna Cate, and Annie are just three examples of how lives are continuing to be changed through this senior class. This month, we don’t celebrate them. We celebrate God’s work through them, and you can get involved in their mission.

To contribute to the Door of Hope Initiative, make checks payable to Bearden High School- Door of Hope. Mail to
8352 Kingston Pike  Knoxville, TN 37919. Their goal is $2,500.

Let’s give thanks to God for what continues to come out of this Senior Class. Pictured above: Annie Pickle and Anna Cate Hale sell jewelry to raise money for the Door of Hope. Below: Annie with a child at the Door of Hope in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Turning the World Upside Down #baptistsatwh

In the book of Acts, the church of Thessalonica made such an impact, that the local leaders said they "turned the world upside down." We don't have to look far for examples today.

Jeanette Barnes lived in public housing her entire life; but when a tornado devastated her home in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, one year ago in April, the city did not have enough housing for everyone. What was a city the size of Tuscaloosa, with FEMA and HUD resources at its disposal, to do? They did what governments, neighborhoods, and people have done for centuries. They turned to the church for support.

On March 7, I gathered with Pastor Tim Lovett of Calvary Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa; Robert Parham of Ethicsdaily.com; Ricky Creech of the D.C. Baptist Convention, and 60 other Baptist pastors. They came from every denomination in the Baptist alphabet- SBC, CBF, ABC, Progressive Baptist, you name it. We attended a "White House Briefing for Baptist Clergy," focusing on areas where the federal government works with local congregations and other faith-based groups to deliver aid where it is needed most. The Office of Public Engagement hosted us in the Executive Office Building of the White House. We dialogued about the issues of human trafficking, disaster relief, clean air and water, predatory lending, and immigration. We heard the concerns of the administration, and we shared our concerns as Baptists with the President's staff. It was a healthy, pointed, vibrant, non-partisan, civil dialogue as people working together for the common good.

As I listened, I realized there is so much that churches and government agencies are doing for people in times of crisis. First Baptist has several examples. With immigration, First Baptist has been on the border and with our Latino congregation; in education, we serve through KidsHope USA. In local disaster relief and recovery , we have worked in Macon County and with the Katrina evacuees.

Churches like ours are leading the way in these issues, and we can learn from each other how to impact lives and serve with best practices. Calvary Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa has been at the center of disaster recovery for over a year now. In partnership with the department of Housing and Urban Development, Calvary and the city of Tuscaloosa have repaired or rebuilt 80 homes. Jeanette Barnes was the first recipient of a home. Calvary was recently recognized by HUD for leading the way in disaster relief. Even more significantly, they have found their mission among the residents of the community. A tornado devastated lives; but through the power of the resurrection, they've turned the world upside down.

Picture info: A picture of Jeanette Barnes' community of Rosedale, Jeanette Barnes and the team of Calvary Baptist, Jeanette's home today

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

White House Briefing with Baptists

Greetings from Washington D.C. Today I attended a briefing at the invitation of Robert Parham of Ethicsdaily.com, Ricky Creech of the D.C. Baptist Convention, and the Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership department of the White House Office of Public Engagement. We met in the Eisenhower administration building with sixty pastors and representatives of the broader Baptist family. It was an alphabet soup of people in SBC, ABC, CBF, and other congregations in the spirit of "Goodwill" Baptists. We came not to speak for our churches. We came to speak to the administration about significant issues and to listen to the White House's initiatives.

The topics included human sex trafficking, disaster relief, the housing crisis, lending and mortgage scams, and clean water and air. We heard from each other about critical issues going on in local congregations. We learned from the Obama administration about the faith-based initiatives that are taking root across the country. Fourteen federal agencies have a faith-based office at some level.

By law, the Office of Public Engagement is not allowed to be involved in election year partisanship. We stayed away from politics and focused on Amos's mandate to "let justice roll." We looked for the common good that all of us share.

Here's the original news piece about the story from ethicsdaily.com.

Here's a link to the White House office.

If you have not read the twitter feed, be sure to check it out.

Here are a few takeaways--
Within 48 hours of leaving home, one-half of runaways will be picked up for sex trafficking.

There are ninety Payday lenders in the City of Birmingham-- more payday lenders than Starbucks.

Churches can be actively engaged in declaring a Jubilee for those caught up in the mortgage crisis, student loan debt, foreclosure, and payday lending scams.

I am humbled to be a part of this group. I learned so much about the work going on around the country in churches just like mine. The conversation has just begun.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Fleeing disciples on the path through Lent

“But he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.” Mark 14:52

In the Gospel of Mark, the disciples flee Jesus when he needs them the most. They fit a theme, as David Rhoads suggests, that those closest to Jesus tend to be the farthest from loyalty.

The pattern starts with his family. When hearing that Jesus is in town, they try to seize him, labeling him as crazy (Mark 3:21). Eventually Judas, the rest of the twelve, a young man in Gethsemane, Peter in the courtyard of the high priest, the crowds at the trial, and finally the women at the tomb abandon him. All of them fled.

Jesus asked one thing of those around him to “be with him” (Mark 3:13-14; 14:34). They struggled with what that call entailed. The disciples, and many of those in the larger network, were not necessarily against Jesus. They were just never really for him either. They enjoyed the miracles, liked the teaching, admired the character, and took much of his advice. But the sign of the true disciple who was one who in the end was able to “take up the cross and follow me.”

Jesus’ call to discipleship challenges us to be for Him in the same ways that he was for the world: the many places, people, and ways that Jesus lived. This call sends us to touch the untouchable, love the unlovable, and cast out the evil in the lives and systems of our world. It means responding with humility over pride and peacemaking over hostility. When others would call for more war, preemptive strikes, and hostility, the life of Christ as we are reminded in the garden of Gethsemane puts away the swords and surrenders the weapons of power. This life resorts to prayer and sacrifice as the means to true life.

During the season of Lent, we are confronted with those same questions again. What does it meant to be “all in” for Jesus? No one would dare speak against his teachings or life; but if those closest to Mark are any example, we who desire to be close Christ today best be warned. The rare follower stays with him all the way. It’s in this season that God’s grace enables us to remain with him, even if we’re the only one left standing.

Image: James Jacques Tissot (1836-1902), "The Flight of the Apostles". Brooklyn Museum, New York

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How to spend 5 1/2 hours on I-81 on President's Day Weekend

When traffic stopped at mile marker 65 on I-81 East, I had no idea that we would be moving over five hours later.
Thankfully we were not involved in the tragic accident on I-75 in Jellico. We were simply taking a 28-hour roadtrip to Winterplace.

We have to choose our weekends wisely in the ministry life. Even Monday school holidays usually mean short trips to avoid taking a Sunday as a vacation day. They are precious and few. After the services Sunday, we loaded the mini-van, picked up a McAlister's Sweet Tea, and ate our PBJ sandwiches for a four hour roadtrip to West Virginia.

During "winter storm warnings," they tell you to take flashlights, blankets, and food for a year. I assumed those warnings were for unanticipated snow. I never really factored jack-knifed semi-trailer trucks into the equation. The snow started falling north of Kingsport, Tennessee. Visiblity was low but nothing unusual. Traffic was stop-and-go in some places. When we stopped at mile marker 64, in Wythe County, Virginia, we let the car run for about two hours, assuming the traffic ahead would start moving. This wait turned into more of a German autobahn stall. People were leaving their vehicles, wandering around. We even considered building a snowman.

The people ahead of us were tracking things on the scanner. We were trackinghttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif developments on the I-Pad and twitter. The Weather Channel was reporting from Wytheville. After two hours of waiting, we turned off the car, took care of the necessary things, and chowed down on graham crackers. Darkness was falling, and we began thinking through what a night might be like on the interstate. Fortunately, the snow stopped. I can only imagine what would have happened if a blizzard had dropped 12 inches of snow on us.

The boys had fun bugging each other, and we enjoyed teasing them with stories, songs, and silliness. At the four-hour mark, Parker made a palate. They played every itouch game they could download. Even the wrestling match was over. We cranked the engine and started watching movies again.

Now past five hours, we turned off the engine, leaned the seats back, and began to doze. About that time, the traffic cleared. We passed the semi, now safely on the side of the road, and decided to forge on to the hotel.

When we woke up the next morning, Parker was sick. On the way to the lifts, we saw the evidence. After a brief clean-up in the warning lane, we decided to head to the mountain. The next exit was for Winterplace.

By this time, if you were superstitious, every sign was saying to "turn around and leave immediately." But we're not, and we just go with our instincts. A stranger walked up. "I've got a couple of extra lift passes that we're not using. Would you like to purchase them? They're only $20 (regular $65 on a holiday)." A blessing in disguise? A sign from above? Or maybe just good grace. We didn't deserve the passes, but we were seeing snow. We bought two for the adults. Drake was free. We were going to ski.

We arrived at the lodge and decided to set up camp in the dining area, let Parker sleep, while Kelly and Drake skied. I stayed with Parker in the morning and switched with Kelly for the afternoon.

We left around 3:00 and were home by 6:30. We did not dare exit. Parker is taking a sick day today and recovering. And we are grateful to be home.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Generosity fuels transformed lives @fbcknox when a single mom becomes a social worker @buckner_intl

Wendy Woodward knows first hand better than any one else what it's like to receive help in difficult times. Through our community ministry, she prepares the way for others to change their lives. She is just one result of God's abundant generosity in 2011.

Last year, First Baptist surpassed budget needs by over $27,000 and ended the year over $156,000 over expenses. You gave over $1.9 million to the operating budget. This is the first time in eleven years that this has happened two consecutive years. So what happened as a result of your gifts? People like Wendy Woodward came our way.

Wendy is a social work student at the University of Tennessee's College of Social Work. She's so passionate about her faith, caring in her work, and thoughtful in her studies, she has been at odds with another non profit over the role of faith in her work. She came to First Baptist by her own admission "to gain experience in a Christ centered environment." She spent a semester with us launching a food co-op to assist families with a 45 lb quantity of food for $3 every two weeks. She has met with clients, and assisted with our Christmas Brunch.

She wrote to me a in a recent email: "My experiences as a struggling job loss survivor fueled my ability to help others in my role as the benevolence worker at FBC . Carol McEntyre and I have worked closely in assisting families who are struggling with financial difficulty and have helped individuals and families with food from the fish pantry who are living in their cars and in motels because families are now homeless due to rough economic times. Landlords have been forced to foreclose on rental properties which have resulted in several families being displaced in the area. FBC also assists with numerous energy assistance pledges because of the recent increase in energy costs in the area. In my research project this semester on U.S. public housing policy, I found a devastating lack of investment into low income rental properties in urban areas. This results in higher energy bills for lower income renters. I am seeing this same pattern locally in the majority of clients who call in for assistance from the church. Most have energy costs that are sometimes equal to or exceeding their rent in most of these older units. This is where God uses the benevolence ministry of First Baptist to meet the needs of those around us in our community. I also feel God has truly turned my tragedy into a blessing by giving me the compassion to assist those who are going through similar situations that result when resources are depleted."

Even though Wendy is a volunteer intern, the work is not free. The ministry comes because you invested through the budget in a Buckner partnership years ago, and the fruits of this work continue to flourish.

In 2012, we ask you to give again through the ministry budget of the church. The goal is attainable and virtually the same amount as we gave in 2011. Our priorities are similar to this past year but with greater focus on at-risk children and families, leadership training, small group Bible study, and worship.

If Wendy is any example, the way is already prepared for these priorities and many more to be accomplished right in front of our eyes.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Resources for helping you "pray the hours" (2day's sermon @fbcknox)

Today, I preached about finding the quiet, solitary place throughout your day. Here are some resources to help.

Websites and Apps:

The Mission of St. Clare
(Downloadable apps)

Book of Common Prayer (will send a daily email)

Take our Moments and Our Days

The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle (This is a series)

Common Prayer by Shane Claiborne

Google Search