The Not-Normal Experience

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Hard to believe we are two weeks out from the frantic days when we were watching the Weather Channel, battening down the hatches, and living out The Clash classic “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” After days of fearful anticipation, a night of forceful wind and rain, a day of evaluating damage, gas-challenged return trips, and lots of clean-up, we are collectively longing for a return to routine. Ready for the shelves to be restocked so our freezers can be refilled. Anxious for a day not marked by anxiousness. In a word; normal.

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Come Together, Right Now

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What a week it has been. And for many, continues to be. On the peninsula, we begged for the best and waited for the worst. The good news is that we, all in all, got more of our hopes and less of our fears. Decisions and strategies had to be made, protection sought, provisions laid by, shelter space claimed, priorities set, and prayers said. All done with the situation changing by the minute.

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Be Careful & Prayerful

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In his popular and inspiring book “The Noticer,” Andy Andrews has his angelic character tell the story of storms and our place in them. He reckons that, whether we know it or not, we are all in one of three positions. We are all either coming out of a storm, in the middle of a storm, or getting ready for a storm. Seems to me that getting ready for a storm has created a storm of its own. Preparation has given way to panic. Gas, batteries, and propane are in short supply. Police are keeping order over bottled water at Publix. Not Walmart folks, but the Publix on 4th and 37th (if things go rogue at Earth Fare and Trader Joe’s, we will know we are in crisis mode)!

As I write this, the images of Harvey are rightly in our heads as we stare down Irma – or as she stares down on us. It is impossible to know what lies ahead, so we pray for the best and prepare for the worst. We cancelled Wednesday activities this week to allow families time to prepare and protect, and make decisions about evacuation. We have just made the determination that Sunday services will be cancelled. There is just too much uncertainty about what may happen, and our attention and energies must be focussed on protection and preparation.

As your pastor, let me encourage you in these days to do a few things. Be careful. And be prayerful. These two postures will go a long way. Try to remain calm and not borrow trouble that is not yet here. At the same time, be diligent and informed about the risks at hand and respond appropriately. And be ready when this is over to be part of a long-term rebuild. We pray we will be spared the worst of it. But we know some places will not be. And we will be ready to respond as best we can.

For today, take care of yourself and your family. Leave if you can and need to. Hunker down if you cannot. And know that the one who rules the winds and water will stand by you. As will His people.

The Long Road to Recovery

Pray & Give: Special Harvey Offering

In July of 1994, Tropical Storm Alberto dumped 27 inches of rain in less than 24 hours in south central Georgia. A day later, Albany and much of the surrounding area was under water. Lives were lost. So were homes, cars, businesses, and churches. My first full-time pastorate, Calvary Baptist Church was six feet under. At First Baptist Albany, the church I was then serving in, over 100 families lost homes and businesses. We mobilized as a feeding center for first responders, cooked the food that was brought to shelters, and housed hundreds from the National Guard. Twenty-three years later, the memories are vivid and the emotions of those days still accessible. And the stories, remembered in detail, are too long and too many to tell here.

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A Worthy Endeavor

1 Corinthians

Faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”  I Corinthians 13:13

There are no more beautiful and few better-known passages in scripture than this one. The culmination of the ultimate description of Christ-like love, Paul draws into a nutshell the list of things that really matter, the things that matter most whether or not we possess and demonstrate. Excelling in each of these virtues is a real challenge; in fact, few can boast of excelling in any of the three, let alone a simultaneous trio. Experience has taught me that it is much easier to see and feel the absence over the presence of the crown jewels. No faith in God, self, or others. No hope, especially in circumstances beyond our control. No love to mark the tenor and tone of our human interactions. That picture is easy to see, even when the view is in the mirror.

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In the Image of God

Declaration of Independence
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
“So God created mankind in his own image; in the image of God he created them.”
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ.”
That’s all I have to say about that.
Today.

Respond Faithfully

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Each week I get to sit down and write about something that is on my mind. Usually it has to do with the world occupied by the good folks of FBC St. Pete. More often I get to share general thoughts, insights, encouragements, and challenges that apply to most anyone who peeks in. The audiences and agendas usually overlap. But for the next few weeks, I want to have some family conversations with the people I get to love and lead. We welcome others to stick their heads in the blog room and look in, but I’ll be talking to my people about the life and ministry we share. It is a privilege exceeded only by the relationship, mission, and faith which we share.

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Thank You, Karl

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Two and half years ago, FBC found itself in a clearly defined season of transition. Little did I know that I was about to enter into the conversations that would invite me into that season with a transition of my own. In St. Pete, ministerial shifts left areas in urgent need of care and coverage. And into that gap stepped our friend, Karl Mance, offering to do what he could where it was needed. Phil Lilly shared with me the conversation where he asked Karl what he saw himself doing. His response, good soldier that he was and is, was “You don’t have a lot of help here, I just want to support you and help the church wherever I can.” And that he did.

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Turning the Imposing into the Empowering

Numbers to Live By

We are winding towards the last three mile markers on Highway 3:16. This week we get to spend some time in God’s word with one of my true favorites in the collection. In Ephesians, Paul prays for the fledgling church, and, by extension, for you and me. He reminds us that we do not have to be self-reliant for strength for the journey. His power is not just enough, it is essential to meeting the demands of life, whatever shape they take.

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