You are about to hear a lot, a whole lot, about a night, September 22. That night is Team Night here at First Baptist, and it is an extraordinarily important night. It will be the single most important night in the next year in the life of First Baptist Church. On that night you will take vital, important, necessary steps to be the church. You—and I really need to emphasize that you, not me, not the staff, not any person other than you—will chart the direction of this church for the next year. You, in the teams on which you serve in our church, will determine the mission of your team, and you will then decide what your team will do to fulfill its mission. Your team will design its plays and your team will then execute your plans and your mission.

We are doing this for a reason. The reason is this is your church. This is your church and you, all of us, are responsible for whether or not it fulfills its mission. And I suppose we should start there. What is the mission of the church? There is a shift in thinking in the last decades and to be honest it isn’t good. The majority opinion seems to be that church is for us. It’s purpose is to bless us, feed us, pick us up and inspire us. It used to be that the majority opinion was that church was for God. We came, participated, and ministered because we want to please God. I wonder, can we turn back the clock? And can we see that the church, our church, exists to change us and to change our community into something that looks a whole lot more like heaven today than it did yesterday? That encompasses so much. It means that people need to come to know Jesus and we need to work to make it so. It means things like spiritual growth and discipleship. It means increasing the beauty of things around us. It means finding ways to erase divisions, to build relationships, help the sick and weak, and help in a thousand ways. 

You will decide what those ways are. You will be responsible. Success or failure depends on you and on what you are willing to do and what you are willing to let God do through you. That is one of the reasons we have teams and not committees. There is a difference. Committees discuss and make plans.  Teams do. Teams carry out plans. Teams make things happen. So every team from A/V to Zumba will gather, chart their course for the year, and then go make their plans happen. 

You are needed. What if you’re not on a team in our church? Easy. You show up September 22 and you can join whatever team you want. We would love to have your help. Come. Be the church.

We’re also trying to make this a no excuse is good enough night. Have children? We’ll watch them that night. Don’t want to miss a meal? We’ll feed you supper. Don’t want to miss your favorite show?  Someone invented DVRs. Afraid this will be boring? Trust me it won’t. You’ll have a good time and you’ll leave energized and ready to go be the church. 

So get ready. Team Night is coming September 22. #bethechurch

Where Have All the Prophets Gone?

Israel always killed its prophets. The prophets should have seen it coming, I suppose. Who wants to live under constant criticism? Who wants to be harangued day and night by someone who is telling you that you’re a first class screw up? And that is what the prophets did. They were a chorus of nothing but no’s. Not right. You’re wrong. You are so far off the make you’re in danger of no longer being God’s people. What was wrong with the prophets? Were they just curmudgeons? Were they people who weren’t happy as long as someone, somewhere was enjoying themselves? It’s more than that. Much more.

Israel had a role unlike that of any other nation in all the world. Their task was to show the other peoples of the world how things really work. Other nations, you see, were deceived. They thought the world was based on power. They thought that the way to “win” in life was to get more power than other nations or other people had. More chariots, more soldiers, more money, and that meant you could have more of what you really wanted. More security, more comfort, more pleasure and ease, and more people listening to your grand and glorious ideas. The nations thought things worked that way. And so often Israel did too. Israel, that unique people, was too often like the nations. Power was key. Get enough power and you can make everyone else do what’s right. But that is wrong.

A universe that has Israel’s God at its heart is not a universe that is based on power. It’s based on love. God does not bend people to his will. He doesn’t force or overwhelm. He draws. He woos. He attracts. Israel was to base their lives on loving this God and loving their neighbor as they loved themselves. People weren’t to be used as things so I can get what I want even if it hurts my neighbor. They were to be cared for and sacrificed for. And this, in God’s world, is what really “works”. Israel was the one nation that had that truth. All the other nations were in the devil’s pocket. And Israel, sadly, too often was also, and when they were, the prophets harangued the Hell out of them from the king to peasant. The prophets were thanked for their efforts by being put out of their misery and then later by having monuments built to them.

The church today is what Israel was to be. We are not to be in the devil’s pocket, thinking that getting power is the way to do God’s work and that doing God’s work means winning and putting people in their place so that they have no choice but to do what God wants no matter how grudgingly or angrily they do it. The church is to win, woo, attract, and love. But when we decide God’s way of love doesn’t work and we become like the nations who will be our prophets and harangue the holy heck out of us? And will we listen or will we bump them off as well?

Pride Goeth Before a Dead Battery

Last Thursday evening I put on something of a show in the hospital parking lot. Maybe you saw it. I’m surprised, actually, that there haven’t been Facebook posts about it. With video. What happened is this.

I had driven to Wayne Memorial that evening to see one of you in the hospital. It was a fine Spring evening, so I drove my little blue convertible there with the top down. I made my visit and afterward returned to my car. And here is where the show began.

I turned the key in the ignition and nothing happened. Nothing. The car didn’t start. There were no clicks, no nothing. The battery was completely dead. I sat in the car for a moment thinking about what to do. I couldn’t call my wife to come. She was at a school function that night. I didn’t even think about calling someone else to ask them to help me. There are two reasons for that. I do not like to bother people. That’s one, but there is a bigger one. That reason is,  I do not like to ask for help. Ever. So how was I going to get the car started and get home? This is what I did. I took an old school approach. The car is a manual. That means if I could push it and push it fast enough, I could jump in, put it in gear, pop the clutch, and it would start. If. If I could push it fast enough. By myself, because I am not asking for help, remember?

I don’t know if you know this, and I didn’t until this moment, but the hospital parking lot isn’t exactly level. There is a slight slant and fortunately my car was on a high spot. Good.  So I pushed it down the slant and got it moving as fast as I could, jumped in, slipped it in gear, popped the clutch and…nothing. So I pushed the car back up to the high spot and repeated. Nothing. At this point I realized I had forgotten to leave the key in the on position.  Dumb. I pushed the car up again. Then down. Nothing. Okay, one more try, and by this time I was huffing and puffing from pushing my car all over the hospital parking lot, and as I pushed I realized that people, who knows how many, were probably watching me from windows all over the hospital. I didn’t want to ask for help because something in me says it’s embarrassing to ask for help, but in not asking for help I caused myself even more embarrassment. 

This is what pride does, and pride is what my real problem was there in the parking lot and not a dead battery. Pride causes us to hide our need. We don’t want our neediness exposed. And in the end we end up more exposed, more embarrassed, than if we’d asked for help in the first place. I have seen this in other places with other people. And I remembered it that evening as I was pushing a car up and back and up again the hospital parking lot. And I remembered we do this with God too. We are to proud to let Him see our need and so we don’t ask. Pride keeps us from the help we need.  And it sends people to hell.  Ask.

Your Post-Easter Life

We are now post-Easter. It would be easy for us to think that the story is concluded, Christ is soon to return whence he came, and we will go one with our regular lives until we repeat this cyclical story of birth, life, death, and resurrection again. But the story is just getting started. When Jesus arose the Gospels make a pointed emphasis to tell us that happened on the First Day. Now that we are living in the New World there are so many days ahead to live. It’s time for the followers of Christ to have their chapter. It’s time for us to write our page of the story. It’s time for the Spirit to come.

Life is different now. We are different now. We are now living a Spiritual Life. Our life isn’t an earth life, physical life, only. We are now alive in a whole new way. We are alive to and living in a new realm. We live and move in the spiritual just as we have in the physical. We are alive in a world in which God is at the center, Christ is on a throne, and which is full of new kind of, and a new way of, power.

We are to live now a spiritual life, a Spirit filled life, described by the Bible. This is a hugely critical point. What is described for us in the Bible is real. The Bible, it turns out, isn’t only a book to be studied. It is a book to be lived. The Bible is more like a menu than it is an history book or a sourcebook of knowledge. It is inviting us to an experience, a whole buffet, an experience of God’s presence here and now. It is a portal into another world, a wardrobe through which we pass into Narnia, if we dare.

We, if we’re willing to be, like Jesus—we are his body, the place where heaven and earth, the physical and the spiritual, come together in one place. We can see things and know things. We can hear and know the mind of God. We can see and know the way things are supposed to be. And we can have power to make these things happen and come to be in the physical world, and we can make these things real through things like touch and spoken words and hard work. We can say to mountains “be removed and cast into the sea” and they will be. We can know God.

What does this require? Everything. Every moment. Every thought. Every action. To be this, to be the body of Christ, you must constantly be growing in your spirit. You must constantly be paying attention to God, always in prayer, always watching and listening to the Spirit who is now in you. And you must be selfless. Your life now is not yours, it is God’s, and any attempt to take it back and own it yourself will diminish your spiritual connection.

Should you choose to accept this life, you will change. The reality you see people living in the Bible will be your reality. You might heal the sick or raise the dead. Or you might be called on to lay down your life.

Why Christianity Isn’t About Beliefs

In the next few weeks we will be remembering events.  We will be talking about things that happened.  There was a man who lived.  He did astounding, amazing things.  He lived and then he was crucified by the Romans at the insistence of the political leaders of Israel.  He was buried.  His tomb was sealed and guarded.  Three days later women went to the tomb and found the stone which sealed it moved, the guards having fled, and the tomb empty. And then a question was asked, “Why do you search for the living among the dead? He is not here; he is risen. Come see the place where he lay.”  They saw the place.  Later they saw him. All of these events happened.

I am stressing that these are events and I am stressing that events are things that happen and I know all that sounds pretty obvious but I think it’s a big deal.   Here’s why.  When we talk about Christianity we are not talking about beliefs.  We are talking about events.  We are talking about something that happened.  A man died and rose from the dead.  That is not a belief.  It is an event that happened in the world. 

Why does that matter?  Beliefs are things you can choose to adopt or to reject.  If you want to believe in something called karma, you’re free to do so.  If you don’t want to believe in karma, don’t.  You’re free to do so.  But events do not give you that freedom.  The sun came up today.  George Washington was elected President of the United States. Both are events.  To talk about them as if belief in those events was necessary to make them real is nonsense.  This is also the difference between Christianity and other religions.  Other religions are based on ideas and beliefs.  Muhammed sits in a cave and writes the Koran.  Buddha sits under a tree and dreams up wisdom.  Both have all kinds of ideas, some of which may be right, others wrong, you get to decide. Christianity isn’t that way. Yes, Jesus taught truths and lessons and we continue to teach those truths today but that isn’t the core of what we are about.  He died.  Publically.  He rose from the dead.  You can go see his tomb.  These things happened.

The question isn’t, “Do I believe this?”  The question is, “Is there any evidence for this?” There is. There isn’t space here for the proofs but know this.  It is recorded in Acts 1 that Jesus after his resurrection met with his followers and “gave them many convincing proofs that he had risen from the dead.”

Again, why the emphasis on Christianity being based on events? Because if something happened you have to come to grips with it.  That’s the way it is. Jesus rose from the dead.  That is the single biggest, most amazing fact of history.  That fact changes everything.  It’s what makes the “gospel” truly “Good News.”