New Beginnings

Happy New Year, friends!

As many of you have heard and seen, the beginning of 2020 at FBC will be marked by welcoming Michael McCarthy into the family as our Director of Church Music. He has already thrilled our souls at this year’s Christmas Eve service and will begin leading us in worship this Sunday.

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A Fast and Furious Season

We are nearing the end of our Advent season and series of “Visitations.” I’m guessing that it is as hard for you to believe as it is for me. Seems like yesterday we were passing out candy on the way to carving up turkeys. It has been a fast and furious season for a lot of us. I know it has for me.

For years I used to lie to my family and tell then that next year the season will be less hectic. Then I finally surrendered to the reality that a minister’s life is life in the fast lane for the last ninety days of any year. That calculation did not take into account 2019’s unexpected extras of a cardiac event and a key staff transition. Yet, I’m still moving into the last leg of the season in good cheer and optimism for the days ahead. Let me share with you some of the reason’s why.

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Christmas Praise

Merry Christmas First family friends! As easy as that is to proclaim to my people, it seems more natural and energetic after our time together Sunday. I want to take a moment to celebrate and appreciate the presentation of “The Christmas Song” by our FBC choir. It was moving to see such a presence in the loft and to hear such beautiful singing bringing such a powerful message. It was the highlight of the season thus far for me. I am especially grateful to our friend Dawne Eubanks who stepped in during our time of transition and made Sunday possible. First Baptist has long had a reputation for excellence in music and worship, and days like Sunday remind us of that. The talent behind the musical offering was a wonderful amalgam of faithful choir members, extra folks committing to the season, gifted young musicians from the St. Pete community, and our own remarkable leadership. This was a portrait of a great Sunday and a recipe for a great future as our best days of impressive praise are still ahead of us.

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Life’s Most Uninvited Uncertainties

In three decades and change of pastoring, I have taken my place beside hundreds of people going through life’s unexpected intrusions. I’ve had a gift, I think, for helping folks calmly embrace those realities and find God’s peace, strength, and hope while staring down life’s most uninvited uncertainties. So on Halloween Eve, it seemed both odd and normal to be looking up from one of those beds being told what I already knew – I was becoming a full fledged member of the “cardiac event” club. I can honestly and thankfully say that I got in with a much smaller initiation fee than most. After few hours of discomfort, good drugs, diagnostics, and a couple of stents, I felt amazingly well. It was a surprise, having had no family history and low risk factors for such things. But seemingly other factors did prevail. Anyway, I’m getting closer to full strength, and trying to take the kind of advice that I have given so many over the years. Take it easy. Lighten up while you still can. Just find a place and make a stand. Don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy. (Evidently the Eagles spoke words of instruction by way of the morphine and ativan.)

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Amani Sasa

“Amani Sasa.”

These Ugandan words flow so well off the tongue, even one as white and southern as mine. Simply interpreted, they mean “Peace Now.” Peace; not as the world gives, but that which comes from our Lord and those who represent Him. Now; not delayed or deferred, held back or hoped for. “Amani Sasa, Peace Now.” These are words meant to speak immediate hope to souls who have known so little and need it so desperately. They are the watchwords of a ministry that I am proud to say our people share in.

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“There is a time for everything,
and a season for everything under heaven.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1
Chris, Jasmine, Hudson, & Emerson Culpepper

Monday morning our Worship Pastor and my young friend Chris Culpepper shared with me the news that God has led him into a new and different season of life and ministry. Beginning October 20, Chris will become the Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church, Longwood, Florida. The good folks in this Orlando suburb are welcoming a fine musician, and an even finer young man. His amazing voice might only be exceeded by the broad range of talent and heart to use them all for our Lord and his people. They will be indeed blessed by his coming.

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I’m Proud of You

Every now and then I get to leverage these weekly lines to simply say to my people “I’m proud of you.” Some days and weeks the sources of that appreciation will just show up in mass. When it does, my heart sings and I have to find some way to give it a voice. This week, it takes three verses.

On Tuesday I went to Lynch Elementary to meet with my new lunch pal. That’s a mentoring program that pairs adults with kids for thirty minutes a week. Wouldn’t you know it, the boy I went to see was ill and absent that day. Wasted trip? By no means. I saw no fewer than eight folks from that Church on Gandy gladly making a difference. Some were there to see their new young friends. Others were helping teachers with stuff and making sure they got a lunch break. I even saw one with shovel in-hand going out to garden things up a bit. What was most evident was the joy exuding from our people and the deep appreciation expressed by the faculty and staff. We are just beginning to make an incredible difference in the life of Lynch and its people.

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Stubbornly Stuck

Hurt happens. It always has, still does, and certainly will. Lingering pain comes from lots of sources, takes lots of shapes, and often never goes away. But if you are human and remotely self-aware, you know that already. So, how do we handle this in such a way that it doesn’t handle us? 

That’s the question I took on in last Sunday’s installment of “Give Up to Go Up.” Every day we choose to hold on to our hurt is a day that we have to live with the consequences of that decision. And so does everyone around you. Hurt people hurt. And intentionally or not, hurt people hurt people. They just do. Said more personally, we just do. Confessionally, I just do too. Here’s the silver bullet, the golden key, magic wand – any good metaphor will do:

What you do with your hurt is more important than the hurt itself. 

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Hurricane Dorian

Two years ago this week, we were hunkered down, preparing for the worst any hurricane could offer. Gratefully, a five degree shift left us largely inconvenienced and within a week or so, unscathed. That has not been the fortune of our friends to the east, particularly in the Bahamas. As I write this, North Carolina is somewhere between being pelted and hammered by Dorian’s second significant venture onto land.  The next few hours will let us know how they fare and what the immediate needs may be.

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