Forty Days is Only Just Beginning

It’s anything but over. Our Forty Days have dropped one by one from the calendar but they are far from over. Why? Because Forty Days of Community was not an end in itself. It was not a program to run that had a beginning followed by a termination date. It was more. It was a change of mindset, lifestyle, and how we do ministry. It’s not over. It’s only beginning. Here’s how.

The deepening connections and relationships our groups have formed will continue. It’s amazing how people who know each other long and well can know each other, and love each other, more deeply. But it’s happening. It’s kind of like a good marriage.

The ministries that our groups were challenged to do together are only beginning. As I’m writing this in my office outside in the hall people from one of our groups are putting together care packages for the needy. In each one our card that says “You Are Important To God” is being placed. Yesterday one of our groups gathered information from people in our church about the kinds of service to others they can do. That is being compiled and out of that list hundreds of acts of service will flow to people within our church and without it, too. We want those without to know they can be within. One of our groups has dedicated themselves to helping with our Friday night Respite ministry. They showed up last week and will continue to show up every month. Their presence was hailed by the few who have carried that ministry from its inception as a real answer to prayer. And Tabitha’s Place will be blessed too. One of our groups is coming alongside them to help with that ministry to the hungry. You’ll be asked to help keep Tabitha’s Place’s pantry stocked. And you’ve probably been asked to buy a BBQ plate or Boston Butt. That is financing a regional youth rally that will be held here that another group is organizing.

The groups will also continue to meet, to study, to pray, to serve. With this emphasis we have tripled the number of people involved in Sunday evening activities. More people are being taught and more people are serving than there were when we simply had activities here. That will continue as it should.

Forty Days will go on. And with God’s blessing will never end.

I Belong

We are winding down our Forty Days of Community emphasis and I have seen, and still see, changes for the good. More than a hundred people are participating. People are meeting in homes. They’re praying together. Studying together. Planning outreach projects together. Enjoying one another more. When the forty days conclude, I’m betting our home groups continue and that we see continuing deepening of what it means to belong to First Baptist.

I’ve been thinking about the use of that word belong to refer to church. I think of other ways, other contexts in which we use it. My house belongs to me (and to the bank, to be honest). My dog. My wife? Maybe. My car. The word has to do with possession. Ownership. I, in some way, own these things (pretty sure now that wife can’t go on this list). What, then, does saying “I belong to First Baptist” mean? It suggests that I am owned, that a level of authority and responsibility have been given by me to the people around me. They, my brothers and my sisters, have a right to expect commitments and fidelity from me. I belong to them. But there is another way the word is used that is closer to the very root of the meaning.

To belong is to stay; literally to be long. Permanence. Stability. Commitment. In our world people too easily and too often move. Hit a rough patch and we move on. We don’t stay. We don’t be long. And that damages us. We never experience the benefits of sticking it out. We don’t learn the contentment that comes with being rooted. Like Cain we become restless wanderers on the face of the earth which was part of his curse. We also don’t face ourselves and the rougher, needing to be redeemed places of our souls. When others discover those places it’s easier for us to project blame or rationalize away our issues and move on to find something else. We do this with relationships, careers, churches.

Belonging has benefits. It makes us better at relationships. Deepens us. It even makes us healthier. We live longer. We’re happier. This forty days has benefitted us. We have grown together. We have grown wiser. We’ve looked in but we’ve also looked out to see others who need what we offer. We’ve grown more loving.

And I think we’re going to continue. I think we’ll be long here.

What If

What if we started asking what if? What if, as we hang our new 2016 calendars on the wall, we asked what if we did things differently? What if I started everyday with my Bible on my lap looking into it as deeply and as prayerfully as I can to find fuel for my soul for that day? And what if I determined I was going to face everyday with as much gratitude and thankfulness as my soul could muster? What if of all the things that need to change I changed the only one I can: me?

Here’s another what if. What if we, our church, you and me together, took seriously the idea that what we are actually supposed to be doing is continuing the work of Jesus to change the world? What if we fully understood the entire reason a church exists is to take the future God has planned (you know, no one hurts anyone else, no one is hungry, no one is broken hearted, and the whole earth is covered with the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus, that future) and work to bring it into the present? Or to say it another way, what if we finally took seriously the idea the reason the church exists is to be a preview of heaven? Or yet another way, what if we decided to believe the church exists to bring up there down here? If we did we would start to make several changes. And we would go to work in several key areas.

We would look at Jesup and say “it needs to change” and by “it” we would mean key specific things. We would try to address some of the key issues and problems around us. Why are too many people living in poverty, for one. We would look at people around us and say, “They need to change” and by that we would mean they need to know they can have a relationship with Jesus and we would do our best to help them know him. We would look at us and say “we need to change” and by that we would mean that we would start actually doing what we say we believe. We would be willing to change anything in order to move from “doing church” to doing the ministry of Jesus. We would look at ourselves and say “I need to change”. By that we would mean that we would understand that the work we are doing is not done simply by trying harder or working harder. We would understand that the ministry of Jesus is done by the Holy Spirit through people who let him have their lives daily. What if we became those people?