Seek the Welfare of the City: Some thoughts after Mission JC

In 2006 there was a disturbing story out of England about a 38-year-old British woman discovered dead in her apartment. What was shocking was not that she died nor how she died. What was shocking was how long she had been dead. It was determined that Joyce Vincent had actually died over two years earlier yet no one knew. She was estranged and self-isolated from friends and family. She had resigned from her job and moved into a different flat. Her rent and her utilities were all set for auto debit payments and due to this, and some debt forgiveness plans, it took two years for bill collectors to demand possession of the flat. And that was how Vincent’s death was discovered.

Four years ago some crazy Baptists at my church sat in a room together asking the question – would anyone notice if we left Jefferson City? Would it matter to anyone if we closed up shop and disbanded the church? Would it take two years for anyone to notice the building was empty? Would they rejoice that there was now prime real estate available downtown to build a parking garage?

The focus of the question wasn’t about us and the need to be known, the need to have a big fuss made about us in the unfortunate event of our demise.

The focus of the question was our relationship with the community that God has placed us in to serve and to love.

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A Sent Church

I don’t know if I can honestly say I’ve ever been more proud to be a member of the family of First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, then I was this past Sunday. That is saying a lot because I’ve had many moments where I’ve been humbled and proud of FBCJC. Like any of the multitude of mission trips we take to go support our partners and to visit our “extended family” in the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Belarus and South Dakota. I’m been touched when I’ve walked into a hospital waiting room only to find an entire Sunday School class already present and ministering to their friends. I’ve been overwhelmed with the generous offering we receive each month for benevolence that allows us to help individuals and families stay in their homes or keep the electricity on. I’ve beamed when I see our church members advocate for the rights of the economical disadvantaged in our community. I’m humbled every time I see a mentor from our church pouring 45 minutes of his or her week into a child who is flourishing under the love and attention.

Breakfast and Commissioning Service

Breakfast and Commissioning Service

But this past Sunday was one of the most beautiful images of church that I’ve seen in my thirteen years on staff at FBC.

On Sunday, our church held its first “Mission JC: In the City. For the City.” For over a year, we have talked about how the church is a sent people. The people of God sent into the neighborhood and the world to seek justice and mercy and to walk humbly with our God.  The church is not a building. The church is not the facilities at the corner of Capitol and Monroe. The church is not a 45-minute program with singing, offering, prayers and a message.  The church is a SENT people – just as Jesus was SENT.  And on Sunday, we sent nearly 300 volunteers into our beloved city to serve and to share God’s love.

There were over 20 projects ranging from painting, landscaping, food giveaways, free breakfast, block party, care packages for police, fire and sheriff stations, thank you notes to nonprofits in our community who we have the honor to serve alongside, care packages to the staff of our partner elementary school, meals prepared and delivered to homebound individuals, community garden work, walking animals at the shelter, and so much more.

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Elizabeth Olten and Forgiveness

Being home sick today gave me a lot of time to think about what today was going to be like for my youth. I was praying last night and today for you. Praying especially about the ramifications of Elizabeth Olten’s murder, for the things that would be said about the accused, for the many rumors and harsh words that would be said.

That was before I even learned about the death this morning of Bill Currie, a teacher at JCHS.

I hurt that you have to face such difficult life issues ever – but especially at this age.

But I can’t protect you from things that happen because the world is made of people who make mistakes, people who hurt others, people who are selfish and hurt others when they are hurting.

God never promised that bad things wouldn’t happen. From the moment God made the choice to let us choose whether to love God or to love self, sin has been a heart-breaking problem. Not just for humans but for God as well. God grieves with those that are hurting. God was with Elizabeth during that horrible evening and was heartbroken for what she was going through but also because someone else that God created was the one causing the pain. No matter what you hear, God does not cause bad things to happen.

I believe God also grieves at the way people are reacting to this tragedy. I’ve not seen such hate and lynch-mob mentality in this area before. The things people have said and have written about the 15-year-old suspect are fueled by fear, anger and hate. They are not the voice or heart of God.

I want to challenge you not to join in on these behaviors. Don’t be one who makes vicious statements about what should happen to the person who killed Elizabeth. Don’t be the one who says at the cafeteria table that you hope she gets what she has coming. Don’t be the one who points and says mean things to those who befriended her. They have enough that they are dealing with during this time.

Instead, keep your eyes on Christ and model him in all your words and actions. Vengeance is mine, says the Lord. And don’t assume what that vengeance will look like. It isn’t ours to decide.

In the hallways of JCHS, we need to see Christ more than ever. That only happens when you, Christ’s ambassadors, commit to being the hands, feet, words, and heart of Jesus. When you are tempted to hate, pray. When you are tempted to say something disparaging about someone, say something kind instead. When people preach hate, preach peace.power_of_forgiveness

“Confess your weaknesses to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. ” James 5:16

An event a couple of years ago that made a huge impact on many folks was the forgiveness given by an Amish community against a man who killed five innocent children. They also helped the killer’s widow and children. Their forgiveness was so different, so unique that it brought so much attention on that issue. By their forgiveness, not only were they able to heal over time, more importantly they were able to glorify GOD in all things. Read about it here.

May we also have such a witness.

I love you. And I’m praying for you and our community.