Our Voice

After working well for many years, it seems my early last fall flu shot had a shelf life of slightly less than last week. Bad news is that it was bad; the “have to get better to die” kind of bad. Good news is the virus has run its course. The bad news is that my doc says the accompanying laryngitis can linger up to four weeks. The good news – I only have three weeks to go.

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Prophet, Priest, and King

Sermon preparation is a never-ending, never-stopping endeavor for any local pastor. And yes, I love it. In the trade, we often refer to the “relentless return of the sabbath”; as soon as a sermon is delivered, another one is coming in seven days. I wont say that it has become easier for me with years, but is has become more enjoyable. I have a few ideas why.

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Follow Me

Follow me where I go, what I do, and who I know
Make it part of you to be a part of me
Follow me up and down, all the way, and all around
Take my hand and say you’ll follow me

Good old John Denver could put a conversation in a song with the best of them. Leaving on a Jet Plane, Annie’s Song, I’m Sorry, and Goodbye Again come to mind. But the greatest of these is Follow Me. Why, you say?

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Turning Love Into Action

Take a guess at what all these successful companies have in common.

AFLAC. Container Store. Starbucks. Marriott. Nordstrom. Southwest Airlines. Whole Foods. Synovus Bank. Chick-Fil-A. Zappo’s.

Well, for one thing, except for AFLAC (whose commercials I do love) I have been a frequent, fairly loyal customer of them all. Chances are you have too. Here’s the real binder – all of these organizations unapologetically value, practice and require “servant leadership.” It’s not a coincidence that a culture of humility and self-emptying translates into a company that is wildly popular, and most often, extremely popular. In fact, in CNN Money’s top ten companies to work for, half of them clearly claim servant leadership as not just their personnel strategy, but core company value.

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A Second Invitation

Sunday we will reach the middle of our vision-minded series “These Three Things.” In case you missed it, we began by asking just what we want FBC to be known for in greater St. Petersburg. We have staked a claim on meaningful worship, impacting young adults and families and loving, and serving St. Pete. This trio of noble pursuits is worthy of our or best and most focused efforts. Furthermore, they align well with our gifts and the specific needs of the community where God has placed us.

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Experiencing God

It’s been almost thirty years since Henry Blackaby published his collection of discipleship principles that came to be known as “Experiencing God.” Before then, Henry had been a pastor of fairly obscure churches in the outposts of Canada. Folks who publish such things realized that he had put into a discernible and actionable form the tenets of just how God uses his people to accomplish his will.

The Experiencing God workbook and subsequent trade book have sold millions of copies. And you will be hard pressed to find anyone who has traveled in Baptist circles in the past generation whose life and ministry has not been impacted by this work. I know that when Lisa and I accepted the call to leave Albany for Monroe over twenty years ago, EG was the guidebook on our journey of faith. And traveling the path to St. Pete, we paid lots of attention to the EG road marks and used them as confirmation of God’s call.

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The Deacon Leadership Team

Back in November, FBC adopted an updated structure for both congregational governance and ministry structure. An important – perhaps the most important – element of the changes was the formal renewal of Deacon ministry. This new-again body is referred to as the Deacon Leadership Team.

In the New Testament, we read of the origins of this church office. It was born out of a need to meet the needs of the people in a way that involved more people and freed the elders to put more focus on the teaching of the Word. Funny thing, it was a food fight that brought the need to light – look it up, you’ll be amused. The answer to the problem was found when a number of the faithful were set aside to carry out this important work. There was work to do, a body of believers to deploy, people to reach, and a reputation to establish and protect.

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The Sunday Sermon

The Sunday sermon, for many, is a relic of a bygone age that both faithless and faithful folks have just moved beyond. The irreligious and religion in general crowd hold little desire to sit and listen to things they do not believe, or do not believe matter. And those who claim the name of Christ have managed to frequent the religious marketplace, yet leave sermons to sit quietly on the shelf. As you might expect, this reality is grievous to us preacher types, left to question the value of both craft and office deemed increasingly irrelevant in the eyes of the masses.

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These Three Things

“Faith, hope and love abide, these three…”

Calling on these three sacred commodities, Paul put a heartfelt exclamation point on one of the most loved, beautiful and referenced words of scripture. This triad of virtue makes a clear and succinct statement about what matters, what has great value. They are our most trusted spiritual possessions, and when understood and treasured, they change our lives and those around us. With all the truth and wisdom of the Bible to gather, a clear focus on and commitment to these things has great power. And great potential.

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Joining the Effort

Years ago I served on staff of a church whose slogan was “The Place of New Beginnings”. It was on all the printed material, and as I recall, there was even an personalized anthem commissioned to sing the theme. (Now that I wrote that, I know there was. The refrain has begun circling in my brain and who knows when it might stop.) The idea was that it could be New Year’s everyday for people who needed a fresh start. And the church was a safe place of grace where all sorts of souls could move beyond and move ahead. That idea has guided my ministry for many years. Still does. I am convinced that the currency of the church is changed lives. And most significant changes will point to a day when a marker was put down, a tipping point reached, a conversion experienced. Those are the kind of things we rightfully celebrate, and on occasion, deeply long for.

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