Month: May 2008

Sermon for Sunday, June 1, 2008: Living By Faith

Living By Faith
Romans 1:16-17, 3:22-31

16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

Becoming My Grandfather

When I was a kid, I remember going to work with my grandfather, who ran a feed-and-seed store in South Carolina. I was old enough to play on the hay bales stacked up in the back room of the store, so I must have been 7 or 8 years old. I remember watching the men who came into the store — farmers all of them as far as I could tell. Most wore bib overalls, and all wore some kind of hat. Now this was long before everybody started wearing baseball caps, so the hats these farmers wore were straw, because it was summertime. (My grandfather always wore a hat — felt in the winter, straw in the summer.)

I noticed one straw hat in particular. It had a wide brim, and set into the front of the brim was a green plastic piece like the plastic eyeshades card dealers wore. I had seen card dealers on TV shows, but I had never seen a hat with the green-tinted piece where the brim should have been. I thought, “That’s a really dumb looking hat!”  I would have been embarrassed to be seen in one when I was 8.

Now that I am 50-years past that experience, guess what I found one day at Southern States? A straw hat with a green plastic piece sewn into the front of the brim. And, guess what else? I bought it. My old straw hat, which I wear working in the yard and garden, had recently expired and I was in the market for a new one. Somehow when I saw that straw hat with the built-in eye shade, I knew that was the hat for me. It’s actually very practical because you can see through the green eye shade when you look up, which you wouldn’t be able to do if the brim were solid.

So, I have now become that old man that as an 8 year old I made fun of!

On The Other Side of the Fence

When we lived in Greensboro, our girls were both in high school and attended Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point. For one of Amy’s first dates, which was a school function that was highly chaperoned, I had to drive her and the boy she was with to the school. She had warned me ahead of time not to embarass her with any parental comments. So, I was on my best behavior as a father, trying not to embarass my daughter, who was already embarassed by just having to ride to the school with her father.

At the time, we owned a Buick Rivera, which Debbie drove, and I drove a much smaller Nissan Stanza. So, I was somewhat unaccustomed to the wider path the Buick needed. (You can see this coming, can’t you?) As I pulled into the school driveway, and attempted to position the car to stop right in front of the door, I miscalculated, and rode the right front wheel up on the curb and onto the sidewalk. The car bumped up on the sidewalk, and then bounced back down as I corrected my turn. Needless to say, I heard about my poor driving skills after the date was over. I had embarassed my daughter despite my best intentions.

So, two stories from my own life illustrate today something of what Paul was getting at in Romans 1.

Paul Is Not Embarassed By the Gospel

Which brings us to our text today, Romans 1:16-17, and then a portion of Romans 3. The key statement Paul makes in the first chapter is,

I am not ashamed of the gospel…

Paul has spent the first part of this chapter recalling what the gospel story is. For a quick refresher, let me remind you here that the word “gospel” simply means “good news.” We could translate Paul’s assertion as –

For I am not ashamed of the good news…

The question, then is, Why would Paul need to say this? Why would anyone think he was ashamed of the good news?

What is the Good News?

To answer that question, we first have to answer the question, “What is the Good News (gospel)?” Most of us might equate what we call “the plan of salvation” with the good news. A good example of a plan of salvation is the Four Spiritual Laws, distributed widely by Campus Crusade for Christ. The Four Spiritual Laws go something like this:

  1. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
  2. Man is SINFUL and SEPARATED from God. Therefore, he cannot know and experience God’s love and plan for his life.
  3. Jesus Christ is God’s ONLY provision for man’s sin. Through Him you can know and experience God’s love and plan for your life.
  4. We must individually RECEIVE Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our lives.

But, while the Four Spiritual Laws contain some of the Gospel, or Good News, this really isn’t the good news. The good news for Paul, and for the entire first century world was — God keeps His promises. Let’s look at Acts 13:34. Here Luke quotes Paul, and defines for us what the gospel, the good news really is –

32 “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm:
” ‘You are my Son;
today I have become your Father.

The good news is God keeps His promises. The promises God made to the nation of Israel, the promises God made to Abraham, the promises God made to David. God keeps His promises, and He keeps them through his Son, Jesus. That is the good news.

Why Would Paul Be Ashamed of This Good News?

If the Gospel — the good news — is the story of God keeping His promises, why would Paul find it necessary to state “I am not ashamed of the gospel?” Growing up, I heard more than one sermon on this subject. Just about every youth camp or youth revival I went to the preacher would work this text in. It was a great text for teenagers, and the preachers encouraged us to live for Jesus, and not to be ashamed to stand up for Him in front of our friends and classmates. Which is a really good thing to encourage kids to do, but it is not what this statement means.

Here’s why Paul had to say, “I am not ashamed of the good news.” The gospel is a story. It is the good news of God. The good news that God keeps his promises. And God’s promises include blessing Israel so that Israel can be a blessing to the nations. God’s promises include “making all things new.” God’s promises include restoring the kingdom of heaven to God’s creation — “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So, the story, or narrative as social scientists call it, is the story of God creating, correcting, and redeeming his creation.

But, there was a competing story in Paul’s day. The story of the Roman empire. Paul, even though a devout Jew, was a Roman citizen. Paul had bought into the story of the empire. It was the Roman empire that had put this revolutionary called Jesus of Nazareth to death. For Paul that was a good thing, because the empire had used its might and power to help the Jews in Judea. The empire had done what the high priests and Sanhedrin had been unable to do — silence forever the voice of Jesus, who was a threat to the Jews and the Jewish way of life.

Until Jesus appeared as a dazzling light to Paul on the road to Damascus, the story of the empire was the only story that made sense to Paul. And, so Paul was party to the persecution of those who called themselves Christians — the little Christs. These Christians had to be eradicated just like Jesus was because they persisted in spreading the message of Jesus — that God had other plans for the Jews. That God wasn’t pleased with the religious leaders of the first century. That God had a new plan to tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days. It was all blasphemous to Paul, and he went about living out his belief in the empire story.

But then Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus. Jesus, who identified himself to Paul. Jesus who made a point of telling Paul, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” Paul just thought he was persecuting the followers of Jesus, but now Jesus says Paul is persecuting Jesus himself! Jesus gives Paul instructions to find Ananias who will help Paul understand that there is a new story, a story of good news, the gospel story. And the gospel story is in direct contrast to the empire story.

Not Ashamed of the Gospel

Of course, there are also competing stories in our world today.  Some are very much like the empire story that Paul grew up with.  Others are stories of consumerism, fear, exclusion, or conflict.  These stories are the prevalent narratives in our world today, and because we read about them, hear them, and see them in action, these competing stories are very easy to make our own.  But the story of the gospel, the good news, is that there is another story by which we can live.   A story of hope, of peace, of abundance, of good will, of love, and of service.  A story of God saving us from the other stories, the false stories, that can distract us from the purposes of God for our world and ourselves.

To be ashamed is to be embarassed by, to apologize for, to shift awkwardly in our seat when we hear the name of Jesus, or the story of Jesus. Paul was way beyond that. He had embraced the good news story with his whole being. Paul realized that the gospel story was in direct contradiction to the values of the empire. He realized that the emperor of Rome thought that he was god, and demanded that his subjects profess, “Cesar is Lord.” Instead, Paul realized that the new story, the story of God, the story of the Good News was the true story. And so Paul asserts dozens of times in his letters to the churches of the first century, “Jesus is Lord.” Why? Because Paul believes the story.

Paul believes the story of God, the good news, in spite of the fact that circumstances in the world contradict the good news. Paul believes the story of God, the good news, even though he sees little of it coming to pass. Paul believes the story of God, and not the story of the empire, and it changes his life. And the course of history. For the empire will yield to and embrace the story of God itself in less than 300 years, under the emperor Constantine. All because one man believed that the story of God was the true story, and it was indeed good news.  That is living by faith.  Living our lives around the story of God.  Living in the light of the story of love.  That’s what Paul did, that’s what Christ calls us to do.

When our lives center around an alternative story, the story of God through Jesus, then we are not ashamed of the good news.  We’re not embarrassed to be counted with the followers of Jesus.  We have found a new center, a real savior, a true story in the good news of God.

Lessons Learned While Building A Community Center

Last week The Community Center at Chatham opened to the public after three years of planning, praying, and building. Reaction to the building was amazing, and ranged from “Wow” to “Now we can have exercise classes here.” Everything about this project went extremely well, and moved quickly. But, I did learn some things in the process, and here’s what I’ve gleaned so far:

  1. Be prepared for criticism. When we were awarded $3-million to build the community center, I thought everyone would be thrilled. Most were, but some very vocal opponents were quick with their criticism. Be prepared for criticism when you undertake any community-wide project.
  2. Get all the help you can. We hired a top-notch architectural and engineering firm, a good contractor, and our board made a lot of decisions. One person could not have pulled this off, and I called on the expertise of board members, design professionals, and others every step of the way. The best money we spent was to pay the architectural firm to manage the project and review all materials the contractor used. Some suggested we manage the project ourselves, which would have saved us thousands of dollars. But, it might have cost us tens-of-thousands of dollars in bad decisions.
  3. Know how you will use the building before you design it. One of my favorite movie lines is from Field of Dreams when Ray Kinsella hears the voice tell him, “If you build it, they will come.” That’s a great line, but building it isn’t enough. You have to know why you’re building it. In our case we knew the Boys and Girls Club would be the anchor program, so we designed the building to be managed by two people with clear sight lines into all rooms. Form does indeed follow function.
  4. Develop use policies prior to opening. We’re behind on this, but we’re catching up fast. We were so focused on building the building that we lagged behind on use policies. Fortunately, we’re closed for a couple of weeks to put in the gym floor, so we’ll catch up before we re-open.
  5. Think about staffing and funding. We decided that we could not run the building with volunteers alone, so we hired an interim director and will add part-time staff later. But we will use lots of volunteers to round out our staffing. We’re also raising money (we raised $26,000 at our gala grand opening dinner); we believe operating expenses will run $8-10,000 per month. That’s a lot of money to raise, but we plan a combination of individual and corporate donations, grants, user fees, and rental fees. I’ll let you know how this works as we move forward.

Someone asked me several weeks ago if I would do this all over again. The answer is “Yes” because the Center has already exceeded our expectations. But, I did learn some things, and next time it will be easier. I hope.

The future of small churches in a changing economy

I don’t mean to harp on this, but the current rise in oil prices impacts more than just where we take our next vacations. As James Howard Kunstler states in his article, Wake Up America, We’re Driving Toward Disaster:

As the world passes the all-time oil production high and watches as the price of a barrel of oil busts another record, as it did last week, these systems will run into trouble. Instability in one sector will bleed into another. Shocks to the oil markets will hurt trucking, which will slow commerce and food distribution, manufacturing and the tourist industry in a chain of cascading effects. Problems in finance will squeeze any enterprise that requires capital, including oil exploration and production, as well as government spending. These systems are all interrelated. They all face a crisis.

The rise in oil prices will have a ripple effect through the world economy, and small churches (big ones, too) will be affected. The good news is Kunstler sees a re-ordering of American life:

So what are intelligent responses to our predicament? First, we’ll have to dramatically reorganize the everyday activities of American life. We’ll have to grow our food closer to home, in a manner that will require more human attention. In fact, agriculture needs to return to the center of economic life. We’ll have to restore local economic networks — the very networks that the big-box stores systematically destroyed — made of fine-grained layers of wholesalers, middlemen and retailers.

We’ll also have to occupy the landscape differently, in traditional towns, villages and small cities. Our giant metroplexes are not going to make it, and the successful places will be ones that encourage local farming.

Kunstler sees us buying locally, growing more of our food locally, and moving in a small geographic area with $5/gallon gas than we did with $2/gallon gas. With this small, local revolution in the works, small churches that position themselves to minister to their community will be attractive as our country refocuses on small, local, sustainable experiences from food production to education to work to worship. Churches have the opportunity to lead this revolution. The question is “will we learn to think differently” and reimagine the church, not as a consumer experience, but as a community that serves.

Crossing the gas price threshold

Last November I posted about rising gas prices and the possible effect on churches.  Now $4-a-gallon gas seems like a bargain as rumors fly that gas will hit $5 to $7 per gallon by year end.  Apparently Americans didn’t stop driving when gas hit $3 per gallon, but at $4 we’re starting to slow down.  This bodes well for small neighborhood churches, and badly for those who have a long commute to church.  What is your congregation doing as a result of rising gas prices?

Special Sundays Increase Attendance

Last year for our 150th anniversary, we scheduled one special Sunday celebration per month from January through July.   Our sesquicentennial Sundays were so successful that we decided to schedule one special Sunday per month during 2008.  Here’s what we did:

  1. We chose the same Sunday of each month. On the “Second Sunday” of each month, we schedule our special Sunday emphasis, followed by a covered dish lunch or a lighter salad bar lunch.  Staying with the “second Sunday” helps our folks remember the schedule.  The only exception to that was Mothers’ Day, and we moved the May event to the third Sunday.  More about that later.
  2. The “calendar” sets the theme. We do seasonal celebrations, such as Parent-Child Dedication on Mothers’ Day.  But, we also celebrate special Sundays on the liturgical calendar like the first time we celebrated Pentecost and asked everyone to wear red.  Most of our members did not know that Pentecost was the birthday of the church, or that red was the liturgical color for that Sunday.  But, almost everyone wore red, and it was a joyous worship experience.
  3. We focus on specific groups. We have celebrated Youth Sunday, Graduate Sunday, Parent-Child Dedication Sunday, Grandparents’ Sunday, and others.  The idea is to recognize and involve different groups of people each time.
  4. We eat together after worship. We moved our monthly covered-dish meal from Wednesday night to the second Sunday, and it works much better.  Attendance is better, more food is prepared, and more guests are invited.  Sharing table fellowship strengthens the bonds of our church family, and gives us an opportunity to talk with others we might not otherwise visit with.  And, by asking folks to bring food, even salad “fixins,” we’re creating an excuse to invite and include them.  And it works!
  5. We make exceptions when we need to. Because Mothers’ Day is always on the Second Sunday, we moved our May meal to the third Sunday.  Instead of lunch, we had breakfast at 9 am, with a guest choir concert from 9:30-10:30 am.  Sunday School was cancelled that day, and we all ate and enjoyed the concert together, with plenty of time to move to worship at 11 am.  Here are a couple of photos of that morning:

The Community Center Opens to Rave Reviews

Our new community center opened last week to rave reviews! Over 125 people attended the opening ceremony on Monday, May 19. Over 320 attended our Grand Opening Gala on Thursday, May 22. After 3 years of dreaming, planning, building, and preparing our new $3-million state-of-the-art community center is open for business. Click here for a slide show of opening day.

Sermon for Memorial Day Sunday, May 25, 2008: When God Writes Your Name

When God Writes Your Name
Isaiah 49:8-16

8 This is what the LORD says:
“In the time of my favor I will answer you,
and in the day of salvation I will help you;
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people,
to restore the land
and to reassign its desolate inheritances,

9 to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’
and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’
“They will feed beside the roads
and find pasture on every barren hill.

10 They will neither hunger nor thirst,
nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them.
He who has compassion on them will guide them
and lead them beside springs of water.

11 I will turn all my mountains into roads,
and my highways will be raised up.

12 See, they will come from afar—
some from the north, some from the west,
some from the region of Aswan. ”

13 Shout for joy, O heavens;
rejoice, O earth;
burst into song, O mountains!
For the LORD comforts his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.

14 But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me.”

15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!

16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…

The memory is distinct, although I do not know when it happened or how old I was or whether it was one event or the memories of many moments together. My mother was a teacher, and after she and my father married, and I came along, she continued teaching.

When I would come in from playing with my friends and say things I had picked up from them, like “ain’t”, my mother would gently remind me that the proper words were “is not” or the contraction, “isn’t.” And, she continued to correct my grammar and word usage — or at least comment on it — long after I was an adult. She also taught me to read, and some of the earliest photographs in my baby book are of me reading — or at least holding — books, including the bible.

So, I am not sure if this very vivid memory is just one moment in time, or the compilation of many moments like it, but it is distinct in my mind. My mother and are are sitting at the kitchen table, an old wooden drop leaf table with turned legs that we used until I was a teenager. I’m writing on paper, or at least making some marks, so I must be in the first grade because I didn’t go to kindergarten. There was no kindergarten, and so first grade was where you learned to read and write.

We were learning our ABCs — and how to write each one carefully in lowercase and uppercase on broadly-lined tablets made of newsprint. The lined pages were neatly divided into rows of blue lines — the top and bottom lines solid, and the middle line dotted. We were to write the alphabet within the confines of these blue lines, making sure that the letters curved, or crossed, or slanted exactly at the right point on the dotted line. All of this was called “penmanship” and I was not good at it. Still am not good at it, but I get by.

I remember the daunting task of forming each letter tediously, slowly, and with care. But somehow my hand did not do what my brain wished it would, and my letters bore little resemblance to the row of upper and lowercase letters at the top of my tablet.

Frustrated with my slow progress, I remember asking my mother to write my name on my tablet. With ease she took the pencil and with graceful, fluid strokes formed the letters of my name — Chuck Warnock. (My mother was not as picky about nicknames as Pauline was!)

I remember asking, “Is that my name?” She said, “Yes, that’s your name.” And, she pointed to Chuck and then to Warnock, sounding them out as if I had never heard them before. And, there it was. This name that I had been called since birth, this name that I knew as my own, that was a much a part of me as my burr haircut or the “grandma beads” around my neck, there it was written down right in front of me. I remember a sense of awe, at least as much as a five year old can be awestruck, and thinking, “That’s my name. That’s me, right there on that piece of paper. My name.” As though my name had taken on a life of its own.

As I said, I am not sure about the details of that memory. But, I am sure about the feeling I had. A feeling that somehow I was more real, more important, more permanent because my name was written down before me. I am happy to tell you that I did eventually learn to write my own name, not well, but acceptably, and was graduated from first grade with all the ceremony accorded to six year olds. But, that’s another story.

Memorial Day Is About Names
Tomorrow our nation pauses to remember those who have given their lives in service to their country. The President has asked that the entire nation pause at 3 PM tomorrow, in silent tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for duty, honor, and country.

In thinking about this day, and this sermon, I considered reading the names of the 4,000-plus soldiers who have given their lives in the Iraq war. I calculated that even if we read one name per second, it would take us over an hour to read each name. That would put us well past 12 noon, and so that thought was dismissed. And, then it occurred to me that we really do not want our routines changed, even for the time it would take to read the names of 4,000 American soldiers. So, today we are not reading their names, although we should.

I was also reminded that we should read the names of those who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. At the memorial for the dead of that tragedy, I was moved as family members and friends came one-by-one to the podium to speak the name of their mother, or father, or sister, or brother, or nephew, or niece, or friend for all the world to hear. Why? Because we do not want their names to vanish, to disappear from our consciousness, like the dust cloud that hung over New York City on that fateful day. We do not want to “get on with our lives” or “travel and shop” as our government shamefully advised us to. We want to stop, and call the names of those who were lost, and speak their names into our collective memory so that we will never forget them.

Names I Remember
I remember the names of some fallen and dead on this Memorial Day weekend. I remember Sandy Shull. Sandy and I went to high school together, in the same graduating class — the class of ‘66. I went to college, Sandy went to Viet Nam. I don’t remember when I heard that Sandy had been killed there, but the news spread from one class member to another in that informal network that senior classes have, even after graduation. Sandy was a kind of bashful kid, athletic, popular, and well-liked. Sandy’s draft number was lower than mine, so he went, and I didn’t. Which is the way things happened then. I don’t know how Sandy died, or if he received a medal, or if he was a hero. I just know Sandy’s name is written on a gravestone in Nashville, Tennessee, and mine is not.

I remember Monte Nichols. Monte was my boss at the J.C. Penney Department Store in Madison, Tennessee, where I worked on Friday nights, and Saturdays during the last couple of years I was in high school. Monte was a young guy, good-looking, trim and fit, and making his way up the corporate ladder with J.C. Penney’s. Monte was the Men’s Department manager, and I worked for him. I came in after school, and Monte usually was on the floor when I got there. He was a personable guy, and good boss. He and I would eat dinner together some nights on our break. Monte had a dinnertime superstition which I had never seen before — he would never take the salt shaker directly from your hand. If he asked for salt, he would want you to put it down on the table in front of him, before he would pick it up. One night we were eating and talking, and Monte asked me to pass the salt. I did, and he took it from my hand before I could set it down. I said, “Monte, do you realize what you just did?” He looked a little self-conscious, and puzzled, and I continued, “You just took the salt without letting me set it down.” We both laughed.

A few weeks later, Monte was drafted. And then, months later, word came through the store grapevine that Monte had been killed in action. I thought about that salt shaker, knowing full-well that it had nothing to do with his death. But, I thought about it anyway.

In 1990, Debbie and I became area managers for the Baptist Bookstore Church Directory Service. Or, more accurately, the company that provided that service under the auspices of the Baptist Bookstore. One day we had a photography assignment at a church in Sumter, South Carolina. The pastor told me that many of their men had been deployed in the first Gulf War, known as Desert Storm. We watched families file in to have their family portraits made for the church directory — mom and the kids, but few dads. Needless to say, we didn’t sell many family portraits in that church because the family wasn’t all there. Some of those dads never came back, and that family portrait became a lasting reminder of their sacrifice.

So, Memorial Day is about names. And there is one name that I want to mention to you today — Captain Charles Herman Warnock. No, that’s not me, it’s my dad. My dad is 88 years old. He was an Army Aircorps pilot in World War II, flying paratroopers and supplies from England into France, and then in North Africa. It’s only recently that my dad seems to want to tell those stories of flying C-46s and C-47s over Europe and North Africa. Stories of how he and his crew picked up a load of steaks meant for the generals’ mess, and persuaded the quartermaster to look the other way while they appropriated enough for their own use. Same thing happened to a shipment of ice cream, it seems. I’m sure the generals and their staff wondered why their deliveries always came in short the same number each time. Which might also explain why he spent the last part of his tour flying in North Africa!

My dad, thankfully, did not die in World War II, or else you would have a different pastor today. But, he gave 4 years of his life for the cause of freedom, not only for America, but for our British friends and other allies as well. He gave a paratrooper his .45 sidearm before a jump one day, because the trooper asked him for it to use in close fighting. He replaced it with a German Lugar that he carried until the had to turn in his weapons and uniform when he mustered out. Amazingly, the Air Force never charged him for the .45, but did send him a bill for a uniform sweater he failed to turn in. My dad said he never got a sweater, so military mixups can go both ways.

Whose Names Do You Remember Today?
Now that you have given me the privilege of sharing some names I remember, would you like to do the same. Some of you served in World War II, some in Korea, some in Viet Nam, some in other arenas. Do you want to call the names of those you remember on this Memorial Day? (Allow time here for members to share names and stories.)

God Knows Our Names
This passage from Isaiah came at a time of great difficulty in the life of the nation of Israel. So much difficulty, that the nation thought God had forgotten them. So, God speaks through Isaiah to remind them that God has not forgotten them. Indeed, God is leveling mountains, raising highways, making the path back to God safe and level for His people. And then, God says, “I have inscribed you on my palms.”

Do you ever remember writing something on your palm? You did it because you wanted to remember. God did it because He can’t forget. But, how does God write our names on his palm, you might wonder? We have to look at the Gospels for the answer. Thomas had not been present when the risen Christ had appeared to other disciples. In grief and disbelief of their story, Thomas says —

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

26A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Jesus was saying, “Thomas, your name is written on my palms. Written in these nail prints, written in my own blood. Thomas, I haven’t forgotten about you.” And in the palms of Jesus’ hands are written all of our names. And Sandy’s and Monte’s and my dad’s and your friends and family members. For Jesus died with us in his heart, with our names engraved on his palms. Engraved by nails. Indelible reminders that our names are important to God.

A perfect Pentecost

Other than the first Pentecost recorded in the Book of Acts, I can’t think of a better Pentecost Sunday than ours last week.  Many of our members wore red, as is our custom on Pentecost.  Our worship began with the baptism of a 9-year-old boy who had professed his faith in Christ several weeks ago.  I had baptized his older brother a couple of years ago, and Sunday Raines followed Christ in baptism.

But, Sunday was also Mothers’ Day, and we usually do our Parent-Child Dedication service on Mothers’ Day.  This year, Raines’ parents, Andrew and Staci, dedicated their newest boy, Charlie.  So, a baptism and infant dedication on the same day.

This week we’re sending one of our members on a mission trip to Port Sulphur, Louisiana.  Karen is going to help rebuild houses as part of a team from our Baptist association.  We commissioned Karen to go representing our congregation, which had given generously to cover her expenses for this trip.  Later in the summer, both Karen and her son, Cameron, will go back to the Gulf Coast area, so we also commissioned Cameron for that mission trip.

The Holy Spirit was certainly at work in our midst.  My text was the lectionary reading from I Corinthians 12:3-13.  We read the words of the Apostle Paul, as he said…

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

And we agreed that God was at work in our midst, calling forth the gifts of his people in a variety of ways.  A baby, a child, a teenager, and an adult — all responding to God’s call and claim on their lives.  Pentecost continues wherever God’s people experience God’s presence and respond in faith.

A really busy couple of weeks

I just realize that I haven’t posted anything here since April 29. That is the longest time between posts since I started writing this blog almost 2-years ago. But, it’s been a busy couple of weeks. Two funerals within 4-days, and all that goes with them. Thankfully, both were dear sweet ladies who lived to be 89 and 105, respectively.

The second thing keeping me busy is the community center. Our open house is Monday, May 19, and we have a fundraising dinner on Thursday, May 22, with Coach Frank Beamer of the Virginia Tech Hokies football program as our guest speaker. We hope to have over 300 people there, and raise a good part of our operating budget for the coming year. Here’s the newspaper ad we’ll run next week:


Don’t give up on me. I’ll get back into a regular routine once the community center is open…I hope!