Tuesday, May 21, 2013
First Focus Articles
Friday, May 17, 2013 Comments (0)
This Sunday we recognize fifteen graduates and families who begin a new stage of life. The passage from high school to college is more than just a ceremony. It marks a new beginning for families with an emptier nest, for students with greater responsibilities, and for churches with a transition from youth to college ministry.
The researchers at Beloit College tell us that these 18-19 year olds have a unique perspective on life. They have never seen an airplane “ticket.” There has always been professional football in Jacksonville but never in Los Angeles. They have never needed a set of encyclopedias on a bookshelf, and most of their news comes from YouTube and possibly The Daily Show. They get History from a channel; and if they watch television shows, they rarely use a TV to do so.
Because of First Baptist and the families that surround them, they also have a unique Christ-like mindset. You’ve been trained, nurtured, and supported by a youth ministry with Todd Smith and youth choir with Pam Cooke. Your parents and grandparents have demonstrated the importance of church involvement as a critical part of the formation of church. You’ve sung, served, and shared as a vital part of our ministries. While in school, you’ve navigated the treacherous waters of grades, relationships, choices, and loyalties. You’ve been given a firm foundation to build upon.
Our work as a church family is not complete, however. Most students stop attending church during their college years, and relatively few return. Those who remain engaged in a life of faith cite one primary reason for active involvement. Caring adults stay in contact with them while in college and maintain a personal connection and relationship. Chap Clark of Fuller Seminary suggests that most young adults need at least six–seven caring adults in his or her life, in addition to their parents, to weather the storms.
This Sunday, we take the next step on the resurrection journey: worship. When we worship, God changes our minds. We encounter a living God who moves us to connect with others. Accept the invitation in worship to remain in one student’s life for the next four years. Stay in touch by text message and email. Engage in their world while they are studying. Invite them to babysit the kids or mow the grass. Learn from their experiences, and pray for them. We are blessed as a church family to have a great youth ministry and college ministry. As we pass the baton from Todd to Zach, do your part to connect to each one of these students and their families. You can start here Sunday as we worship together.
Friday, May 10, 2013 Comments (0)
First Baptist is on mission this summer. Our church will send three groups nationally and globally; fourteen students and young adults will serve around the world.
Our Youth Choir travels to Boston June 2–9; Youth Mission Fuge is June 17–22; Builders for Christ is scheduled for Birmingham, Alabama, July 14–21; and the Haiti team is on mission from July 27–August 3. Throughout the summer, several people will be serving around the world as camp counselors, directors, and teachers. Each person is involved in our college, young adult, or music ministries.
Centrifuge - West Palm Beach
Camp Ithiel - Orlando
Campus Crusade - East Asia
Summit Camp - Scottsboro, AL
Student Ministry Essentials Summer Camp
Tom Wright says, “The mission of the church is nothing more or less than the outworking, in the power of the Spirit of Jesus’ bodily resurrection.” In other words, the mission of the church is resurrection. When people are leaving our church to serve around the world, we are carrying out the mission of Christ. Please pray for them. It’s incredible to think of the impact that First Baptist will have as a result of the work of these people, and so many more this year.
This Sunday, we take the next step on the resurrection journey: mission. It’s more than the projects and programs. We walk through a door that Christ has opened through the power of the Spirit. As we go, even our homes become a launching pad for service. Let’s start here Sunday.
Friday, May 03, 2013 Comments (0)
Each Sunday, we have talked about the power of resurrection in the lives of believers. These building blocks provide a foundation for people to activate their faith in the present. They are both causes and effects of spiritual growth and conversion. When we retell the story of Christ, extend hospitality to a nonbeliever, mentor someone in the faith, or give generously, these practices shape our spiritual lives. As we do them, we grow closer to Christ and so do the people we touch. Research suggests the same thing happens when we go public in our faith and share a testimony.
In the early churches, people gathered together to eat, read scripture, and share the story of how Jesus Christ fulfilled the hopes and dreams of the Hebrew scriptures. The Christians called these Old Testament passages the testimonia, and the New Testament writers included them in their books. The word testimonia is also at the root of our word for testimony: the story of one’s personal, ongoing faith in Christ.
For years, Baptists have viewed a testimony as either a dramatic story of someone who was “blind but now they can see” or something that extroverted people like to do when called upon by the preacher. The book of Acts suggests otherwise. Luke tells us that Paul shared his testimony three times, adapting the story to fit the circumstances and the audience. The purpose of the story was not to count the number of conversions, or to impress someone else with a dramatic reversal in life. A testimony tells Jesus’ story and the small part we play in the larger narrative of his work. We participate in a living, ongoing conversation with another person as we point them to Christ.
In their book Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth, Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson found that these spiritual conversations are a catalyst for discipleship. People who have at least six or more meaningful spiritual conversations grow in their relationship with Christ and the church.
On Sunday, we will look together at Paul’s last public appearance, when he shares his story as a prisoner. It’s the next building block of the resurrected life and the next step on the journey as we start here together. The good news is we don’t need a Damascus road experience to initiate the conversation. We just need a willingness to “tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.”
Friday, April 26, 2013 Comments (0)
This Sunday marks the conclusion of a five-year effort called “Here for Life.” Through the visionary leadership of Dr. Doug Dortch and the First Baptist family, you have given over $8.5 million to connect, renovate, and restore the facilities of the church. You have invested in a downtown community that is bursting with people who need the love of Christ. You have committed to a neighborhood full of people who represent some of the neediest cases as well as the most promising students.
None of us could take credit for what has happened here. Through God’s abundant provision and your sacrifice, you have not only weathered a financial storm; but you also have a spiritual landmark to commemorate what has happened here. When Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan, they built a monument to remember their journey. The Welcome Center and other additions provide a living reminder from this point forward of our church’s commitment to Christ and God’s faithfulness to us during these past few years.
This Sunday, I invite you to join me as we mark a milestone in our church’s journey together and blaze a trail of generosity. We will look together at how the early church took care of each other and their community during economic hardship in Jerusalem. As the capital campaign comes to an end, I will invite you to direct what you are already in the habit of giving to Here for Life and give to the budget resources.
After four months into the year, we have a deficit of approximately $50,000. If each of us gives just a little more, we can catch up the deficit and prepare for a great summer and fall of ministry ahead. How can we do that? If you are already giving to the capital campaign, as those commitments come to an end, give those resources to our operating budget. For others who have not been able to give to Here for Life, start together by giving to the Lord through the church.
Generosity is just another building block in the resurrected life. When Jesus is Lord, he turns our finances into a vehicle for life, for each other and for everyone in our community. Let’s start here Sunday.
Thursday, April 18, 2013 Comments (0)
Calvin Miller once wrote, “We once existed as prayer requests before we existed as believers.” When Peter arrived on Cornelius’s doorstep in Caesarea, he was an answer to his and the centurion’s prayer. Cornelius arrived into the family of God and created all kinds of challenges for Jerusalem, Antioch, and the growing, burgeoning movement called the Way.
The Holy Spirit creates as much of a disturbance as it does deliverance. Believers are pushed out of their comfort zones to hang around with other sinners. The converts begin reorienting their lives around “Jesus as Lord of all” but are not quite sure how to leave behind the old practices and habits to take on the new life in Christ.
Sprinkled throughout the New Testament, relationships emerge that are designed primarily around character formation. There was no set program or curriculum, but a teaching emerged in various pockets around the Mediterranean world designed to disconnect from the old way and connect people into the life of Christ and the church.
This paideia, or pedagogy, can be found in several passages. For instance, in 1 Timothy 4:13 Paul urges Timothy, “Devote yourself to the public reading of scripture.” In Hebrews 10, a preacher teaches believers how to learn from suffering. In Titus 2, women teach Timothy through correction and accountability.
There are many more, but these are just a few of the relationships spawned by the resurrection. Each one was unique, tailored to the individual and community. As the early churches discovered in Acts, they needed more than a welcome mat, a reception of punch and cookies, and a nametag. They needed time, and they took whatever was necessary to pour their lives into each other. If we start here, Tallahassee can be a community filled with this kind of character formation. Let’s take the next step Sunday.
Friday, April 12, 2013 Comments (0)
Last Thursday evening and Saturday, we opened the doors of First Baptist for the Passion Tour and Springtime Tallahassee, and the Spirit blew in. A couple thousand or so strangers became guests as they worshiped with us on Thursday night. On Saturday they used our facilities, ate cookies, changed a diaper, or drank a cup of coffee. A couple even wrote a thank you check. Many just expressed appreciation. Some came to worship on Sunday because you demonstrated the Christian practice of hospitality.
Robert Schnase writes, “Hospitality means we pray, plan, prepare, and work toward the purpose of helping others receive what we have received in Christ.” Every person who comes to church for life was first welcomed by someone in the church. Hospitality signifies vibrant congregational life and requires the ongoing spiritual discipline of welcoming people who are strange—and strangers—to us. It forms another building block of the resurrected life in the book of Acts. As we recall and retell the stories of Jesus in our own words, the Spirit opens the doors of our hearts and those of the strangers we encounter every day.
According to the book of Acts, there is one kind of stranger that the Spirit especially loves to connect to followers of Christ: God-fearers. These are people who believe in one God, are spiritually minded, but are not very religious in their devotion to Jesus. These people, like the Ethiopian eunuch, Saul, Lydia, and Cornelius; they believe in one God but have not quite accepted the reality that Jesus really is Lord. Often, the Spirit’s greatest barrier is not in the heart of the God-fearer but in locating a Christian brave enough to eat with the seeker on his own turf. The Spirit needs people to listen long enough to their questions and concerns about Jesus and his followers.
This connection happens initially not when we open the doors to invite them to come into our building. That usually works pretty well for people who already believe in Jesus. For those who don’t we have to become the guest and allow the God-fearer to be the host. That’s tough if you are afraid of being perceived as a “stumbling block” to other believers. But for Christians comfortable enough to trust the Spirit’s movement, all kinds of doors fling open in the book of Acts and in Tallahassee.
Last week, we asked you to recall and retell the Emmaus story in your own words to a resurrection friend. Now that you’ve practiced on friendly ears, imagine having dinner with someone who does not believe in Jesus yet but is willing to talk with you about God. Let’s start together and see where the Spirit takes us. If we are willing, someone might be inviting you to share your story too.
Friday, April 05, 2013 Comments (0)
Jesus said that those who hear his words and put them to practice will be like wise people who build a house on the rock. Everyone starts somewhere, so what if you were to begin again right here following the resurrection? It’s a process that requires a few building blocks for this kind of life.
Following the resurrection in Luke and into the book of Acts, people encounter the risen Christ along the path of life. Each event is an opportunity for a new beginning. Each person is not alone; he usually has a friend or a mentor who accompanies him. He is usually pushed out of his comfort zone of religion or culture and into a radical relationship with Christ like never before. This life requires risk and adventure, danger and opportunity, suffering and sacrifice. Each response opens a door of faith not only for the convert’s life but also the community that surrounds him.
These examples of living encounters with Christ form the building blocks for believers starting over with the resurrection. I’ve identified eight foundational elements that each person has in Luke and Acts that we can learn from. We are invited to build our lives using many of the same qualities: Memory, Hospitality, Character, Generosity, Testimony, Mission, Worship, and Vocation. During the Easter season through Memorial Day, I will be preaching about each one of these building blocks for a resurrected life. They are in no particular order. Each one is important, and each one has power for life today. Each one can help you start again rebuilding a life that encounters the risen Lord.
As we go along, share you stories where these building blocks are already a part of your life. Email me, post a story or two on our Facebook site, or tweet with the hashtag #StartHere. At the end of the series, I’ll invite you to pick one to try this summer and report what you learned. For those of us who have discovered or rediscovered the resurrection, the empty tomb is a wonderful place to lay a new foundation on the life of Christ. Let’s start here together.
Everything Starts Here
Friday, March 29, 2013 Comments (0)
Everything starts with resurrection. We would not have the New Testament, the church, new life, our freedoms as a nation, First Baptist, or anything else we call life today unless we can say, “Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!” Resurrection is the dawn of a new creation, the beginning of new life. It takes us back to the Garden of Eden as if we were Adam and Eve being re-formed. We begin again from a garden tomb, clinging with Mary to a supposed gardener, only to hear the sound of her name from the Risen Lord. We start over as if we were terrified disciples behind closed doors watching as Jesus walks through the room. We move out, overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit that conquers the most difficult barriers that we can erect, opening doors of faith for the gospel to be preached and lives to be changed.
Most people merely manage the passing of time with birthdays or anniversaries. Others make New Year’s resolutions to start over each year, hoping to gradually improve. The calendar offers 365 days to try to get it right; and we keep going, making small steps of progress along the way. That’s the way of time management.
The Resurrection Way is God’s work. Here life begins with an empty tomb, the presence of a risen Lord, inviting disciples to a life of conversion. Easter Sunday gives us a day to remember why this Way is so important. We recall Jesus’ words, celebrate his presence and start living the message all over. Resurrection is still alive in the present when we choose to hear Paul’s question, “Death where is your victory, Grave where is your sting?”
Maybe that’s why the church chose the date of Easter to align with the beginning of spring. Centuries ago, Western Christians decided to gather at least once each year and celebrate on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal
equinox. I think they also knew that if we forgot, nature would remind us of the new beginning. Trees bud, flowers bloom, and seasons change.
So if you’ve forgotten how, or if the winter of life has left you dormant, Christ still has some work to do. It’s almost impossible to believe that a Jewish man from Galilee, born of a virgin, who walked on this earth a short time could have such an impact that his presence is still felt today in the world. But we believe it, and even more importantly, we live it. And if you ever doubted, show up Sunday. We’ll start here together.
Friday, March 22, 2013 Comments (1)
Whenever you meet someone new, usually people run through a series of courtesies. It’s customary to say, “Hi, How are you? Where are you from? Where do you live?” But after the social niceties, how do you get to know a group of church people? The scriptures tell us that it’s a bit like opening a door with hope to see what and who might be on the other side.
When Paul and Barnabas returned back to their missionary home base in Antioch of Syria, Acts 14 says, “They gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” Each Sunday you will be hearing bits and pieces of my story in these first few weeks together. I also want to get to know what God is doing through you, and the needs and opportunities in our community. We might even find an open door of faith to the lost and needy in our community.
To assist me, I am asking these questions to guide our conversations and discussion.
If you have time, send an e-mail or jot me a note. I will be asking similar questions of people in our community who share a desire for the common good in Tallahassee. I’ll compile this information and share (with no names attached) in a usable form to our church leadership in May. This will be a way for us to hear the burning issues and opportunities that are like open doors for us as we begin the journey together.
As Revelation 3:8 suggests, “I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” Let’s walk through those doors together.
Friday, March 15, 2013 Comments (0)
Thank you for the warm welcome to Kelly and me this past weekend. We are thrilled to be in Tallahassee and anticipate all that lies ahead as we journey together. The staff has gone above and beyond to make our way smooth and easy. The Pastor Search Committee has charted a wonderful beginning from now to Memorial Day weekend. I am looking forward to meeting many of you, breaking bread together, and learning more about God’s work in our church.
This Sunday marks a significant milestone. We celebrate Fran Buhler’s 20th anniversary as Associate Pastor and express our gratitude for his service as Interim Senior Pastor. Fran and Nancy’s calling into the life of vocational ministry came from within our congregation. They led as active laypeople before joining our staff. Fran could have done any number of things, but he loves our church so much that he has been willing to serve our church. He has been Interim Senior Pastor not just once, but twice. Just as he did before, he has built a bridge that all of us have walked across on this journey together.
Associate Pastors share the same calling that all have in vocational ministry. They rarely get the credit or applause that goes to staff in the spotlight. They are neither second chairs nor backup quarterbacks. They are armor bearers for the church family and the Senior Pastor, protecting, guiding, encouraging, and consoling all of us. In 1 Samuel 14, Saul’s son Jonathan asks his armor-bearer to help him engage the Philistines on the outskirts of Gibeah. “Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer responded. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.” Fran continues to be with First Baptist with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength. Thank you, Fran, for your partnership in the gospel. I am grateful.
This Sunday, we gather at the Lord’s table to share our first communion together as Pastor and people and receive the quarterly benevolence offering. In this season of lent, we gather in remembrance of the One who made it possible for us to be here and welcomed us with open arms of love.