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Posts from October 2011

Don't Miss the Call

01 Don't Miss The Call

As we journey through the central story of the Bible, the Gospel account, we find ourselves at this juncture where John the Baptizer publicly declares Jesus to be the Christ, or Messiah. This event was a lifetime in the making for John and it signified the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. 

Missed-callsAt age 30, Jesus steps out of the crowd to publicly declare His identity and role as Messiah to the people. John baptizes Jesus. The Father says from heaven to Jesus “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” The Holy Spirit descends like a dove upon Him. The Trinity – in all His glory – Father, Son & Spirit – Three, but One. This is it.

The account continues to the day after the baptism.

 John 1:35-42(ESV) 

35The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

Some things become very clear in this portion of the story.

Pointing Others to Jesus is the Point of John’s Ministry

We discussed this at length last Sunday, but it bears repeating. John had a purpose in his ministry, and his life, and it was to point others to Jesus. That’s it. Simple. John was not about John. He was all about Jesus.

When Jesus was revealed to John as the Messiah, the Christ, he immediately knew his role was diminishing.

He declared, when asked by the religious leaders of the day, that his role was that of “one crying in the wilderness. . . making way for the Lord”

This seems to be a risky endeavor, and one that many would not be able to take. John developed a following, had a name, and drew a crowd.

Simply put, John was a star.

Yet, the day after the baptism of Christ, after days of preaching of repentance and baptizing followers seeking new starts, he’s still overwhelmed.

Apparently, after the baptism of Christ, Jesus did not leave. It seems that everyone just stayed around to hear more about this “Lamb of God.” So, the next day, while John is standing over to the side with two of his disciples, he echoes what he declared the day before “Behold, the Lamb of God” and at that moment the two disciples left John to follow Jesus.

The normal reaction to this would be jealousy or hurt, but not here. John was pleased. This was the point of his ministry, from the very beginning, to point people to God. In this case, he did not lose two disciples. Rather, these two disciples were called up. They graduated.

Think about minor league baseball players. Think about the Jacksonville Suns. There are hundreds of men who have come through Jacksonville hoping for the chance to be called up to the major leagues. Most never make it, but a few do. The minor league baseball manager realizes his job is to prepare and equip his players for the hopefully eventual call up to the majors. A manager can claim honor for how many men he sends up. That’s what John was doing – preparing the way.

When Jesus saw the two disciples coming after him, he stopped and asked them a question. “What are you seeking?”

They answered Jesus’ question with a question – “Where are you staying?”

A selfless answer from disciples of a selfless leader (John) coming to Jesus. Just as Jesus was declared the Word made flesh who had come to dwell with humanity, these humans affirmed their desire to dwell with Him.

Jesus Is Contagious

Not in the sense of germs or disease, but of attractiveness. Once you spend some time – some real, intimate time with Jesus, you want to share Him. God is not a secret. One of the two men who left John to be with Jesus was Andrew.

Andrew is a great character study in the Gospels. Every time we see him, he’s bringing someone to Jesus.

In this case, he goes to find his brother Simon. When he finds Simon he declares “We’ve found Him!”

This implies that they were looking for Him. They didn’t know his name was Jesus, but they were looking for Him, regardless. They were looking for the Christ, the Messiah. They believed without seeing. They believed God was truthful and that his promises and prophecies were to come true. They believed. Andrew believed.

After a day with Jesus, can you picture this scene? Hanging out with Jesus for a day – Jesus, God the Son, Son of God, spoken Word of God, Creator – and you say “Jesus, I need to leave for a little while. May I be excused.” What? Why would anyone leave Jesus? Because Jesus is not a secret. He had to tell others, especially his brother.

Simon is brought to Jesus and immediately Jesus looks up (you can almost see him smile here) and says “So you’re Simon? From now on I’m calling you Cephas (Peter) – meaning rock.”

Jesus Changes Who We Are

It’s more than a name change, but it begins there. Names mean things. We name things we love. We name our children. People name their boats. Names matter.

Your name matters.

When you come to Jesus – you get a new name. Your new name signifies your new identity.

Now, for most of us, we won’t know that name until we get to heaven, but you have it nonetheless.

Revelation 2:17(ESV)

 17He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers. . .

 (1 John 5:4(ESV) 

4For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.)

 . . . I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’

In Simon’s case, the name was given right then, publicly, so that all would hear. No longer would Simon be around. At that moment, Peter was born. It was a born again experience. The past is erased. No condemnation for past sins. A new name – a new life – a new man.

Jesus was building his team. He was drawing to Himself the men he would choose to use to turn the world upside down.

John 1:43-51(ESV) 

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”  51And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Jesus Knows

We all have histories. There are parts of our individual stories that we’re proud of – accomplishments, awards, good things. There are chapters in our stories that are worth re-reading. They bring back good memories. It’s like looking through a photo album of family vacations and special events.

Then, there are parts of our stories that we don’t like to re-visit. They’re painful. They’re embarrassing. They’re secrets (we think.) Sometimes, though we do revisit those and it’s not good.

In this part of God’s story, another day has passed. Jesus has some disciples now. Yet, he’s not finished calling and building his team. He goes seeking some specific men. These men had no idea he was coming that day, but Jesus had a plan.

He finds Philip and says “Follow me.”

Philip apparently knew Andrew and Peter and when seeing them with Jesus must have thought “This must be the one we’ve been waiting for.”

Philip pulls an Andrew and goes to get another, a man named Nathanael.

I love his statement here: “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 

Even better is Nathanael’s response “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Do you think Nathanael wishes he could have taken back that statement? Do you think that maybe a couple of years in the future after walking with Jesus and hearing him teach, watching him heal and do miracles he ever had this moment come back to mind?

When Jesus sees Nathanael coming he says “Look at this – an Israelite with integrity.” Nathanael then questions how Jesus knew anything about him and then Jesus begins to tell how he knew everything about him. He even brought up the very scenario before Philip arrived. I think he’s saying, without saying it, “I even heard what you said about Nazareth,” with a smile, of course.

Nathanael believes. Jesus knows. He knows the good times. He knows the bad and painful times. He even knows the embarrassing, sin-filled times. . . and yet, still calls you to Himself.

Where are you in this story?

Are you John the Baptizer? Are you comfortable in your skin? Do you understand your role? Do you understand your purpose in life as a believer is to point others to Christ? Are you doing this?

Are you Andrew? Are you so enamored with Jesus you want to dwell with him? Have you discovered him to be the one you’ve been waiting for? Are you bringing family to him?

Are you Peter? Have you been introduced to Jesus? Has He changed your name and given you new life? Has the past disappeared?

Are you Philip? When Jesus says “Follow me” do you? Or, do you say “Later” or “In a minute”? Like Philip, are you bringing your friends to Jesus?

Are you Nathanael? Do you have that cynical nature? Are you a glass half-empty person? Pretty negative? Do you have chapters in your story you’d just assume not exist? Do you realize that He knows your past. . .and still loves you?

In truth – you’re not really any of these men, but you may have some similarities. You are you! Yet, the same Jesus who called these men to follow Him says the same to you today – Follow me!

Missed Opportunities

I have been thinking about missed opportunities lately.

P-30094-bill-buckner-mookie-wilson-1986-world-series-16x20-photo-ssg-ubw-16aSports teams and athletes are graded on these at times. Honestly, can a World Series be played without at least one reference to Bill Buckner's flub of the Series ending ground ball back in 1986?

Will Chris Webber forever be known as the Wolverine who called a time out when there were none to be called in the 1993 NCAA Championship game? 

It remains to be seen if the 2011 American League Championship Series hero for the Texas Rangers, Nelson Cruz, will ever be able to escape his error in this year's World Series.

Sports can be brutal and legacies are made or broken often with just one play - one missed opportunity.

Yet, beyond the sporting world, there are more important and deeper missed opportunities.

Perhaps I carry a fear of having far too many of these in my history.

Funerals bring this to mind. As I hear family members and friends share of their recently deceased loved one, I often hear a whisper of regret in their voices. In many times, this whisper echoes larger regrets. Things left undone or unsaid. Regret of missed opportunities.

Dr. Frank Page, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee recently spoke of missed opportunities in messages at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He uses the term "irrecoverable moments" borrowed from Billy Graham's autobiography Just As I Am.

T. Patrick Hudson and Frank Michael McCormick wrote of Page's messages recently for Baptist Press. Here are some outtakes:

At Midwestern, Page said God sometimes provides irrecoverable moments when believers have opportunities to accomplish Kingdom tasks -- and they can either get it right or get it wrong. The results of their decisions will impact life either positively or negatively forever, Page said, noting that such times come for nations, families, marriages, churches and individuals.

"The call comes for many reasons. We know that God calls to salvation, and He initiates the act of salvation," Page said in his Midwestern chapel message in mid-September.

God calls people to suffering and to service, Page continued. "We don't hear that talked about a great deal. That's not on our Top 10 list -- 'I want to suffer for Jesus,'" Page said. "In that suffering, God does something mighty special in teaching, training, edification, sanctification and growth. In the midst of that calling to suffering, He calls to offer us His loving care. Don't ever forget that."

"Is the Word of God rare now? Is God struggling to find men and women who will listen to His call and instruction?" Page asked. "We are in the most individualistic age I've ever imagined. We think we can perceive better than anyone else. It's that kind of intransient spirit that God struggles to get through. We need prepared hearts that are open and responsive to the call. Humble your hearts, be available and listen to God."

"Your irrecoverable moment is coming," Page said. "Just maybe God is doing a work in your life now that could be considered an irrecoverable moment. If you'll make a decision and you'll allow Him to do what He wants to do, He can change your life forever and the Kingdom of God will be blessed."

Dr. Page's message was targeted to seminary students, but it rings true for all believers. Moments come and moments go. Opportunities arise and are often missed. Once gone. . .they're gone.

It is through discernment we recognize the moments, the opportunites. Unlike a sporting event where a certain play or mental mistake may cost a game, a spirtual miss or inability to recognize a "God moment" is much more tragic.

May we be alert, aware and in tune with the Spirit of God so that we do not become categorized as another who missed a great opportunity.


The Cooperative Program & Missional Living

Earlier this week I wrote about our church's increased giving to the Cooperative Program through undesignated gifts. This has spurred some interesting conversations. 

One question asked was "How does an individual's giving through CP help connect them to the field?"

It's a great question and deserves more than a simple "It just does!" answer.

In fact, even an answer that sounds more like "Well, that's what we're supposed to do as Southern Baptists," isn't valid.

As a church who has intentionally and strategically shifted focus to living missionally, the traditional CP gift must also be explained and understood. As one pastor shared "It's a new conversation." This new conversation must clearly explain and define how CP giving and all that entails the Cooperative Program equates to living missionally.

So, how does CP giving connect people to the field? In a broad sense, through the funding of missionaries and other ministries, the field workers can actually stay on the field longer. In this sense, the giver (i.e. the local chuch member) is connected to the field through support. Of course, portions of CP monies go toward theological education and denominational budgets, but these must be viewed as essential as well. No one desires to see a top-heavy beaurocracy develop that keeps funds from the field. I imagine that the denomination-wide Great Commission Resurgence has brought this to everyone's attention. Our (Southern Baptists) desire to be good stewards of God's resources.

Though I espoused support of CP and even shared why we as a church are increasing our percentage giving, just giving to CP is not necessarily missional. It can be, and in our case is, a portion of our missional strategy.

BB2I love basketball, and one of the most popular and effective basketball plays of all time is the "give and go." I won't go into the finer points of the give and go here, but I do believe this is a good strategy for the local church and for leading into missionality.

Give and Go!

To give financially and do nothing else is inefficient and ineffective. Sure, the finances can be used for Kingdom work, but a deeper connectivity of the individual to Kingdom work is forsaken.

Our strategy is to lead God's people to "give" generously and cheerfully as an expression of worship. While doing this, we are to be "going" to the field and serving Him there.

The Great Commission reminds us that as Christians, we are to go. As we go, we are to make disciples. This is not up for a vote. It's our mandate.

Matthew 28:19-20(ESV)
19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in£ the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We believe that all Christians are to be on mission and serving missionally in our community and on the field. For some, this means participating in a global mission trip. For others, it may be volunteering at one of our local schools as a mentor. It may be numerous other missional activities such as disaster relief, serving at the Clothes Closet, even raking a neighbors yard. For the few who are truly homebound, their act of service may be writing cards, making phone calls and as with all other believers, praying earnestly for the lives and eternal destinations of those in our community and world. All this work, which is an outgrowth of our faith, is done solely for the glory of God and with a Kingdom focus.

It's my belief that each Christian must not only give faithfully and generously, but go as well to the field.

To go without giving is incomplete.

To give without going is ineffective.


Why We Are Increasing Our Giving to the Cooperative Program

In Southern Baptist life, the Cooperative Program has been a mainstay for decades. From our beginning as Southern Baptists, the idea of being "on mission" and fulfilling the Great Commission together has existed. It wasn't until 1925 that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) launched a concerted giving partnership to fund missions, education and denominational work. This effort was, and is called the Cooperative Program (CP).

2011-2012-CPBudgetThrough the collaboration of donated gifts from SBC churches, the CP funds missions through the International and North American Mission Boards (72.99 percent) theological education through the six SBC seminaries and historical archives (22.16 percent) the operating budget of the SBC (3.2 percent) and Christian Ethics and Religious Liberty ministries (percent)* CP also funds the missions and ministries of the Florida Baptist State Convention, including church planting, theological education, compassionate ministries and other efforts of Florida Baptists.

I have been a Southern Baptist all my life. While growing up, my family claimed membership in numerous Southern Baptist churches. Oh, we were not church hoppers. My father was in the military and so our moves were determined by the Department of the Air Force. However, regardless where my father was stationed, we would find a Southern Baptist church to unite with and serve in.

In those days, most Southern Baptist churches were similar. Whether we were in Alaska or Alabama, Texas or Tennessee, the SBC churches we united with had similar floor plans (from the Architectural Department of the then Baptist Sunday School Board,) the same bulletins (complete with the image on the front, devotional story on the back and the little missionary picture and bio as well which we. . .well I. . .used to embellish with added sunglasses and mustaches.) We even had the same hymnbooks - The Baptist Hymnal (though there was the radical change from the older blue ones to the newer 1975 maroon editions.) 

The aesthetic similarities were there, but more importantly, each church we united with was an active giver to the Cooperative Program.

Times have changed, and I'm not complaining. I actually like the new, creative floor plans that many churches have. The "cookie-cutter" churches weren't very creative. I'm even a fan of churches that meet in schools, theaters, homes and strip-centers. I've never really been enamored with facilities. Church bulletins are more announcement sheets now and hymnals? Well, we have them in the worship center, but we don't use them. Our songs are projected on the screen. I'm sure some don't like this, but I love it. People sing louder and better when they're looking up rather than staring down into a book.

However, not all changes have been good or progressive.

It seems that there are more SBC churches who have chosen to decrease their Cooperative Program efforts. In Florida alone, CP giving has decreased from a peak of $39.6 million four years ago to $32.6 million in 2010, with a budget of $31 million for 2011.

While there is no biblical mandate for the church to "tithe" to the Cooperative Program in giving, I believe it is a great model for good and proper stewardship.

As a church, we have consistently given 10 percent of undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program for years. I remember a discussion within the church years ago about reducing this percentage. That discussion was quickly squelched. It seemed then that 10 percent would be the floor for our giving through CP.

I am proud to share that pending approval of the 2012 budget this coming Sunday, First Baptist Church of Orange Park will be increasing our giving to CP to 10.25 percent of undesignated receipts. Our intent is to systematically increase by one quarter of one percent over the next four years so that by 2015 we will be giving 11% of undesignated gifts to CP.  However, I don't want to make it seem that even 11 percent is the ceiling. Our giving may increase beyond that. I just don't know, but am seeking God's lead in this.

We are also increasing our giving to Jacksonville Baptist Association missions. 

The truth of the matter is that you cannot out-give God. 

As Southern Baptists, I pray we do not forsake the unique cooperative efforts of the CP. I fear that many Southern Baptists have no idea what the Cooperative Program is or what it does.

I know many churches have shifted funds for numerous reasons. Some reasons are based on economics. Some are based on wanting to fund church plants, satellite campuses and provide support for individual missionaries and mission efforts. Regardless the reason, I'm just not convinced they're good enough.

As a pastor and church, we have had to make some hard decisions regarding church finances. The economy affects all organizations.

We believe in supporting church planters and missionaries as well as mission trips, mission efforts and missional expressions locally. Each requires funding and we have committed to do these at different levels.

However, we have decided that at this point, Cooperative Program giving is an "untouchable" line item in our budget when it comes to decreasing. 

This is not a gimmick. It's not a game. It's about being faithful and trusting God. 

Throughout the state of Florida, SBC pastors and churches are being challenged to recommit their efforts of giving to CP. We have taken the challenge (Actually, we made the decision to increase our giving before we knew of the state-wide challenge. It's good to be early adopters. ) and are committed to the cooperative efforts of Southern Baptist churches and entities.

I would encourage all Florida Southern Baptist churches to take the challenge to increase CP giving. You can pledge to do this here.

Why do this?

Not to brag about the SBC.

Not to draw attention to our church.

Give because together we can reach more men, women, boys and girls throughout the world in the name of Jesus Christ. We do not want to miss what God is doing in His Kingdom.

As one friend told me, "We can run faster alone, but further together."

This is Kingdom work. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

*These are percentages for the 2011-2012 Cooperative Program Allocation Budget.

Know Who You Aren't

2-01 Know Who You Aren't

Not-me-A4_posterThere have been some strange news stories on television lately. One is about a man named Phoenix Jones who likes to be known as the Seattle Superhero. Apparently, even Phoenix Jones (his not-so-secret identity) isn't even his real name. His real name is is Benjamin Fodor. He made the news because he was arrested for apparently inciting a fight on the streets of Seattle. He says he was trying to break up the fight. Since he wears a superhero costume, complete with rubber abs (kind of like George Clooney in his Batman film) he felt he could be a crime fighter.

Another story is of the man in the Phillipines who has had numerous plastic surgeries in order to change his look. He is systematically making himself look like his hero - Superman. Yes, Superman. So now, this man looks like a comic book character. He even has a Superman costume.

These are strange stories, but at a deeper level, very sad.

It's all about identity. How many people in this world are not comfortable in their own skin? How many would rather be someone else, even to the degree of pretending they are?

In this message, we see John the Baptizer clearly proclaiming his identity. He had every opportunity to draw attention, to become the big deal. . .yet, he knew he was not the point of the story. His role, like ours, is to point others to Christ. 

I think we can learn a lot from John.

John 1:19-34(ESV)
19And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 
20He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 
21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 
22So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 
23He said, “I am£the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight£ the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
24(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 
25They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 
26John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 
27even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 
28These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!   30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’   31I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”   32And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.   33I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’   34And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

Does Laughing at This Mean I'm Getting Old?

It's Wednesday. I've taken a couple of days off to help (i.e. watch) my father-in-law replace our rotted back doors at home and build a cover for our back porch (Actually, it's not a porch. It's just a slab of concrete.)

I remembered I had a 3pm meeting today to help plan a wedding next summer, so I came into the office for the meeting.

I am prepared for my Bible study tonight.

Then, I checked Facebook and found this picture posted on a friend's site. 

I laughed out loud. 

I'm now listening to my Lionel Richie Greatest Hits CD on iTunes. So far, I've said "Hello" am "Dancing on the Ceiling" and remembered that "Sunday Morning is Easy." 

I also received a message from an old high school friend regarding our 25th reunion happening this weekend, which I will not be able to attend.

Amazing how you can be going through a day and in just a moment be thrust back to the mid-1980s. 

The Word Became Flesh

01 The Word Became Flesh

3844027-john-1-1--the-word-became-flesh-popular-new-testament-passageWe all have heard the details of how Jesus became flesh – the accounts of the angel visiting Mary and Joseph. The stories of the shepherds and the wise ones from the east, and all that is and will be shared in detail in just a couple of months.

The thing is that sometimes in sharing the Christmas account, we may miss the awesomeness of this part of the story – the Word became flesh.

The word used in verse 14 for “dwelt” is from the Greek term meaning “set up a tent.”

That sounds like He came to live among us temporarily, and in a sense, since he was only on the planet for 33 years, that was temporary, but we mustn’t limit Jesus to this. Rather than a picture of time, it is a picture of relationship.

For example, in Revelation 21 where the eternal new heavens and new earth are described, it says:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place£ of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,£ and God himself will be with them as their God. Revelation 21:3 (ESV)

What is being shared here is not the temporary nature of Jesus dwelling with us, but the closeness of his dwelling. He desires to be on familiar terms with us. He desires much interaction.

If you move into a community and build a nice big house, then put a wall around your home and security gates, limited accessibility is inferred. You have a compound and it’s designed to either keep you hidden and protected inside or keep others out, or both.

We  saw a home in Honduras like this. Then, we found out it was the home of some missionaries. Interesting.

But, if you come into the community and pitch a tent in my backyard, most likely, you are going to come into my home at times. You may need to use my bathroom. Maybe you’ll need the kitchen or even eat dinner with me at my table.

Jesus, the Word, became flesh and pitched a tent in this human backyard. This put him in a position to have many dealings with us.

This contrasts the teachings of mythology where the gods and goddesses lived on a mountaintop, never to be visited by the lowly humans. The only time they came down was to use the humans for their own pleasure or to punish them.

So, when the Gospel teaches that God, the One and only, clothed himself in human flesh and came into humanity’s backyard for the purpose of dwelling with us, it was revolutionary.

Can you hear the Gentile myth-believers saying “Wait a minute. Tell us more about your God.”

This is taken for granted in our world. We aren’t amazed. We don’t see the great significance in this.

The Christmas story is sweet and we have dumbed it down to be the story of a man and a woman and no room in the inn and shepherds and songs and carols and “Silent Night.”

In the midst of all that. . .the most incredible thing in history was occurring.

The Word became flesh and pitched his tent in our backyard.


"Great Scott!" Einstein's Theory May Be Wrong!

The latest news from the CERN laboratory in Geneva could change everything. . .at least that's what we hear. While I don't visit the CERN website all that often (today's click marks my first visit) I find their latest discovery pretty amazing. 

There have been many more newsworthy items, such as the release of the "Footloose" remake and the Kardashian wedding, recently that have pushed this story to the back page of the newspaper (For clarification - newspapers are an ancient form of transferring worthy items of information to the masses. They still exist, but they are smaller and harder to find. The "back page" refers to the fact other items trended higher and therefore, in this case, the story has been mostly relegated to technology blogs and websites.) 

The Week magazine headline is this "A surprising threat to Einstien's theory." 

That's pretty newsworthy.

EinsteinIt seems there exist tiny, microscopic, subatomic particles called neutrinos. They have the power to move through solid objects. We're not talking objects like a piece of wood or a spoon. The objects these particles can slide through are things like. . .oh, mountains.

Anyway, these super-fast, super tiny particles have challenged scientists since their discovery. 

Here's the latest. . .

Physicists at the CERN laboratory in Geneva said last week they had clocked subatomic particles called neutrinos moving faster than the speed of light. Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity, which established the foundation of modern physics in 1905, holds that nothing int he cosmos can outrun light, which travels at 186,282 miles per second. If neutrinos can move faster than that, they could, in theory arrive at a destination before they had even left, opening the prospect of time travel. That idea is so shocking that most physicists can't believe the results are correct.

"We wanted to find a mistake" in the study that would leave Einstein's theory intact, but "we didn't," says lead researcher Antonio Ereditato. He and his colleages did not set out to test relativity; they only wanted to learn more about neutrinos - ghostly particles that can travel through most types of matter. But when they shot the neutrinos from Geneva through the Earth to a lab beneath Italy's Gran Sasso mountain, about 454 miles away, the particles consistently arrived about 60 nanoseconds faster than a beam of light could. (The Week, October 14, 2011, p. 24)

What does this really mean?

Does it mean that we are just a few years away from a "Great Scott!" moment with Doc Brown, a flux capacitor and a flying DeLorean?

Probably not.

DocbrownHowever, I know many who would like to go back in time and fix some things, especially in their junior high years. Again, probably not going to happen, though it continues to make a good storyline for movies. The salvation experiences of believers are set at certain times. Eternal destinations are determined at these junctures, by God's design and for His glory. My mind is already hurting trying to comprehend this aspect of life with time travel. Anyway, I digress.

What we do see happening now is something that was considered by the scientific world to be a foundation stone of physics - unchangeable and right, being called into question.

Non-believing scientists are now having to admit perhaps there is some dimension beyond that defined by linear time.

One blogger put it this way:

We have non-Christian biased scientists talking about a reality that would expand our thinking beyond linear time. Those of the white lab coat (scientists) not those of the black robe (clergy) are excited to consider this possibility. Christians have always believed that God existed outside of time.

If there is matter (notice the spiritual component has not entered the logic train) that can travel outside of the present tense, then there must be an “unseen realm” in which time resides. This is similar to the logic (although now introducing spirituality) that the mind (that little voice in your head) implies that we are more than physical beings.

If time sets in something which could be feasibly be traversed, then the notion of a God who exists outside of time moves from something that is by empirical standards a fairy tale to something that is at least empirically reasonable (maybe even probable or necessary… I am not qualified to make that assessment).

We (als0) have non-Christian biased scientists questioning the validity of the absolute nature of the law of cause and effect. Miracles now become scientifically possible. If the scientist did not recognize their findings could not explain all of reality, this claim would not be entertained. If there is a reality outside of the present tense, and travel between tenses were possible, then empirically unexplainable events could occur without having to be written off as “make believe stories.”

I want to be careful that I do not imply that the existence of God has been scientifically proven by neutrinos (as if this is the newest and best apologetic for God). (Brad Hambrick - October 7, 2011)

No, God does not need to be "proven" by neutrinos. I do, however, believe that God smiles as scientific findings continue to do more to give credence to a non-believing world in the existence of a Creator.

As a believer, I am intrigued by the neutrino story. I believe in the supernatural (though not the hyped-up Hollywood version) as revealed in Scripture. God is the Creator of all. Everything that exists was created through the Word (John 1) and consequently, nothing, not even recently discovered attributes of sub-atomic particles exist apart from His knowledge or plan.

Once again, I am amazed by the AWESOMENESS of our God!

(Oh, and I realize that while other guys are watching football games, I'm reading about neutrinos. That's why my kids call me a nerd. However, I do like to watch football games, too.)

The Revolutionary Power of Forgiveness

 01 Right Choices & the Power of Forg

 "Forgiveness is not saying that what you (the offender) did is OK?" - Renee Napier

Napier smallridgeWe hosted Renee Napier and Eric Smallridge once again last night. Our desire was to provide an opportunity for even more people to hear the message covering the warnings of driving under the influence and more importantly, the power of true forgiveness. 

If you haven't already, take the time to read yesterday's post that shares more detail about Renee and Eric's story. 

The presentation was spot on last night as well. Unfortunately, we did not have time for Q & A as we did on Tuesday. During the Q & A time, some really deep questions were asked and other tidbits about their journey were shared. Some of the questions, as I remember them were:

To Eric:

  • "What are your plans after you get out of prison?" (Eric): I have been taking A/C tech classes while in prison and hope to be able to find a job in this area, or whatever else God has planned for me. I remember what my mom always said "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans," so I try not to plan too far out.
  • "What about your girlfriend and her daughter that you mentioned? Are you still in touch? Will you get back together when you get out?" (Eric): Well, she is married now. It's OK, though. It's a reminder to all of us that one bad choice can result in losing so many things.
  • "What about your friend Mike who almost stopped you that night?" (Eric): When I went to trial, Mike was brought up as a witness. The lawyer asked him, while pointing at me, "Do you know this man?" Mike said, "Yes, he's my friend Eric." I was suprised and pleased. He still considered me a friend. Then, he asked Mike if he knew the two young ladies in the car that were killed (Meagan and Lisa,) and Mike said "Yes, I've known them for years. They're like little sisters to me." This was horrible. Mike knew all of us involved. I know he carries a burden of wondering if he could have stopped me that night. It's something he's carried with him and probably will continue to. I saw him a couple of years ago when we started this journey of telling our story. I told him that he was not to blame at all. I told him that it was all on me, that I made the decision, that I drove the car. Still, he hurts.
  • Have you forgiven yourself? (Eric): That's really hard. There are times I struggle with this. I know God has forgiven me. I know Renee and her family has forgiven me. Forgiving myself is hard.

To Renee:

  • "What about Lisa's family?" (Renee:) Lisa's family has forgiven Eric as well. This was hard for me, for them, for my children. Each had to come to this on their own. 
  • "Has your story been put in book form?" (Renee:) Not completely, but it is featured in a new book by Matthew West and Angela Thomas called The Story of Your Life. This is a compilation of over fifty stories submitted to Matthew over a year ago. He chose our story and featured it as one of the devotionals. My disclaimer is that I mentioned my son in the submitted story, but for some reason that sentence was edited out. I contacted my son immediately and showed him the original submission. He laughed about it and said, "Mom, that's the story of my life." He's a great man. 
  • "Have you been able to travel outside the state of Florida together?" (Renee:) No, that's not allowed. In fact, it's pretty miraculous that we're able to do this. (Eric:) Florida has a policy of never allowing offenders and offendees to be together, so this is unique.
  • "You seem really close to Eric?" (Renee:) I love him like a son. In fact, when we finish talking on the phone, we always end with "I love you." 

There were more questions, but these are the ones that come to mind right now. I wish I had recorded the Q & A. 

Regardless, I hope you can get a more complete picture of this story through this posting. Renee and Eric are speaking at Clay High School in Green Cove Springs this morning and then at Oakleaf High School on Friday. Pray for them as they wind down this three-week tour. They will be on the road again soon. They may be able to come back to Clay County or the Jacksonville area next Spring. If so, we will be involved as much as we can.

Never forget - forgiveness is powerful and freeing.


"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." - Lewis B. Smedes

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. - Ephesians 4:32 ESV




I want to offer a special thank you to Sheriff Rick Beseler and the Clay County Sheriff's Office for bringing Renee and Eric to our county and for allowing us the opportunity to partner with them.

"I Forgive You for Killing My Daughter" - R. Napier

Sometimes events and opportunities seemingly come out of nowhere. I do, however, fully acknowledge that while certain things seem to just happen, that there is no such thing as coincidence in God's economy.

About three weeks ago I received an e-mail from the Clay County Sheriff's Office. They were hosting a woman who is traveling throughout the state sharing of the dangers of drunk driving.  The reason for the contact to the church was to see if we would be able to help with some of the costs of housing this woman during her stay in the county.

Our response was to cover the entire hotel cost this week just to ensure that she would be able to come and those in the community could hear the story. After committing to this, we were also offered the opportunity to host her here at the church one evening for a community assembly (much like what was to happen in the schools.) We agreed.

Well, after scheduling this event to be held in our church facility for the community, I began to read more about this woman. Her name is Renee Napier. She used to live in Pensacola and now lives in St. Petersburg. In 2002, her daughter Meagan and Meagan's friend Lisa were driving home from a night at the beach when their vehicle was hit at high speed by a Jeep driven by 24 year old Eric Smallridge.

Eric's blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit.

Vehicles02Meagan and Lisa were killed instantly as their car was hit and subsequently wrapped around a tree.

It was May 11, 2002. This was Mother's Day weekend.

The story is terrible and the trial that was to follow put all the details in the forefront for the family members of Meagan, Lisa and Eric to re-live over and again.

About 18 months later, Eric was sentenced to two 11 year sentences in prison, to be served one after the other,  for DUI Manslaughter. That sentence was changed to two 11 year sentences to be served consecutively following the request of the families of Meagan and Lisa at a later hearing.

I read all about this on Renee's website ( or and noticed one word that was prominent on the site. That word was "FORGIVENESS." This piqued my interest.

Meagan01I had Renee's email address from the Sheriff's office, so I wrote her an email explaining that we were so proud to host her, but asking about this concept of forgiveness. I mentioned that as believers, we understand forgiveness (or at least say we do) and that I have preached about the revolutionary power of it. I asked if she had a faith background and wondered if that led her to be able to promote forgiveness in such a way.

It wasn't long before my phone rang. Renee had called me. She said she was writing an email response and decided that a phone call would be better. We talked for quite some time and she shared how her faith in Jesus Christ was what enabled and empowered her to forgive Eric. I was so encouraged and overwhelmed by this. To hear a mother that had lost one of her children in such a way offer true forgiveness was incredible.

The story does not end there. 

Onamission10Forgiveness is contagious. Lisa's family offered this as well. Renee's other children did too. Yet, I don't want you to think it was easy. As Renee shares, each person came to be able to do this in their own time. It meant burying the bitterness and removing the anger and letting God empower them. Apart from Jesus Christ, this story of forgiveness would not happen.

Renee was so excited to come here to Orange Park. They had been trying to figure out how to get their message into the churches, knowing they would have more freedom to share about Jesus in these venues. 

It's funny. Apparently Baptist churches and DUI stories don't seem to connect. Apparently, some churches don't want anything to do with the message of alcohol or DUI awareness. Maybe some just don't want to admit that many in their congregation may drink grape juice for the Lord's Supper, but drink the harder stuff in their living rooms.

I am not that naive.

I knew our teenagers (yes, our good Baptist teenagers) face the temptations of drinking and partying all too often and need to be reminded of these dangers. Even if the message is to plan ahead and have a designated driver, it may just save a life. Oh, and I readily admit this message is not just for teenagers.

However, deeper than the DUI message is one that simply must be heard by all. The revolutionary power of forgiveness. Forgiveness is so mis-defined today. Forgiveness is not saying to another person "What you did to me is OK." It's not. It's not OK that Eric Smallridge drove drunk and killed two young ladies. That's never going to be OK. 

Forgiveness goes much deeper. It's being able to say "What you did is not OK, but I choose not to hold it against you." 


Lives have been changed through Renee's and others' forgiveness in this story. Eric has come to know Christ personally as well. He will be the first to tell you that there are many "chain-gang conversions" in jail. Yet, after spending time with him and t alking to the deputies assigned to him this week, it seems that Eric is the real deal.

We hosted our community event last night. Oh, I didn't mention that Eric is here as well. He's still in prison, but has been released to the CCSO for this week. It's powerful to see Renee and Eric stand together on stage. Eric wears his jail jumpsuit and is in handcuffs and ankle restraints. The visual is enough to shock you to listen. Then, the story unfolds. There was a group of about 100 here. Not bad, but afterward, I couldn't get out of my head that more in our area need to hear this. The CCSO had been looking for a venue to host another community event on Wednesday night (tonight) but had come up empty. At that point, I asked if they wanted to come back. 

Renee and Eric were excited about being able to share again. I know that most of the 100 will be here again, but hopefully, being Wednesday and a "regular church night" for us, even more will be here.

We've hit Facebook and Twitter and the word is out. This is a unique opportunity. It's more than a M.A.D.D. message about drunk driving. Those messages are needed and vital, yet this one goes deeper. 

It will be to your advantage to attend tonight if possible. Here are the details:

DUI Awareness & Forgiveness Event
First Baptist Church of Orange Park
1140 Kingsley Avenue
Orange Park, FL 32073
6pm - 7:15pm