Make God Smile

For the next few weeks at FBC we are asking, and trying to answer the question “How can we make God happy?” I’m a father of two pretty fine sons and three pretty much perfect granddaughters. I know what it feels like to be made proud by progeny. In fact, in the past week both my boys have done some things to make my heart soar. (Catch me in the hallway and I’ll be glad to fill you in.) I’m not so self-centered to think for a minute that they do it for me, but I get to be the joyful benefactor anyway. They succeed; I smile and brag. It’s a sweet deal. On the human front, it is an easy correlation to make. But it can be hard to imagine, let alone believe, that the creator of the universe responds personally and emotionally to the highs and lows of our lives. But He does. And even better, our lives work demonstratively better when we pull off the things that bring him joy. We smile a lot more when God is smiling at us.

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The Starting Five

When I graduated high school I had no idea that I would be a minister. Honestly, the two pressing possibilities were singer/songwriter and baseball coach. I loved weaving words and feelings together to tell a story, make a point, and move the listener. And I likewise loved strategically thinking my way around the diamond, reading the situation, making decisions, and setting folks up to succeed. Turns out that as a senior pastor I get to do a lot of those things almost daily. The same passions and pursuits come in more than handy in the daily office that I treasure and take very seriously. But no frontman or skipper can do it alone. And if he could, what would it matter? Loving what you do and the people you do it with is the secret to good music and good baseball.

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Welcome to the Team, John and Sara

As I jot down these lines, there is an Allied moving truck unloading boxes and furniture for the newest addition to our ministry team, Rev. John Rice and his wife Sara, dog Presley, and a three-legged cat whose name escapes me. (What are the odds that your senior and associate pastor would both have a three-legged Maine Coon? A sign?)

I cannot begin to tell you how blessed I feel to have John and Sara ready to call St. Pete and its First Baptist Church home. As you may have heard, Rev. Rice is a graduate of Southern Seminary, which has a special place in my heart and history back in the day. He has served churches well from Florida to D.C. to Kentucky and back to Florida again. He is deeply respected in ministry circles and has a proven track record empowering churches and their staffs to maximize their ministry potential. That’s a good thing because that is what we are asking him to help do here.

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Free, Loved, and Forgiven

Some Bible stories ring so true that the protagonist, the object or the lesson becomes part of our everyday language. Most states have a Good Samaritan law to protect people who are trying to offer aid to someone in immediate need. Small but sacrificial gifts are still known as a widow’s mite. And everyone knows – or has been – the prodigal son. That’s the son who had it all, wanted more and wasted what he had. It’s the child that breaks the parent’s heart and sees life sink to a place they never could have imagined, but their family did. That’s the son who, in time, will want to come home, but is unsure if he can. We all have seen that sort of son. Some of us have lived it.

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How Can I Help?

I have to confess that every time I pass a Chick-fil-A I have this urge to pull into what is usually a crowded parking lot or backed up drive through. Oddly, the lemonade is my favorite staple there, closely followed by the breakfast burrito. I used to crave the sandwiches and waffle fries, but as John Denver sang, “The Lord and wife wouldn’t think it’s very good.” Neither do my doctors … So what draws me in? It’s the unfailing personal experience that emerges from a culture which assumes personal responsibility for the experience of another over and above their own.

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A Gracious Helping of Awe

When one is charged with writing at least a sermon, a lesson, and a blog every week, sometimes you have to go looking for ideas and images to inspire you. On other days they just kind of present themselves. And once in a while, you find yourself responding to some happening, some milestone, some great gain or loss … just something that tugs at your heart and moves your mind. On this Memorial Day Monday, it found me.

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Rev. John Rice

Dear FBC Friends and Family,

On Sunday the 13th I joyfully announced the calling of Rev. John Rice as our new Associate Pastor. Since that time, words of encouragement, congratulations, and affirmation have resounded from both within FBC and throughout the network of Baptists who know both John and our congregation. We are truly fortunate and blessed to welcome John and Sara to the family and to the ministry team.

Over the past weeks I have met with John on multiple occasions and he has quietly spent time with our staff, and the HR and Management Teams. We are unanimously impressed with John and clearly recognize the matching of his particular skills to our needs, personality, and values at this pivotal time. God’s fingerprints appear to be all over the matching of man and ministry. I believe that with all my heart.

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In television and radio world they call this a teaser. It’s letting the audience know something is coming in the next installment without fully telling you what it is. I have to confess, most times that is an invitation for me to turn the channel. I’m a guy. That’s what we do. But every now and then the foreshadowing is interesting enough to keep me tuned in like Paul Harvey, waiting for the rest of the story. Sunday will be a very full day in our worship service. We will give folks a look into the life of our signature ministry Family Promise. We’ll also honor a special volunteer who is handing the reins of her particular ministry to a new leader. And certainly, we will thank and pray for mothers everywhere, particularly those gathered Sunday. Great music and what I hope is helpful, meaningful preaching will take place too. But there will be one more thing worth telling.

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I can’t help myself. One word takes me to a seemingly unrelated phrase or lyric that inevitably collides with one or more things happening in real life in real time. As Ray Charles famously sang “Here we go again. “ (See what I did there?) I’m living in First John these days. Great book. Fun to read. Funner to preach. So I got to chapter four and kept noticing John picking a word and repeating it a lot, as he is given to do. (Remember the whole darkness and light thing?) This week’s word; abide.

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Not long ago a question was posed to me and to some of our church’s leadership. “If this church is really successful and the changes we want to see happen come about in the next five years, what would that look like?” Good question, with lots of potential answers.

As good Baptists would, first thoughts imagined significantly more people on Sunday morning and a sound budget; both admirable things. We are after all children and grandchildren of the movement that could attract and count nickels and noses like no Christians before or since … Truth is, these are not bad barometers, but we concluded pretty quickly they weren’t the best.

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