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It has been said that everyone is either going into, through, or out of a storm. Storms of all sorts come. Having just come through a physical storm together, this Sunday evening we’ll be celebrating and giving thanks as we remember the gifts and the grace that are found in storms.
Please join us! We’ll be in the St. Johns Room at Faith Community Church (3450 CR210, 32259). We’ll get started around 6:45pm. I hope you can be with us.
“Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Jesus, Matthew 6:34
The First Coast is about to be hit by another hurricane. Matthew last year. Irma this year. Matthew was not a direct hit, but it made a bit of a mess. Irma won’t hit directly either, but has, and is promising to outdo her predecessor in so many ways. But it’s more than a day away. And today we’re enjoying the calm before the storm. Or maybe we’re enduring the anxiety and hype before the storm.
On days like this, I am grateful to be connected to others in missional community. I’d like to tell you we’re walking around like spiritual giants of peace, but I can’t. Really we’re just staying connected, loosely but intentionally. We’re a little anxious. We’re prayerful. We’re trying to love our neighbors and each other through the distraction. We’re praying for one another and for our friends and neighbors. We are aware of each other’s plans and of each other’s family members who are more likely to be in harm’s way. There have been some text-conversations. Heather and her Saturday morning Bible study group were able to serve a friend by taking care of some things in their house. I took a walk around the neighborhood, which revealed that most of our neighbors are staying. (We do not live in an evacuation zone). It looks like all the preparations have been made, too. That doesn’t mean we’re prepared for whatever happens, but I think we’re pretty reasonably prepared. I could sum it up this way: it’s a non-relaxing long weekend characterized by a waiting. And maybe some worrying, too.
Just a word about worry. I know that Christians aren’t supposed to worry. Jesus said not to. But I worry from time to time. Every honest follower of Jesus I’ve known well does, too. But worrying can steal our time, our joy, and our life. It can steal it from those around us, too. Worrying can be contagious. Prayer helps. Thanksgiving helps. Community can help if they are willing to pray and give thanks with you. Being a “non-anxious presence” reduces the anxiety in others. Watching the news all the time, telling and retelling my worries to other worried people – that doesn’t help. So I think I’ll go outside and try to make the most of the moment. Because for now, it’s not raining. For now, it’s not windy. That will change. But for now, I think I’ll take the dog out for a walk. (He doesn’t seemed worried at all. He is a steady, non-anxious presence). I wonder who’s outside this evening in my neighborhood. Maybe I could strike up a conversation. Maybe I could use the time to build community a bit. Who knows, I may bump into someone who could use a hand, who would benefit from a smile or a listening ear and a word of prayer. Maybe before the storm I can extend some grace and mercy to someone who needs it – and receive some grace and mercy, too.
May you experience grace and mercy tonight – and tomorrow!
I am sure many of you have been thinking about another coastal city this week. Houston has been on your hearts, in your minds and a subject in your prayers. I have been reminded several times that at this stage in a disaster it is better to send money than volunteers or things. (As time goes on, needs change.)
I encourage you to do a little research before you give. Salvation Army had the best track record during Katrina. Samaritan’s Purse has been very active in disaster relief around the world. Both are good at what they do.
And if you want to support people on the ground, I found the following information from two churches I know pretty well in Houston:
1st Pres Houston put together a Harvey Response Guide – note the “where to donate” section in the second column.
Grace Pres Houston has a video on their web-site (happens to feature my colleague and fellow Austin Seminary alumn Trey Little) about the Eagles Wings Foundation, with whom we could explore partnership.
Last thing: I love this quote:
“You’ll only know as much of God, and only as much of God, as you are willing to put into practice.” Eric Liddell
Thanks again for serving the Lord by loving people!
The other day, I watched as an interfaith band of clergy linked arms and marched up to a group of militant protesters made up of emboldened white supremacists and neo-Nazi’s gathered to “unite the right”. There the clergy knelt and prayed in the face of hatred and hostility. The vitriol of the group had been aimed, generally, at counter-protesters and anyone who dared to favor removing a Confederate Monument. But now it was aimed at the clergy, who boldly knelt and prayed.
I had to ask myself: had I been in their town, in Charlottesville, would I have linked arms, marched, and prayed? There’s no question that their action was an heroic, inspiring depiction of non-violent courage. As they knelt and prayed, they were shouted at, spat on, crowded, and, generally intimidated. “I could handle that,” I thought. But then I heard things were thrown at them, too. Soda cans that were filled with concrete. Ouch. Thinking about a soda can filled with concrete hitting me in the face while my arms were linked did something to my insides. Where would I find the courage?
That is not a rhetorical question.
Oh, and this is not just a thought exercise for me, either. Jacksonville has a monument debate going on, too. The possibility of being invited to march and kneel in the face of militants is quite possible. And I have many whom I love who militants despise. I count among my friends Muslims, Jews, African- Americans, Liberals, and Immigrants. And some are close friends.
So let me be clear about this. I have a great deal of respect for those who do what they did. When someone does something hard that I myself may lack courage to do, they earn my appreciation and respect.
But there was a problem. It was all clergy. Where were the everyday followers of Jesus? Why was it clergy only? Why did not every member of that group have one, two, or a half-dozen of their disciples with them? Granted, I may have missed something – but I only noticed clergy on the video.
Maybe they were simply being like Jesus – facing evil alone as a group. Maybe they were saying, “This is what Jesus would do.” But Jesus had a dozen (and more) disciples who spent most of the time learning to do exactly what he was doing. They abandoned him at his time of testing. It may have been according to God’s plan, but the disciples were ashamed they weren’t with him.
Back to the video: it recorded an excellent opportunity for publicity and a missed opportunity for discipleship.
The lack of disciples doesn’t surprise me. Over the last few years, I have learned that discipleship, actual discipleship, is rare in American churches. Bible studies, support groups, care groups, classes, great teaching, and powerful preaching are common. But discipleship as Jesus modeled it is as rare as a drama free worship band. This is not how it should be.
Let me explain. As Jesus modeled it, discipleship was life on life. And that takes time. Jesus spent a lot of time with a small group of disciples. He shunned crowds, withdrew from people, told his family to get lost, and even left the country to pour himself into his disciples. It was a priority. Most clergy spend most of their time working on preparing and delivering quality preaching and teaching. They also administer programs and overseeing the operation of the business side of the church. They also visit the sick, counsel, and connect with others. It’s demanding work, and it is completely necessary to maintain your typical institutional church. Ironically, if they do the work well, the demands of the job grow.
The work they do touches many but the lifestyle that goes with it actually works against discipleship because it squeezes out time for life on life. Many pastors sense something is wrong but don’t know what to do about it. I know this because I was one of those pastors. And I have some good friends who pastored like that. They have noticed the same thing.
Discipleship requires time.
Discipleship, as Dallas Willard defined it, is learning from Jesus to live like Jesus. In practice, it’s learning how to live like Jesus from someone or from a small community that lives like Jesus. It requires organized meetings and appointments, sure. But it also requires hanging out together. Something my teenagers are much better at than me. But it requires hanging out with a sense of purpose – with a sense of being involved in the Kingdom. It involves organized missional activity – like going out to serve together. But it also involves developing a recognition that we could be called on to join God in the work He’s doing at any time.
Like how God was inviting his people to represent him in Charlottesville.
Do you know what really cost the counter-protestors in Charlottesville? Some of them looked just like the militants. Another video I saw involved people pushing, shoving, and swinging clubs at each other. No surprise. But honestly, I couldn’t tell which group was which. I understand. It’s normal to return evil for evil. That instinct is in me, too.
So let me ask: Where will your everyday counter-protestors learn to practice that most effective nation-saving type of non-violence? Well, clergy, if you go out and do it alone, they may be inspired and they may cheer you on, but they aren’t likely to pick it up. A sermon is helpful, but training is required. They will need time, lots of time, with someone or a small community of people who know how to imitate Jesus in the face of hostility – like maybe their pastors, local clergy, who are willing to link arms and march up to the face of hatred, kneel, and pray as soda cans filled with concrete are thrown at them. And they could learn more in the process, like how to pray, serve, forgive, love neighbors, love enemies, and how to recognize when the Kingdom of God is at hand.
But there’s no time for that. I think the pastor’s busy in her office looking up the perfect Martin Luther King quote for this Sunday’s bulletin.
My sisters and brothers, we have important work to do. Much is at stake. Let us choose wisely how we live.
LoveFirstCoast will be gathering for worship this Sunday night in the St. Johns Room of Faith Community Church. This Sunday we will be gathering at
We’ll be considering Matthew 9:35-38 in light of Acts 1:8 and our calling as disciples in our place and time.
Jordan Simpson will be with us bringing a guest to share what God is doing in and through Young Lives.
You are invited!
I’m thinking about something Phillip Yancey wrote in What’s So Amazing about Grace.
You cannot do anything to make God love you more. And
You cannot do anything to make God love you less.
It just makes sense. What we do flows from the love of God. It has been my experience that we discover a lot of grace when “We love others because God first loved us.” (I John 4:19)
On August 6, we’re moving our worship gathering to the Alexander house (320 S. Buck Board, 32259) for an evening of Grace that includes sharing food and a time of worship.
If you’d like to join us, send me an email or a text, and I’ll fill you in on the details.
Hope you can make it. Dinner is at 6:30!