Miracle in a cave

The world watched, waited and prayed for this result:  Thailand's Navy SEALs, who were central to the rescue effort, said on their Facebook page that the remaining four boys and their     25-year-old coach were all brought out safely Tuesday. Eight of the boys were rescued by a team of Thai and international divers on Sunday and Monday.  "We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what. All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave," the SEALs said, referring to the name of the boys' soccer team. "Everyone is safe."  The praying world responded: Indeed, it was a miracle! 

 As I think about the rescue, it was a miracle in so many ways.  Twelve young soccer     players were trapped in a cave in Thailand for 18 days.  The world was mesmerized,   holding collective breaths as we awaited the outcome.  At church on the Sunday the  rescue was underway, people greeted each other with, “They have four of them out of the cave.”  We all knew about what the people were speaking; and I began to count miracles.

 First, the players were missed and the search was begun.  Second, the rains were not as bad as they could have been. Third, the people who needed to plan the rescue did.  Fourth, there was bravery that put service above self, with individuals casting their own safety to the wind in the quest to bring each and every member of the soccer team out alive.  Fifth, the miracle of ingenuity was at work as the SEALs strategized and innovated in order to deal with unbelievable obstacles.  They kept their heads and made reasonable plans, not panic-driven actions.  Sixth, the world that is so diverse and so divided on so many issues found common ground for humanitarian reasons.  Groups that would barely speak to each other were willing to join forces to focus upon the needs of the   players and their coach in their time of need.  To the same end, the goal was a common goal, and everyone would win when people were saved.  

 I was reminded of the bonding power of crisis and the breaking of barriers that a real emergency can effect.  I grieved that we have become adept at manufacturing crises and screaming that the sky is falling and the wolf is coming when much of our screaming is in our heads and a tool to have our way.  The true miracle and hope are that we have not been so desensitized to real crisis that we do not respond in an appropriate way. My  fear, in the climate of our nation and world, is that we will lose the compassion and ability to care enough to understand when something really needs to be done.  People called upon God, understanding the need for Divine intervention.  Many prayed, and God heard the prayers.  It was a miracle that used science along with the goodness and skills of others. 

I was reminded of one additional thing: most often, in any kind of salvation—albeit from a cave, a bad situation in life, hopelessness, grief or sin and death—someone gives his/her life for someone else.  In this case, it was a SEAL who ran out of oxygen while delivering it to those who needed it.  In some cases, people die to ambitions, ideas, goals, power and self in order to save someone else.  Sometimes we simply have to understand that the salvation of others is far more important than our promotion and power.  In the case of Jesus, He gave His life for us to live. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8). 

 What was too great a price for the SEAL?  He decided it was worth the risk to save the soccer players and their coach.  He died a hero . . . and the team and coach were saved.  Jesus died that we might live.  When will we be willing to die to self for others to live?  No, the sky is not falling.  No, the wolf is not coming.  The real danger is that we will be blind and deaf to something real that needs our sacrificial service . . . and miss the chance to save others.   May God save us from this.

Your Pastor,

Jimmy

 

FIfteen Years and Counting.....

Roxann and I are totally overwhelmed by your expressions of love that culminated in the beautiful reception in celebration of our 15th anniversary with you on this past Sunday evening.  The flowers were magnificent and the food wonderful. So many  people came, and each of you blessed us with your words, hugs and love.  We are   truly blessed to be a part of the First Baptist Church Family and the community of Columbus, Georgia.  Many of you expressed what we have been feeling: How incredibly fast this time has flown! 

 Deacon Chair Bucky Bowles, in his beautiful, humbling words, detailed so many   wonderful things we have witnessed, worked on and celebrated over these 15 years.  They have all been accomplished by the power of the Spirit of the Lord, with the skills of a great staff team and a congregation that loves to say Yes to the Lord.  God has blessed this time we have shared, and we are so grateful the Lord has given us the   opportunity to work together for such a long time—a time that I hope will extend for many more years.  We are so happy and fulfilled in the work that we share here.  It has been and continues to be an incredible journey. 

 Thank you for the generous love gift.  It, too, was overwhelming.  Thank you for    loving us and allowing us to be a part of your lives for these 15 years.  We love you and are looking forward to the future.  There is much to do, and we are on the cusp of some innovative and exciting possibilities.  In so many ways, God has just begun to do with us what He desires.  I hope we, as a Church Family, will always be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit and will embrace the opportunities in our path. 

Jimmy

Influences

I have, at times, referred to HGTV and the programs we have watched.  At other times, in conversation, Roxann or I may mention something we saw on Food Network.  I was thinking about the number of times what we saw on one of those television programs influenced what we did next.  We have put plants in our yard after we saw them on the television program. We have changed things in the house based on what we have seen on television.  J.C., our architect son, tells how the perception of renovation projects has changed thanks to HGTV. It is not as easy or as quick as a 30-minute program. Some of our favorite recipes and dishes came from something we saw on Food Network.  I am amazed at the times we use a technique or understand a process better because of the television program.

Now, the point: if you had asked me if we were influenced by television, I would have told you that we were not; the truth is that we are.  In fact, I began to look around and see all the things that influence my life and the decisions I make. I may try something in a restaurant because of someone’s recommendation.   I may want to visit a place because someone told the story of their wonderful trip there. I have been influenced by diet, exercise, activities, and so many other things because of something I saw, heard or was introduced to by someone else.  I have found interests that otherwise were not on my radar because of the influence of my children, grandchildren or friends. Roxann and I learn from each other, and that changes our lives constantly.

Clearly, there is power in the influence of others and the media around us.  Jesus understood this. His goal in calling disciples was to influence them by showing them a new way.   Such an influence rattles us out of our routines and offers us a chance to see things in a new and exciting way.  Jesus invited the disciples to come and see what He was doing and teaching. He sat with them and answered their questions—and the questions themselves were an indication that something was changing. Even if a person does not say yes to doing something; the very question shows interest and that his or her mind is moving off-center toward considering the new thing.  When the disciples asked questions, it was indicative of their spiritual awakening and early growth. Such requests as teaching us to pray indicated they realized there was something more to this whole idea of prayer and they wanted in on it.  

Jesus told us at the end of His time on earth that we are to be His witnesses.  The very mission of the individual Christian, and therefore the church, is to be the medium that the Holy Spirit uses to help open the minds of others to the things that can be done, believed and accomplished. The question Who is this Jesus? is a huge opening for a person to begin to move toward belief.  We see it in the curiosity of the Ethiopian with whom Philip shared a chariot and a conversation.  

I have talked only about the positive influences that draw us to a new renovation project, a new recipe, a new way of looking at things or to believe in Jesus. It is also important to know that the negative influences in our lives can warp our thinking, depress our souls and close our minds to the truth.  We need to monitor the influences around us and make sure we are being fed by positive words, ideas, concepts, and dreams. These improve our lives while the negative things—criticism, arguments and other things that offer struggle without clear direction towards something positive—weigh us down and eclipse the light of Christ’s hope.  Our parents were absolutely right—we DO need to watch the company (and media) with which we associate. God offers a way to influence that leads to hope, peace and eternity. We are His witnesses to others, and others are His witnesses to us.

Your Pastor,

Jimmy

Imagine 20/20

Easter services were such a blessing to me. I love seeing our people come together to worship and to celebrate our risen Lord. The attendance at the two services here and the one at Easter on Broad—were proof that our community and world are hungry for something good and holy in their lives. Praise God for our church, its worshipers and its ministries!

This Sunday morning, April 8, at 9 AM in Fellowship Hall, we will gather again to celebrate what God is doing in our church and community through Imagine 20/20. This will be our first Congregational Conversation of 2018; and I hope you will not only be present but also participate—because it is, after all, a conversation. For those who are new to First Baptist and have not been a part of the previous Conversations, let me recap the emerging of the dream of where our church will be in 2020 based on God’s will for us and His opening doors for us.

All of our imagining has been based on the words of Paul in Ephesians 3:20: Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask and imagine, according to His power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Our Church Family helped conceive the dreams of Imagine 20/20 by identifying five categories on which we would focus our time, energy and prayers: Connections, Leadership, Missions, Spiritual Growth, and Worship. Teams of congregants, who were committed to pursuing the dream in one or more of these categories, came together to discuss, plan and seek God’s will.

From these discussions came Second Story (our City Ministry in Uptown to college students and young adults, led by Brandon Strozier), the Leadership Institute, enhanced missions involvement (under the leadership of our new Minister of Missions Engagement, Howie Hooper), the Place Inventory (to discern the spiritual gifts of our people), and the incorporation of some changes in our worship experience. I hope you have been or will be a part of one of the I 20/20 teams. If you have not been, please come to this Sunday’s Congregational Conversation to hear their reports and select the team that best fits your interests and passions.

We have made significant progress in fulfilling the dream of Imagine 20/20; but there is more to do, and you can help. It is vitally important that all of our people be involved in this endeavor as we continue to seek God’s will and watch as He opens new doors for our church. From the beginning, Christ followers have been passionate people—about the Gospel, about loving one another, and about serving as Christ himself served. I urge you to join us this Sunday, April 8, at 9 AM in Fellowship Hall as we pursue the Imagine 20/20 dream together. There will be no 8:30 worship service and no Youth or Adult Bible Study at 9:45. Our 11:00 service will be a celebration of all God has done and will do among us.

I’ll see you Sunday morning at 9:00 in Fellowship Hall for conversation, good reports and important information on the amazing progress of this Imagine 20/20 experience.

Your Pastor,

Jimmy Elder

 

Be a door of good!

First, a word of gratitude about last Sunday—the service was wonderful and the music was beautifully done. I am grateful for such a deep pool of talent in our Church Family— so deep, in fact, that the morning worship music created an atmosphere fit for a classic Billy Graham Crusade. Thank you for your continuing commitment and tremendous gifts. 

One thing that struck me about the whole recollection of the life of Billy Graham was the importance of the media in the advent of Dr. Graham’s Crusade ministry. William Randolph Hearst was so deeply moved by his experience at the 1949 California Crusade that he sent a memo to his newspaper editors to Puff Graham. I mentioned this in the sermon; but I want to reiterate it here, for I think it is important. Hearst understood the power of the print medium to influence a nation in a positive way. He heard a message he felt others should hear, so he helped open the door for that. I fear that our national media, post-Watergate, became so engrossed in its power to depose others that it neglected to consider the power of a good word, an encouraging word, a word of hope. 

As a journalism student, I heard the conversations of the place of media in the public interest—both as watchdog and encourager. There is a real rush of power in influencing public opinion, but there must be a keen sense of responsibility in making sure the mission is balanced and truly serves the public good. As in anything, when we enjoy a certain kind of negative power too much, we jeopardize our focus on the more positive ability to change the world for good. When the negative is pointed out, it should be accompanied with the hope that this will help stem the tide and restore the good. In other words, what is the greater purpose in all that we do? 

I think about our lives and the stewardship of our influence, which has been heightened by access to the internet and other forms of quick expression of ideas. Vehicles like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and the like—I know that even these are dated—empower us to help others form opinions, to build up or tear down reputations, to raise alarm or offer reason, to point out problems or affirm the good—in short, personal influence in our day is greater than it has been at any point in history, for everyone has a forum. Someone will listen to that voice and be affected, no matter how off-the-wall the idea happens to be. We have known the power of gossip for ages; there is evidence in ancient writings of gos-sip. Even the scriptures in places like Exodus 23:1 warns of spreading false reports. 

I want to be an encourager. Yes, there are some problems that need to be addressed; and there are proper ways to do so. We need to remember that it is one thing to point out the bad, but it is not helpful unless it offers some kind of solution to the problem. I have watched parents with their kids in sporting events. Parents come from two camps: they chastise their children, embarrassing them while ordering them to do better; or they encourage them in what they did right and help lead them to a way to improve and grow. That is key to personal development. It also puts forth the greater purpose: do they want to win the game or do they want the child to learn the character-building principles that make her/him a better ballplayer and person? 

The same is true of the way we deal with issues in our world. Are we in it only for the gotcha moment, or are we more interested in helping the world become a better place? There was much that Jesus could and did seek to correct. He pointed out problems, but never without solutions. Jesus was truly the way, the truth and the life. Dr. Graham’s experience reminds us that we sometimes need an advocate to open a door as we follow responsibly what God has empowered us to do and be. Oh, to be that door of good in someone’s life!

You Pastor,

Jimmy Elder