What Was In The Beginning

beginningHow best to describe the arrival of a new thought? It hit me? It dawned on me? For the thought that arrived last night, in the quiet of the evening while dishes rattled in the sink underneath my soapy hands while my mind was free to wander and wonder, I suppose either description would be true. A thought hit me with force and power. It concerned light and brightness so, in a way, I can also say the thought dawned.

I was thinking about the beginning of the story. Not a story. The Story. The story we are living on this earth with God. The story of what is, what we are, and where we are going. I was thinking of the beginning portion of it. The "in the beginning God..." part.

It occurred to me that Genesis 1:1 isn't the beginning at all. John 1:1 is. The verse says "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." That part comes before heaven and earth and sky and land and crawly things and man found in Genesis. It is what was before God spoke his first recorded words, “Let there be.” It tells us that before creation there was something else. There was Father and Son and Spirit.

But that thought isn't the thought I referred to earlier. I was thinking about the beginning. No sun. No stars. Nothing. I saw blackness and emptiness. Darkness so total it rested heavily on my mind. I felt the blackness of it, the nothingness. And then I realized I was wrong. At the beginning there wasn't darkness at all. There was light. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." There was glory and radiance. There was God. Radiant, luminescent, Trinitarian God existing, dancing, whirling, and scattering beams of glory. Light existed eternally before darkness ever cast a shadow. And light will still be long after the last shadows of darkness have been extinguished in flame. Remember the final page, saying, "There was no night there..."

And so what? This... The truest thing about our world is not its shadows. The darkness cannot overcome light. The light will not one day go out as when a candle burns to nothing or a light bulb flickers and dies. The sun may implode. The stars fall, but still, it's the darkness which isn't able to hold out. It's the blackness which one day will be driven out of every corner. It’s light that lasts. Remember the hymn, "O'er all those wide extended plains shines one eternal day. There God, the Son, forever reigns and scatters night away."

It will be as it was before the beginning, but with one difference. We'll be there too, part of the dance of God and Word. And we'll be in a sense words, smaller words but words of God nonetheless. Words that tell chapters in the story of how light conquers dark, life conquers death, and how love that existed in the eternal before and extends into the eternal tomorrow conquers 


All Hail King Jesus

kingJesusChristmas seems to be such a sweet season. The scenes of it, in our minds, have taken on a golden glow.  Mary and Joseph appear so serene. The shepherds are as regal as Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. The star above illuminates all and everything with heavenly light. Someone is humming Silent Night in the background somewhere. A beautiful, sentimental scene. But there is something we cannot forget. This was an invasion. 
The world we live in, and know too well, had become enemy occupied territory. A false king ruled it. When Jesus and this false ruler had their first face to face confrontation the false king showed Jesus the world and said he would give it to Jesus because it was his to do with as he pleased all Jesus had to do was switch sides. But Jesus did not come to join the false king.  He came to dethrone him. 
Christmas is the beginning of a long campaign, a battle, to reassert God’s authority over earth. The much misunderstood book of Revelation is about that battle.  One of its scenes describes a woman giving birth to a child who will rule the nations. It sounds very much like what we know of Bethlehem except for one detail. At this birth scene there is a dragon, a great red dragon who is there to devour the child. We know from both Matthew and Revelation the dragon fails and the battle for earth is on.
Jesus speaks of this. He talks about entering the strong man’s house to bind him, defeat him, and liberate his captives. In John 12, only hours before he goes to the cross, Jesus says the time has come for the prince of this world to be judged and driven out. At the cross that’s exactly what happens. Jesus is lifted up. The title over his head, intended as irony, proclaims exactly who he is. Speaking of irony, by dying Jesus reclaims what rightly belongs to his father and to him as his son. He has achieved his mission. In a few days, alive again, he will stand with his people and say to them “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given me.” He has truly and genuinely become king.
When the angels announced his birth to the shepherds they used an amazing number of words which pointed to this. Good News, Savior, Christ, Lord were all words used in the first century to announce the ascension of a new king. Jesus is King and Lord.
Let earth receive her king.

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.