Being the presence of Christ.

What a gift it is to have friends come and visit. We had a friend visit with us this past Sunday. His presence with us was a visible reminder that other people who live in other parts of the world experience life differently. Not only are their day-to-day lives different from ours, but also the challenges they face and the trials that they endure. Our friend’s retelling of the murder of his colleague poignantly underscored in a somber way those differences.

Our friend and his family spend most of their days in a place far different from our East Tennessee. Yet, we do share a common faith, a common experience of grace and redemption. Out of that experience of grace and redemption, we share a common calling. It is a calling to be the presence of Christ as we live out our lives. We are called by the profound act of love demonstrated to us and for us in the life, teachings and death of Jesus Christ. We are to extend grace as it has been extended to us, to give hope as it has been given to us, and to show mercy as it has been shown to us.

We share a common calling with those around the world who have heard the voice of the one who said to us “. . . come unto me and I will give you rest.” We are called by the same words: “Go ye into all the world,” “When you have done unto the least of these,” “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We are called with the same words to the same calling, though we are called to different tasks in different places.

Our friend will return next month to the place that God has called him and his family to serve. He goes with courage and great faith to do what God calls each of us to do, wherever we find ourselves, to be the presence of Christ. Even though we are surely called to be Christ to those around us wherever we are, we should not dismiss too easily the idea that God might very well have a task for us that would require no less courage, nor less faith, than that of our friend and his family as they return to the place they call home. May our prayers rise continually for their safety and well-being.

Last month, you brought to the altar over 500 pairs of shoes and offered them to the Lord. Those shoes were delivered to the Western Heights Baptist Center. They will be given to men and women, boys and girls who need them. They will be given as a tangible reminder that in the midst of their need, they are not alone in this world, but that Christ is with them. Giving shoes to protect the feet of the needy is being the presence of Christ.

This month is our Tennessee Partners in Missions offering as well as the month that we collect blankets for Lost Sheep Ministry for the homeless. The gift you give to the mission offering will be used by six ministries across the state as they seek to be the presence of Christ. The blankets will be given to homeless people in our city to warm them this winter. Again, participating in either or both of these offerings is a way that you are the presence of Christ in a world that longs for his grace and peace.

With courage and faith, let us be the presence of Christ together so that all may know the joy and hope that we have found in him.

Room in our Lives

I spent a couple of days with my Uncle John before the start of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Houston. He lives just up the road in Brookshire, Texas. He has lived other places in his adult life, but he has always seemed to end up back in Houston. Houston just did something for him.

When I was a little boy, Houston was where he came from when he would visit Mammaw and Pappaw in East Tennessee. I realize now that his coming home at the holidays or in the summer made the world a larger place for me. At the time, my mom’s youngest sister still lived at home in Ozone with my grandparents, my mom’s older sister lived in Crossville, her younger brother lived in Rockwood and my dad’s sister lived in Rockwood. My earliest world existed in the distance between Rockwood and Crossville. Knoxville and Chattanooga were places that I had heard of, but rarely if ever visited. Everyone I knew lived somewhere between Rockwood and Crossville. That is except for Uncle John. He lived in Houston which seemed impossibly far away to me as a little boy. Somehow by his living there he made the world a bigger place for me.

Now, when I think about the places I have been and the people that I have met I cannot help but think that I have been to those places and met those people at least in part because of Uncle John. Funny the things we learn when we don’t know that we are learning from those around us who have no idea that they are teaching us.

The world is much smaller now made so by the perspective of time and the innovations of technology. That is a good thing for us as followers of Christ because we are a going people. We are called each day to continue the journey of faith that Christ has called us to. Sometimes that journey takes us across the street to our next door neighbor and sometimes it means we wait at home while those we love travel to a neighboring country as we have for the past two weeks with our young people in Canada. Geography is part of the faith journey, but not just in MapQuest, GPS sort of way. Spiritually, when we open our lives to God and let God do with us as God will, we find ourselves in situations with people that we would never have met otherwise. These encounters cause to think about our preconceived ideas of different kinds of people and the fears we have been taught to associate with them.

After enough such encounters, we realize that it not just our perspective of the size of the world that has changed, but our perspective about people in the world and in our own lives. Just as there is always room for one more at the table of the Lord, so to there is room for another alongside us as we continue our journey of faith. Just as the world is much more than the distance between Rockwood and Crossville, so to are the opportunities God has for us to connect with people, offer grace and share Christ’s love.

O Canada

At Ball Camp Baptist Church, we exist to share the love of Christ. This week our youth will be sharing that love in a special way as they journey north to Canada. An amazing amount of preparation has gone into this trip and now the time is finally here for it to happen. The bags are packed and the luggage is loaded. The work is planned and the funds are raised. Immediately after worship today the bus and the van will leave our parking lot bound for Ottawa.

Our youth and their leaders go out from us as sent people. You should know that they go as sharers of Christ’s love on our behalf. We go with them even as they go for us. You have done much to make this trip possible for our youth, but there is one more thing that is urgently needed — namely, your prayers.

Pray for safe traveling going, coming and everywhere in between. Pray for the people our youth will encounter as they minister this week. Pray that our youth will share Christ’s love with boldness and compassion throughout the week. Most importantly, remember to pray for them each day. In doing so, you will give profound expression of your love for our youth, their leaders, and to those to whom they will minister.

Each of us has been formed to one degree or another by the people and events that we have experienced through the course of our lives. This week our youth will have experiences that could well shape the future direction of their lives. God does amazing things on mission trips. Stuff happens that is more than memorable and beyond unforgettable. Stuff happens that gets inside of a person, becomes a part of a person. Sometimes a person becomes someone different than she or he would have because of the stuff that happens on mission trips. Pray that our youth will have open hearts and minds as God works in and through them this week.

A trip like this one could not happen without adult leaders. This week they work with and watch over our youth. While giving thanks for their willingness to give of themselves, pray that God will give them the strength and wisdom for the important work that lies before them this week.

Our young people have worked hard to make this trip happen. We can all be proud of their diligent preparation and their willingness to go. Truly, only God knows what will result from their willingness to spend a week in another country sharing Christ’s love. Yet, we know God to be a God who is active in the lives of those who serve and follow the way of Christ. So, let those of us remain at home do so with eager anticipation of what God will do. Let us pray and wait that we might see again the power of God to touch lives and transform hearts.