What Blew In With Matthew

hurricaneOne day last week, nearly two weeks after Hurricane Matthew blew through Wayne County short circuiting our power grid and crushing our houses with trees, a FEMA vehicle pulled into our front parking lot and four official looking people climbed out and stood looking around for a bit.  The government had arrived.  This is, I’m sure, what they found.

They found the people of Wayne County are self reliant, get ‘er done people.  They found that people here don’t wait for the government to come help.  They do it themselves.  They solve their own problems.  And then they pitch in and solve their neighbor’s too.  By the time the FEMA people were standing on our front parking lot I’m betting they were wondering what was left for them to do.  What needed to be done, we did ourselves.

It especially warmed my heart to see people from First Baptist Church out making a difference.  That happened in many ways.  As soon as the wind stopped blowing Christopher Thornton was out with his chain saw cutting up a downed tree that was blocking the road in front of his house.  Speaking of downed trees Fred and Damon Fender were out using the big equipment their company owns getting trees off of people’s houses.  And while we are on the Fender family Amy and her daughter, Sophie volunteered with Tabitha’s Place to make lunches for people who had no power and no food.  Other efforts to feed people took place in which First Baptist people played big parts.  Martha Rawls Smith Elementary opened its kitchen to the community.  More FBC people than I can name stepped up there including Amanda Phelps and Lynice Jackson.  When the community fed emergency workers Miki Thomaston and others played big roles in that effort.

A dozen or more people here cooked hamburgers, made sandwiches, and cooked spaghetti for the neighborhood around us.  First people grilled hot dogs and fed hungry people in one of Jesup Housing Authority’s communities.  Zach and a number of our teens connected with the kids there, playing games and sharing some love.

And that’s what all this was about.  As big a problem as Matthew was, Matthew was also an opportunity.  Matthew let us love on Jesup a little.  Matthew let us get outside the walls of our church and go into neighborhoods, meet people, love people, pray for people. Matthew let us be what the church is supposed to be.

Maybe, even without a hurricane, we can find ways to continue to be a real church for Jesup and Wayne County.

What In The World Is God Doing?

goodnewsI don’t know how carefully you listen to what you hear on Sundays or if you, after hearing, take what you’ve heard home with you in your brain and heart and then consider it, play with it and ponder it. That’s the best part of listening, the after part. If you have listened well and closely you may have heard this: We are trying to understand, really understand, what the Good News of Jesus is.

You may think we already understand it. The Good News is simple. Jesus died for us so we can go to heaven with him. Accept, believe, and you are assured of a home beyond the skies. Or maybe the Good News is, as you hear it, the road to peace and joy. Meaning and purpose and blessing are wrapped within it. Through the Good News our lives are filled with joy and the raveled sleeves of our lives are knitted up. True as well. I believe that.

But I believe the Good News to be more than going to heaven or having a therapeutic experience with God. We are in danger of losing the meaning of it. Darrell Bock, in a recent book called Recovering The Real Lost Gospel says the church “is in a fog on the gospel”. He says, “in many locales the gospel has gone missing, and wherever that takes place, the church suffers, God’s people lose their way, and the world lacks what it so desperately needs—an experience of God’s presence. Worse than that, people coming into the church lose sight of why they really are there and what it is they should be doing....An unclear gospel means trying to get somewhere unknown without a map.”

So what is the Good News? It is that God has returned. God’s back and he’s reigning as King. Through his son Jesus, God has entered the world and is dealing with all that has separated us from him, us from each other, us from the very world. By dying Jesus took on the guilt that separates us from God and took on the death that makes that separation final. And he made available to us the Spirit we were made to possess, made to live with and not without so we can truly be alive. The Spirit is actually the first, and best, promise of the Good News. The goal of the Good News becomes, then, not to get you into heaven but to get heaven into you. That’s what the Spirit is. The Good News continues on, restoring not just us, but finally even creation itself. In the words of Julianna of Norwich, “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” God is doing this through Jesus. That’s the News. And it is Good.

We are given the Spirit for this task. The Holy Spirit isn’t comforter only. He is Strengthener. Empowerer. To what end? This restoration God intends to do through, not around, his people. The Good News becomes, then, this: You get to share God’s mission to save the world for Jesus sake.

Let’s get started.

Running the Race

running the raceThe Olympics in Rio are over and they have fought the good fight; they have finished their course. Don’t know about you but I enjoy watching the Olympics.  Given the chance I will watch sports in the Olympics I wouldn’t spend time on if they were a part of any other competition. Badminton. Trampoline. Sailing. Okay, just kidding about the sailing, I love sailing.  But those other sports, not so much.

What is it that is so fascinating about watching the Olympics? For me it’s so many things. It’s watching Usain Bolt run with obvious joy and pleasure being in the moment. I loved watching him actually slow down and let a competitor catch him in a heat he did not need to win just so they could smile so broadly at one another as they crossed the finish line. I loved watching Simone Biles tumble through the air so high doing things no other gymnast in the world can do in a floor routine.  I love the human stories.  Michael Phelps shaking off suicidal thoughts after absorbing Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, coming out of retirement and winning everything again. Cyclist Kristin Armstrong winning an 18 mile bike race one day before her 43rd birthday and then showing her gold medal to her five year old son, Lucas while tears streamed down her face. I love watching people who don’t win but keep trying and never give up.  Derek Redmond in Barcelona tearing his hamstring in a race he was expected to win, falling, getting up, and then while leaning on his father finishing his race. It doesn’t take a very good preacher to find a sermon in that. Or in watching Gabriela Andersen-Schiess in 1984 willing her body, as she stumbled forward, to cross the finish line of the Olympic marathon. It’s inspiring to watch people heroically keep going.

There are life lessons here.  The Bible uses many sports metaphors.  “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured…”And, “Do you know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” And there are more.

Consider how you are running your race.  It matters.  What you do today matters.  Run hard. Run fast. Run well. 

Which Side is God On?

There is a strange moment in the biblical story of Israel’s conquest of Canaan. Mighty and massive Jericho looms at the gateway to the country. No way around it. To receive their inheritance Israel must go through it and that means war and battle. So Joshua and Israel are preparing to fight. The strange moment is this: Joshua sees a man standing in front of him, sword in hand. He is clearly a warrior. Joshua approaches and asks, “Who’s side are you on? Ours or theirs?” The stunning answer is, “Neither. But as the commander of the Lord’s armies I have come down.” And Joshua falls on his face and worships.

So much of our country is divided right now. Republican or Democrat. Trump or Hilary. Black or white. “Take a side,” I have been told. But I am troubled by the idea of sides. I am asking God, “who’s side are you on?” and I fully expect his answer to be, “neither.” He is not on the side of the police or on the side of those who feel abused and lash out with violence.

“But,” you may object, “surely God takes a side. God helped Israel destroy Jericho and so many other Canaanite cities. Surely God was on Israel’s side.” He says he wasn’t though. He says he wasn’t against the Canaanites either. What he was doing was working through Israel to accomplish his own mysterious purpose in the world. He was taking a necessary step in his plan to bless the whole world through Abraham’s descendants. Apparently, that story of blessing, like all stories, contains some dark, difficult to understand chapters.  Let us say this: God does not take sides against anyone.

What God is doing now is what he has always been doing. He is seeking to bless the world through Abraham’s descendent Jesus Christ. Our chapter of the story is not a dark chapter in the sense that while we have a battle to fight it is not against flesh and blood. There is no person we need to oppose any more than Jesus opposed the Jews who handed him over to the Romans to be crucified or the Romans who carried out the execution. He forgave and loved both. That’s how we fight the battle in our chapter. We love people and in doing so we seek to see God’s purpose in our day brought to fulfillment too.

When you choose a side, when you post or pontificate online, when you take a stand, do so carefully and wisely.  When you choose a side, you are inevitably turning those on the opposing side into enemies.  And God has no enemies. He only has people who haven’t been reached yet.

So Why Did We Go Down The River In The Dark?

canoe mikeSee the picture?  That’s the front of my kayak bobbing in the current of the Altamaha as the sun was setting in the west.  A group of men from our church were on the river, waiting for the sun to sink into the water and darkness to fall so we could start paddling from Pig Farm Landing to Jaycee Landing in the dark.  It did and then we did.  The moon was full.  Gators watched from the banks.  Owls hooted back and forth from one side of the river to the other.  It was beautiful and fun and epic and adventurous.  That’s why we did it.

We’re ramping up more in men’s ministry.  So look for more events like this.   A woman on Facebook asked me why in the world we would do this in the dark.  My answer, only slightly intended for humor was, “because every now and then men need to do something that makes women ask, ‘What’s wrong with you.’”   The rest of the story of why is this: men need to build camaraderie with other men.  And men do that best around action.  Give men something to do, a project, an obstacle to overcome together, and men will bond in ways they cannot by sitting in a room talking. That’s why we went down the river.  That’s why we’ll do more stuff like this. 

That’s why you’ll see not just this kind of event but you’ll see gatherings of men, adventures planned for men, men mentoring boys and young men, and men  reaching out in evangelism and mission in our community and beyond.  Gatherings, Adventures, Mentoring, Evangelism.  The GAME.  We are going to call men to get in the GAME  and in doing so get serious and be serious about being Christian men in the full meaning of both of those words.  So stay tuned for more information.

While on the subject of the river float a big thanks and shout out to Bill Headley, Wes Williamson, and Ignacio Palacio for organizing the trip.  Thanks men, and let’s do it again.