The Sixth Devastation

A confession: maybe I read the Gospels too much. Maybe I read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John when I ought to be reading Isaiah or Ezekiel. I can’t seem to help myself. I am fascinated with the stories of Jesus doing Jesus things. I am fascinated with his wisdom, his stories, his deft handling of small town Pharisees and Supreme Court Justices. I am fascinated with how when Jesus is around everything gets better. I am fascinated with what the world looks like when God is actually in it.

I know what the world looks like when God isn’t in it. I’ve seen it too well. You have too. Sin, that me first I’m in charge of my own life power, has wrecked and devastated the world. It has wrecked and devastated us. For a long time I’ve taught that sin has brought five particular effects: death, disease, demonic activity, disasters in nature, and depravation. You see Jesus in the gospels directly addressing each of these. He raises the dead, heals, casts out demons, stills storms, and feeds multitudes. When God is in the world the effects of sin are destroyed.
Ever had an “aha moment”? A moment when a piece of knowledge you should have had all along is given to you and you find yourself saying “of course.” I had one this morning. Here it is. There are not five effects of sin. There are six. The sixth devastation is division. Think how divided the world is. Think how early it began. Think of Adam and Eve, those two who were one flesh, and their immediate finger pointing once sin came. Think of how we still do the same. Think of how we take sides against people and brand them as enemies. And think how when we do we are proud of our righteousness and virtue. And then think of Jesus.

Think of how he healed and blessed Jews, Romans, Syrians. Or about how he chose as followers both collaborators and revolutionaries. Think about how he sat down at tables with rank sinners and self righteous saints. Think about how he refused to see anyone as an enemy; a “them” as opposed to our “us”. Think about how being like Jesus is healing division instead of creating it and celebrating it.

How do we heal it? Jesus’ message and example is to really and to radically love everyone. That includes people who are spiteful to you or who persecute you. It includes people who stand when you kneel and kneel when you stand. So what’s love look like? Look again at Jesus. It means time. Jesus spent time with the powerful and the powerless. It means affirmation. Jesus spoke upliftingly to all. It means help. Jesus refused no one who needed what he could give. It means forgiveness, even for those who are crucifying you.

Homecoming and National Back To Church Day

Two Sundays in September are Sundays we need you to be here whatever else may be trying to claim your attention.  Two Sundays that are special Sundays, right in the middle of the month: Homecoming on September 10th and National Back To Church Day on the 17th. 

Our Homecoming speaker this year is Stanley Todd.  Stanley and Barbara are well known to us.  The Todds were a part of First Baptist when he was ordained to the ministry.  Stanley has ministered to many families in our church in his role as chaplain for South Georgia Hospice.  And of course he serves many of us on the Jesup City Council.  Stanley is a fine preacher and I know he’ll do us proud in the pulpit on Homecoming. I know as well we’ll have a fabulous time of fellowship around a meal after church.  Please be here for Homecoming this year.

National Back To Church Day is a new event for us.  On that day we’ll be participating with thousands of churches across the country in inviting people to come to church.  On that day we hope to have scores of people who haven’t been here in a while to be back.  We also hope to have even more people who have never been here to come that day.  Lots of work is already going into this effort.  2,500 postcards are being mailed to people in our community asking them to come. We need volunteers to call everyone on our church role to let them know about this big Sunday and to ask them to come.  We’re planning a block party after church on the 17th on our back parking lot.  We’ll serve lunch.  There will be inflatables and games for the kids.  There will be awnings for shade and conversation areas for adults to give you a chance to mingle with and get to know new people who are attending.  We’re asking all our Sunday School classes to plan a fellowship event the week following National Back to Church Day specifically to include newcomers.  We’ll gather to visit newcomers on Monday evening the day following the Day.

National Back To Church Day is a big event designed to be a big outreach for First Baptist into the community.  There are many ways you can be a part.  You can help us call our church roll.  You can help us put out flyers in Wayne Terrace and the Country Club on Saturday morning the 16th, two areas our postcards will not be mailed to.  You can invite your barber, the cashier at Wal-Mart, or your neighbor.  You can be here too.  We want everyone to observe National Back To Church Day.

Homecoming.  National Back To Church Day.  Be here both days. And help us make both hugely successful.

Making Friends and Changing Lives

I’ve been reading the classic novel East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Steinbeck considered it to be his masterpiece, and many others agreed. It’s set in the years that span the turning of the 19th and 20th centuries though it’s based on Genesis 4, the Cain and Abel story. But that’s not why I mention it. I mention it because of the description the narrator in the book gives to one of the characters, specifically his mother, Olive. He says Olive had a distinctive way of dealing with facts that didn’t fit into her notion of how things were. She “obliterated them by refusing to believe in them.” These “nonexistent realities” included such varied things as airplanes and World War I.  She had no place in her thoughts for either, that is, until circumstances forced her to confront both.

I mention Olive and her way of dealing with airplanes because we have a similar way of dealing with one of our external realities. For us it’s people. We have long standing close friendships in Jesup. We like our friends. We enjoy being with them in our Sunday Morning Connection Groups. We meet them for lunch or for shopping. We have our circle. And then someone new arrives. They sit next to us in our Bible Study group. We talk about work, the kids, and then get around to the lesson. We’re friendly. Then church is over, we head for lunch, and those people become for us one of Olive’s external realities. They no longer exist. We go on with our circle of friends and the newcomers (what were their names again?) fade. When you meet your friends for lunch you don’t think of inviting them. You don’t call them to see how they are doing or to say hello.  They come back, a time or two, some for a good while even, and then they simply fade away. They’re an airplane or something else faraway and unreal. An external to our group reality.

When Jesus chose his disciples he chose them “that they might be with him.”  When two curious seekers asked him where he lived he said, “Come see for yourself,” and invited them in for the day. He later said to them, “I now call you friends.” Jesus’ strategy for changing the world was to pull people close and make them his friends. It’s our strategy too. But you have to help. You have to open your friendship circle to new people. They cannot remain left out. You must intentionally pull them close.

I once heard someone say, “No one comes to church to get involved but no one stays in church unless they do.” Involved in what? Ministries, making a difference in some way. But most importantly, friendships. It’s up to you to make friends for Christ’s sake.

Baptists, America, and Freedom

It’s July, the month of cookouts and trips to the beach. It’s the month of sunburn and gnats and remembering that winter wasn’t really so bad after all. It’s the month of patriotism and fireworks and celebrating America and independence. It’s remembering our heritage, where we came from, and why we came in the first place. We forget easily.

In the 17th century Pilgrims and Puritans came to America seeking freedom, specifically, the freedom to worship and serve God as their minds and consciences directed. In England they had faced persecution and even death because they had begun to read the Scriptures for themselves and to question the established order, the Church of England. They founded their colonies, built their churches, and then clamped down like a vise on any who would dissent from their views. The persecuted became persecutors.

One of the persecuted was Roger Williams. Williams came to America with the Puritans. Once here his study of Scripture and his disgust at how land was confiscated from Native Americans brought him into sharp disagreement with his fellow colonials. Roger Williams, the Puritan, was on his way to becoming a Baptist. Eventually he did become fully a Baptist in his thinking and beliefs and was invited for this cause to forever leave Massachusetts. Williams left and founded a new colony, Rhode Island, by buying land from the natives there. Throughout his life he would be the Englishman the natives trusted most. He founded the city of Providence and with it Williams started the First Baptist Church of Providence, which was also, truly, the First Baptist Church of America. In Rhode Island the government was limited to making laws about “civil things” and was forbidden from any restriction on religion. Williams believed in “soul liberty”, that each person was free to believe and think as he or she willed. Both these ideas became strong beliefs which would be woven into the fabric of what it is to be a Baptist. As a result Rhode Island became a haven in America for Baptists, Quakers, and even Jews, all of whom were welcomed by Williams. It’s not that he didn’t have strong opinions. He did. He argued vehemently against the teachings of the Quakers, publishing pamphlets in which he sought to expose their errors. But the Quakers remained free to practice and to argue back to their hearts content. You could say that America truly became America with Roger Williams.

We need to recover Williams spirit. America is a place of freedom where the government should not interfere with or limit faith no matter who’s it is, mine or my neighbor’s. Government must not limit nor prefer one faith over another, mine nor my neighbor’s. Besides, the Good News of Jesus is truth that has the Holy Spirit behind it. It needs no other power, no other help, than God’s and for his church to tell it to the world.

How To Go On Summer Vacation

        The calendar has flipped to June.  Summer.  The weather was ahead of the calendar by a few weeks.  The kids are out of school.  The teachers are catching up on their sleep.  And you are probably heading out of town.  Some of you we will see back when the weather cools, whenever that happens in south Georgia.  It’s time for time away, time off, time to do what you please, and time, hopefully, for rest and renewal rather than time to burn your candle down even faster.

God is good with vacations.  He built vacation time and rest time into his plans for you.  There is the weekly rest he calls a Sabbath.  By the way, “Sabbath” is from a Hebrew word that means “to stop”. Routinely we stop our work and do something that isn’t work.  We engage in pleasures.  We rest. We celebrate. We worship.  We do so because all the work in all the world needing to be done is.  It is finished.  We can finally rest.  God built other rests into our calendar.  The Jewish calendar is full of celebrations and gathers.  Three of the annual celebrations required travel: Passover, Tabernacle, and Pentecost.  The Feast of Tabernacles is especially interesting to me. The whole nation was required to for a week, move out of their homes and build little shelters to live in for a week.  The whole nation was told to go camping.   There’s more. There is the year of Jubilees every fiftieth year when the clock was reset on everything.  Debts were to be cancelled, prisoners released, land went back to its original owners.  Everything was the way it was supposed to be.  Happening every fifty years each person could see at least once in their lifetime, what God’s world was supposed to look like.

Jesus also seems to think rest is important.  When you study the life of Jesus, looking particularly at his travels, its interesting to note that  at least three times during the three years of his ministry he left Israel and spent time in Gentile areas.  Why would he do this when his ministry was focused primarily on the Jews?  The answer appears to be rest.  There are other places in the Bible where we see Jesus focus on rest.  In Mark 6:31 we are told there were so many people coming and going constantly to see Jesus that he and the disciples didn’t even have time to eat.  Jesus tells them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”  Yes, there are needs.  Yes, there is a world to save.  But sometimes you have to go away and get some rest so you have something to give it.

Here’s how to take a vacation. Go by yourselves, you and those closest to you. Go to a quiet place.  Go with Jesus.  Do not leave Jesus behind.  The goal is not escape.  The goal is rest.  The goal is recreation.  That last word, how did you read it? Recreation as play and laughter and fun or recreation as renewing and rebuilding and remaking.  There is a reason they are the same word.  But to really recreate you have to take Jesus with you. You pray and you are thankful and you enjoy and you find this is what God wanted you to do all along.