Friday, March 16, 2018

Congregational Skills in Missional Living

I stumbled upon Findley Edge’s 1971 book, The Greening of the Church, twelve years ago.  Like Neo swallowing the red pill or Lucy pushing through the wardrobe, my pastoral life and worldview have never been the same.  

Before Newbigin, Gruder, and Hirsh, Edge preached a missional theology of the church from the hallowed halls of Southern Seminary.  In his chapter, “God’s Call to Mission,” Edge poses “the central question in the life of the modern church”:  What really does it mean to be the People of God?  

Edge’s answer could be taken from any of our current, 
missional writers.  Being the People of God means becoming “a people who understand the divine mission which God is about in the world and who believe so deeply in God and what he is doing that they give their lives to join with him in accompanying this divine redemption mission.  And wonder of wonders – in doing this they find life!”  

Since the day I experienced the eureka of Edge’s missio dei, I have invested my pastoral leadership in two churches with a combined total of 330 years of ministry and life together.  Serving in the midst of this flow of history, I have discovered three vital, pastoral skills for leading God’s People.  

1. Spiritual listening:  
Engaging the world as the People of God requires skills in listening to God, each other, and the community.  As Baptists we spend much time in prayer meetings, prayer conferences and other opportunities directed at our personal prayer time.  However, we fail to develop the skills related to corporate discernment and spiritual listening.  

At First Baptist Cornelia, we have experimented with the practice of spiritual discernment.  Based on ideas from Transforming Church Boards into Communities of Spiritual Leaders by Charles Olsen, we reimagined our church conference and deacon agendas as opportunities of worship and developed orders of worship instead of agendas.  We open with calls to worship and repurpose our reports as offerings to God.  As pastor, I have learned the importance of consistency, repetition and language in breaking through the barriers of institutionalism.  

Last summer, we worked on developing our spiritual listening skills through the practice of holy listening on Wednesday nights.  I interviewed individuals and couples about their journeys of faith before the church.  In response, I invited the congregation to state the observations of God’s movement they heard in the lives of these church members.  I learned pastors need to do more than just teach spiritual listening; we need to invite others to practice it.   

2. Faith Walking:
Engaging the world as the People of God also requires skills in faith walking.  As Baptists we have thrived on the backs of strategic planning, organization, and mobilization skills.  I once heard a pastor correctly say, “Our churches can thrive whether God shows up or not.”  

Recapturing our mission as the People of God requires us as pastors to not only trust God with our congregation’s future, but also to lead our congregations (who are just as comfortable in the modern world as we are) to walk forward in trust as well.

I stumbled upon the need for this skill by accident.  One May I found myself in a mountain cabin for my annual sermon retreat.  In an effort to find a theme for the congregation’s strategic planning experience for the coming year, I chose 2 Corinthians 5:7 – “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”  I called our initiative “Walking by Faith” and started organizing the church to achieve the purpose of a stated vision and values.  

Then, God moved.  The expression and experience of “walking by faith,” took hold within the church.  Individuals and groups started challenging each other to walk by faith in their lives.  Soon, we began to witness steps of faith in ministry taken in our church and community.  Before I knew it, I was standing before our deacon body asking them to witness the movement of God happening among us and take a step of faith as well.  It did not end there.  Church members began inviting their community organizations to take steps of faith.  I quickly learned that God’s People wait for and expect God to move.    

3. Missionary  Development:
Finally, engaging the world as the People of God also requires skills in missionary development.  Edge says we have convinced our members to live good, decent, respectable lives during the week, yet nothing really happens – the world is never touched.  Being transformed into the People of God means releasing our people “to invade the world for God” (Edge).

For me, this means more than simply sending waves of short term mission teams around the world.  Instead, mission experiences are designed to begin conversations about God’s calling in our lives.  When we send mission partnership teams to work alongside our sister congregation in Matagalpa, Nicaragua or to work in our community through Operation Inasmuch, we are engaging in the spiritual formation of those people.  

Recently, I witnessed this phenomenon among our members.  A movement of God has begun around Bob Lupton’s book Toxic Charity:  How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help and How to Reverse It.  In response, individuals have struggled with their sense of call and mission in the world.  We have begun asking questions, such as, “How can God use me most effectively to make an impact for Jesus in my community and world?” and “How can our church best empower our community through the Gospel?”  Through these questions I see God developing our church members into missionaries.     

These three missional skills have guided me through the muddled “de-conversion from churchianity to Christianity” (Reggie McNeal).  I am definitely a practitioner rather than an expert.  Transitioning from leading a church as institution to church as the People of God is messy, uneven and extremely exciting.  I can’t imagine a better time to be a pastoral leader.  

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Raised Up

Sermon Preached on Sunday, March 11, 2018
First Baptist Church, Cornelia, Georgia
4th Sunday of Lent
Numbers 21:4-98
John 3:14-21


Nicodemus comes to speak to Jesus in the darkness of the night as chapter 3 of John begins.
Darkness hides Nicodemus.  Darkness keeps him from being seen by the other religious authorities talking to Jesus.  Nicodemus was one of them, a respected religious authority – trained, educated and raised in Jewish theology, practice and piety.  He served on the highest Jewish Political and Religious council in all of Roman occupied Judea.  Everyone assumed he had had life and faith figured out.  He needed darkness to hide his talk with Jesus – a religious instigator.   

Darkness also clouds Nicodemus’ life.  While he has been raised and trained and studied the Jewish law – there is still emptiness – darkness – questions about God and life and FAITH. Something is missing.

In the first half of chapter 3, we see the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.  To discover the faith he desires – Jesus invites Nicodemus to be born again – which can also be translated – born from above.  The darkness, though, keeps Nicodemus from understanding.  His religious life is grounded in following laws and the consequences of failing.  Jesus attempts to raise his eyes beyond the law to the spirit at work in the law. The Holy Spirit is at work in our lives like the wind that blows through the trees – you know it is there by impact on things around you.  There’s a mysterious element to the experience of faith and Jesus invites Nicodemus to receive it. 

In the second half of Nicodemus’ meeting with Jesus, the conversation moves from dialogue to teaching.  In our New Testament reading today – v. 14-21 – Jesus continues the conversation with Nicodemus by teaching him – and us – one overarching lesson about faith.

Lesson:  An invitation to faith, grounded in love, requires a decision.

Invitation to Faith
In v.14-15, Jesus uses an ancient, and strange, Old Testament story, to give an invitation to Nicodemus to a lasting and powerful faith.  Listen again to the verses from the Message:
In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.  John 3:14-15 (MSG)

Jesus is referring to our Old Testament passage that Laura Grace read for us today from Numbers 21.  In this story, the people of Israel are miserable in the wilderness.  Being miserable makes them impatient and cranky.  The daily manna they receive for bread and the weekly arrival of birds that provide meat have gotten old and tasteless and monotonous.  They complain there is no food … and the food is detestable all in the same breathe. 

Then, to make things even worse – snakes show up in camp.  Not just harmless, annoying snakes – but poisonous vipers whose painful bites kill.  The snakes get the people’s attention.  They confess their impatience to the Lord and the Lord hears. 

To save the Israelites from the poisonous snakes, the Lord commands Moses to craft an image of a snake out of bronze and raise up the bronze snake on a pole in the middle of the camp.  The bronze snake would be their salvation, their healing.  If a person was bitten by a snake, he or she could look upon the raised up snake and be healed.  The snakes and the bad food were not gone – but salvation was provided.

A couple of weeks ago, I preached on Abraham’s faith – how God formed this faith in Abraham over the 25 years he waited with the Promise and hope of a son to begin a great nation.  In the wilderness between Egypt and Palestine, the Lord is doing the same thing inside the People of Israel –building their faith.  During their hundreds of years in slavery in Egypt, the faith of Abraham had been lost.  Then, with Moses, God gave them a promise – a land flowing with milk and honey and no slavery. 

But they had to wait – 40 years – before their children would be able to see it. 

In this story about the bronze snake, the Lord reveals that he is the source of their promise.  The Lord is their salvation.  As the snake is lifted up, the people find salvation and healing and their faith is formed. 

In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus uses this illustration, to invite Nicodemus to a new kind of faith.  Rather than a snake lifted up in the desert for salvation, the Son of Man will be lifted up so that people who live in the darkness will discover the light of eternal life.  Being Lifted up as two meanings here – first Jesus, gives us the first glimpse of the cross in John.  Jesus being lifted up on the cross will provide salvation to all like the snake in the desert.  But there’s another meaning too – Jesus will be lifted up in glory.  We are invited to look upon his glory – so that we too may discover faith that leads to eternal life.  Jesus invites you and me to have faith in him.   
Grounded in Love

Jesus’ invitation to faith is grounded in God’s Love.  

The heart of the Gospel is found in these words from John 3:16-17.  Listen beyond your familiar understanding of these verse to the meanings of the Greek words with the Amplified Bible. 

“For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge and condemn the world [that is, to initiate the final judgment of the world], but that the world might be saved through Him.  John 3:16-17 (Amplified Bible)

Faith begins in God’s heart:  His love.  This love – this AGAPE – is why Jesus comes to earth.  This love is why Jesus is lifted up on the cross.  This love is why Jesus is exalted and glorified.  This love is why you and I are invited into relationship with God in the first place. 

We see God’s motivation for sending Jesus in v.17.  Jesus does not come to the world to condemn or judge the world filled with darkness.  Instead, God’s love sends Jesus into the world so that you and I can be saved, rescued from the darkness.  God wants you and me to be saved in the same way that he saved the Israelites stuck in the middle of the wilderness with snakes slithering through their tents and camps. 

How we do we experience and find this salvation?  The Israelites had to look up upon the very thing that had caused them so much pain.  They had to look upon another snake on a pole in the middle of their camp.  For us – we too must believe v. 16 says and look upon Jesus lifted upon the cross.  We must stare deep into our biggest fear – death – so that we can believe God’s Good News of eternal life. 

What does it mean to “believe” this Good News that in Jesus “lifted up” God seeks the world’s salvation, and not condemnation (John 3:17)? Too often, we say that it only requires us to offer our intellectual affirmation of this fact.   To “believe that” Jesus died and was raised to save us is easy to understand in the sense that it requires almost nothing of us. It’s head knowledge.

But such simplicity does not honor the larger story John is telling – his invitation to faith. This is a story about an encounter with Jesus that left Nicodemus, an intelligent and accomplished man, scratching his head in bewilderment as he went back out into the darkness. This is a story about how any one of us might reject the light offered to us because of the way it exposes what is dark in us (John 3:19–20). To “believe” this Good News in a way that brings salvation requires more than “believing that;” it requires “trusting in; hold onto” This is faith.  To “trust in” Jesus is not simply to believe something about what happened long ago, but also to let our own lives be transformed by the Jesus we encounter in this story:

1) Placing our trust in this Jesus means withholding our ultimate loyalty and trust from other things that ask us to pledge our allegiance. 
2) Placing our trust in this Jesus means noticing that the new life Jesus offers is especially difficult for the religiously accomplished. We must repent of the ways our self-satisfied lives becomes a barrier to understanding the new things Jesus offers and asks of us.
3) Placing our trust in this Jesus means confronting the inconvenient truth that God’s purposes for those whom God loves are not the same as our own common-sense values of happiness, health, and safety. The “lifting up” of Jesus reminds us that the true life God has promised us is not a life that we can secure for ourselves.

This invitation to faith, grounded in love, requires a decision from us.  

Requires a Decision

Jesus describes the decision that confronts everyone who ever lived in v.18-21. 

18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.”  John 3:18-21 (MEV)

To believe IN Jesus requires a decision on our part. And the decision we make will determine whether we are welcome or are repelled by God’s light that shines in the world.
There’s a beautiful and terrible story at the end of CS Lewis’ Last Narnia book called The Last Battle.  It’s a difficult book to read because the world of Narnia is dying and knowing who to trust within that world gets harder and harder. 

In the end Aslan, the Great Lion – Lewis’s God figure – returns and provides a door from the dying Narnia world to a new world – Aslan’s world.  Everyone is invited through the door – but as they come towards Aslan – what they trust in their heart about him – becomes exactly how they see him.  If they hold the love and faith of Aslan in their hearts as Peter and most of the children do – if there is light – they see Aslan as a kind and welcoming lion and enter the door. However, if there is darkness in their hearts and they have failed to trust in Aslan – then they see a ferocious lion and run in fear away from the door.  The judgement is not Aslan’s – this judgement comes from within them. 

This is what Jesus is saying here.  The light of God entered the world through Jesus.  If we receive the light – there is not judgement.  However, if we refuse the light – if we allow the darkness to overcome the light – then the darkness judges us. 

As. V. 17 says – God did not send Jesus to the world to condemn or judge us – God sent Jesu to the world because God loves us and wants to save us.  This Good News requires you and me to respond to the invitation to faith by Jesus who is lifted up.  We must decide – we will allow the light to enter our hearts?  Will we trust in; have faith in, believe in Jesus Christ who was lifted up on the cross so that our lives will be changed?  Have you?  Will you?

Or will we allow an indecision – which is a decision – to stay in the darkness condemn us? 
Nicodemus eventually came out of the darkness of that night time conversation into the light of faith.  We don’t have any other conversations between Nicodemus and Jesus, but we do see him one more time in scripture. 

In John 19 – on the Friday afternoon just after Jesus dies on the cross – we see this scene. 

“Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night.
Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.”

Nicodemus came out of the darkness and so can you. 

Jesus invites you to a life of a faith, grounded in God’s Love.  This invitation requires a decision. 

Will you stop being religious and trust in Jesus?  Will you stop holding onto your own life and let the
light of Jesus in?  Will you listen for the whisper of Jesus in the cool of the night as he invites to you come.  Believe in him. Begin living his eternal life today. 

What will you decide today?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Let's Start Singing

This week I posted a pastoral letter to my church. 

In the middle of the letter, I shared about the moment Lewis and Clark climbed the Rocky Mountains to the headwaters of the Missouri River expecting to find on the other side the headwaters of the Columbia River and their route to the Pacific.  Instead, rugged, snow-capped, mapless mountains stretched out before them.  

I used this moment in history as a metaphor for where we are as a church.  We have invested greatly in preparing for God's future, but the future we expect is not what we see.  Instead, we find difficult, mapless obstacles lying before us.

After Sunday's letter, I found this beautiful quote from Wendell Berry.  I want to share it because it speaks to me about where we are as a church.  

"It may be that when we no longer know what to do 
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings."

Where are we as a church?  This is our singing moment.  

Thanks be to God.  Amen.   

Monday, October 30, 2017

The State of the Church Letter 2017

[At the end of October, I prepare a pastoral letter for my church, First Baptist Church, Cornelia, Georgia.  I preached this letter on Sunday, October 29, 2017.]

To the saints in Cornelia, Georgia worshipping as First Baptist Church who are faithful in Christ Jesus:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I am writing to you today as a preacher and missionary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the last 26 years, serving as your pastor for the last 7 years.  I am humbled and honored to bring this state of the church message to you this morning.  

When I stood at this pulpit on the last Sunday of October 2016, I brought you this key message:  The state of First Baptist Cornelia is strong, dynamic, and forward focused.  

By 2016, we had spent 5 years envisioning God’s future together – working together to create a culture and organization as a church to love the world as God loves us.  By October we were debt free and had stepped out in faith to hire our third full time staff member focusing on children’s ministry and outreach.  We were positioned to see outward results after years of spiritual and internal growth and progress.  

Then, we didn’t.  We struggled with change.  We lost our focus but we worked hard and kept ourselves together.  

In these moments, I found myself frustrated and weary.  The outward, attractional results which I-too-often use to measure my own and our church’s successes did not equal my expectations.  

Maybe you have felt the same way.  

As I have prayed and reflected on this moment in our history as a church, I am aware that the state of the church at large has changed greatly – even in the last 5 years.  The playing field on which we do church is not the same.  This passage from my friend Mark Tidsworth’s introduction to his book, SHIFT:  Three Big Moves for the 21st Century Church, paints a picture of our moment in history.  

“The church as-we-have-known-it is over.  Even in the most culturally traditional and isolated places in the country, the culture which collaborated with Christian Churches is shifting.  Many are fleeing the traditional denominationally based churches for 2 options:

1.  The largest churches in their denomination.  These faith communities still have resources to sustain church-as-we-have-known-it.  Often they will collect church refugees from mid-size or small churches who cannot sustain their way of being church.  This stream of recruits to a now older expression of Christianity grows ever smaller as people age, or walk away.

2.  Mega-churches.  Many mega churches are growing, along with their satellite locations, turning into a Christian franchise movement."  This way of doing church – high energy worship and high impact environments and programs – has become the traditional form of church for many younger church members.  

As pastor, I have led us on a journey of prayer and preparation for God’s future.   We have read church future books together.  We have prayed together.  We have dreamed together.  We worked to make many of the shifts Mark mentions in his book:  focusing on missional culture, discipleship development and worship innovation.  

Yet, we still feel the frustration that our changes are not enough and wonder if something else is missing.   

As a pastoral leader, I find myself at a loss too.  We have entered a place in the history of our church that no one could prepare me in seminary.  We have come to a point where there is no clear direction – no secret sauce, no get-big-quick pill to take.  All of our 130 years of Being the People of God in Cornelia has brought us to this point – but there is no clear road map even for the next 5 years – let alone the next 30 years.  I am reminded of a key event event from history.  

In 1804 the Lewis and Clark Expedition began their journey up the Missouri River to find an overland route across the new Louisiana Purchase to the Pacific Ocean.   When they reached the headwaters of the Missouri River, they climbed the Rocky Mountains with the expectation of seeing the Columbia River on the other side.  Instead of the Columbia River, though, they discovered MORE MOUNTAINS as far as they could see. This journey would be harder than they expected.  There were no maps; they would have make their own, discover their own routes, listen and respond quickly.

As a church, I sense that we have climbed to the top of our Rocky Mountains.  We have come as far as we know to come – depending on the information and resources we had at our disposal:  new pastor, good facilities, re-engaged organization, strong fellowship, good staff, high-quality worship.  And still - as we get to this point – we realize that the route ahead will be harder than we expected.  There is no map forward.  Instead, it will require us to dig deep into ourselves, our faith in God, and trust in this fellowship.  

In this new world – we have several resources from our past to strengthen us for the journey ahead.  We are a strong, committed congregation.  We are not afraid of hard work.  We have a strong foundation – we are debt free, we have a strong reserve fund, we have faithful givers.  We have the provisions we need for the journey.  We have a beautiful facility which is used every week to make our community better and to announce the Kingdom of God.  We are a missional people who sacrificially give ourselves in doing and telling the Good News of Jesus.  We are a praying people seeing God move in people’s lives all over the world.  

With these resources, God has prepared us to cross into our unknown future.  This new expedition will first require a different way of measuring our results.  We will no longer be able to measure ourselves by the work of the other churches around us.  Every church is making their own way through this moment – each one is different.  God will measure our journey by our faithfulness more than our attendance records.  

This expedition will also require a new way of praying for our future.  God placed the powerful prayer of Paul to the Ephesians 3 on my heart months ago.  I have been praying this prayer for us ever since.  Ephesians 3:14-21 (NRSV) says:

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,[g] 15 from whom every family[h] in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen

This is my Prayer for First Baptist Church, Cornelia, GA:  

1. God to strengthen us internally as a church.

Paul prays that the Ephesians will be strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit from the inside.  We don’t need the brute strength of a powerful church to make it into this future.  Instead, we need the glorious inner strength of God’s Spirit – pulling us together as one body, one church.  We cannot make this journey on our own!  Without the Holy Spirit working from the inside out – we will fail.  

2. God to indwell each of us – rooting us deeply in God’s love.  

This new future requires us to plant our feet firmly on love.  In order to be a people rooted so deeply in love, God’s Spirit must indwell each of us.  We can’t depend just on the pastor or staff.  Our future needs each of us immersed in the glorious love of Jesus.  Without this love, we will not be able to be open to the new people God will bring out way.  

3. God to grow us in knowledge of God’s Word and the mysteries of God.

We might have entered into an expedition into a future and a land that feels uncertain and unfamiliar – yet, we do have a road map, don’t we?  God’s Word is more needed today and every day.  We need to immerse ourselves in reading, studying and discussing God’s Word and the mysteries of God.  You see, while we don’t know where we are going, God does.  We worship a wild, uncontrollable God – who is bigger and wider and larger than we ever can imagine.  God invites us to test Him – and we will find our firm footing.  

4. God’s love to surpass everything else that we do or say.

Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus say we as a church will be measured by the number of members we have or the amount of money we have.  Instead, Jesus says, the world will know we are his followers by the amount of our love.  Paul knows that in the end, what the world needs from churches is the Love of God.  This love needs to surpass everything else that we do.  So – while we tweak our ministries to visitors or preaching or music or children’s ministries or youth ministries or senior adult ministries – what God (and the world) ultimately, wants to see in us in His love surpassing everything else that we do.  

This is my prayer for us as a church and as individuals.  If we allow these 4 prayers to live in us – each of us – God’s future will be realized.  God’s power will be at work among us accomplishing more in and through us that we can ever ask or imagine. 

So – let me share with you how we get there.   How do we continue a journey that just turned harder than we imagined?  We start with ourselves.  

You see, this church will not be able to reach her God-given future without the intentional, faithful work of you and me.    

Imagine sitting here next year – in these pews.  Who is here?  What do you imagine happening within us as a church?  What is God doing through our church in the community?  What is happening around our campus?  Where are we investing ourselves in the world?  Where are we succeeding?  

What does this success look like?

Did you imagine big enough?  Guess what - God wants to accomplish more that even that! 

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.” Eph. 3:20(MSG)

And it begins with you and me.  You see, what God accomplishes in us as a church begins with the spiritual faithfulness of each of us – pastor, staff, deacons, lay leaders, and our whole congregation.  God will only accomplish as much in us as a whole as we allow God to accomplish in each one of us as individuals.  

So, now I want you to imagine what God is doing in your life on the last Sunday of October next year.  

How are you loving God more this time next year?  Are you attending or leading a Sunday school class or life group? Are you trusting more? Are you praying more?  Are you speaking kinder words? 
Now how are you loving other people more next year?  Are you forgiving people who hurt you?  Are you listening to people and sharing your faith?  Are you hosting friends in your home?  

Yes, there are many things we as a church leaders can do to help our church reach her future.  But in the end, the lesson of the last year has been – that our future truly lives in the spiritual lives of each of our members.  

You and I carry our church’s future in our hearts and lives. 

The past has carried us to this point.  The present seems hard and difficult.  But the future is still to be written.  Let us pray this prayer together and believe God’s word to us to be true.  And together, let us see what God will do.

And in the words of Paul to the Ephesians:

Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes! Eph 3:21(MSG)

With thanks for the opportunity to walk this expedition with each of you, I am, Your Pastor …


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Beautiful Feet

Preached on October 8, 2017 at First Baptist Cornelia
Scripture:  Romans 10:5-15

The reminder stood ready whenever the opportunity came her way.  I didn’t know it about it until after she died.   Like most of my funerals, I asked her family if I could borrow her Bible while I prepared my remarks.  I found the faded bulletin clipping taped on the front page of her Bible.

By the color of the paper and the old mimeograph quality, she had cut the clipping out long ago.  The various colored ink markings underlining words and verses publicized how often through the years she had returned to the words.  This was not just a passing curiosity a pastor distributed one Sunday, it was a trusted guide for decades of faith sharing.  

Everyone who knew Mathilda Scroggs, knew she loved Jesus.  More than just loving Jesus, though, Mathilda was driven by that love to share the good news of Jesus with people she met.  If she ever helped you secure a loan at her bank, then you know she bought and gave you the gift of a Bible when you signed your mortgage papers.  She wanted to make sure a Bible was the first thing to fill your new home.  

Sharing Jesus was vitally important to Mathilda.  That’s why long ago, after a sermon no one remembers, Mathilda cut out the Roman Road to Salvation outline and taped it into her Bible.  Mathilda knew leading someone to the Lord was more than the Pastor’s job or the youth minister's job – it was the duty and task of everyone who followed Jesus.  And she used the old clipping as a reminder of scriptures she could share with people she loved enough to share Jesus.  

Mathilda Scroggs had beautiful feet.  She was an evangelist.   

Because we are saved – by saying YES to Jesus - God calls us to tell others about Jesus too.  

Jesus Saves

During the Roman Empire, Romans built roads to connect their distant lands with their Capital City.  These roads also allowed the Gospel to spread quickly as missionaries went out from Jerusalem to the rest of the world.  Roman Roads were built to last and you can still walk on some of these roads today – 2000 years later.  

Our passage today from Romans 10 is a powerful stop on the Roman Road to Salvation.  Like the literal roads so many years ago, this road to Salvation reveals specific scriptures in Paul’s letter to the Romans to lead us to salvation in Jesus.

I remember when my dad first shared with me these scriptures from Romans.  I was an early teenager.  I accepted Christ as my Savior and Lord when I was 8 years old, years earlier.  I had heard someone mention a Roman Road to Salvation – but I didn’t know what it was.  My dad picked up a napkin and began to write down scripture passages.  The Roman Road starts at the very beginning of 

Romans 1:20-21:  "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened." 

The path of salvation begins with acknowledging God as the Creator of everything.  The earth – and you and I - began in perfect order.  In this perfect creation – we were created in the image of God.  God looks at us – his creation – through the eyes of love and purpose.  The story of creation invites us to accept our humble position in God's created order and purpose.

Unfortunately – as humans created in God’s image – we choOse not to accept our position as creation and seek to be take control over our own lives.

This is the next step on the Roman road – sin taking control of our own lives.  Romans 3:23:  “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” 

At the very beginning of creation – humanity chose to betray the love and creation of God.  We cannot blame it on Adam and Eve.  Sin remains a decision each of us makes.  Sin is not something passed down through our DNA.  Our bodies are not sin.  Instead, as created beings, we choose to walk away from God’s plan, purposes and love for us.  Paul says it clearly – all have sinned.  Every preacher, pimp, president, and murderer. Little sins, big sins – sexual sins and private sins – God looks on every sin as the same betrayal seen in the Garden of Eden.  

The ground at the cross is even.  There are no little sins or big sins in God’s eyes.  God does not measure them – they are all betrayal of his love.  Everyone sins.  

But there’s Good News!  This is where the Road begins to move out of the dark valley into the highlands of grace.  

Romans 5:8:  "But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

I often miss the true power of this verse.  While, we are ugly, unfaithful, un-loyal, betrayers of the Creator and the creation – Jesus died for us.  This is GRACE.  This is the Gospel.  This is the power that changes the world. Changes lives.  Changes you.

Jesus didn’t wait for us to turn our lives around.  
Jesus didn’t wait for us to acknowledge him as Creator or Lord.  
Jesus died for the Roman centurions who crucified him.  Jesus died for the Jewish Sanhedrin that arrested him.  Jesus died for the Roman governor who sentence him.  Jesus died for the worse sinner you can name and the best preacher you’ve ever heard.  

This GRACE is the heart of the Gospel.  Without grace there is no Gospel.  There is nothing we ever add to this grace.  It stands a lone.  Jesus, God’s son, sent so that we might live – died while we wallowed in the mud of sin.  

We have one simple, vital, oftentimes difficult Task:  receive God’s grace:  Accept God’s great love and grace given to us as sinners.  

And when we do – our lives are changed.

I think of Salvation this way:  It’s like offering a beggar on the street 10 $100 bills.  It’s ours to offer, but he or she has to reach out to receive it.  

Good reaches down in the gutter of our sin and offers us love and grace – we have to reach up to receive it.  

Paul says this in Romans 6:23“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

The free gift of the love and grace of God calls us to repent of our sins – to turn from one direction and head the other way; to receive God’s free gift.  

The reality is – we don’t know the depth of our sins and our need to repent of them until we grasp the depth and power of God’s grace.  

This is when we arrive on the Road to Salvation found in Romans 10:9"If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

Paul tells us that something transformational happens when we acknowledge Jesus as the Lord of our lives.  We call out – we confess, we pray, we whimper, we shout – Jesus is Lord.  With “the mouth confession is made unto Salvation.”  

How we do this, when we do this – no one’s story is the same.  I made this decision in my bedroom by myself as a young boy.  For others – it happened over a long time period – a slow coming to faith.  For others – it was dramatic.

God promises us that when we do make this confession – everyone – no matter their sin, their ethnicity, their class, their education, their bank account – shall be saved.  

This is good news:  Jesus saves!  

And life with Jesus doesn’t end there – We are transformed through the continual work of God’s Grace.  Grace doesn’t stop in the baptism waters – it continues through our lives.  This is discipleship.

Romans 12:2 says:  “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Go and Tell

Paul recognizes that no one’s experience with God’s profound grace can be contained.  When we have received this Good News – we want everyone else to experience it as well. This is what Mathilda Scroggs experienced.  She was loved by and so loved Jesus – that she could not stop sharing that love with other people.  

Paul says it like this in Romans 10:14:   How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? 

The world needs evangelists and God calls all of us to be tellers of the Good News.  Evangelism comes from the Greek word for Good News.  Evangelists are simply people who tell Good News.  We don’t have to have slicked back hair or a deep, booming voice or willing to travel long distances.  We just have to be ourselves.  We simply have to be willing to care enough for others that we share our love for Jesus. 

Like all skills, we can use some simple tools to build confidence in us in how we share.  In your OOW today, I have created a simple Evangelism Toolkit (See below) for you to keep.  You can place in your Bible or keep in your car, or carry it in your purse.

On the front, you have the Roman Road to Salvation scriptures so you can share with a friend or a family member.  

On the Back I’ve given you another Gospel Talk – Called the YMCA Gospel talk based on John 3:16.  Maybe this might be easier for you to remember.

I’ve also included some really simple questions that anyone can use to start a spiritual conversation.  The greatest evangelism skill is not memorization of scripture or a loud voice – it is listening.  Listening to someone talk about their life and their spirit – and responding with care, compassion and the Gospel.  When we listen – we earn the right to share our story, our Good News.  

Finally – I’ve given you some Gospel Websites.  These are sites that can help lead a person to Jesus.  Some are simple, some are videos.  If you want to learn more about evangelism or want to help someone who’s thinking about Jesus – you can start here.  

You have Beautiful Feet

At the end of our passage today – Paul quotes Isaiah 52:7 “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  

Isaiah describes a powerful moment when a runner comes from the battlefield back to the walled city of Jerusalem after a battle.  From a long distance away, the runner begins announcing to the sentinels on the walls and to the rest of the city the results of the batter:  “Your God Reigns.  Peace has come to the city.  We have been victorious!”  

Isaiah writes:  How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

This, Paul writes, is what God calls us to do – to announce to our friends, to our neighbors, to our family, to our city – Good News, the news you have been waiting for, the news that you have longed for, the news that brings life:  Peace has come to you.  Salvation has arrived.  Jesus loves you!  

How beautiful are your feet, First Baptist Church, when you announce to the world – Jesus loves you.

God calls us to be a people of beautiful feel - People who proclaim Jesus is Lord as we serve the wounded, care for the sick, feed the hungry and shelter the stranger.  Our world needs Jesus.  And God needs people with beautiful feet to proclaim Jesus.  Will you take on the task?  

This morning – I have two specific challenges for you:

1.  If you have never accepted the grace of Jesus, repented of your sins, and confessed Jesus as Lord – then, today, Jesus invites you reach out your hand and accept it.  Will you come?

2.  If you are timid and afraid and think evangelism is for someone else, then, today, Jesus invites you to receive his power, his love and his commission:  You are being sent out as evangelists – tellers of the good news, Christians with Beautiful feet!  Today is the day – will you go?

Evangelism Tool Kit
Sunday, October 8, 2017
First Baptist Church, Cornelia, Georgia
Dr. Eric Spivey, Pastor

The Roman Road to Salvation

1. Acknowledge God as the Creator of everything, accepting our humble position in God's created order and purpose. Romans 1:20-21

"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened." 

2.  Realize we are sinners and in need forgiveness. None are worthy.  Romans 3:23 

“For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” 

3.  Accept God’s great love and grace given to us as sinners.  Romans 5:8 

“But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

4.  Repent of our sins and receive God’s free gift.  
But Romans 6:23 

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

5.  Confess Jesus Christ is Lord.   Romans 10:9-10 

“That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” 

6.  Call out to Jesus.  Romans 10:13 

“For whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” 

7. Be transformed through God’s grace (Discipleship).  Romans 12:2

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”


YOU are loved by God. “For God so loved the world…”
MAN is sinful and separated from God. “…shall not perish…”
CHRIST died on the cross as the only payment for our sin. “…that He gave His one and only Son…”
ACCEPT God’s gift of eternal life by faith. “…whoever believes in Him shall… have eternal life.”

Starting Spiritual Conversations
  1. How can I pray for you?
  2. Where are you in your spiritual pilgrimage?
  3. In your opinion, how does one become a Christian?
  4. What single thing would you like to make absolutely certain you do (if at all possible) during your lifetime?
  5. How do you know you’ll go to heaven when you die?
  6. What do you consider to be two major turning points in your life?
  7. What is the key to maintaining balance in your life?
  8. What are 2 or 3 major truths upon which you have based your decision-making?
  9. If you could know God personally, would you be interested?
  10. Have you ever read the Bible?

Gospel Presentation Websites
1.  Peace with God:
2.  Steps to Life:
3.  Beautiful Video Presentation:
4.  Powerful video presentation:

Monday, August 14, 2017

Get Smart: Living the Bible in Groups

Preached on August 13, 2017
First Baptist Cornelia, GA
Joshua 1:1-9

The days of Daniel were not too different from ours.  Daniel and his family and neighbors lived as Hebrew exiles in a foreign land called Babylon.  He lived in the world’s most advanced culture surrounded by the most beautiful architecture and art of the age.  The Babylonian army ruled the world with the most powerful military of the day.  The Babylonian empire stretched from horizon to horizon.

One day, Daniel and three other Israelite boys were given one of the greatest opportunities of the ancient world.  Selected because of their physical and intellectual prowess, Daniel and his friends moved into the royal palace to be taught the language and professional skills of the Babylonian bureaucracy to be sent out as its representatives.  They were to eat from the king’s table and learn under the king’s educators.

This opportunity created a crisis of faith for Daniel and his friends.  As exiles from Israel, they were raised to live in covenant with Yahweh.  As the People of God, they lived with a different set of priorities than the culture around them.  Daniel was forced to choose which of these priorities he would live by:  The priorities of the success with the Babylonian King or the priorities of faithfulness to Yahweh – the King of the world.  

We are not so different are we?  We live in the greatest empire of the age whose advanced culture spreads throughout the world.  Our armies are the greatest on the air, sea and land.  Our influence stretches across the globe.  And as free people in a free land, we are given one of the greatest opportunities of history – the opportunity to choose our own life and destiny.  And like Daniel – we are must choose the priorities of success will guide our way in the world.  

The culture of the American empire greatly influences each of us – young and old.  The power of this culture is so great that we often fail to see where God’s priorities and the cultures priorities diverge.  
This leaves us with a challenge that also faced Daniel.  How will we live in a world in which we are called to be resident aliens – in the world, but not of the world?

Peter recognized this challenge as well.  He wrote these words in his first letter:  ““Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and temporary residents not to give in to the desires of your old nature, which keep warring against you;”  

This month in worship, I’ve been preaching on the power of small groups to help us live faithful lives following Jesus.  I’ve used a different classic TV clip to introduce each topic.  Today’s topic is:  Get Smart:  Living the Bible in Groups.

Watch the Clip and see if you remember this funny sitcom of the 1960’s.  

This TV show introduced us a new kind of Television comedy – parody.  The lead character – Maxwell Smart, also known as Agent 86 – worked for a secret US government counter-intelligence agency called Control.  Smart and his partner – Agent 99 – investigated and thwarted various threats to the world.  The challenge and irony – and the place of comedy -came from the lead character’s bumbling nature and his demands to do things by the book.  Get Smart had two meanings – first, those who wished to do harm to the country wanted to “Get Smart” – to get the agent who keeps thwarting their plans.  But – there was this other idea – That Maxwell smart, agent 86 – needed to get smart in order to really excel at his job.  

It’s this second idea that helps us think of the role small group’s play in our spiritual lives as we live in a culture drawing us away from Jesus instead of towards.  Small groups help us to “Get Smart.”  
Living as followers of Jesus in this culture or any culture, requires us to commit ourselves to understanding, immersing ourselves in, and living out God’s Word to Get Smart.    

The Hebrew Challenge:  Staying faithful to God while living in the Promised Land.
Getting Smart is how Daniel was able to choose to follow the ways of Yahweh while in exile in Babylon.  Centuries before he ever stepped foot in the palace, his ancestors took God’s advice to engrain God’s Word in their lives as they moved into the Promised Land.  

This is the challenge God offers to Joshua in our passage today.  After 40 years of being transformed from slaves into the People of God, the Hebrews are poised to walk into the coveted Promised Land.  Moses has died and his lieutenant Joshua stands ready to lead them.  God instructs Joshua on how to face the greatest challenge of the Promised Land.  

God is not worried about the armies across the Jordan River. God is not worried about the military technology.  God is not worried about city walls or the weariness of battle.  God’s greatest concern is that when the People of Israel move into the Promised Land – they will forget him.  God – rightfully it turns out – worries that when the People of Israel settle among others with different cultures and different gods and different lives – they will forget all that happened in the wilderness – the giving of the 10 commandments and the law, the food and provisions God provided, and most importantly the covenant God made with them.  

Because God knows what will happen, God gives Joshua and the people instructions for how to stay tuned to Yahweh, the ways of Yahweh, and the presence of Yahweh.  Listen to these instructions:  
This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.

To be successful in the Promised Land, God tells the People of Israel to engrain God’s Word into their daily lives.  At this moment, there is no written or complete Bible.  There is only the stories and laws of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and now Moses.  This book is seen for the first time as sacred and holy.  These words have power.  

So, God says:  Speak these words, discuss in your everyday lives.

So, God says:  mediate on these words night and day – listening to them, reflecting on them, and letting them become part of your life.  

When God’s Word becomes engrained in their lives, God says, the people will be able to act and live according to them. And when they live according to them, they will find success.

This is what happens with Daniel centuries after these words were written to Joshua.  Daniel and his friends grew up with God’s word ingrained in their lives.  They grew up learning and memorizing and mediating on them night and day.  These words became more than words – they became God’s Living Word in them.

So – when Daniel and friends are chosen by the Babylonians to live in the royal palace, they are able to make choices based on God’s Word.  They choose not to eat from the King’s table. They choose not to worship the King’s gods.  They are able to do all of this because God’s Word lives in them.   

The words of God to Joshua guide us as we face the challenges of living in a world and culture which contradicts God’s way.  In order for us to live faithful lives to Jesus today – God’s Word must become as ingrained in our lives as it was in Daniels.  

Small groups allow God’s Word to be ingrained in our lives.  

Here’s what happens in small groups that allow God’s Word to become engrained in our lives.   
Small groups allow us to learn God’s Word together.  When we gather together in groups less than 10, we have the opportunity to not just hear a lesson about God’s Word, but to let God’s Word shape us.  When one person teaches a passage of scripture we assume it is right interpretation.  Yet, when we study God’s word in small groups, we hear different takes on scripture – where other life experiences allow someone else to look at it differently.  With the Holy Spirit engaging us, God’s Word becomes more than words on a page - It becomes ours.  

Small groups give us accountability in the discipline of reading God’s Word.  When we make a covenant as a small group to read a certain amount of scripture or to study a particular passage that accountability forces us to follow through with our decision.  

Small groups allow God’s Word to be ingrained in our lives.  

We see this truth in Daniel’s story.  Daniel is not alone.  He is in a group of 4 young men.  We know the others by their Babylonian names:  Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego.  This small group of Hebrew boys were shaped by God’s Word and were used by God to reveal the presence of God to an empire completely foreign to God’s ways.  

Together, these boys faced down kings and fiery furnaces and lion’s dens.  And it all began centuries earlier with  instructions to mediate and Read God’s Word.    

God want us to have tremendous impact on our community and world as individuals and as a church.  The story of Daniel reveals that God’s cultural influence will not just happen over this year, but in the years and decades to come.  God’s influence through us will begin when we also make the decision to allow God’s Word to be worked out together and lived out in the world.  

This is what God wants for you, for me, and for this church.  It will happen when we decide together to engrain our lives with God’s Word.  Let us Pray.  

Singing a New Song

Preached on July 16, 2017
First Baptist Church, Cornelia, GA

I’m learning to listen more.  That’s a hard lesson for a preacher.  

Over the last week I’ve experienced my 8th Camp Agape at FBC.  This was great camp year:  We had great leaders, great counselors and youth volunteers, and wonderful campers.  There was something different about me this year that allowed me to watch and listen more.  Maybe I was more rested, maybe I was more familiar of the camp – for whatever reason, this year I was a able to watch and listen more – to God and to the experiences of the camp.  As I listened, I heard a powerful God lesson through our campers, counselors and leaders – a spiritual lesson for me that also speaks to our church, our community and even our country.  

Camp AGAPE does not happen in a vacuum.  Instead, it happens in the context of our community and world.  This year, as I watched our campers – black, white, and Hispanic – interact with our diverse set of counselors – I witnessed a beautiful expression of the Kingdom of God where God’s AGAPE is lived out equally.  Boys and girls of different races and backgrounds played together, cared for one another, and fought for one another.  Teenagers from our church and from our community experienced community together as they served and played.

At some point this week, I placed this beautiful picture of the Kingdom being lived out in our church alongside the tragic divisions that have besieged our country over the last year.  There were the tragic shootings last summer in Louisiana and Texas of both unarmed black men and police officers. There was the divisive politics of last fall that appealed to the lesser angels of our national life.  There has been the rise of the far right and the far left that have resulted in violence and terror in our nation.
Unfortunately, this year is not the first time we have heard the sounds of mindless violence, disregard for life, racial bigotry, and discord. To a great degree, we've heard this sound before: we've heard this tune before, we've heard this song before. 

To those of us who are frustrated with our world and who desire something more, the beauty and lessons of Camp AGAPE gives us a new conviction.  We stand convinced that hope lies in the One who sits on the throne of God’s Kingdom. We gather this morning in the glow of Camp AGAPE with the conviction that there is a new song rising. 

John writes in Revelation:  “And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll / and to open its seals, / because you were slain, / and with your blood you purchased for God / persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). 

And they sang a new song 
“Sing unto the Lord a new song” the psalmist write.  In order to sing the new, we must recognize that the old song already stands played out. 

We have all heard the old song—the song of hatred, sin, racism, intolerance, fear, division, strife, and brokenness. 

We have all heard the old song—the song of moral relativism, cultural decadence, spiritual apathy, and ecclesiastical lukewarm-ness. 

We have all heard the old song—from Louisiana to Dallas, from Portland, OR to Alexandria, VA, we all heard the old song of lives prematurely taken, dreams shattered, communities broken, and the collective gasp of a nation suffocated by despair. 
We have all heard the old song. 

But praise God, we gather as followers of Christ to declare that we are not the people of the old song. We are the voices of the new song.

We are people of the new song because we understand the following truths: 

  • Today's complacency is tomorrow's captivity. 
  • We are what we tolerate. 
  • There is no such thing as “comfortable Christianity.” 
  • And silence is not an option. 

For that matter, we stand as a choir of the redeemed to declare prophetically—not out of the womb of emotional exuberance, but by the impetus of God's Spirit—that this generation carries an anointing. An anointing to do what? To sing a new song. 

We are here to declare the following: there is a new song arising. This new song will not be sung exclusively by a black chorus, a white ensemble, a Latino band, or an Asian soloist. This new song will be sung by a multi-ethnic kingdom culture choir washed by the blood of the Lamb. 
Therefore, let us be clear. To the singers of the old song; to those who raise the volume of hatred and discord; to the spirits of captivity, violence, bigotry, inequality and injustice: we raise our voices, and in perfect harmony, in the key of grace, we sing the following: “For every Pharaoh, there must be a Moses. For every Goliath, there must be a David. For every Nebuchadnezzar, there must be a Daniel. For every Jezebel, there must be an Elijah. For every Herod, there must be a Jesus. And for every devil that rises up against us, there is a mightier God that rises up for us.” 

What is the new song? 
Isaiah Writes:  “In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city; / God makes salvation / its walls and ramparts” (Isa. 26:1). 
When we as followers of Jesus choose to sing this new song, our nation and world will be strong. 
What is the new song? The new song elevates the lyrics of imago dei. The creation poem in Genesis states it beautifully:  So God created humankind[e] in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

If Simply stated, the new song will push back on violence, hatred, and bigotry by amplifying the eternal truth that all of us—without exception—carry the image of God. 

What is the new song? The new song exposes the light of truth, love, grace, and compassion. It empowers us to live out Matthew 5:14-16 as light on the hill. It exhorts us to "be light" in the midst of darkness, for when light stands next to darkness, light always wins. 

What is the new song? The new song invites us into confession.  It exhorts us to execute 2 Chronicles 7:14: “[I]f my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

What is the new song? The new song engages us with the rhythmic truth that the only agenda that can heal and reconcile America is an agenda of unity in the Body of Christ.  It will not be the agenda of the donkey or the elephant that sings a new song. The only agenda that can reconcile this nation is the agenda of the Lamb of God. 

Silence is not an option 
The lessons of Camp AGAPE cannot stay silent.  We sing a new song because silence is not an option. 

  • Silence is not an option when innocent lives are taken. 
  • Silence is not an option when our African American and Hispanic brothers and sisters live in fear of those sworn to protect them. 
  • Silence is not an option when men and women who risk their lives daily to keep us from harm stand slaughtered by hatred. 
  • Silence is not an option when the benefactors of division continue to advance a narrative full of dichotomies instead of juxtaposing truth with love. 

For this country, this community and our world - it's time for the new song. It's time to reconcile Billy Graham's message of salvation in Christ with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's march for justice. 
It's time to sing the song that says, “Love those that hate you. Bless those that curse you. Forgive those that offend you. Heal those that wound you. Feed those that starve you. Be light; change the world.” 

Finally, my brothers and sisters of First Baptist Cornelia, let's do this in light of our lessons from Camp AGAPE.  We cannot leave these lessons on the field of camp and move on as if we never heard them.  We cannot forget the lessons of Camp and say they are only for a week in the summer.  We cannot separate “our kids” from “those kids.”

Now is the time for a new song. Now is the time to sing the new song. Now is the time to raise the volume of truth, justice, love, and grace. Now is the time to take racism captive and unleash the unity all hell fears. 

Let us sing in one accord. Let us sing with the comforter conducting, while goodness and mercy provide the vocals. Let us sing. 

Sing, for America; sing, for Cornelia; sing, for Habersham; sing for the world – because we all need a new song.   

Sing and walk like Enoch. Sing and believe like Abraham. Sing and dress like Joseph. Sing and stretch like Moses. Sing and shout like Joshua. Sing and dance like David. Sing and fight like Gideon. Sing and pray like Daniel. Sing and build like Nehemiah. Sing and live like Jesus. 

Sing and do justice. Sing and love mercy. Sing and walk humbly before God. Sing and be light. For when light stands next to darkness, light always wins.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.  
*Adapted from an original sermon by Samuel Rodriguez