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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Recovery, Grief, and Grace

Some moments live at the intersection of music, truth and real life. I won’t say it happens all the time, but it happens enough that I’ve spotted the trend. My conclusion is that God is in the guitars and gutsy lyrics and the Holy Spirit drops them off at just the right moments. You just have to be in tune, or should I say tuned in. Let me tell you about my recent my bookend encounters with Kristofferson and recovery, grief, and grace.

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The Crucifixion

For many years James Weldon Johnson’s “The Crucifixion” has guided my Good Friday reading and reflection. As I invite these wonderful and terrible words and images to once again provide transport to that place, I invite you to likewise make this sojourn of the soul.

“The Crucifixion”
James Weldon Johnson

Jesus, my gentle Jesus,
Walking in the dark of the Garden –
The Garden of Gethsemane,
Saying to the three disciples:
Sorrow is in my soul –
Even unto death;
Tarry ye here a little while,
And watch with me.

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A “Significantly Different” Week

With Sunday’s palm processional we will enter into the week called Holy. In biblical language the word holy essentially means  “significantly different”; a week unlike any other. And indeed it was, and annually is.

Holy Week is perhaps the clearest call on the Christian calendar to pay attention to what Jesus and those around him did, and generously apply those insights and instructions to our life and faith. It was a week of contrasting emotions where unbridled joy and unspeakable grief held hands and walked together. It was a week of purposeful sacrifice, though it seemed that only the One prepared to sacrifice it all understood. It was a week of conviction as He cleared the temple and judged the hearts of the smug and the greedy, and it was one of consolation as He showed the tenderest of mercies to folks as distant as a thief on a cross and as up close and personal as his own mother. Hallelujah, what a week. What a savior.

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