Our Journey with the Followers

As I have been working on our current sermon series “Followers,” it has been enlightening to me to pay attention to the relationship between a person’s personal encounter with Christ and the sacrifices made when answering the invitation “Follow Me.” Time after time, Christ engaged interested people. Sometimes he took them unaware, sneaking up on them in the middle of ordinary life. Others he engaged with in conversation surrounding their most personal pondering or deepest needs. Sometimes miracles occurred and lives were immediately and radically changed. Others were simply met with a gentle wave and a lean towards a new direction. But whatever the nature of the encounter, the climax was almost always the same. They were either going to follow or not. And it was going to cost them something – sometimes everything. And the divine invite never promised them the following would be easy, only worth it.

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I’m sitting before a white screen pondering the word and theme to build this blog around. Here it is. Transition /tranˈziSH(ə)n/ – “a process or period of changing from one condition or state of being to another.” Sunday marks one of those for our church. And for our dear friends Phil and Carol Lilly.

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Our December Finish

There are rare occasions when the title and the theme of my blog go hand in hand. Today is one of them. As we moved towards the end of the year, we all were encouraged to come on strong in our giving to the Lord’s work through FBC. I am happy to report that our December finish was the strongest in years. That was much appreciated, and much needed as we carry forth the ministry God has called us to at FBC.

I am especially happy to report that our contributions to mission ministry beyond these walls were stronger than it has been in many years. In the weeks ahead, we will highlight the lives that have been changed and the difference made by our focus beyond ourselves. I do believe that God takes notice of these things, blesses us, and presents us with more opportunities to extend the gospel and the kingdom. As a church family, we should be proud of and increasingly committed to funding and participating in such worthy ministries.

I do want you to know as we move ahead, the need to fully fund the ministry we envision here will only grow. And it should. I would hate to think that we would have so little vision, so little boldness and commitment that we would be limited by what feels easily within our capacity. In fact, that is the heart of the matter. No ministry whose scope is determined by what a church is easily willing and capable of doing will approach that to which God designs. And where God provides, God provides. And most often, he uses his people to do it.

In this coming year, I am increasingly committed to boldly setting forth the directions that God would have us go and the mountains he would have us climb. I believe with all my heart that God has a special mission in mind for this church in this place and this time. But it is not a mission we will stumble into or realize on our own. With God’s direction and the aggressive faithfulness of his people, his will will be done. I believe that. And it will take far more than money to bring it about, but it will not happen without significantly more financial resources than we have now. That’s just the truth. But so too, is it true, that with increased success, excitement over wins great and small, changed lives and marked progress, God’s people are more than apt to step up and fulfill our God-sized challenge. I believe it because I believe in God and the work he has specifically called us to. And I believe in my people. Looking forward to the journey ahead, all it will bring, and all it will demand.

Following Christmas

There’s a unique song on Kyle Matthews’ Christmas album. I think it is the last song on there – if not, it should have been – and behind some killer piano licks, he talks about the days following Christmas. He reckons, as do I, that the days following Christmas are days meant for following Christ. We have spent a month or better getting to and from Bethlehem. Now what? In a word – FOLLOW.

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The Arrival of a New Baby

Of all the things pastors get to do, welcoming newborns into the world is about the most joyful. That’s especially true when the parents of the little one are part of your ministerial team and you love them like your own children. Yesterday, that once again came to pass. I join with Chris, Jasmine, and big brother Hudson in welcoming Emerson Evon Culpepper, the newest member of the FBC family. Lisa and I experienced a bit of a delay in putting our eyes and hands on that precious child, for twice the nurse sent us to the wrong room. The first hint was the blue, not pink, stocking on the door. The second was the bewildered look of a new mom when strangers came knocking to welcome her bundle of joy. Once at the right door, we heard the joyful sound. To nobody’s surprise, the baby girl of Chris Culpepper has got quite the set of lungs. Diction will come along, but volume and tonality are there, by God. So too are the signature cheeks and gentle spirit.

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Thank You, Phil Lilly

The first time I entered the doors of FBC St. Pete, I was met by Phil Lilly. He opened the door with a big smile and two umbrellas. That moment was a symbol of Phil’s friendship and ministry that I have been blessed to share for over a year and a half. He gently encourages and makes folks feel welcome and needed. He anticipates needs and moves to meet them. His approach to service here has been “see a need, meet a need.” That willingness to read and respond has left Phil’s fingerprints on so many parts of this church’s life and, more importantly, on the hearts and lives of so many people.

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Congregational Business

At the conclusion of Sunday’s service, we will pause for a few minutes to take care of some important congregational business. We will meet to approve both our 2018 proposed budget and slate of nominees to serve on our Management Team. As Baptists, we are Congregationalists at heart. That means that the business of carrying out the business of the church belongs to our people. We select certain folks to make recommendations, and we call and trust pastors and staff to provide good leadership. But at the end of the day, the approval and the promise to respond belongs to the people of the church. A church our size cannot handle every decision by consensus from the floor. But we can and must learn what is being proposed and be prepared to share our support or respectful descent. It’s the Baptist way. Not the only way to do church, but one we have clung to for over 400 years.

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Kyle Matthews in Concert

There are no Christian artists that I have admired more or longer than Kyle Matthews. And it is with great pride and enthusiasm that I welcome him to FBC St. Pete. More especially, it is with confidence and great joy that I invite you and your friends to share in “An Evening with Kyle Matthews” this Saturday at 6:00 PM. And then we will be blessed again by his music in Sunday morning’s worship.

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Walking the Tightrope of Gratitude

Thirty-three years ago, I traveled to San Antonio to celebrate my first Thanksgiving away from my family. The attraction? Fort Sam Houston and a young PFC named Lisa who was three weeks shy of a name change for her and a life change for both of us. We made it to Galveston, Texas where we saw the sea waves crashing and ate our fill at the Holiday Inn’s all-you-could-eat buffet. Put it on my dad’s credit card, not thinking he might want an explanation of a pre-nuptial hotel charge. I suppose Shoney’s would have required less explanation. Up to that day, I had never celebrated a Thanksgiving Day marked by so much – love, hope, joy, and anticipation – and so little – money, certainty, security, and peace. Looking back, the balancing act between hope and fear, abundance and lack, joy and anxiety could not have been more stark. That tension, held in tow by large amounts of love, wonder, and trust in God and each other, proved thank-worthy in and of itself. Still does. Three-plus decades, two sons, three grandgirls, seven churches, and four states later, we are abundantly blessed and thankful. We just have different things to be concerned about and new blurry futures waiting to find focus.

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Reaching Deeper

Can I let you in on a pastor’s open secret? We ministers really do not like to talk about money. So says most every member of the clergy I know, including the one who weekly writes under the headline “Money Talks.” We shy away from it often for fear of misrepresented motivations. Truly, there are no shortages of Christian charlatans out there, but the bulk of pastors I know just want to lead their people to be faithful and financially enable the ministry God has called them to lead. Often we hold back out of fear of criticism or deflection of the message. And we are more sensitive than you know to people of more limited means who have been exemplars in stewardship – and these solid saints are the first to feel bad that they cannot do more. There are many reasons to leave this subject alone.

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