In 1980, at a time in my life when I was struggling to find myself, I joined First Baptist Jackson. Less there be any confusion, I walked down the aisle a week or so after Dr. Pollard resigned his first pastorate with us. I had been invited by my roommate and her friends and finally took the plunge and took myself to the big church downtown. I was, at the time, what we today identify as a “millennial.” The change was radical. The change, for me, was needed spiritually, emotionally, relationally. Though I have now been here through as many interim periods as I have Senior Pastors, I never looked back. I am here because this is where Steve and I believe God wants us, not because of what we like or don’t like.
So now, some thirty-six (36) years later, I am certain that radical change is coming. The excitement from the time Paul Moak JR made his report that we were “close” to calling a new Senior Pastor on January 31, 2016, until he brought us the recommendation from the Pastor Search Committee on February 14, 2016, built, and if yesterday morning is any indication, the FBCJ folks are ready. The building was vibrating!
With excitement also comes anxiety. Members are anxious. Members generate anxiety for church staff and lay leadership. I dare say, thousands of questions have been asked and speculation has been widespread. (Sidebar: First Jackson’s rumor mill only approaches that of the State of Mississippi where I worked in the Executive Branch for over 20 years).
I have not been a party to the rumor mill (though I have listened in amazement to what folks have said). But, I wonder what is going to happen? Am I going to like the new guy and his family? Will they like me personally? What is he going to be like as a preacher? How will he lead? Will I “connect” to his sermons? Will I connect to him personally? WHAT IS HE GOING TO CHANGE?
When I realized I was drowning in these questions, I began to put a different face on them… What are God’s intentions here? How will He continue to use FBCJ in this community and around the world? Will it really matter if something changes that I care about? What will my role be? Will our people become more engaged? Will our leaders mature and raise up new leaders? Will we continue to be rutted in our ways and hangers’ on to the things deemed “successful” taking credit but giving in time and resources little or nothing to the effort (a pet peeve)? Can I adjust if it makes sense for the Kingdom even if I don’t like the idea or cannot see the purpose of a change? (This one begs you to go look at Hebrews 11:8 – By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.) Can we as a body be unified? Can we (I) be led (we are not really good at being led, I can tell you)? And finally, whose church is First Jackson anyway?
When Bryant Bush (BB) preached January 24, 2016, he delivered the best line ever: “Nothing changes if nothing changes.” My friend Doug Rule often shares a quote widely attributed to Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Those quotes actually say much the same thing. I have a fleshly response to those quotes -might even be appropriate for where our church has been over these last years BUT that is not the correct response. The correct response is: “Lord, change me. Let everyone around me see Your change in me.”
Scripture is all over this:
Psalm 51:10: Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Ezekiel 36:26: Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
Jeremiah 24:7: I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.
Romans 12:12: And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Philippians 2:2-4: Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Cille’s transliteration of this: Be one in spirit and truth – UNIFIED.)
BB also shared: “Do not allow your wounds to transform you into something you are not.” I agree that I am and others are – wounded – but the choice is clear – I can wallow in it and drown in what could might have been or I can pull my boots on and grab a bandage and a shovel and get going with what needs to be done and bring others with me.
BB preached from Isaiah 43. Two of the verses he expanded on are verses I had earlier chosen for myself for this year: Isaiah 43: 18-19: Do not call to mind the former things. Or ponder things of the past. Behold I will do something new. Now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make roadways in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.
I am not a random verse selector – don’t just open my Bible and just see where it lands. But one morning in late December I pulled up Bible Gateway on my phone and this was the passage for the day. I decided then and there for this to be my focal passage for 2016. To get the context of the verse, I went back and read the entire chapter – and this is what I found:
Verse 1 (last part): Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine!
Verse 2: When you…pass through the waters…over the rivers…through the fire…I will be there.
Verse 4: I will give other men in your place and in exchange for your life.
Verse 5: Do not fear, I am with you.
Verse 15: I am the Lord. – Cille’s transliteration – God is saying: “I’ve got this.”
When we continue to look behind us, we slow down and fail to be where He wants us to be when He wants us to be there. If you need an example of what happens when you are looking back even though God is leading on, just look at Lot’s wife! If we are not willing to change who does things, how we do it, when we do it, and for whose benefit, just because we have never done it that way before or because it might cause us to look at or react to something differently, we most likely are being disobedient.
Looking at Is: 43:18 – Don’t dwell on where we were. I would add to that, don’t get caught up in a prideful thing of “who we are” – instead, I would dwell on the fact that First Jackson is God’s church, not ours, and His will, not ours, is all that matters. What we do here matters. Each one of you matters. Your influence is broad and how you approach the days ahead will be noticed and replicated. It is up to all of us, to look forward, not back; to bend our desires to His will, and to affirm what God has for us to do to reach Jackson and the world by getting up and moving forward.
One more specific thought about change: Heaven is going to be wonderful but we will not be in charge! All this stuff of church (of life) we consider important now will not matter at all if we have made the only decision that ever matters – the one to follow Him. I thought about that as I listened to New Jerusalem. I do want to see my Savior’s face. Nothing else will matter.
There’s lots to be done in the days ahead. I am praying that we will be all together mentally, spiritually. I am encouraged by the excitement of change. And Matt and Bren Brooks and their family need our prayers, too.
I was exchanging prayer requests with a choir friend this morning by email. I told her my prayers right now are focused on FBCJ and for unity because our people are resistant to change and yet God expects us to change to honor and serve him. Her response was priceless and so on point: “One thought, one phrase has kept coming to my mind for the last 4 years of worshiping in this church, “Crack it open”. It has felt like something needed to be cracked open. That may sound silly to you but I feel a restraint in this church, a holding back. It needs to go. That is what I am praying and waiting for – a release of God’s power.” I am right there with her!
I personally believe “God’s got this.” He is going to do something new in and through this body that is First Baptist Jackson and is going to supply what we need to make it happen. I.cannot.wait!
Still Choosing Joy!