Welcome to the historic First Baptist Church of Memphis, serving Memphis & the Mid-South since 1839. You will find exciting ministries, mission opportunities, and vibrant worship.

Sunday Mornings:

9:30am Sunday School
11:00am Worship

Wednesday Evenings:

5:00pm Dinner
6:00pm Bible Study

200 East Parkway North, Memphis, TN 38112 ⋅ Office: 901.454.1131



Forged Relationships

I’m writing this article from the kitchen table of my cousin in Bradenton, Florida. This is the second year that Micah and I have made this pilgrimage here during his Spring Break. Last year everything seemingly went off without a hitch. Lots of fishing, baseball, a car race. This year…not exactly. Oh, there’s been plenty of everything that made last year great, just complications along the way, and a cast of characters that has made things interesting to say the least. And yet…I think Micah and I have survived amazingly well. We have persevered and have laughed heartily at our misfortunes.   And my guess is we’ll remember overcoming these obstacles long after we’ve forgotten what went off without a hitch. 

Well, we as FBC are engaged in another pilgrimage. A Lenten Journey toward the cross. It too is fraught with obstacles. Many of you are on personal journeys as well that are also fraught with difficulty that probably will not end with Easter. In the midst of such, companions, as Mary Kaylor’s sermon taught us, are absolutely essential to help us bear the pain and to give birth to something new.  But what came to mind for me this week was the sense in which true friendships really are, as the old saying goes, forged in the midst of adversity. To put this another way—real friendships are not only necessary to our journey, they can be found on our journey, revealed to us along the way and/or strengthened for years to come. To say this is not to minimize the difficulty of any journey. It is merely to point out that a silver lining to a difficult journey may be the friendships you make and strengthen along the way.  

Think of the relationships that matter the most to you. They may not have begun in adversity, but I bet they were forged there. Family members that saw you through a crisis. A friend who helped you get over a grief. A colleague who covered for you when you needed to take care of critical personal matters. President Ulysses S. Grant put it this way, “The friend of my adversity I shall always cherish most.  I can better trust those helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.”  

With that in mind, some thoughts:

  1. We’re all going through some difficulties, some more than others. But everyone is on a pilgrimage that involves significant challenges, or soon will be. Be aware of that. Be sensitive to that. Allow such knowledge to temper how you engage everyone, even strangers.
  2. Dare to walk with someone else in their adversity. Will such result in a closer relationship with this person? Maybe. Maybe not. But regardless, as children of God, we don’t let our brothers and sisters walk hard paths alone.
  3. Take notice of those who are coming alongside you in your adversity.  Give thanks for how your relationships have been strengthened by even challenging circumstances.
  4. Remember that in Christ, this is exactly what God did for you, and me, and all. He came alongside us in our adversity. He bore our griefs and sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. And by his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53) 

Yes, Lent is the call to walk with our Lord unto Jerusalem, even unto the cross. But never forget that our ability to do that is predicated upon the fact that in Christ, God has, does, and will walk with us when we need Him, especially when we need Him the most, in the midst of adversity. Ours is a God who will never leave us or forsake us even to the end of the age. Ours is a God who is not only present in the good times, but in the tough times, too. Indeed ours is a God who, as is revealed on the cross, knows that the best, the strongest relationships, the ones that matter, are the ones forged in adversity.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the April edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, April 1, 2017 | 0 comments
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On January 18 we explored together a couple short proverbial parables that have to do with value.  The kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field. A man, who does not own it, stumbles across it, and then goes and sells all that he has and buys it.   Again, the kingdom of God is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who finds one pearl of exceptional value, and he too, goes and sells all that he has and buys it.

What do you have that has value? Actual things. A house? A car? Jewelry? Tools? Collectibles?  That’s one question, and it can be insightful. How we use our money does say a lot about us. But consider this question alongside it. What do you value? What things, even, do you value? Are they the same as the list above? Chances are, not. Chances are you now begin to think of photographs (or your computer on which all your photographs are stored), family Bibles and heirlooms, books signed by heroes and mentors, etc., those things you would be tempted to grab if the house was on fire.

What does this difference reveal? It reveals that we really do know, down deep inside, that life is about more than just stuff and money, that the true source of value in our life is to be found in family and relationships and community and faith.

And of all such matters, Jesus says the Kingdom of God (or Heaven to use Matthew’s term) is the most valuable. Living the way of Christ and being a part of God’s work in this world, helping to bring about a state of true justice and peace and hope and grace is, says the text, worth everything. Note the refrain in both parables…they sold all that they had and bought it.  

I think that’s one important thing to remember when it comes to all matters of true value. They do cost.  Scripture is clear about that. All the disciples left something when they came to follow Jesus—nets, tax collectors tables, etc.  And the same is true today. There is always a leaving, a letting go of lesser things, to be a part of something far better, the Kingdom of God.

These past few weeks I have been moved to hear you speak in worship and in our in home discussions of what you value about our church, and why your investment here at FBC, as part of your overall investment in the Kingdom of God, is worth it. Stories of people being there for one another when the chips were down. Stories of people who cherished their children and/or maybe “got through” to their children when they as parents could not.  Stories of pride in being a part of a church that will accept all and take a stand when necessary. Stories of worship that moved, study that challenged, service that fulfilled, etc. Stories of Kingdom stuff, that is indeed worth our time, our energy, our talents, our support.  

Yes, who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do as FBC, is challenging. It will demand our very best, all that we have, but it’s worth it. Oh, how it’s worth it.  For us, for our families, for our community, and so many more.   The honor of being a part of the redemptive work of the One who considers us worth it all…is worth it all. Thanks for proving that to me over and over again, FBC.  It’s a privilege to be your pastor.
Onward, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the February edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, March 1, 2017 | 0 comments
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Our Lenten Journey

I’ve always struggled with the Temptation narrative beginning the Lenten Journey. Oh, I get the connection of the 40 days, but the Temptation happens right at the start of Jesus’ ministry, not in the middle, and it’s nowhere close to the point when “he set his jaw toward Jerusalem.” But the idea of a journey into the wilderness, one that cannot be avoided, a sort of testing necessary to rest of the journey…which is what the temptation was for Jesus…well, if that doesn’t sound like Lent, I don’t know what does.  If we’re to get to Easter, to new life, we “must needs go home by way of the cross.”

Two years ago, I saw the film Wild based on the autobiographical book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail. In it, Reese Witherspoon plays the author, Cheryl Strayed, whose determination to hike the Pacific Coast Trail enables her to find her way out of addiction and the pain of a divorce.  It was a truly unorthodox idea; not only because there is no necessary connection between hiking and sobriety, but because Strayed had never done a lick of hiking before. And hiking the PCT alone is not for novices. She does some preparation, but not nearly enough.  She’s not a day or two in when she realizes that she has packed not nearly enough of what she truly needs, and far too much of what she doesn’t need. Indeed a repeated scene through the entire movie has her throwing away unneeded items while taking on more of what she really needs. And all such is done, mostly, at the advice of more experienced hikers she meets along the way, something else she had unwisely tried to leave behind.  Traveling in the wilderness or to a cross requires having the right essentials, and little else.

This Lent we’re inviting you on a journey that may seem like a bit of a wilderness trek. At the very least the road to the cross doesn’t generally feel like a well-paved road. And truth be told, some of us are already on some hard journeys now, ones that will not get any easier even after Easter. So, it’s worth giving some time and effort to the task of ridding ourselves of unneeded baggage—regret, grief, guilt, a grudge, fear, low self-assessment, toxic thoughts and relationships, a bad habit we picked up along the way. At the same time, there are some essentials that we absolutely need, that we just can’t do without —grace, God, friends, and mentors, a sense of call, hope, courage. Lent gives us the opportunity to let go of some nonessentials, so that we can take better hold of essentials which will, in turn, uphold us.

This Lent we will focus on some of the essentials we will need on our journey. The Temptation will point us to the Bread of Life. A Samaritan woman will share the source of living water. Egyptian midwives will offer us companionship through the pain. A blind man will show us how mud can clear our vision. Grieving sisters and their best friend will remind us of the healing power of tears. And along the way, we’ll clear out some space to make sure we have room for all of these.

Yes, Lent like the wilderness journeys of Christ and Cheryl Strayed, you and me, are not always journeys we desire or want, but many times they are ones we need, necessary periods of focusing and testing and healing that are required if we’re ever to get to Easter, to the new life beyond. But never forget, along the way, the way of the cross does indeed lead home.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the March edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, February 1, 2017 | 0 comments
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A New Year

One of the things that happens to many of us when the calendar turns is that it takes a while to get in the swing of things and quit saying/writing/typing the number for the last year (2016) and state correctly which year we are in (2017). Check writing used to be the worst in respect to this dynamic. Now with digitized everything, and computers making the switch for us, it doesn’t happen as often. But I guarantee you there are more scratch outs on forms, at doctor’s offices and elsewhere, the first week of January than any other week. After you’ve been used to saying a certain year for 350+ days, it’s just hard to make the switch.
This challenge reminds us that change itself is hard. We get used to a certain way of thinking, of doing things, and whether we like it all that much or not, it is at least familiar and comfortable. Thus, we resist the new, the novel, the creative, even if it’s the very thing we need. That being said, to be fair, most new ideas and concepts don’t tend to arrive all shiny and bright, either. They are new, after all. There are rough edges that must be smoothed out, modifications that must be made. So leaving the familiar and polished for something new and unfinished…well, that’s doubly hard.

And when it comes to faith, tradition and familiarity are not all bad. Not at all. I like tradition. I find it rich with meaning. Ours is an eternal God with an eternal Love.  Some things really do not change.  And yet, one of those unchanging things is the fact that our God is ever on the move, ever adjusting, ever changing, ever seeking to do a new thing. Thus the question for  a disciple is never “Is God doing a new thing?” But “Where is God doing a new thing? And how can I get involved?”

So as we consider this for 2017, let’s ask ourselves some questions:  What is God up to? Where and how is God calling us to become involved? We have a new president and a new political climate. What challenges/opportunities for ministry/justice will that bring our way?  How will we respond? Memphis has its challenges. Our church has its challenges. How can I be a part of how God is meeting those challenges? What will it take for me to become more involved/engaged in what God is up to than I was last year? Are there pieces of my past to which I am hanging on that keep me from embracing what God is doing now? Most importantly, to what do I need to commit myself, right now, so that this time next year I look back and say…that was a year well spent.

Faithful people dare to ask and face such questions, because we believe that God is not only in our past and present, but in our future, too, out ahead of us, doing a new thing, beckoning us to join in. Let us now, as always, be open and attentive to the God who has come in Christ, and the new ways of thinking, being, acting, giving, serving to which God is calling us…now…in 2017.  

Happy New Year, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the January edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, January 1, 2017 | 0 comments
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All In

I’m not much of a card player.  There are a few card games that I enjoy, but just in groups and just for fun.  No gambling. But several years ago, I did find poker tournaments on TV to be rather interesting. I watched a few just out of curiosity. When something new hits the scene and is gaining in popularity, I’ll almost always check it out to see what all the fuss is about. Well, if you’ve ever watched these tournaments, they seemingly go on forever. But every so often, a player will decide that they have a hand that is so unbeatable that they will call, “all in,” and by that they mean they are betting everything they have on this hand. Either they will at least double the amount of money they have, or they walk away with absolutely nothing.  It’s an incredibly gutsy and risky move.

Well, this Advent we celebrate that in Christ, God was “all in” for you and for me.  In Christ, God held nothing back and came fully into the total experience of humanity for humanity. And in Christ, God did such in typical God fashion—forcing nothing, imposing nothing, merely welcoming and inviting and calling any and all who would follow. In addition, in Christ, God made Godself vulnerable to the worst we could do Him—rejection, ridicule, even death.  And God did this all to show us the depth of God’s love for us.

It was, and is, an incredibly risky move to come with such vulnerability, to leave the outcome up to us. For if we say “no,” if we won’t respond in like fashion, if we choose to look to lesser gods to guide us, to build our lives around, then…in a real way…it’s over. God can do no more, nothing greater.  If we won’t respond to Christ, we’re just not going to respond, and the whole God movement is pretty much dead in the water.

It’s this rather stark realization that drives home the preparation part of Advent. It’s why John the Baptist inevitably pops up in Advent, for he reminds us that what we celebrate is more than beautified manger scenes and Silent Night, that the Christ event is also serious business. Yes, John the Baptist reminds us that while in Christ, God is saying, “I’m all in for you,” God is also asking the reciprocal question, “Are you all in for me?”

Well, are we? Do we allow God’s supreme definition of love to impact us, change us? Do we allow it to reach down deep to heal the most troubled parts of our soul? Do we allow it to then call us to far greater love for God, others, and self? If in Christ coming to earth, God is saying, “I’m betting on you,” how have we responded?  Far more importantly, how will we respond? If the ball is in our court now, if the state of the God movement is now dependent on your response and my response and our response, what is the state of the God movement today? What are God’s chances now that God is betting “all in” on us?  

So this Advent/Christmas season, enter into all the joy, wonder and beauty it represents, but please don’t get lost in it. Take time to reflect on the depth of the love of a God who is “All In” for us, and how that can and should impact our lives.
Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the December edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Thursday, December 1, 2016 | 0 comments
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Royal Changes

On the evening of October 18, I went to a concert of Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen, two of my favorite singer-songwriters.   Robert Earl Keen sang his song, “If I Were King There’d Be Some Changes Made.” Keen’s song is more or less a love song, stating what he’d change for a certain woman if he could. But it’s an interesting question. If you were king (or queen), what changes would you make? It’s especially interesting given this political season where, by and large, deservedly or not, our presidential candidates are the focus of our ire. “So Ok, Mr./Mrs. Smartypants, if you were king/president, what would you change?”

When I consider that question there is much that comes to mind.  I’d change some economic policies to benefit the poor.  I’d be engaged in seeking answers to the Syrian refugee crisis. I’d be engaged in questions affecting the environment. But the issue that has had my heart since this summer is race.  
We all know there is a problem. There’s a problem because we don’t know.  There’s a problem because we don’t know the view of the world through eyes other than our own. And we won’t know because most of us know, truly know, precious few people of other races. Acquaintances, business associates, fellow parents whose children play on the same sports team…maybe. But have over to dinner, go out socializing, take dinner when times are tough?

So if I were king, I’d make some changes designed to bring folk together, across all sorts of racial/cultural divides. Of course I’m not king, so I guess no one has to worry. But then again, as Christians we profess that someone is King. And my guess is that if Jesus were to walk into Memphis, the issue he would address without delay is race. Indeed, it would be my guess that he would set a record for crashing the most segregated scenes in our city in the shortest amount of time. It’s because of that, that I believe we have no option but to be engaged in the question of race, especially now, especially here, especially after this past summer. It’s the job of everyone, but the church, those who are called by His name, to lead the way. We just have to.  We’ll all be held accountable one day for what we have done and left undone. And we won’t have an answer for everything. But when I’m asked as to how I helped move the needle on the question of race as a pastor in Memphis, TN, I want to have at least a bit of a credible response.

To that end, since this summer, Mary, Brittany, and I have been meeting with a coalition of Memphis pastors and clergy, over 300 total, that have met repeatedly and have drawn up a series of serious initiatives to address not only the issues of race, but of education and poverty and violence that lie at the root of so much of our racial discord. I’ve contacted numerous African American pastors seeking to build alliances.  I’ve worked with our sister Easter Sunrise churches on several efforts. I will continue working on these efforts. But what has yielded the most fruit thus far has been leaning into the relationships that First Baptist already has with Greater Lewis Street Missionary Baptist Church, across the street, and Lifeline To a Dying World Ministries, one of our missional partners. Rev. Myron Donald and Rev. DeAndre Brown share my burden and vision for cooperation that goes beyond periodic events to more substantive dialogues and service that is birthed in meaningful relationships. At the time this article is published we will have already laid some of the groundwork for this in our cookout at the Overton Park pavilion held October 23. But stay tuned. There will be meaningful follow up with these churches and ministries and maybe others.  And anyone who wants to be involved...come see me. Because Christ is King. And some changes are going to be made.
Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the November edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Tuesday, November 1, 2016 | 0 comments
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To Whom Much is Given, Much is Required

My friend Mark Wingfield recently ended an excellent article with that verse (Luke 12:48b). The article, written in the aftermath of the tragic shooting of Terrence Crutcher by a Tulsa Police officer, addresses the issue of privilege. In this context, of course, the focus is on white privilege, but, as Mark notes in his article, privilege is alive and well in our society in many forms: male privilege, educational privilege, urban privilege, socioeconomic privilege, neighborhood privilege, adult privilege, and on and on. Indeed, each and every one of us has benefitted, far more than we realize, from our privileged statuses.  

Now, as Mark notes, too many of us deny our privilege, which is a problem in and of itself. But for those of us who have acknowledged our privilege, there’s another pressing question: What will we do with that privilege? The natural tendency, of course, is to use it to our personal benefit.

Mark then offers up a brilliant example.  Mark lives in Dallas and often flies Southwest Airlines. If you’ve ever flown Southwest, you know that there are no assigned seats, but for a small fee, you can get “boarding privileges” which allow you to go on first and, more or less, pick out your seat: aisle, window, close to the front. whatever you prefer. And that’s exactly what we do with such privilege.  We use it to get what we prefer.  No one pays the $30 and says, “I’ll sit by the bathroom so I can take the brunt of the smell for everyone else.”  Nope. In Southwest Airline seating, privilege means my needs get met, even at the expense of your needs not being met.

The same is true elsewhere in life too. Whatever privilege or edge we have we use to our benefit. Why, we would be stupid not to. Right?  If you’re struggling to answer, that’s OK.  I’m having trouble writing these lines, because, well…because privilege and how we use it tends to reveal our selfishness.   Maybe, suggests Mark, that’s why we struggle to admit we are privileged, because to do so reveals our inherent self-interest.
But Jesus suggests we do something else with our privilege.  He suggests we use it to benefit others.  He suggests we use our health to go the extra mile and bring healing to others, our inclusion to bring in the excluded, our wealth to benefit the poor, our freedom to benefit the imprisoned and exiled, our voice to speak up for those who have no voice. 

What if we voted for what would be in the best interest of others and all, and not ourselves and our tribe? What if when we invested our money, we cared not just about our return, but how those investments affected the most vulnerable around us? What if we used our education not just to further our careers, but to help others learn basic skills?

And in our most pressing present context…What if those of us who are white chose not to get defensive of our privilege, but instead to get honest about it; and then listen and learn; and then join all of those of color, especially our black brothers and sisters, in speaking for and working for racial equality and justice for all?
Oh, we can use our privilege for other purposes. We can use it to build our kingdom. But when we use our privilege for the sake of others, Jesus says, we are capable of joining Him in building something far bigger and far better, the Kingdom of God.  And so, it is precisely to ones such as us, that Jesus now and forever says, “To whom much is given, much is required.”

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the October edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, October 1, 2016 | 0 comments
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The Gist

Gist. It’s an old word that you don’t hear that much anymore. But I really like it.  Give me the gist of the story, the gist of a situation, the gist of what that person is about. When I visit with families to plan a funeral, I spend a good deal of time with them talking through the person’s life. We speak of birth, school, church, graduation, marriage, jobs, parenting, friendship, retirement, etc. But after all of that has been shared, my question is always the same. What is the essence, the gist of this person? When you strip everything else away, what remains?   Sometimes, it may be something they do. Sometimes it may be some role that they played. But most of the time it is a quality, a personality characteristic, an attitude…that which pervaded every aspect of the loved one’s life.

What is your essence? What characterizes you more than anything else? When you strip away all that can be stripped away...what remains? What is the gist of you?  For that matter, what is our essence at First Baptist Church? What characterizes us more than anything else? When you strip away all that can be stripped away, what remains? What is the gist of FBC?

This month we will begin a branding process. It was an objective named by our Building the Church Family pillar of our Vision Process. One can look at the branding process through several lenses.  You can seek to brand yourself by what you wish for yourself, what you would like to be or become.   You can brand yourself in light of what you think will sell or work.  But the best branding processes find succinct ways for a congregation to communicate who it is, so that those who are looking for that type of fellowship know where to look. The process will involve a new logo. It will involve mottos and slogans. It will involve a complete assessment and redesign of our publications and website. It will help us develop our “elevator speech,” a way of succinctly sharing with others what is special about FBC. There will be many components, but in the end, the objective of branding is…to let the gist shine.

Guiding us in this process will be David Cassady and his wonderful team at Faithlab.  We chose Faithlab because they have significant experience with churches like us.  On our end, much of the ongoing work will fall to a team comprised of Teresa Bullock (chair), Laura Locke, Lora Jobe, Sally Smith, James Aycock (chair of PR), and myself; and then, in time, to the staff and the Public Relations Committee.  

Your input and ideas, though, are very much needed, throughout the process, but especially at the beginning. To gather this input, David Cassady will meet with us in three meetings open to all members.  The first will be held on Saturday, September 17, 10:30 a.m. in the Family Life Center. The second will be before worship on Sunday, September 18, at 8:30 a.m. in the Chapel.  The there will be another meeting immediately following worship on Sept. 18 in the Parlor. We hope that everyone will be able to make one of these meetings and offer their valuable input.

Please be in prayer for this process and make plans now to be at one of the meetings on September 17 or 18.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the September edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Thursday, September 1, 2016 | 0 comments
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Fence Movers

My/Our friend Brent Beasley, formerly pastor at Second Baptist here in Memphis, was speaking one year at a an MLK day service at Annesdale-Cherokee Missionary Baptist Church. He was the only white minister on the podium among many eloquent and powerful African American pastors. He felt rather intimidated. Nonetheless, he dared to start his sermon with a story about Quakers in Poland after WWII.  It worked then.  It still works.

After the devastation of WWII, Quakers brought relief to the impoverished people of Poland. They distributed food and clothing, along with other relief measures. One of the Quaker relief workers contracted Typhus and died. There were only Roman Catholic cemeteries in this little Polish village, and church law forbade anyone not of that faith to be buried in that ground. So the Quakers buried their friend in a grave just outside the Catholic cemetery. The next morning, however, there was a surprise. During the night the villagers had moved the fence so that the cemetery now included the grave of the Quaker relief worker.

As you might imagine, Brent went on to suggest that Dr. King was a “fence mover,” not a “fence sitter” and certainly not a “fence builder.” And he wondered aloud “Wouldn’t it be something if we got to the point in Memphis where the fence movers outnumbered the fence builders and fence sitters— and outworked and out hoped them too?”

We’ve all heard similar analogies made before. Bridge builders vs. wall builders. But I think I like Brent’s image better, because it calls into question who is included and who has not been included. It’s an image about redrawing the boundaries of who belongs.

Well, the issues of racial justice that Dr. King brought to our mind nearly 60 years ago, are, obviously, still with us. The killings in Baton Rouge and St. Paul and Dallas, as well as the marches in our own city, have reminded us in very stark ways that we may have made some progress, but we still have a long way to go.
I hope you agree with me that this is not just a civic problem, but a moral imperative, one that the Church should be attending to, even leading the way. The columnist, Leonard Pitts, challenged ministers at the Festival of Homiletics this year with the following statement: “Who wants to be a part of a faith that is late to the great battles for human dignity? People of faith should be ahead of the pack. We should be the lonely voices crying forth in the wilderness until the rest of the world catches up to us.”

To that end, I, along with Brittany and Mary, have been meeting with over 250 local ministers every Monday evening for dialogue and prayer. I have been in conversation with our neighbor Rev. Myron Donald at Greater Lewis Street Missionary Baptist, about what we can do together as congregations. I have made similar calls to several other pastors of African American congregations, as well. Our Easter Sunrise congregations here in midtown delivered flowers to local police precincts after Dallas and are seeking ways to work together for racial justice. As opportunities come to fruition, we will let you know.

But the most powerful thing any of us can do right now is to pray and to listen and to learn and to commit ourselves to be fence movers and bridge builders in the course of our everyday lives. To reach out and to get to know all of our fellow children, especially those whose skin color or background might be different than our own. Don’t wait for them to reach out to you.  You/we need to reach out to them. In so doing, we will be following the example of the One who extended himself and in the process moved a lot of fences, built a lot of bridges, and tore down a lot of walls. Let us be faithful to follow Christ in such manner, especially now. As our new sign says, “We will get there together, or we won’t get there at all.”  

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the August edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, August 1, 2016 | 0 comments
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Which Tune Do We Trust?

For my sermon on June 12 I recounted how on some days in New Orleans you can hear competing tunes echoing down the streets near the cemeteries.  You can hear one band playing slow sweet dirges as one casket is carried to the cemetery while at the same time you can hear another band playing celebratory notes after the graveside ceremony.   Just a Closer Walk With Thee competing with When the Saints Go Marching In.  Dirges of death competing with melodies of life.  And in the sermon I asked, “Which tunes do you think are the most powerful?  Which are the most real, the most enduring?  Which tunes will win the day in your own heart and soul and mind, today and tomorrow?  In which tunes do you place your trust?”
The point of reference when I preached that sermon was the death of Officer Verdell Smith and the homicide number in Memphis overall, which on June 11 reached 100 for the year.  Poignant, important questions in the face of such tragedies, but questions that became even more important as we returned home to news of the shooting in Orlando.
But the circumstances and size of the tragedy are relative.  For that widow in Nain (Luke 7), the text for that Sunday, the death of her one son was enough.  For all of us, the death or sickness or suffering of just one person close to us is enough.  Indeed in the face of all tragedy and pain, life asks us this question: Which tune do we trust, the dirge of death or the melody of life?  And how we answer that question will determine just about everything.
The dirge of death says that death is the definitive.  It says that life is limited, that resources are limited, that the goal of life is to live as long as you can, get as much as you can, and then protect it any way you can.  In such a tune, chances are few, judgment is quick, and exclusion is assumed.  It requires little—no imagination, no faith, no hope.  It calls forth nothing, except maybe fear and a survival instinct.  It obliges one to nothing, because why bother?   Life’s hard, then you die.   This song has much to commend it.  It fits the harsh realities of Officer Smith’s death and the Orlando massacre and the tragedies of your life and mine.
The melody of life does not debate this.  Indeed the melody of life begins in dirge-like fashion.  It acknowledges and laments the pain, the sorrow, the struggle of death, but…it does not remain there.  It perseveres, pushes through and ends on a chorus of life.  This way is more hopeful, and yet harder too.  Because hope and faith don’t come easy.  And what’s more, believing such has implications and obligations.  To believe in hope and grace and life is to be in its employ.  It is to choose to include and to serve and to share, even when such causes us to be vulnerable.  
So, in the face of death in Memphis and Orlando and everywhere…Which tune do we trust?  Which tune will win the day in us, and then through us win the day for those around us…Memphis, the LGBTQ community, faithful Muslim brothers and sisters, etc?   Moses exhorted the children of Israel, “Choose life that you may live.”  I think the same holds today.  So let us keep praying comfort, keep proclaiming grace, keep living hope, keep offering love, keep fighting for justice.  Let us keep singing the tune of life, for ourselves and this world.
Courage, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the July edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, July 1, 2016 | 0 comments
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Beyond This

“Whatever THIS you are going through, the good news of the gospel is…There is more to life than THIS.”  This was the summary statement of a sermon recently preached by Dr. Claudio Carvalhaes at the Festival of Homiletics.  He speaks of that which he knows.  Raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil, having worked with some of the poorest of the poor, his work there is based upon many people believing this truth for the poor of Brazil.  Donors, governmental officials, the poor themselves, Claudio, and countless others have to believe this or nothing will/can change.  But Claudio speaks not just in hope, but in testimony.  While so much still needs to be done, he has seen this change happen.  He has seen transformation.  He knows there is more to life than THIS.

It’s a message applied throughout the week.  It was applied in other pastoral situations. I heard stories of grief, of victims of abuse, of the mentally ill, of the chronically ill, of ministers and churches in crisis, of those struggling with shame and guilt, of countless others (maybe you?) who need to know in the most profound way that no matter their THIS, that God is in it with them, and that there really is more to life than THIS.

I heard this message applied to our awareness.  Julie Pennington-Russell told the story of a social experiment undertaken by the Washington Post.  They asked Joshua Bell, the world famous violinist, to don a sweatshirt, jeans, and baseball cap and play several pieces in the entry area to a DC metro station, to see if anyone would stop to take advantage of this glorious music.  In 45 minutes only 7 of 1,097 people stopped to listen for even a moment.  “Be open to THIS moment, and the One who holds it,” Julie pleaded.   Be open to beauty.  Be open to compassion.  Be open to opportunities to make a difference.  Walk with your head up and your eyes open. There is more to life than THIS.

And I heard it applied to those longing for and working toward justice.  There’s a good bit of this in Claudio’s situation.  It’s not just about the hope for change, but the courage to keep working for change.  And the same goes for all those working to change policies and cultures around issues of race, gender, environment, age, sexuality, disabilities, health care, economics, etc.  “Do not grow weary in well doing” encouraged Raphael Warnock, Walter Bruggemann, and Heidi Neumark, among others.  Because God is working with you, THIS is not all there is.

I don’t know where you are, what your THIS consists of.  But no matter how good or bad or average it may be, because God is in it, your life is about more than THIS.  By God’s grace, there is always more. Thanks be to God.  May we have eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts and minds ready to receive, and legs and arms ready to join in.  

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the June edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, June 1, 2016 | 0 comments
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FBC Signs of Life: Dreams of the Future

I am Carol Richardson and I have been a member of this church most of my life, so I have the advantage of AGE  as I share with you A SIGN OF LIFE from the perspective of a PAST, A PRESENT AND A FUTURE, which is before us. 

 Daring CHANGE is never easy.  It has never been easy for this church or any church.  Yet for the sake of a HOPEFUL FUTURE we will continue to struggle together to determine GOD’S PLEASURE in the midst of change. 

As I look first into our PAST as a church I remember several significant cataclysmic changes, which, in the end, all brought forth LIFE-GIVING AND UNANTICIPATED GIFTS

  • The first major change in my memory occurred with our move from the Linden/Lauderdale location to our present location here on the corner of Poplar and Parkway. There was SINCERE opposition…”we’re going too far east, abandoning the city,” some said.  “We don’t have the funds.  We’ll lose members”…all honest and heart-felt concerns. This was, for us as a church, the TRANSITION OF PLACE.  It required change and change is so often disquieting. Yet, this released a LIFE-GIVING ENERGY.

  • During the Civil Rights years, our doors were opened to all who would worship here.  There was opposition and even threats.  Again, we sensed a Divine call to CHANGE and change is never easy.  However, it was a LIFE-giving and COURAGEOUS DECISION.

  • During the 80’s we ordained our first WOMEN DEACONS and in 2001, we ordained our first FEMALE MINISTER…”Incompatible with sound Baptist doctrine and Scripture,” some said. However, we prayerfully studied and interpreted the scriptures, depending on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Change came but it was not easy, though it was again LIFE-GIVING and Right.  This is our PAST. 


During these Sunday’s of Spring/Eastertide, we have been called to open our eyes to SIGNS OF LIFE all around us. LOOK! We have…  

  • New Members/FAMILIES who have joined recently because they saw in us SIGNS OF LIFE even as we struggle to continue to CHANGE, seeking and wrestling with the Divine call of God’s Spirit.

LOOK! We have… 

  • NEW MINISTRY OPPORTUNITIES both within these walls as well as beyond, to effect a CITY that is also ever evolving and changing.                     

LOOK! We are experiencing… 

  • NEW WAYS OF CREATIVE WORSiHP, discovering and utilizing the unique GIFTS OF ALL OF US. This too herald’s our ability to CHANGE, to STRETCH BEYOND OUR COMFORT ZONES. 

Change is never easy but it is ALWAYS NECESSARY FOR THE SAKE OF A NEW AND FRUITFUL FUTURE, to effect the bringing of heaven to earth.  We are called, all of us, each of us, to continue our TRANSFORMATIVE INNER CHANGE both as individuals and as a CHURCH UNDER THE LIFE-GIVING guidance of the HOLY SPIRIT… 

 a call to WALK with one another,  

SPEAK PEACE to one another ,  

SUPPORT and ENCOURAGE each other in LOVE, 

 to SERVE one another and so many others out of our GIFTEDNESS, 

and to be part of the DIVINE SOLUTION.  

First Baptist, we are POISED TO MOVE INTO GOD’S FUTURE ripe with possibilities. BUT IT WILL TAKE ALL OF US, having NEW EYES and ENLIGHTENED HEARTS, while continuing to SEE life’s possibilities all around us.  It will take our collective and individual COMMITMENT TO PRAYER as well as our collective and individual WISDOM. It will certainly require a GENEROSITY OF SPIRIT toward one another and our undaunted willingness to SHARE UNSELFISHLY OF OUR RESOURCES to assure that A BRIGHT and PROMISING FUTURE CAN AND WILL BE OURS! 

God IS doing a new thing,   It is springing up all around us.  Don’t you perceive it?

These observations came from Rev. Dr. Carol McCall Richardson, a church member, as part of our Signs of Life Sermon Series.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, May 6, 2016 | 0 comments
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Recognizing Christ

One of my favorite Eastertide texts is the Road To Emmaus, (Luke 24:13-35).  It’s the ultimate story not of hidden identity, but incompetent recognition.   The resurrected Christ meets two disciples while they are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, only for some reason, they don’t know it’s him.   Even though he’s teaching them about the meaning of the crucifixion and the resurrection all along the way, he appears to them to be nothing more than a random stranger.  It’s only when they arrive and the “stranger” joins them for dinner, and he takes the bread and breaks it, that the disciples recognize Jesus for who he is, and realize he’s been there with them all along.  So, what happened? Why didn’t they recognize Christ back there on the road?  Somebody call Sherlock Holmes, NCIS, an ophthalmologist.  

This past Eastertide we’ve been engaged in a unique spiritual discipline.  Many of us have been engaged in an exercise of spotting “Signs of Life,” (our theme for Eastertide worship) such as “Praise,” “Generosity,” “Hope,” etc.    We then take a picture and post it on a social media app called Cluster, so that we can share our God-sighting with everyone.  It’s been rather amazing, and much fun.  But I think many of us have found it harder than you would think. Of course sometimes the problem is when you see such moments, you don’t have time to get your camera out and take a picture.   But to be honest, the biggest struggle is…we’re just not trained to look for such, at least outside that which is sanctioned by the church.  We believe God is with us at all times, bringing about “Signs of Life,” and yet we don’t recognize them.  Far too often we’re disciples stumbling toward Emmaus, when what/who we need is right there all along.

So what’s the answer?  How do we wake up to the “Signs of Life” all around us?  How do we more readily recognize the Christ who walks with us?   How do we gain “eyes that see?”    Well, a part of it would seem to involve intentionality—just slowing down, opening our eyes, being more aware, etc.  But our text may have yet another, rather paradoxical, suggestion.  It was once the disciples recognized Christ at the table that they then were able to see Christ elsewhere, to realize Christ had been with them all along.  So could it be that our ability to recognize Christ in the world is actually tied to our experience of Christ in worship and devotion; that our ability to recognize “Signs of Life” is fine-tuned when we familiarize ourselves with such in regular moments of personal and corporate communion and service?  

So when it comes to recognizing Christ in worship/devotion and in “the real world,” maybe it’s not an either/or but a both/and.  If we do worship and devotion right, then it becomes a process whereby we attune our hearts and minds and eyes to God, where we familiarize ourselves with Christ and His ways, so that when we encounter Christ elsewhere we won’t miss out, and won’t miss out on joining God in God’s work beyond our walls.  So, let us be faithful to gather with glad and generous hearts so that when we scatter, we may have eyes to see, and join in what God is doing in our world, in amplifying and celebrating the “Signs of Life” that are popping up all around us.  

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the May edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, May 1, 2016 | 0 comments
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Signs of Life in Church-wide Fellowships

My class at the Day School sing a song about "Looking for Signs of Spring." One sign of Spring is a nest of baby birds being fed by their mama.    

If I could name one thing that your Church-wide Fellowships Committee does well, it would be that; just like the mama bird, we feed you. 

An example of this was our Spring potluck on April 3. Talk about signs of life! It was wonderful to see my church family enjoying each other, filling up the Fellowship Hall. And as we fed each other literally, we also fed each other intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally as we conversed over plates of fried chicken, hugged and loved on each other, and as we welcomed visitors to our table. 

As Rebecca Courtney put it so beautifully, it was "sustaining."   If you missed the potluck -never fear- there will be more opportunities to fellowship throughout the year. Coming up this Summer we will have a good old-fashioned Ice Cream Social in June and a Back To School Cookout in August.

These events are not just for families in our church; they are church-wide events. So, please come, because this is how we feed each other and where you can be a part of the LIFE of our church.

These observations came from Holly Hatton, a church member, as part of our Signs of Life Sermon Series.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, April 11, 2016 | 0 comments
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Signs of Life: Lent, Holy Week & Easter

Life is messy. I've known that my whole life, but I always manage to forget it. So when Brittany asked me to talk about “Signs of Life” my family and I observed during Lent and Holy Week, my first thought was panic. What could I possibly have to share with all of you who almost certainly “did” Lent better than I did?   

You see, I began this Lenten journey as I do every year: with the best intentions of going to the Calvary Preaching Series, something I enjoy so much. But this year? Well, this year, I didn't make it to a single session.   

I also intended to give up something or maybe even pick something up – to start some kind of discipline to better myself. I thought briefly about giving up Facebook and even deactivated my account for a while one afternoon. But that didn't last long. As a work-at-home mom, those adult connections are a real lifesaver. I thought about giving up the bad habit of losing my temper, because I don't always manage to keep my cool when a plate or two that I'm spinning doesn't remain on its axis – or when other people don't behave just like I want them to do.   

I fully intended – and succeeded for about a week – to go to bed at a decent hour, to get up every morning to have quiet time and devotion, to exercise, meditate, take power naps when needed, and be more intentional in reaching out to people like my Grandma whom I don't see every week.    

But in the end, I failed miserably. I did manage to give up both clutter and crazy overeating, or to at least forego the guiltless pleasure of either of those things for 40 days. I weigh a little less, have been a little more physically active, and the baseline dirty of my house isn't quite as bad as it used to be. But you certainly couldn’t say that I hit it out of the park of true religious discipline.    

That's why I could hardly wait for Holy Week to come. Maundy Thursday is one of my favorite services all year, and I love gathering for Good Friday. This year, however, I signed one of my girls up for a track meet Thursday night, not realizing it was Holy Week. Even our runner was upset she was having to miss church. But we take team commitments pretty seriously at our house, and it was her first track meet. So, to the track meet we went. She ran her little legs off, and it was so fun watching her.   

And then as we headed home, we got a call from some of our FBC friends who were just leaving the service. Did we want to go grab a bite? The whole family did. So, we arrived to the restaurant to see that it was about halfway-filled with folks from our church. We ate, we drank, and we fellowshipped. It was not a Maundy Thursday worship experience, but it was not bad at all as consolations go.   

On Friday, I did manage to finally get with the program. We worshiped, sang at the Cross, ate lunch, and then stayed with the rest of the small group that has, for years, spent the afternoon stuffing eggs and decorating the church for the Easter egg hunt. It was so fun and so meaningful, as was the rest of the weekend.   

But as I have looked back at the failed 40 days of Lent leading up to this wonderful weekend, I realize that “Signs of Life” – both large and small – have permeated the experience, even though many of them might have been buried in the chaos.      

  • Just from our pew back there, for example, we bore witness to people who were sick and seriously injured, who underwent operations and who generally scared the living daylights out of their families – but who have come out the other side, seemingly unscathed. 
  • Others, including our sweet Mary, we watched having to say goodbye to their loved ones.  
  • We heard a small group of youth members, including our Abigail, sing beautiful music on Palm Sunday. 
  • We watched the older children, including our Catherine, teach the younger children how to walk down the aisle, waving their little arms in jubilant celebration.
  • We watched our littlest, Elizabeth, run into the arms of Ann George, as she and her friends start what we all hope will be a lifelong love of church.  
  • We saw entire rows of new visitors darken the doors of this church because rumor had it they’d be entering a place where everyone is welcomed and loved, no exceptions.  
  • We witnessed little girls working hard to memorize bible verses, only to be told by the powers-that-be that, because of our recent church vote, they would no longer be able to participate in Bible Drill. And we watched Glenn Everton work to find a way for them to compete anyway – which they will do this afternoon!  
  • We watched children from all over our community be shown the love of Christ at our Easter Egg hunt and worship experience. 
  • I saw my children spend Good Friday with their good friends, making themselves at home within the walls of this building and within the family of Christ.  
  • We watched our friends carry on for DeeDee Rader to make sure the cross out front was beautifully adorned for Easter morning. They brought and affixed flowers. They climbed ladders and steadied them for others. They passed around needed tools. And they loved on each other.
  • Sunday morning we spent with all of you, proclaiming that Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, and ringing bells to celebrate that fact, each of us a true “Sign of Life” – of Christ’s Life that he gave for us.    

So this Sunday morning, this first Sunday of Eastertide, I praise God for all of you, for this place, and for all of the Signs of Life I see as a member of this congregation – far more than I was able to list in this very short time. I like our messy life.

These observations came from Jennifer Kellett, a church member, as part of our Signs of Life Sermon Series.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, April 4, 2016 | 0 comments
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Can Anything Bring Us Together?

I stole the title of this article from a fellow minister, Jim Somerville, pastor of FBC Richmond, VA.   It’s the title of a sermon he preached on January 31 and a subsequent article published online.  In it he addresses the polarization of our political climate and the subsequent loss of civility that appears to have accompanied it.  I’d like to say that Jim’s sermon made a great impact, that we’ve seen a downturn in uncivil behavior in our political scene since then, but I’m afraid that’s not the case. 

But then again, Jim’s article was not primarily addressed to a public audience.  As is the case with this article.  Oh, it called out the unnecessary rancor and response we seem to see on a nightly basis going on in the world around us, but to remind his church and the churches that we are called to something better, a higher standard.  As Christians Jim reminds us, in as much as it is possible, we are to live peacefully with everyone.  (Romans 12:18) 

Jim could have chosen that verse or countless others on which to base his sermon.  For instance, Ephesians 4:32-33.  “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:  And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”  Or Philippians 2:1-3.  “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.  Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”  Now true, these verses are directed at how Christians are to treat other Christians, but it certainly would seem that scripture’s point here is for us to practice inside the church what is our hope for the entire world.  

But in the end, I like the verse Jim chose, and I like even better what he did with it.  Jim suggests that Paul’s word at the end of 1 Corinthians 13 is what we need to hear if we are to rise to the higher standard that Christ has set for us.  “And these three remain: Faith, Hope and Love…”  Faith: We need to have a little faith, not in politics, but in the God who has seen countless presidents, parties, and regimes, come and go, and will see us through as well.  Hope: We have to have hope, not in the future, necessarily, but for the future. Things don’t have to continue to get worse.  They can get better, and we can help them get that way.  And last, Love: We have to love, not just those who are like us or who agree with us, but those who are different and disagree.  The prior verses in this chapter makes it clear that this love must be exhibited beyond just those whom we find easy to love. 

Now such thoughts are not to negate the needed word of the prophetic protest.  We need that voice too.  Indeed we, as people of faith, need to raise that voice, especially on behalf of those who have little or no voice.   But we can do this, I believe (faith) and hope in a way that is loving.   One that is respectful and kind, and does not belittle or negate the voice of others.

We’re engaging this Eastertide, the season of resurrection, in a worship series called Signs of Life.  In that series we will listen to the signs of life that scripture says should be among us as children of the resurrection.  We will also hear about signs of life that are happening even now in our own church.  But an additional sign of the life that we need to exhibit is a genuine respect for those with whom we disagree, both within and outside the church, a respect that grows and bears the fruit of hospitality, community, dialogue, and service.  We need that. The Kingdom needs that.  Our country and our world need people of faith that exhibit and insist on such ideals.    

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the April edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, April 1, 2016 | 0 comments
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A Way Through the Pain

Our theme this Lent has been “A Way Through...”  And just last week I stumbled once again upon a marvelous video clip along these lines that is an interview with noted researcher/speaker Brené Brown, in which she explores why we come to church and the purpose of faith from her own experience of coming back to the church in the middle of a mid-life crisis.  A self-confessed workaholic academic, she had for years deadened the pain and grief of life by burying herself in research which, down deep inside, she thought would ultimately provide all the answers to all the questions, even those in her own life.  But now she was running upon issues in her work and life that she could not research away, and she found herself in therapy and going back to church; though, as she was to find out, for all the wrong reasons. 

“I really went because this is hard and this hurts and in all the midlife unraveling books, they say go back to church, so I went back to church thinking that it would be like an epidural, that it would take the pain away, that I would just replace research with church and church would make the pain go away.  But what I discovered was that faith was not an epidural for me at all, it was like a midwife who just stood next to me and said ‘Push’.”    

This is a truth we see throughout scripture, from the laments of the Psalmists and Jeremiah, to the travails of Job.  But in Lent and especially Holy Week it stares us straight in the eyes.  For here, in Christ, we see God most present and raw and vulnerable.  “We like to think of Love,” Brown says, “as unicorns and rainbows, but then you see Jesus and you think, ‘Oh my God, love is hard.  Love is sacrifice.  Love is eating with the sick.  Love is trouble. Love is rebellious.’”   Here we see a love that does not take the pain away, necessarily, but one who refuses to abandon us in the midst of our pain, one who cries for us and with us until we make it through to whatever life there is to be found with it and on the other side.

It’s when we make God/faith/love out to be something more than that, that we run into trouble, suggests Brown.  She recounts a story of attending a funeral when she was an older elementary age child.  The funeral was for a toddler who had died in a tragic accident at home.   At the funeral the minister said this was not a time to grieve, that to grieve would be selfish, that we should be celebrating that this child is now with God.  Brown states that she left the funeral confused and fuming, but that her mom set her straight in the car ride home saying, “I just want to be really clear with you that this is not a time to celebrate, that if you are sad, its ok, because God is grieving today too.  God is crying today also.”  And Brown thought to herself, “Well that changes everything.”   God weeps.   Love weeps.   We may not think it’s enough, but once we experience it, states Brown, we come to understand that it’s real, it’s true, and it’s enough to see us through. 

As we come to the final weeks of Lent, as we dare to turn our eyes upon Jesus on the cross, let us see a God who is willing to die for us, one whose example calls us to repentance and sacrifice.  Yes, let us see all of that and more.  But let us also see a God who now and forever more will not abandon us in our pain, but one who will come along side us, not necessarily to take the pain away….but to see us through.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the March edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Tuesday, March 1, 2016 | 0 comments
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Reflections on Being Kind

Be ye kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven you.I don’t know about you, but I tend to carry around a prevailing sense of grief with me these days.  There are so many issues and problems in our world today, or at least we are all the more aware of them, and that certainly plays a part.  But what troubles me more, I think, is the sheer lack of kindness or gentleness that I see expressed in so many ways.   Indeed, some of those closest to me say I’ve started to wince involuntarily when I think such has happened.   I’ll have to work on my poker face.

Social communication has facilitated this.  It’s so easy to be judgmental and snarky when you’re not communicating face to face.  And I think such tendencies have spilled over into our verbal interactions as well.  We practice online and soon enough we bring that verbage and attitude to the game, so to speak.  It’s hard not to. 

I think the key is remembering exactly whom one is addressing, regardless of the medium.  If one views the person being addressed as a fellow child of God…imperfect albeit, possibly even considerably, but nonetheless a child of God…it would seem that kindness is the only proper standard.   If however, you view the person as something less, a demagogue, a mere conglomeration of ideas with whom you disagree…then it probably is not that hard to fall short of kindness.

Several years ago I read an article that theorized that our Congress, contentious as it may be, would be considerably even more so were our representatives not required to address one another with terms of respect…”the honorable”….”my esteemed colleague”….etc.   The social scientist writing the article believed that those words of introduction, voiced no matter how mindlessly, had an effect on what comes after; for in saying those words one is reminded of the humanity and dignity of the one you are addressing, no matter the level of differences.

And part of being a child of God, and not God, is that none of us are perfect, that all of us are in process.  You’ve no doubt heard the old sermon illustration about a guy that is in line to get coffee.  He’s in a hurry and is frustrated that the line is not moving quicker.  He’s all prepared to file an official complaint with the manager, but when he gets up to the front he sees that the person working the register and taking orders is wearing this button that says, “Please be patient, I’m in training.” 

Now, I’m not suggesting that we be less than honest with another.  It’s more than OK to challenge one another with ideas and suggestions, even file a complaint.  But we can, if we try, do it with kindness and gentleness.  We will do this so long as we remember the one we are addressing is, like us, a child of God in training.

The big picture truth of the matter is that we are all children of God in training.  None of us have it down.  We’ve all been wrong before and we will all be wrong again.  We’ve all been shown grace upon grace.  Thus we are to forgive as Christ has forgiven us, and treat one another with the tender heart Christ gave us.  And when we do…the result may be a kindness that might just change everything.  A Lenten vow…Maybe?

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the February edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, February 1, 2016 | 0 comments
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Motion Approved by FBC's Congregation

After congregational dialogues in October, and upon diaconate approval in November, the following motion was approved in a called church conference of First Baptist Church on Sunday morning January 10.  

 As Christ's church, First Baptist Memphis is called to minister equally to all persons, extending to them the privileges afforded to any follower of Christ, including, but not limited to, baptism, membership, leadership, ordination, and marriage and will not discriminate based on race, gender, age, marital status, or sexual orientation.    

Our church has a long history of being a progressive congregation where matters of social equality and justice are concerned.  In the 1970s, our church welcomed African American members into our congregation.  In the 1990s, we recognized the spiritual gifts of women, and ordained our first women deacons and ministers and have continued to call women as ministers to us.  Although LGBT people have always been part of our church, in 2001, we baptized our first openly gay man.  In 2013, we voted overwhelmingly to ordain our first gay deacon. This motion continues the tradition at FBC Memphis of applying our theology and faith to the issues and needs of our times as a church where all are welcome.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, January 10, 2016 | 0 comments
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When the Light Comes On

You’ve seen it happen.  If you’ve ever taught, you’ve seen that moment when the person you are trying to teach finally gets it.  The capability, the potential, even all the data and resources are there, but then the neurons finally connect all of that in a meaningful way, and the light comes on.  Epiphany is that moment when the light comes on, or more specifically when the Light comes on.

Epiphany is an odd date in the church year.   Traditionally it is celebrated on January 6, at the end of the 12 days of Christmas, and, for most, marks the moment when the adoring Magi of the East arrived with their gifts for the Christ child.  But other traditions associate other events in the life of Jesus on or around this date, such as Jesus’ Baptism or His first miracle, the turning of water into wine.   And truth be told, while we tend to go with the wise men idea, if Epiphany is to be Jesus’ debut, Jesus’ coming out party, the other traditions are probably more appropriate.   Indeed, even if Jesus was a toddler by the time the wise men arrived, as some scholars think, it’s hard to imagine him ready for prime time at that point.  

But regardless of the date or dates we choose, or the names we place on them, the idea represented by Epiphany remains.  At some point in time, Jesus stepped out of the shadows of the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth to begin, in earnest, his ministry as the Son of God.  At some point, the Light of the World came out from under its bushel to shine brightly for all to see.  All that He was, was there all along.  But “in the fullness of time” all the pieces came together, and the connections were made, and the Light came on, and the darkness has still not overcome it.

It’s an important lesson I think in the purpose of potential.  Potential is always preliminary.  It’s a dependent state which can only be validated when that potential becomes realized.  Unrealized potential is not only sad, but ultimately irrelevant.  Eventually every nice idea has to come to fruition and make its mark, if it’s ever to get credit for the nice idea that it was.  As such, Christmas, the incarnation, God-with-us is an amazing idea, transformative to a degree in its mere utterance.  But words, and the ideas they contain, are cheap.   The real power of the Incarnation was how it was lived out in the life of Christ, and this began with Epiphany, when the Light came on.

“We are all meant to be mothers of God,” wrote Meister Eckart, a medieval mystic and theologian.  “What good is it to me,” he continued, “if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take within me?  And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace?  What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture?  This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of God is begotten in us.”Meister Eckhart was speaking in the language of Advent and Christmas, of course, but I think his point is all the more fitting now at Epiphany.  The whole point of Christ coming as a baby boy was not to stay a baby boy, but to grow up and shine and reveal the love of God to all.  And if Christ is once again being born in and through us, then that same light, must at some point, grow and shine within us, “in our time and culture.”What might that look like for you?  For us?   What darkness of misunderstanding, shame, guilt, despair, prejudice, injustice, enmity, suspicion, doubt, etc., needs to be dispelled in you, through you, in us, through us?  It’s Epiphany, my friends.  It’s time to shine!

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the January edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, January 4, 2016 | 0 comments
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Welcome Christmas Gets Real

One of my favorite traditions this time of year is watching Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  I love everything about it, especially the song “Welcome Christmas” which figures prominently.  It’s such a joyful song.  And why not?  I mean, unless you’re a Grinch, what’s not to love about Christmas?  The music, candles, lights, presents, etc.   And this is true even when such welcome requires work, which it inevitably does.   Do you remember those Whos in “Who-ville?”  Boy they get with it.  Nobody sitting around.  Everyone up and decorating and cleaning and wrapping.   Welcoming Christmas is joy, but it’s hard work too.

Advent strikes a similar note as we seek to welcome not Christmas the holiday, but Christ the savior.  Advent enhances our anticipation of this child who really is our hope and salvation, but it also reminds us that preparing for Christ’s arrival requires work.  It requires us, as the prophets state, to make the “rough places plain,” and that there is much such work to be done in our hearts and in our world.  John spells this out even clearer in his challenge to “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.”  Yes, that other theme of Advent, the one we don’t always lean into, is the one that reminds us that among Christ’s many words of grace are words about the opportunity to change and to become better, to become more of who we are as the children of god that we are intended to be.  And living up to that will not always be easy.

Jesus makes this clear later on when he says what we call the “hard” words, because they are.    “You have heard it said..,” he said.  And when we hear him say that, we wince, because we know what’s coming next.  “Turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, etc.”

These are hard words, especially now, especially when enemies and persecutors seem so easily defined.  I will let you wrestle with how we should apply such words to those doing so much destruction today.  But I will dare to say one thing.  There is simply no gospel grounding for transferring whatever fear and anger we have toward our enemies onto those who are running from the same enemies or ones like them.  Some have said that Jesus never mentions refugees specifically.  He didn’t have to.  He mentions the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger.  Last time I checked refugees qualify as all of the above.  And then he goes on to say, As you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.

And this season reminds us that undoubtedly at least one such person or family knew what that was like in very literal terms.  Who were they, do you imagine?   A Bedouin shepherd?  A north Egyptian delta farmer and his family?  Maybe both.  What was it like for them to welcome a young Palestinian refugee couple and their baby boy, who were fleeing terror?  Was there tension being that Jews and Egyptians were historical enemies?  Were there worries that there would not be enough to go around?  Were there suspicions that these newcomers might be up to no good, might even be dangerous? Whatever the valid reasons to turn away this family might have been, and I’m sure there were many, whoever welcomed Mary and Joseph and Jesus to Egypt, and gave them sanctuary, fought through those objections and in so doing hosted even more than angels unaware. They welcomed Christ. 

The Who’s in Who-ville remind us to Welcome Christmas.  Advent reminds us to Welcome Christ.  And this year…that’s become real.   Issues are hard.  We control so little.  But we control ourselves.  This Advent, as best we can, let us welcome the least of these whoever they may be.  Let us welcome Christ.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the December edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Tuesday, December 1, 2015 | 0 comments
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On Accidental Saints Over 50 Years

As most of you know, this past month I turned 50.  Half a Century.  I’ve told several of you that while we speak of 40 being the “over the hill” moment, this seems to be more like it.   My college friend, in for a weekend to help me celebrate said, “So where are you and Leigh Ann looking to retire?”  First person ever to ask me that question.  Don’t remember that happening at my 40th.  He then went on to talk about a dinner he had attended with several of our college classmates.  He said that early in the meal they were all congratulating one another on how young they looked, but then when the checks came, they all pulled out reading glasses, and as he put it…”Busted!”  Again, don’t remember hearing/telling that story at 40, let alone relating to it.

So, I’m here, at 50, whatever that means, if anything.  But it does seem like a more than adequate time to reflect on who I am and where I’ve been and those who have helped me along the way….my champions, my saints you might call them.  November 1 is All Saints Day.  We will observe it in two distinct yet significant worship services, both in our traditional worship at 11:00 and in Modern Vespers at 6:00.  I hope that you will make plans to be at both.  The theme of the Modern Vespers service is “Accidental Saints,” the idea being that many such folk did not set out to be saints, but nonetheless were saints for us, despite being flawed, not perfect, very much human.  

In thinking about that I began to think of my “accidental” saints over this half a century I’ve been given. There are other more likely saints, of course, but these accidental saints have played a most necessary role as well. They may not be on the front row of my balcony crowd, but they are there, and their contribution has not been forgotten.  

I think of my Dixie Youth baseball coach, J.W. Shanks.  Coach Shanks was a chain smoking telephone repairman.  He supposedly was a member of my church, but I never saw him there.  His religion was coaching baseball.  But he taught me about hard work and discipline.  He taught me about fairness.   And he taught me about compassion and justice.  In addition to a few of us from good homes, he would intentionally draft and support players nobody else wanted.   And with the likes of us, he won championships.

I think of Dr. Ed Akin.  To many Ed was a likely saint.  He was a history professor who was a beloved mentor.  But Ed was merely my sophomore honors professor, and that only for two months.  And when in a crisis, I came to drop out, he simply said, “Don’t worry about this.  You do what you need to do.  You’re going to make it.  You’re going to make a difference in this world, David.”  I’ve never forgotten that blessing and the lesson he taught me about the power of even a few words.

I think of Teresa, the manager of the music store where I worked during seminary.  Teresa drank too much and was endlessly chasing after the wrong guy.  But she was a good boss, and she loved me and Leigh Ann, and especially Hannah when she was a baby.  She would take Hannah in her arms and dance her around the store singing “The Name Game.” (Hannah, Hannah bo banana…)   That store became a place of refuge for several us who were in Seminary at a very difficult time.

These are a few of my “saints.”  Make a list of your own.  Bring it to worship on November 1.  Carry it with you.  Write, contact some of them this month.  Make sure to include the likely ones, but include the “accidental” ones as well, those on the second and third rows of your balcony.  They too have been used of God to enable you to be who you are.  May it also be an encouragement to the difference you can make in the lives of others.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the November edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, November 1, 2015 | 0 comments
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Remember You Too Were Aliens

Recently I’ve been reading the book The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.  Those of you who are avid readers know that I’m a bit late on this one.   It was released in 2003 and was on the NY Times best seller list for two years.  I try to read as much as possible, but can’t always keep up.  It’s a powerful book and not for the faint of heart.  Set in Afghanistan, it spans the time from just before the Russian take over to the rise of the Taliban regime.  It is filled with images of prejudice, violence, war, and what it means to be a refugee.   It is has been a powerful backdrop to the stories of refugees currently coming out of Syria, the ongoing issues of immigration in our own country, not to mention the refugees to which we are connected via Piece of Thread Memphis, Ekata Designs, and First International Baptist Church.

Scripture is abundantly clear as to how we are to treat refugees, aliens, and strangers.   God loves, protects and provides for refugees  (Ps. 149:6; Is. 25:4)  In like fashion, God expects us to welcome them and treat them with hospitality and compassion, (Zech. 7:9-10; Matt. 25:31-46; Is. 16:3-5).  God expects us to express this hospitality in every way, including giving of our resources to their welfare,  (Deut. 14:28-29, 24:19-21, 26:12; Lev. 19:10, 23:22)  God commands it.  We are to be obedient.   God acts this way toward them.  We are to treat them the same way.  It seems pretty clear.

But God knows us.  God knows that sometimes “Because I said so…” is not enough motivation for us.  And so God provides additional motivation.  God commands the Israelites to be kind, generous, fair, and just to the refugee or alien among them because “you too were once aliens in Egypt’s land”  (Ex. 22:21; Lev. 19:33-4; Deut. 10:16-19)  It seems that God knows our willingness to be compassionate toward others is often times linked to our ability to identify with their situation, and the strongest identification we can have is memory.  

“But unlike the Israelites, we have not been aliens before,” you say.  Well, keep in mind that somewhere back down the line some part of your family was an alien, of course; and that somehow all of us have, at one time, “been on the outside looking in.”  But even conceding the point that many of us have not known what it is to be an “alien” in a foreign land, scripture still has a word for us.  Indeed, scripture goes to some length to remind us that in terms of our salvation we were all excluded, yet nevertheless “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,”  (Romans 5, Eph. 2).  So even if some of us have never known the exclusion of being an alien or refugee, out of our experience of salvation alone, we should have enough gratitude for the grace shown to us that we should willingly extend such grace to those that still feel alienated from God, from peace, justice, health, shelter and all that God wants for all God’s children.

If this were not enough, scripture provides even more motivation.   In earlier paragraphs, if my reference to the refugee in the objective (them, they) seemed a bit much…good.   For in addition to memory and identification, scripture reminds us that when it comes to thinking about  refugees/aliens/foreigners/strangers…there really is no “them” and “us.”   It’s just “us.”   Ruth, Jonah, the Good Samaritan, the Ethiopian Eunuch, Pentecost, Peter and Cornelius….all remind us that there is no “them,” no “us,” no “natives,” no “aliens.”   We are, all of us, beloved children of God.

I realize none of this provides easy answers to the questions posed by the present immigration and refugee crises.  But I do think it calls those of us who carry the name of Christ and proclaim the Kingdom of God to do everything possible to find answers that result in compassion, welcome, peace and justice, not just for some, but for all.   

On October 18 at 6 p.m., we will have our first Modern Vespers of the fall.  It will be a service of prayer for the World’s Refugees.  I encourage you to come.  Continue as well to keep yourself informed as to the situations at hand and what you can do to respond.  Here are some links to recent CBF articles: Article1: Immigration expert shares about ‘new face of the stranger’  and  Article 2: Syrian Refugees

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the October edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Thursday, October 1, 2015 | 0 comments
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A Time For Dialogue

Of all our core values, dialogue may be the most unique.   You look at the core values of a lot of churches and you will see things that resemble hospitality, community, and service.  But dialogue?   It’s not that most churches do not value dialogue.  They might just say, “It goes without saying.”  And in a sense, they would be right. How can you truly have a church that values hospitality and community and service without also valuing dialogue, the voices and thoughts of your own and your community? But for our church, situated in an environment where Christian and Baptist sometimes means anything but freedom and dialogue, it was important to name this value.  We want you to know that this is a family of faith that truly believes that reflecting Christ for us entails being a community of dialogue.

Well, now is the time for such dialogue around the issue of marriage equality. While we as a church already have openly gay members, leaders, and deacons, this question is, for some, unique and requires consideration all its own.  Formally the conversation will begin in our diaconate, and then, should they choose to bring forward a recommendation to the church body, the conversation will continue among us all.  But the reality is most all of us will be engaged in this sensitive conversation in numerous settings—home, work, school, as well as church.  Thus it is incumbent upon us as responsible Christians to become as informed as possible and to practice the type of dialogue we preach.  To this end we are sponsoring a series of dialogues entitled Homosexuality, Marriage, and the Church.  These will be held on four consecutive Sundays: September 13, 20, 27, and October 4.  This is a very complex topic, and no series, no matter how long, would be complete and perfect.  But we believe these four will be helpful to some, maybe many, and will help forward the dialogue that is already going on in our hearts and minds, families, friendships, businesses, community and congregation.  There will be time at the end of each presentation for questions and discussion.  While we cannot control how news of this series may spread in our community and who will attend, we will not intentionally publicize this series to the community so as to preserve this series, as best we can, as a time as for our own members to dialogue openly and respectfully on this important topic.  Childcare will be available with reservations.  

  • September 13: How the Church Has Failed Gay Christians…So Far Dr. David Gushee     Dr. Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University.  He is widely regarded as one of the leading Christian ethicists in our country.  He is the author or editor of 20 books and hundreds of articles in the field, including Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust, Kingdom Ethics, The Sacredness of Human Life, and, most recently, Changing Our Mind, a personal, theological and ethical perspective on the LGBTQ issue as it impacts the church.  Dr. Gushee will preach in morning worship.  We will then eat together in Fellowship Hall where Dr. Gushee will elaborate on some points and respond to questions.
  • September 20: Homosexuality and the New Testament Dr. Mitzi Minor                                Dr. Mitzi Minor is the Mary Magdalene Professor of New Testament at Memphis Theological Seminary.   Dr. Minor is a graduate of Auburn (B.A., 1980), and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1985; Ph.D., 1989).  She has served as a pastor, college chaplain and professor, before joining the faculty at MTS in 1993.  She is a noted author, New Testament scholar and much sought after preacher, including the Calvary Lenten Series.  Dr. Minor’s lecture will offer an in depth analysis of New Testament texts that are often cited in the discussions concerning LGBTQ inclusion. 6-7:30 p.m., Fellowship Hall.
  • September 27: A Time to Hear Stories and Ask Questions Elaine Blanchard and Broderick Greer                                                                                                                                             In many conversations about LGBTQ acceptance in the church, one voice is sometimes ironically absent, that of LGBTQ Christians themselves.  Elaine Blanchard is a well-known local storyteller and preacher.  She is a lesbian.  Broderick is the Curate (associate priest) at Grace St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.  He is gay.   Both are very dedicated Christians who were raised in the church and thus understand the difficulty of this issue for the church.  Both come simply to tell their stories and answer questions that only those who are LGBTQ and Christian can answer.  6-7:30 p.m., Fellowship Hall.
  • October 4: LGBTQ and the Church: A Panel Discussion on Pastoral Responses           This session will utilize a video of a panel discussion that took place in a break out session at the CBF General Assembly this past June in Dallas.   In this discussion, pastors of two CBF partner congregations—Steve Wells of South Main Baptist in Houston and Joe Phelps of Highland Baptist in Louisville—model unity despite differing pastoral responses to same-sex relationships and marriage.   Also included in the panel is Rebecca Adrian, Pastoral Care Manager of Baylor University Medical Center, who shares how the Gospel shapes how she seeks to minister to members of the LGBTQ community and their families. 6-7:30 p.m. Fellowship Hall.

As we engage in these dialogues and all that are to follow, formal or otherwise, let us speak and listen as Christ would want us to—with respect and kindness, seeking unity even amidst diversity.  As Parker Palmer suggests, “Only when we are in right relationship can we hang in with one another long enough to come to a rough consensus of ‘what is’ and ‘what ought to be.’”

Grace ,David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the September edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Tuesday, September 1, 2015 | 0 comments
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Getting the Basics

It’s the first of August.  School is starting.  To some of our children, there is nothing odd about that.  That’s all they have ever known.   But to many of us that still feels weird.  “August is supposed to be a part of summer, don’t they know!” we exclaim.  And yet that is true no longer.  And so it’s time to pull things back together from the hopefully restful, scattered sabbatical of summer and get focused once again, back into the routine, fully engaged in the educational and vocational tasks before us.

But even though school starts earlier, some things about it remain the same.  Even though students return nearly a month earlier than many of us used to, that first month will still be mostly organization, orientation, and review from the year before.  It will be a time of going over the basics and “getting them down pat,” so that the students can, hopefully, go well beyond the those basics in the year to come.

Well, I don’t know that we’ve ever approached the beginning of the school year in the same fashion at church.  But this August we’re going to engage in a similar exercise in getting of getting re-focused.

In past years we have had a stewardship campaign in January and February.  What that has meant has been a pledge card drive with considerable publicity and an accompanying sermon or two.  It’s been fine and has worked to a degree.   But statistics show, both ours and those from across the religious spectrum, that the power of such a campaign is not what it once was. What is having better results is a more consistent conversational, educational, and testimonial approach.  To that end, our Finance Committee has been offering consistent testimonies in worship.  And now they are leading us in an all church study during the latter half of this month, and the first half of September.  During that time all Sunday School classes—adult, youth, and children—will utilize a curriculum entitled “First Things,” based on the book, “shiny gods,” by Mike Slaughter.  It’s an excellent, challenging, yet encouraging literature that we think all will find interesting and helpful.

Now, to one way of thinking, stewardship might not seem like a “basic.”  Indeed some might see it not as one of the introductory disciplines of our faith, but one that happens as the result of having all the other basics down.   I get that train of thought. But I can certainly make the argument to the contrary.  What’s more basic than understanding that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those that dwell therein” (PS 24:1), than understanding that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (James 1:17), than understanding that we have been entrusted with whatever comes our way to make the most of it and to utilize it not just for ourselves but for others as well.  Furthermore, what’s more basic to following Jesus, than to seek to give as he gave—as much, not as little, as we can.  

I think the truth of the matter is that when it comes to serving God and following Jesus, and the disciplines involved therein, there is no proper place to begin or end.  There will be times when you learn something and your heart will be moved, and you will give and serve more readily.   At other times, as scripture says, “wherever your treasure is, your heart will follow,” (MT 6:21, LK 12:34) your faithfulness to give and serve will lead you to your passion.  The important thing is to respond to the gospel that is set before us as best we know how, and to keep on doing that.

This study will set the gospel before us.  Let us enter it into with open hearts and minds, ready to respond.  Let us follow our children’s lead this August and make sure we know our basics.

Grace, David 

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the August edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, August 1, 2015 | 0 comments
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Kids Passport Camp Day 4

9 kids, 3 adults, 4 daysafter a 5 hour drive we're in Crossville to start a 'Revolution'! 
Each day you'll get to read what our campers are experiencing. Enjoy!

Lila Morse

: Today was great! I didn't want to leave camp. Yes, I missed my parents but I loved dancing and singing. On the way home we went to the Adventure Science Center. I went on a moon simulator! That's all! 

Mikey Hoffman: My favorite part of the day was when we played soccer. One thing I learned was God's revolution.

I am writing from the comfort of my couch tonight - meaning we have made it home safely! I cannot believe our Passportkids! experience is over. The past four days flew by. But, boy, they were full of learning and laughs.On our last day the theme was ACT. 

During our morning worship the question of the day was "What does Jesus' revolution look like?" I couldn't help but tear up as I heard your kids and others speak about the way the world can be better. And it will be better because of them! I left Memphis with 9 pretty cool but regular kids and returned with 9 inspired revolutionaries. 

I am excited to see what amazing things they accomplish! We had a little more fun on the way home. We visited the Adventure Science Center in Nashville and then had the most delicious authentic Italian pizza complete with entertainment! :) 

When you see our campers in the days to come I encourage you to ask them about their camp experience. Ask them who their superhero alter ego is. Ask them how they have flipped their perspective and are looking at the world in new ways. Ask them who they will stand up for. Ask them how they will use their voice to speak out for others. Ask them how they will put their faith into action. 

On a personal note a big THANK YOU to David and Julie Richardson! They took time off work to chaperon your campers. They were the perfect people to help me in my first time as a group leader and even more so to help your children what this Jesus Revolution is all about.Thank you all for your love and prayers for us as we traveled and as we spent our days at camp. Your presence was felt by all of us. I hope you feel inspired to begin a Revolution as well!

 Love and Peace,


Posted by Bridget Ellis at Tuesday, July 21, 2015 | 0 comments
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Kids Passport Camp Day 3

9 kids, 3 adults, 4 days after a 5 hour drive we're in Crossville to start a 'Revolution'! 
Each day you'll get to read what our campers are experiencing. Enjoy!

Karamia Quiriconi: Today was awesome! We went to a talent show. Abby was in it with Callie and Lila. They did really good. We had to pack up. We have to wake up early tomorrow!

Abby Kellett: Today we started out the day with the morning celebration, followed by morning devotion. This of course was after breakfast. We then moved on to Bible Study and morning recreation. In Bible Study we talked about speaking up for people. In rec, we played a lot of really fun games.

After that we went to have a delicious lunch. The senior campers went to Sixth Sense and had an ice cream party. Meanwhile other campers hung out in the cabins. We went to missions and camper's choice next. In missions we talked about El Salvador refugees. Camper's choice is where the camper chooses from a variety of activities (I chose drama). 

Before supper, we had free time. You can go to the camp store, hang out with friends, go to the pool, play gaga ball, which we also do in any extra time we find, etc. 

After worship and worship response we prepared the Variety Show. Everyone was able to show their talent (if they wanted to and/or made the auditions). I sang 'Titanium.' Everyone dressed up as the theme, Superheroes. We are now getting ready for bed and packing up. Today was awesome!!

I can't believe we head home tomorrow! These days have flown by. I have so enjoyed everyday here with your kids. They have proven over and over how selfless and kind-hearted they are.

Our theme word for today was SPEAK. I know you parents know your kids are good at this. :) In Bible study campers studied three stories of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark. Each story gave an account of Jesus speaking up for the oppressed. They also talked about ways they can speak out for people. 

Day 3In our worship response time tonight each camper talked about how they saw God this week (you should ask them this when they get home - you will be impressed with their answers) and they also said things they can stand up for and speak out for when they get home. 

Our fun activity for the evening was the Variety Show. Several of our campers were a part of this show. Wow! FBC has some talented kids and you should be so proud!

Please remember us as we travel home tomorrow! I will send the last update tomorrow night.

Love and Peace,Mary 

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, July 20, 2015 | 0 comments
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Kids Passport Camp Day 2

9 kids, 3 adults, 4 days after a 5 hour drive we're in Crossville to start a 'Revolution'! 
Each day you'll get to read what our campers are experiencing. Enjoy!

Callie Payson: OMG fun! Drama was so fun. And the night market was also fun. 

Bo Hoffman: Today we made new friends. We went to the night market. And we simulated travels to the U.S.Edens Richardson: Today we went boating and I was soaked, the second thing we did was do the auditions for the talent show. I was with Karamia and our chant was called THE BOOM. Finally the last thing we did was go to the night market. There we got a ticket and we got to get one thing at the night market for the parade, I chose a bright, red flower in the parade! IT WAS AWESOME!!

Today's theme word was STAND. Campers read about some of the people in the Bible who took a stand - the daughters of Zelophehad, Amos, and Jesus. They also did an exercise where their Bible study leaders asked them to stand up when something about them was described. When we talked about this experience in worship response tonight the kids all said it was eye opening. They were able to see that they are never alone. Other people have, are, and will experience the same things our kids are going through.

Also in our worship response time we talked those people in our church who take a stand for justice. You would be proud of the people they thought of! We then learned about ways that we can take a stand.

Tonight we attended the El Salvador Night Market. Here the campers learned about life in El Salvador.Cam Day 2 They tasted food, made crafts, and experienced some of the jobs available. They have been learning about refugees this week and the night market gave them an opportunity to see the kind of life people are leaving to come to the US. 

When you see our campers when we get home, ask them what their favorite thing about night market was. Also, ask them about ways they can take a stand for others.

Love and Peace,Mary

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, July 19, 2015 | 0 comments
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Kids Passport Camp Day 1

9 kids, 3 adults, 4 days after a 5 hour drive we're in Crossville to start a 'Revolution'! 

Each day you'll get to read what our campers are experiencing. Enjoy!

Will Wright: I learned that Jesus dressed as a regular person and flipped tables and people still cared for him. My favorite part of the day was the rec party!

Catherine Kellett: Today was really fun. We got to ride in a big white van. First we played with walkie talkies then we told creepy campfire stories for the rest of the time. Then we got to play Gaga Ball! After that we went to celebration, Bible study, worship, worship response, dinner, and then we had an awesome rec party.

Today has been a great day! Everyone was happy and ready to head out this morning. I don't think there was a quirt moment on the van but I so enjoyed hearing your kids laugh and share stories. They are such smart kids that think about things in ways you wouldn't imagine!

Day 1 at CampOnce we arrived at Passport we dove right into this year's theme: Revolution. Today's theme word was FLIP. Our Bible story for the day was Jesus flipping the tables in the temple. In our small group we looked at some Old Testament passages and compared them to what Jesus said. As one camper said, "What? That's completely different!" I think they got the point!

After the Rev'd Up Rec Party this crowd is ready for bed. I am looking forward to seeing what amazing things happen in your kids' lives the rest of this week. Love and Peace,Mary 

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, July 18, 2015 | 0 comments
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Passport Youth Camp--Home Sweet Home!

10 youth and 3 chaperones are at Passport Youth Camp in Danville, VA this week and we made it back all in one piece!!! Well, except for one seat belt... (Please pardon my typos--this was written at the end of a very long day of driving!) 

We pulled into the FBC parking lot at 11:30 tonight singing "I really, really, really, really, really, really like you!" (one of our favorite songs from camp) and were greeted by excited parents ready to hug their campers and tuck them into bed!

We had a long but good day of travel.  Your youth were champs and I think they may have actually enjoyed their time together in the vans!  And not a single person asked me, "are we there yet?!"  We even stopped at Lovers Leap Lookout in Virginia to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery for a few minutes (see picture above).

I think our campers deserve some much needed rest in the morning and you probably won't see them at church tomorrow, but when you do see them next here are some questions you should ask them...

  1. So what happened to the seat belt?!
  2. What is the waka waka and will you teach me how to do it?
  3. On a scale of 1-10 how gross was Brittany's pinky and why am I asking this question?
  4. What is a little red wagon?
  5. Where did you see God moving during the week?
  6. How did you participate in the Revolution at camp?
  7. How do you plan to continue the Revolution at home?
  8. How has the youth group committed to participating the Revolution this next year?
  9. Tell me what you did on your mission site.
  10. What were words of the day and what do they mean to you?

Thanks again for your prayers and support and for journeying with us this week.  Your youth lived up to their FBC name this week!!!  You should be proud!



Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, July 11, 2015 | 0 comments
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Passport Youth Camp Night 5 Update!

10 youth and 3 chaperones are at Passport Youth Camp in Danville, VA this week.  Throughout the week you will hear from each youth.  They will tell you a little bit about what they have been up to.  I will also add my update.  Thanks for your prayers!  (Please pardon my typos--these are written at the end of a very long day!)  

Today we finished boxing up everything at our site.  Turns out we helped 5000 people get clothes and supplies.  We had a volley ball tournament today and we lost the first game.  :-(  haha, but it was really fun.-Cedar Dean

Today I had a great day.  We worked with the kids at the halfway house in Danville, VA.  We started the day out with eating with the kids.  They had burgers.  After, we played with them..  Anything from coloring, to playing on the playground.  I enjoyed myself a lot.  We had a blast learning about their backgrounds.  After, we came back and had free time.  All of the FBC youth hung out.  It was a very fun day!-Grace Ward

Today's theme word was ACT.  Campers and chaperones talked in their Bible Study groups about balancing our faith with our actions.  Passport Missions is a great example of this balance.  Campers spend time in Bible Study each morning studying and exploring their faith--a faith that then inspires their actions as they head out to missions sites.  Our time on the missions sites today wrapped up with finished projects, goodbye hugs, and even a few tears.  

Our worship and group devotions tonight gave us a chance to respond to God's movement in our lives this week.  As a youth group we gave $160 to refugee ministries in Miami, Texas, and Virginia.  We also decided in our group devotion time to continue Passport's mission theme at home this year.  We committed to a deeper relationship with Peace of Thread and Ekata--ministries at FBC who develop relationships with refugee women in Memphis.  We would love for you to join us and to help us figure out how to partner with and learn from these women.

Your campers have been so wonderful and it has been a privilege to be their youth minister.  You should also know that Mary and Kyle have been rockstar chaperones--taking good care of your youth, forming relationships with other campers, serving on mission sites, making sure everyone is showered and on time, laughing with your teens, and engaging them in deep and meaningful conversations.  I am so very, very grateful for their support and care of our youth.  I couldn't have brought 10 youth to camp without them.Tomorrow I will send a list of questions you can and should ask our campers when they return.  They are excited to share their trip with you so stay tuned...  Also a special thank you to David Edwards for his kind email to us while we were away--your words were encouraging and meaningful to us in our church group devotions tonight--thank you!  Thank you all for reading and praying and care about your youth.

Continue to pray for us as we travel the long journey home tomorrow.  Pray for safety, pray for patience and tolerance of each other, and pray that though we will travel a great physical distance away from camp, we will carry what we have learned and practiced and experienced this week with us back to Memphis and into our every day lives.-Brittany

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, July 10, 2015 | 0 comments
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Passport Youth Camp Night 4 Update!

10 youth and 3 chaperones are at Passport Youth Camp in Danville, VA this week.  Throughout the week you will hear from each youth.  They will tell you a little bit about what they have been up to.  I will also add my update.  Thanks for your prayers!  (Please pardon my typos--these are written at the end of a very long day!)

Today in missions I tore down walls, mowed the grass, and picked up trash out of the yard.  it will be a house for people who can't afford one so i felt special today for helping them.  Today was REALLY fun!-Zealand Silver

Today in missions we swept a house and painted it.  I felt special doing this because this will be a future house for women who are restarting their lives out of prison and their kids.  Toward the end we prayed over the house to God that our mission would serve and help the family in need.  This was crazy because in the process of it I was on a ladder and the whole wall fell out on me!-Micah Breckenridge 

Today while I was at my mission site I got to work and play with amazing, talented, wonderful kids.  I felt like all of us being there made their day, because I know that they don't come from the best households.  We played outside all day, except for when we went inside to play musical chairs while someone played the piano.  Today was also kind of sad because they want us to be with them all of the time and some of them even started to cry.  Other than that today was a great day and I feel like I am starting to make an impact on the kids' life and I have only been here for four days.-Lily Merryman

I'm not going to lie--by day 4 we were all getting on each others' nerves a little bit.  We were tired, easily annoyed, and a bit impatient with each other.  That's what happens when you spend lots of time together!But today's theme was SPEAK--and we were challenged to speak up for those who are being treated unfairly, unjustly, and unkindly.  We talked in our church group devotions about times that we were silent when we should have spoken up for someone.  We talked about times when we were brave enough to speak up for someone--even though it was risky, uncomfortable, and awkward.  We talked about times that we were the ones say unkind, unjust, or unfair things and how we needed and wished someone would have spoken up and stopped us.  We talked about how so often we chose negative, unkind, destructive words or no words when we could use positive, life-giving words. We stood in a line facing each other and in pairs offered the affirming, life-giving words we all need to hear and to say.  Each one of your youth had individual, semi-private time together to share the positive and special things they see in each other.And wow.  A day tired, impatient, and at times careless words was quickly transformed into a beautiful picture of God's kingdom as we each heard special, healing words spoken to each other and had the opportunity to speak special, healing words to our youth group family.We admitted that while it is sometimes awkward and uncomfortable to both share and receive these words--it felt good and restorative.  Pray for us as we try to continue to replace the negative, detrimental words with life-giving, healing ones.Also for your prayer list--tomorrow night your youth will have a chance to respond to what they have heard and experienced this week at camp.  This can be a variety of responses from a profession of faith to revolutionary practices, like speaking and standing, they will commit to throughout the days ahead.  Pray that they will be open to God's movement in their lives.  Pray that Kyle, Mary, and I are open to the Spirit's leading as we seek to minister to the youth.Thanks for your prayers thus far.  We have felt them!!-Brittany

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Thursday, July 9, 2015 | 0 comments
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Passport Youth Camp Night 3 Update!

10 youth and 3 chaperones are at Passport Youth Camp in Danville, VA this week.  Throughout the week you will hear from each youth.  They will tell you a little bit about what they have been up to.  I will also add my update.  Thanks for your prayers!  (Please pardon my typos--these are written at the end of a very long day!)

Today we hung out in the dorm and did missions.  We also played football and used power washers.  We also had an 80's dance party.-Bo Hoffman 

Today we got lucky.  They were serving TATERTOTS for breakfast!  Yum!  Finally something edible! :-)  After breakfast we went to celebration worship, Bible Study, yada yada yada...  But then we went to our mission sites!  I am with Black Circles (yee yee) and we went to the Boys and Girls Club of Danville.  When we got there, I saw a girl sitting all alone so I walked over to talk to her. Turns out whenever she goes there she just sits and does nothing.  (Her name is Kayla).  So I introduced her to Foosball and that was all she wanted to do.  It made me really happy that I felt God's calling.  When we left we had free time.  We had to actually socialize, which was really hard, us being a generation of living zombies and all (uggh!).  Anyways, when free time was over, we had worship and I read scripture from the Old Testament.  :-)  Then we had the 80's dance part-ayy!  Don't get excited.  It was packed and hot and we were the only people who really tried to look from the 80's... It was cool though...hehe... We then had bible study and came to our suite.  I am now about to pass out.  Bye! -Olivia Hankins 

Day 3 has been another great day!  The theme of today was STAND.  Students examined a long list of people--both past and present--who have taken a stand to make world a better place.  Ask them about these people when they get home--they learned some really cool stuff.We talked about how we can take a stand in the world identifying issues like racism, gender inequality, harming our environment, illegal immigration, patterns of poverty, and more.  We shared with each other in group devotions issues that we were passionate about and talked about ways that we can take a stand.We also admitted to each other that there are times when have felt on the edges--lonely and excluded.  We shared ways that we can take a stand for each other and prayed for each other asking God to give us courage and promising to quote a camper: "to have your back when you stand up for something."Your youth are revolutionaries who are already making a difference in the world.  They are taking a stand for things that they believe and challenging us all to join them.  You should be proud!!!-Brittany

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, July 8, 2015 | 0 comments
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Passport Youth Camp Night 2 Update!

10 youth and 3 chaperones are at Passport Youth Camp in Danville, VA this week.  Throughout the week you will hear from each youth.  They will tell you a little bit about what they have been up to.  I will also add my update.  Thanks for your prayers!  (Please pardon my typos--these are written at the end of a very long day!)

Overall, I have enjoyed my time here.  The dorms are small and hot, but that is all that's bad.  I enjoyed helping at my work station.  I especially enjoyed trimming the trees and bushes.-Carson Wright 

So on Monday, I woke up about 4:00 am and was ecstatic.  I was very bouncy on the way, and when I got there I was probably the only fully awake one there at the FBC parking lot.  I was just too excited.  The car ride was a little crazy after everyone awoke, a lot of seat switching and TONS of eating.  12 hours later we got there.  Everything was fine and dandy, though breakfast was weird.  The hashbrown tasted like cardboard.  Anyways, 2 showers later, a wonderful hangout session with the girls, millions of sweet tarts later, I'm here, rushing to go to worship.  Well, that's all for now.-Natalie Austria 

It has been a great start to our week at camp.  You should be so proud of your youth.  12 hours in a van and I never wanted to kick one out!!  They were champs!  We arrived a little late due to the long drive and things were very chaotic getting into our rooms and still they were awesome.  My favorite part of the trip was when we all piled (except for Mary driving the mini-van of course) into the 15 passenger van for a brief Bible Study and a game of Would You Rather.  We were cramped, but it was nice to all be together.

Today has been fantastic.  I have loved watching the youth make new friends and jump to work on their mission sites.  They are all doing some variety of yard work/painting/manual labor combined with playing with kids at various day school type programs.  They work hard, they work with new friends, and they love on the kids they meet.  It has also been fun watching them get to know each other better.  They came to camp in pretty distinct friend groups but more and more those groups are breaking down and they are  beginning to mingle and enjoy each other.     

The theme for today was Flip.  We talked about Jesus overturning the tables in the temple and how when Jesus is at work in our lives, he flips things--our perspectives, our normal ways of doing things--and turns it into something better.  The flipping process can be scary but it is always good and very necessary. They sing and pray and learn about the revolution that is started in their lives when Jesus turns things upside down.  At our church group devotions tonight, we wrote down some things that we need to flip--we looked around the room and realized that we all have things we want/need to flip and that we need each other to do it.  Some of us got brave enough to share those things and when we did we realized that we all had similar goals--goals that we would help each other with throughout the week and in the days ahead.   

Your youth are amazing people (I know you already know this but it's fun to watch them!)!  They can and are changing the world!  Please continue to pray for them.  Camp requires you to be vulnerable with strangers and with some of your closest friends and this is uncomfortable and hard.  Continue to pray that God will create a safe place for them to be vulnerable with each other, with their own self, and with God.  Thank your for loving and supporting us!!-Brittany

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Tuesday, July 7, 2015 | 0 comments
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The Gospel According to the Grizzlies

Well, unless you were living under a rock somewhere last month, you, along with most of this town, caught a significant case of Griz fever.   There are other events and forces that bring our fair city together, but for my money, in the last 7 years nothing has rivaled the Grizzlies in terms of unifying our residents.  And while the players themselves, and their success, are of course the main reason for this phenomenon, they have been greatly aided by a wonderful PR department that has built a campaign around three words--Believe, Grit, and Grind­—all of which have significant meaning far beyond basketball. 

Believe has rather obvious meaning for the context of faith.   We speak all the time about what it means to believe in God, to believe in Christ, and the power and hope that is found in such belief.  Furthermore, as Rob Bell likes to point out, this is a belief in a God who believes in us, who trusts us to take care of creation, who calls us to be disciples, who dares to believe that the likes of us really can change this world.

Grit has two connotations.  The first comes from its more literal meaning, which is of course, dirt.  People of faith are those who are willing to get dirty, to enter the hard, humbling situations of life because that is what God in Christ has done for us. Metaphorically speaking, the term refers to a sense of determination which enables one to persevere through those parts of the journey that are difficult and dirty.  It betrays the fact that one believes that there is a greater purpose or meaning to one’s effort, say the salvation or wholeness of oneself or others, or, beyond that, the Kingdom of God.  (For a discussion on Grit in the secular world see the excellent TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth)

Grind for me speaks of sheer effort.   That whatever we do in life, work, or play, we should, in the words of the good King James, “do it heartily as unto the Lord.”   I’m not sure how we arrived so far off track on this issue in terms of church and matters of faith, but for many faith has become something that is supposed to be easy and/or make their life easy.   How did that happen when our faith is saturated with talk of sacrifice, and at its center is someone hanging on a cross?   Meaningful, purposeful, lasting?  Yes.   Easy?  No.   Faith requires effort and is a pilgrimage worthy of our utmost effort.

So to put all of this together … Because we believe in a God who believes in us, we dare to grit and grind, even when it calls us to the gritty places of life, because we believe that it is in such effort that we and others will be saved.   Maybe not a perfect gospel, but not a bad one either.   One that could serve a congregation seeking to Build the Future, to Build our Church Family, and to Build our Community, rather well.   Don’t you think?  And you thought you were just cheering a basketball team? 

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the June edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, June 1, 2015 | 0 comments
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Growing by Building

What do you think of when you hear the word “Growing?”  Are you involved in that activity or just observing?   I think for most of us, most of the time, we would say observing.   We see a plant grow, a child growing, hair growing, and we have little involvement.  Even when we see farms, and we know that someone had a hand in that growth, we tend to marvel at the change, the evolution, the growth as if it were rather miraculous, and beyond ours or anyone’s control.  And when it comes to living things, of course, that is largely true. 

Our new vision statement runs contrary to this idea.  Grow First Baptist Church and its influence by reflecting Christ through hospitality, community, dialogue, and service.   Here “Grow” is used as an active verb, and we are the subject of that verb.  We are the actors, the ones who take the initiative and responsibility to bring about growth. (And by growth we do mean numbers, but we mean more than that.   We mean depth, passion, mission, giving, prophetic witness, outreach, etc.  Indeed tending to the latter types of growth will no doubt aid us in the former.)  Now, like plants, I think we do acknowledge that there are forces involved that we do not control, but likewise we believe that if we will do our part, that the most powerful force of all, God, will work with us and the desired growth will come. 

But if there is any confusion, the three pillars of our vision plan remove any temptation to think that this vision is someone else’s job.   For those pillars all begin with the word, “Build,”---Build the Future, Build the Church Family, Build the Community.   “ Build.”  

Now, there’s an active verb that leaves little doubt that we all have work to do.   Building takes planning, design, resources, sweat, effort and time.   And things built to last, require even more of all of the above. Now, none of us has to build it all.  None of us can build it all.   That’s not only a logistical truth.  It’s the way God designed it, with different ones of us resourced with different abilities and gifts, but each of us certainly has our part to play. 

I think of those fund raising campaigns where a sidewalk, a wall, a monument is constructed with bricks, each of them bearing the name of some donor who was willing to support the cause.  The Orpheum has one such drive presently going on in which the bricks will be used to pave the atrium to the Orpheum plaza entrance.   It’s a powerful symbol.   It reveals what should be obvious, that those bricks, and the wall or sidewalk or building they constitute, didn’t get there by themselves.   Those bricks represent the collected gifts and efforts of untold numbers of people, all seeking to bring about a common vision. 

As we think about growing First Baptist Church and its influence, as we think of what it will take to Build the Future, Build the Church Family, Build the Community…Where will your brick(s) be?  What pillar(s) will they be supporting?  How will you offer your gifts to be used?   How will God use you to bring growth to the Kingdom through the influence of First Baptist Church? How will you embody our core values of Hospitality, Community, Dialogue, and Service? 

We have a vision before us.   We have a plan consistent with our values.  We have solid lay and staff leadership to help us enact it.   God is with us.  Christ is risen.  The Spirit is active.  We have exciting days ahead of us.   Grace, David  

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the May edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, May 1, 2015 | 0 comments
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You Got to Rise Up

Easter is upon us, and as I was thinking about Resurrection, a couple of pop images came to mind.  The first was a catch phrase used by the late great Stuart Scott on ESPN.   Whenever he would do the commentary for a highlight clip of a homerun in baseball or a spectacular leaping grab in football or a dunk in basketball, he would often time punctuate the moment with the phrase, “And the Lawd said, ‘You got to rise up!’”   It’s a phrase that he heard in church as a young boy.   It’s a popular phrase which can be used in sermons on numerous texts, from Ezekiel’s dry bones to Jesus (Mark 2) or the disciples (Acts 3) healing a paralytic or one otherwise disabled.  

The second was Bruce Springsteen’s song, The Rising.   It’s a song which was written as an anthem of hope after the 9/11 tragedy.   It uses the image of rising in so many ways—of a fireman rising out of bed that morning, to then rise up the tower to his/her death, to then his/her rising up to heaven, and then the chorus which beckons the rest of us to rise up out of the ashes: 

Come on up for the rising. Come on up, lay your hand in mine. Come on up for the rising. Come on up for the rising tonight.

What struck me about both of these is how those who “rise up” play an intentional role in their own rising.  At Easter, we tend to experience the idea of rising from a distance--something that happened to Jesus way back then or something that will happen to all at the end of time, when we are only passively involved.  But these modern uses of the idea of rising in pop culture, especially the sports catch phrase (since it is based in scripture) remind us that we are involved here and now in our own daily resurrections.   Jesus’ resurrection provides hope for all that we need to “rise up” from and out of, not just the grave, but all the places of despair and grief and guilt and hopelessness in which we find ourselves.    And in those resurrections that happen here and now, we certainly have a part to play.

Think of those healings previously mentioned.  In both instances, the recipients were both told to rise up and walk.   They were healed.  Unlike before, they now could actually do that which Jesus or the disciples asked them to do.  But they didn’t have to.  Rising and walking are volitional acts.  They would actually have to tell their arms and limbs to rise up, and then choose to walk.  As absurd as it may seem, they could have chosen otherwise.  Gravity will let you remain on your back all your life if you want to stay there.   

So even before our grave, resurrection opens up a possibility for us, a hope-filled possibility of that which lies beyond whatever binds us, hampers us, holds us back, keeps us entombed.  

What might such  hope mean for you?  How might you step into that resurrection? What might such hope mean for us? How might we “come on up” to our own rising as First Baptist Church?  In light of our Vision Plan, how can we grow First Baptist and its influence?  How can we better reflect Christ through hospitality, community, dialogue, and  service?  

How can we consistently build for the future, build the church family, and build the community?  How can we step into the resurrection that God has already made possible for us?  What is your part in that plan?This Eastertide, FBC, let us respond to the call of God.  Let us follow the lead of Christ.  Let us rise up!

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the April edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, April 1, 2015 | 0 comments
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All the Good News

We are in Lent.  Indeed the entire month of March is in Lent.   How does it feel to read those words, to consider that?   All of March is in Lent. How does the word “Lent” by itself strike you?   What feelings does it evoke? 

I think, many of us, have been preconditioned to hear the word “Lent” and feel heavy and sad and somber.   Lent can sort of weigh on you.    And, to some degree, for good reason.  At this time we reflect on the death of Christ, and it does not feel appropriate to express anything but sadness.  Furthermore we reflect on the fact that Christ died for our sins, that we are as responsible for Christ’s death as Pilate, the High Priest, the crowd, Barabbas, Peter in his denial, Judas in his betrayal, all of them.  They are us, and we are them.  So again, heaviness.   And I do think there is something to be said for sitting with this heaviness for a while.   Sometimes we need to feel the weight of our sin and shortcomings in order to be motivated to do something about them.   But if that’s it, if all Lent leaves us with is a heaviness and burden that leads to nowhere, I think most of us will just stop.   We just will.  We can’t and won’t lean into this season for very long if that’s all Lent is about.   And if that is all Lent is, then such abdication is appropriate, because how could heaviness alone be Good News?   It’s not.

No, it is my experience that those who enter fully into Lent and what it has to offer are actually those who have a deep understanding of grace and an abiding sense of hope.  They are those who believe in possibility, in the possibility that whatever sin they confess can be forgiven; that whatever fear they face, can be overcome; that whatever calling they have not followed, can be renewed; that whatever brokenness they have experienced can be healed; that whatever has died within them can rise again.  Yes, to fully enter into Lent is to dwell upon more than the fact that Christ died, it is to believe the reason he lived and died was to reveal the amazing grace of a God whose love for us is beyond all measure and for whom all things are possible.   And when you believe this, truly believe this, then you can risk confession, you can face a fear, you can acknowledge a grudge, you can admit being hurt, etc., because you trust that God can take you beyond these heavy places to something much better.   Of course, Lent doesn’t have a copyright on these deep truths.   These truths and the avenues of grace they offer are available to us throughout the year.  But with the cross ever before us in Lent, we are given the opportunity to lean into them together with special intention.

In many high liturgical churches their weekly worship services include a time of confession.  It begins with a unison prayer of confession, followed by silence for personal confession, ending with an assurance of pardon that is generally spoken by the minister, but can be unison as well.  I had a good minister friend in this tradition that said  regardless of what people do or say each Sunday, in their hearts they generally fall into two categories.  There are those that get stuck in confession and never get up off their knees to hear the assurance of pardon, and there are those that rush to the assurance of pardon, having never dared to truly confess.  If we do Lent well, we will lean into both experiences.  Hear the good news, my friends, all the good news, and dare to believe it’s true for you this Lent.  All have fallen short.   All is forgiven.    

Thanks be to God.  Amen

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the March edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, March 1, 2015 | 0 comments
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Wearing a Tux to Church

Over the Christmas holidays, I had the privilege to hear my friend John Ballenger preach.  It had been awhile.  John and I were the lone Baptists in the DMin program at Brite Divinity School.   John is someone who makes me smile, and on this Sunday, he left me with an image that has kept me smiling.

He was preaching on Isaiah 61:10-62:3 and Luke 2:22-40—Christmastide texts of Joy.   He told the story of how some years before he had worn a tux to church.  The day before he had been a groomsman in the wedding of dear friend in that same church, and when he woke up that Sunday morning he was just compelled to wear it because “some parties should never end.”  I can see the whole thing happening.  John leaping out of his car, taking joy in all the others smiling at him, and John asking them, “What do you think?  Too much?”

Well…what do you think?  Too much?  Can we be “too joyful” as Christians?  I mean, we do, after all, have much to be joyful about.  Think of our church right now: Brittany and Mary joining our staff, a three year strategic plan on the horizon, stories of meaning and joy and purpose and service that come about in and through this community of faith, etc.  And then most of us were raised with this idea that faith should produce happiness within us.   “If you’re happy and you know it…”  Certain passages of scripture even command us to be joyful.  “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord….”  And faith aside, we do like being greeted with a smile, entering an environment of happiness.   I’m guessing few of us would return to a church if we stepped in the door and were greeted with sad and sour.  So why not a tux?  Too much?

And yet all of life is not happy.  And being a faithful human, let alone a faithful person of faith, demands that we attend to all of life.   And in life there is pain, loss, worry, fear—the hard stuff, the yuck of life, that which does not make us happy, that which does not make God happy.   So, in the face of such, can the joy we confess, the joy we seek to express be “too much?”

Well, such a judgment is, of course, personal, relative to where we are on that given day.  But my friend John did, I think, give an adequate defense to at least an informed, sensitive confession of joy.  In the Isaiah text, God is sowing the seeds of righteousness and praise which will spring up.  There is no denial of present difficulty, or even future hardship.  Nonetheless there is the confession of hope that God is even now up to something more and that that something does indeed include us.  And this hope is the basis for even our present joy.

Now, there is genuine joy for all the blessings of the present, too, just like there is a wedding day which celebrates the present reality of love found and consecrated.  As we have noted, we do have reason to be grateful.  We can count our blessings every day.  But our present joy is not just for what is, but for what will be.   Our joy at the wedding is not just for that moment but also for the years to come.  Our joy on Sunday is much the same.  It’s not just about that day, but for all the days to come.

Now this not to say that we need to always be on top of the word, or be less than honest when someone asks us how we are.  But in general, let us dare to be people of joy, not because we are oblivious to the pain of this world, but because we believe in one who will see us through this pain, and is, even now, sowing seeds of joy that will spring forth in days to come.  In other words, maybe not every Sunday, but occasionally…If you got a tux, wear it!

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the February edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, February 1, 2015 | 0 comments
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Behold! I will Do a New Thing Isaiah 43:19

Happy New Year!   It’s 2015.  Does it seem different?  Does it feel different?  Have you even begun to stop noting things “2014”?   Supposedly it is different.  We treat it that way.  We talk of turning over a new leaf, of our dreams for a better year, of New Year’s Resolutions.  We even have an image for all of this—a new born baby boy to replace the aging old man that was 2014.

And yet, is it any different?  Are these days any different than those that have gone before?  Isn’t this idea of New Years a bit arbitrary?  Indeed we have the stop and start of all kinds of years at other points on our calendar.   School Years, Fiscal Years, the Liturgical year.  And then there are the Chinese and Jewish and Mayan calendars, just to name a few, which have a much different date noted as New Years.

When you stop and think about it then…there really isn’t anything necessarily special about this turning of the calendar.   And yet the good news is that there could be.   Yes, the good news is that any day can be the start of something new and positive and meaningful and hopeful, not just for you, but for those around you.   And the better news is that you and I will have something to with that...by the choices and decisions we will make, by the priorities we will choose.  Yes, with God’s help, we get to participate in the “new thing” that God is seeking to bring to pass this day and every day, regardless of the date a chronologist wants to put on it. 

Yes, this New Year can be new.  It can be new because we decide to try something new for the first time.  I think such brand spanking newness is needed in our lives, at least every once in a while, so I encourage you to go for it. 

 But for the most part, I think the meaningful new will come from the raw material of what has been.   Such newness is at the heart of the gospel message.  It’s the meaning of redemption.  Its why salvation and salvage and salve all have the same root, and largely the same meaning.  So can 2015 be new?   You bet it can.   But its best newness may come from what we choose to do with what 2014 has left us.  

What will we do with the civil and racial unrest that Ferguson and New York left us?  Will we dare to listen to those different than us?  Better yet, will we make a new friend?  Will we dare to get otherwise involved?

What will we do with the grief we carry from friends that have died?  Will we withdraw or despair or will we vow to live life all the more fully?   Will we rise to carry on their legacy?  Will we fill in the gaps?  Will we invite others to do the same?

What will we do with the life-giving and life-sustaining and joy-filled aspects of 2014?  Will we continue them?  Can we grow them?  Can we share them?  Can we pass them on?

I write this article in the middle of Advent, when we remember that a young mother waits to give birth to another baby boy, one which will bring much newness.  Madeleine L’Engle’s wonderful poem Young Mary, begins and ends with this amazingly profound understatement, “I know not all of that which I contain.”I think that’s how I feel about this baby we call 2015.  We have no idea of all that it will contain.  But the majority of whatever it will be, already is.  It’s just a question of what we will do with it.Happy New Year my friends.  May it be filled with God’s “New Thing.”

 Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the January edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Thursday, January 1, 2015 | 0 comments
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Company is Coming

“Company is Coming.” What emotions does that phrase evoke for you? Excitement,anticipation,worry,anxiety,wonder? I had a friend who said those were his three least favorite words because anytime his mother said them, it meant a day of serious cleaning. I guess there is that part of it. There’s always some preparation in welcoming someone new into your space. But when I chose that phrase for this year’s Advent, I was seeking to tap into something a bit deeper and far more positive. 

Getting prepared for the arrival of company is, of course, not an unknown phenomenon this time of year. Chances are, if you are not getting ready for family to come to your house, someone is getting ready for you to come to their home. But if you grew up in a family that you loved and that loved you, and you looked forward their arrival…then even the work of preparation is done with air of joyous anticipation and expectation. Sure it was work, but it was all in service to these who were coming who were so special to you. What’s more, it was an investment. Getting ready now would allow you to make the most of the time you would share together.

Advent is the celebration of God’s coming in the person of Christ to keep company with us.We experience this advent of God in Christ in three distinct times. First we draw alongside the children of Israel as they long for the coming of the Messiah, and we reflect on the significance of what it meant for God to come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Secondly, we wait for the return of Christ, and we strive to remain alert to the fact that such could happen at any moment, and thus live like it. And then in the meantime, in the in-between time where we find ourselves at this moment, we seek to be aware that Christ comes to us even now, in moments of Grace and Truth, Justice and Mercy and Peace. But evenfor the Christ among us now, there is much competition. So much can cloud our vision, clog our ears, fill our lives and hearts that even if Christ is right in front of us, we can miss his coming. Advent is the call to do whatever we have to do to open up and to pay attention, to not miss out, to not miss the coming of such Divine company.

Lots of suggestions could be made as to the best way to be so attentive. Among them are the themes of our four Sundays in Advent:

  • Advent 1 calls us to attention,to be alert, to Wake Up. 

  • On Advent 2, Isaiah and John the Baptist call us to Clean Up, and clear out space for our comforting Company to come alongside us and lead us home. Mary will invite us to Tune Up 

  • On Advent 3, to join here in singing the song of God’s deliverance.

  • On Advent 4, we return to John the Baptist to learn maybe the most basic tenets of all hospitality,to Lighten Up, that it’s not about us, but our Guest and what that Guest wants to do in and through our lives. 

  • And then what’s left to do come Christmas, but Welcome our company. 

I hope you’ll join us in the journey this Advent. Company is Coming. Let’s get ready! 

One Caveat. If there is a sense in which this theme struggles to work…it is this. One of the most effective ways to open ourselves up to Christ coming in a new way this Advent, is to be attentive to how Christ is already present among us, especially in the least of these. I challenge you to make that a part of your Advent preparation this season. Find some time, as an individual or family, to engage in service, in sacrifice. Make that a part of your spiritual discipline. Meeting Christ along the way makes it easier to recognize Him in Bethlehem.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the December edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Sunday, November 30, 2014 | 0 comments
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I am

I’m writing this article on the Sunday after we at FBC had the honor of calling the Rev. Brittany Krebs to be our Minister of Music and Youth.  It was a wonderful weekend filled with amazing fellowship and dialogue and worship and singing and bowling and laughter and food and, of course, the opportunity to welcome Brittany and Kyle into the FBC family.

After leading us in worship through music on Sunday morning, Brittany preached beautifully during the Modern Vespers service that evening.  She preached on the call of Moses from Exodus 3, emphasizing the significance of the name of God.  She spoke of how “I am that I am” in Hebrew has no verb tense, that it could be translated numerous ways such as “I will be what I will be.”  The point being that God is not limited by time and situation, that God will be with us no matter where we go or what we do, and that that promise holds true not just for us, but for everyone.  And yet, at the same time, God is intimately concerned about each one of us.  Just as God knew Moses personally and called him by name, God knows us and calls each of us by name.

What an appropriate message given the fact that we had just called Brittany to come and serve with us, a call we all felt was a part of God’s call upon all of our lives.  But the appropriateness goes far beyond the situation at hand, for the reality, for both Brittany and us, is that we do not know all the future holds.   We need the “I am.”  We need a God who will hold us no matter what the future holds.  We are, of course, very excited and very hopeful, and rightly so.  If we will be faithful, God will no doubt bless our journey together.  But there will be challenges and struggles, too.   Just ask Moses.  There always are.

I was struck by a recent reading of Psalm 23.  What a text.   It is such a hope-filled testimony to the goodness and faithfulness of the “I Am.”   Indeed what makes it so powerful is that it does not deny the challenges of life—shadow of death, table full of enemies.  Man, that’s tough stuff.  And then it mentions being anointed.  God never anoints/calls anyone to a life of ease, but to mission and purpose and challenge.  (And God calls us all.  You good Baptists know that,  right?)  Maybe then that cup that overflows in Psalm 23 represents a life that is filled not just with milk and honey, but with an amazing mixture of all that a faithful life contains. What enables us to experience all of that and dare to live grace filled, abundant lives is the fact none of us ever does any of that alone.  God is with us.  God will never leave us.  God will be with us to enhance our joys, to calm our fears, to deepen our meaning, to enrich our fellowship, to challenge our complacency, to dry our tears, to lengthen our laughter, to guide our way.

I am that I am.   I will be what I will be.  We are all called.  We all dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Let us lean into that strong name, that strong promise, as we lean into the future together.  I can’t wait to see it!

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the November edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, November 1, 2014 | 0 comments
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On Being Rooted

Liturgically speaking we are in Common Time.  Common Time refers to the weeks between Epiphany and Lent, and then from Pentecost to Advent.  (Note here at FBC, we follow the Methodists and refer to the latter as Kingdomtide, but the point remains.)  The name is accurate in that these periods of the church calendar year are devoid of major religious observations. But I’ll never forget Glenn Hinson lecturing that all time is holy and that we should never see any time as “common time.”  Dr. Hinson suggested that we see this time through an agricultural lens, the equivalent of the fall or winter, when not much flashy is going on above ground, while all the while the essential work of sinking our roots deeper is being accomplished.

This idea of rootedness is certainly one that scripture affirms.  Think of the parable of the sower.  The objective is to sink deep roots, in good soil, and in so doing eventually bear much fruit.  Think of Psalm 1. “They are like trees planted by streams of water which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither, in all that they do, they prosper.”

Lillian Daniel, a Congregational Minister in Glen Elyn, Illinois, has written a book called When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough: Finding God in Surprising Places, Even Church.  In it she provides a spirited defense of the relevancy of church and spiritual community that has provoked considerable debate, some about her points in general, some about her sometimes biting sarcastic style.  I like the book, but can see the point of her critics.

Daniel likens those who claim to be “Spiritual But Not Religious” as those who pick beautiful bouquets of cut flowers—a rose from here, a lily from there, etc.   For a time they are indeed beautiful, sometimes splendidly so, but they don’t tend to last because they are not rooted.  In contrast she says that religious communities offer us a rootedness that comes from history and wisdom older than us and a community of people who care about us.

Now Daniel does not ignore the challenges of such a struggle.  She acknowledges that it’s hard to find meaning in a book that we did not write or choose, that its hard to find God in the company of people who are “just as annoying as we are.”  (I love that line.)  But, she concludes, that it is worth it.  Writing for herself and those like her, “Tired of decorating our lives with bouquets of our own choosing, we’re ready to go deeper, and even ready to put in the hard work it requires, because being part of a religious tradition takes work.”  

It’s this last point that sticks with me.   When we speak of rootedness, we think of an unconscious process of nature, something that just happens.  It’s a botanical metaphor, so it’s not perfect.  Maybe for us we could liken it to breathing or growing.  Not a lot of work involved there.  And I think that’s how we often times approach our spiritual rootedness.  At best it’s a passive endeavor on our part.  It’s not our job.  It’s the job of the dirt to be nourishing, and the job of theContinued on page 5other plants and/or weeds to get out of the way.  And to some degree, maybe all of that is true.

But the way in which Daniel and Hinson use it, in the end, we are responsible for our own rootedness.  There is work involved.  Sometimes hard work.  All of this begs some questions:  What does it mean to be rooted?  Do you feel rooted?  If so, why?  If not, why?  How long do you have to be a part of a community to feel that way?   What’s the upkeep?  How often do you have to be present to still feel rooted?  What work is involved?  More immediate to this season, I think Dr. Hinson would ask, “How will you make use of this Holy Time to become more rooted?”

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the October edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, October 1, 2014 | 0 comments
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Crying Out

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed lately by the news.  From Gaza to Iraq and Isis to Ferguson to senseless violence here in our city, some in our own schools, my heart has been breaking for the brokenness of our world.  Even the suicide of Robin Williams hit me hard as it reminded us all of the secret pain that so many carry with them in such a way that it never makes the news, until…

I have a confession to make.  I avoided a lectionary text a couple of weeks ago.  It’s the story of the Syrophonecian Woman from Matthew 15.  You remember it.  It’s the story of a desperate mother crying out for Jesus to heal her daughter.   The problem is, she’s not a Jew.  She’s a foreigner, a fact that gets her initially dismissed by the disciples and then Jesus.  Still she cries out.  Jesus goes so far as to call her a dog.  But even this does not deter her, for the woman simply adds logic and wit to her cry and says, “Even the dogs get the crumbs.”  And in her stubbornness, she gets through.  She stops Jesus in his tracks, causes him to do a 180, in every respect.  She leaves not only with a healed daughter but with a compliment, “How great is your faith!”

I avoided this text, not just because it is a hard text, but because my take on it is one that you have heard before, and is one that is hard for some to hear.  Some say that Jesus’ initial refusal to help this woman, and his reference to her as a dog, are just a test of her persistence and faith and/or of the faith of those standing around.  But I read the text in a more straightforward way.  I think the woman teaches Jesus something, or at the very least, reminds him of who he is supposed to be.  I realize that’s a hard reading for some, to think that Jesus could be taught.  But to suggest that Jesus would adapt and learn and grow does not make him any less, in my mind. Quite the contrary, it makes him more, and further sets an example for us.

But I read a blog on this text recently that pointed out that before this story is about Jesus changing his mind or learning something new, it is a story about a person crying out, a mother who refused to allow her voice to be silenced in the face of sorrow and grief until she is heard, until her need is met.  It seems to me to be a rather close parallel to Jesus’ parable of the friend who goes to his neighbor at midnight and cries out for bread until the neighbor gets up and meets the request, not out of great love and concern mind you, but just to shut his friend up.   Both stories suggest that healing begins with our cry, with letting our need be known.   But is that all there is here?  A simple reminder that for our needs to be met, we must let them be known?   Possibly.  But when you add these texts to the strong Biblical tradition of lament, I think there is something more. 

I think scripture is saying that there is an inherent power in our crying, and in our crying out; that our healing and that of this world actually begins in the midst of the tears that we shed for the pain we know and know of; that if we are doing this thing called life and faith correctly we will find ourselves continually crying out on behalf of ourselves and others for healing and hope and peace and wholeness; and that such cries please God.  And while such cries may not change the mind of a God who is, no doubt, already engaged, maybe God does hear those cries and says, “Here is one that shares my pain for the brokenness of creation.  Here is one that I can work in and through to change this world.”

So, if you are needing to cry out.  Please do so.  For yourself, for others, for these situations, for those to come.  Cry out to God.  Cry out to one another.   Cry out over and above the obstacles that will be put in your way.   Listen, too, and be willing to serve.   But keep crying out until something is done, someone is changed, someone is healed, even if that someone is you. 

Grace, David 

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the September edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, September 1, 2014 | 0 comments
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On Adjusting

Well this will be quite a different August from what I was expecting in May.  Of course this has been quite a different June and July, as well, since we became aware of Scott and Kim’s departure.  It certainly kicked things into a different gear for me this summer with a new set of priorities.   The CBF General Assembly became a networking and interview opportunity that we could not pass up, and the past month has continued that theme as we have put a Search Committee into place. Changes, expected or not, require that we adjust, that we be flexible.  We have to be willing to let one vision of the future go, so that we can fully enter into a new vision.  

As I have engaged in such conversations, though, I have learned much more than names and gained much more than resumes.  I’ve met people and heard stories that I have found comforting and encouraging.  It’s very clear that we are not alone.  That there are many urban churches like us who have had a glorious past, who are presently striving to chart a new course toward health and stability.  And for those churches that are really daring to think this way, many are surviving, if not thriving.  Furthermore, there seems to be, on first glance, ministerial candidates out there who are not just interested, but excited about coming to serve churches like us, provided that we really are willing to take some risks and think outside the box.   Now, I’m not promising any results or timetable here when it comes to new ministers.  I’m just encouraged by what I have seen, and the resources that may be out there for us, human as well as ideas.

It seems to me to be a tricky thing to talk about the need for change when we serve a God of miracles, for whom nothing is impossible.  And yet most all movements of salvation require change.   Forgiveness requires confession and repentance.   Healing requires assessment and treatment.  Reconciliation requires vulnerability and reaching out.  Growth and maturation requires spiritual discipline.  Even eternal life requires that we go through the valley of the shadow of death first.    Ours is a God who is ever seeking to do a new thing, but for that to happen, generally speaking, something must pass away before something can become new.   And sometimes, this may not be a theoretical necessity, but more of a practical requirement. Sometimes you only have enough resources (time, money, human) to promote a certain number of ideas, themes, programs, priorities.

Our leadership takes the challenges before us very seriously.    Our staff, Vision Team, Deacons, key committees, all understand the reality of our situation, but they also understand the strength of our fellowship, the potential of our resources, and, as one member is fond of saying, “that God isn’t finished with us yet.”   And so the question becomes:  How can we live out our identity as a progressive missional urban congregation and achieve our potential?  How do we need to adjust?   What needs to change?  What can we let go of, and allow to pass away?  What must we hold on to?  What do we need to celebrate and lean into?  What new things, even after 175 years, is God calling us to be a part of?

I’ll be honest.  I’m something of a creature of comfort.  I don’t like having to adjust, to change.   I gather some of you feel the same way.  But I’m grateful that God’s love and call will not let any of us settle for comfort.  And so I can also say with all honesty, I’m excited about the days ahead, about the new adventures we will take, about new people, ministers and members, that will join us in this journey.  Let’s dare to be flexible and adjust as the Spirit calls us into our future.

Grace, David 

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the August edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Friday, August 1, 2014 | 0 comments
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Vision On the Horizon

As most all of you know, we are in the middle of a vision process.  Our vision team (Emily Callahan, David Hankins, Mike Ward, Linda Marks, Paul Martin, David Richardson, Jennifer Kellett), along with our staff and various committee chairs, has been hard at work behind the scenes.  We are on target to present a vision plan to you in the upcoming fall, but offer you the following report in the meantime.  

We appreciate the participation by the congregation in our Vision Day this spring. We received lots of good information and ideas and are hard at work on exciting plans for the future. This is a challenging period in the life of our church. We are a vibrant congregation and have celebrated successes and milestones recently, including our 175th anniversary this year. Our church is sound financially due to the sacrificial giving of many.  At the same time we are not oblivious to the fact that offerings and attendance have been declining in recent years. The plans we are developing will begin to address challenges and opportunities, as well as emphasize core values that bind us together as a church family.  As the Vision Team continues their work, many of you have asked what you can do to help our church.

Four things every member can do now are…

  1. Pray.  Remember your church every day. Pray for our pastor, our staff and ministries. Pray for our Vision Team. Pray that we will totally depend on God to lead our congregation to make wise decisions that will allow us to minister and worship together as a family of faith for generations to come.
  2. Attend. Your attendance is more important now than ever before. Attending worship is your most visible expression of your love for First Baptist Church.  More of our members in worship enhances our sense of community and improves the worship experience for our congregation and visitors. We ask that you make church attendance a priority. If you attend 35 Sundays a year, would you make an intentional effort to attend 40 Sundays over the next year? If you usually attend about 40 services a year, would you commit to 45? Etc.
  3. Give sacrificially. We are facing key staffing changes. With the departure of Scott and Kim Looney, we are looking at how we will staff key ministry areas for the future. An important component of the decisions will be the finances necessary to attract new ministry talent with skills that complement those of current staff and the needs of our congregation.  A tangible, immediate way to help us plan for the future is to increase your giving now.  Giving involves time as well as money. If you spend an hour a week ministering to fellow church members, would you consider investing two hours? If you give two hours now, would you consider three? We are all ministers. Being intentional in our efforts to minister to each other, our community and our world will make our church stronger.
  4. Invite.  We love First Baptist.  It is special to us.  God comes alive for us in worship, study, community, and service. And we are not unusual.  Others need such a church.  And we need the influx of new talent and ideas energy that others would bring us.  Think of one person, one couple, one family you could invite.   It’s simple math.   If we all brought one person to church, our numbers would double.

As we dare to face the larger challenges before us, let us rise to these simple challenges now.  God is faithful.  God has provided before.  God will provide now and in the future.  So, let us be faithful as well.  God still has important work for us to do as a congregation.  We will not be discouraged.  We will lift each other up, seek God’s will for our church, and be ever open to new possibilities on the horizon.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the July edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Tuesday, July 1, 2014 | 0 comments
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Finding God While Scattering

The Summer Scattering.  That’s what I call it—the diaspora that happens around here, and pretty much every place where summer weather and school vacations make such alternative plans and travel possible.  It’s certainly not a bad thing.  But it does take us out of the regular routines and gatherings and places where we tend to at least think more about God and faith and community and service.   Indeed it may be for that very reason that it is a good thing, for it stretches us to become aware of the Holy in new ways and places—which is more or less the thesis for this article.  I write this to remind you to be alert and open to such possibilities even as you are away from familiar places and routines.

In the Bible it says several times, “Those that have ears, let them hear.”   It never technically says,  “Those that have eyes, let them see.”   But such is clearly implied, as Woody Guthrie would later prove, the two lines work awfully well together in a song.  But the good rhythmic King James here really doesn’t give us a good sense of the meaning of the Greek.   A better translation would be “Those that have ears, listen up!” And in like manner “Those that have eyes, open them!”  It’s a call to be alert to the God that is constantly seeking to comfort, save, call, challenge at all times….even when we are scattered.

So if you are in town this summer, I hope you will continue to gather with us, but if you are scattered, don’t leave God behind….listen up, open up to, as Barbara Brown Taylor would put it, the Altars in the World.

In your journeying, consider the idea of pilgrimage.  What are you leaving?  What is your destination?  How are you getting there?  What does God’s presence mean at every stage of the journey?  What might this trip teach you about your life journey right now, and as a whole?  

In traveling into another place, how is God visible there?  Could there be opportunities not just to be served, but to serve?  How might that add to your experience?  What does living in a space owned/inhabited by others teach us about stewardship and hospitality and how dependent we are on the grace of God and others?

What does the act of relaxation and vacation have to teach us about Sabbath and our need for rest?   What does it have to teach us about our valuable yet not essential place in this world, of how all that we have is not generated, earned, or bought, but comes to us as gift?

What does this scattering have to teach us about Community and the God-in- others?  Whom do we miss?  Whom do we meet?  Whom do we get to know better?  What new lessons do we learn from new communities and people that we can bring back to our church and community here in Memphis?

In short….as you scatter, both near and far….listen up, open up.  God has much to teach you, and us.  And when you’re in town, let’s gather up for each other and for new folks moving into town. Summer is not just the season of scattering, it’s also the season of relocating.  Let’s be here to welcome others and report on how God is moving in our midst even now.

Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the June edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Monday, June 2, 2014 | 0 comments
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Whew! What's Next

  April.  Usually such a sleepy little month…Not this year!

  We began the month with the celebration of our 175th anniversary.  What a great weekend!  Saturday afternoon with all the displays, Sunday morning worship with Sarah Holloway and so many former members joining us, the dinner on the ground (of the Fellowship Hall), Modern Vespers that evening—such a good time of memories, and community and dreaming around the theme of A Foundation…A Future.  

  We continued the month with the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist General Assembly on April 11-13.  We enjoyed a wonderful meal and convocation at Trinity Baptist on Friday night.  The spirit continued on Saturday as we joined our fellow TCBF folk from across the state in service projects throughout Memphis.  And then on Sunday, after our children began Palm Sunday worship morning, we had the privilege of welcoming Dr. Suzii Paynter, Executive Coordinator of CBF to our pulpit for worship.   

  Holy Week followed—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Egg Hunt and Great American Bake Sale, the Flower Cross, Easter Sunrise at Levitt Shell, Easter Worship, and Modern Vespers on Easter evening.   And last weekend, we joined congregations throughout our city in participating in the Mayor’s Faith in Action City Clean-Up on Saturday, followed by an Earth Day emphasis in worship on Sunday, not to mention the River City Band Concert that evening.  

You see what I mean by “Whew!”   Indeed, given this schedule, and the fact that regular meetings and such continued, this may have been the busiest month of my ministerial career, and I would respectfully submit, maybe one of the busiest in the 175 year history of FBC.   But, I’m not complaining.  Are you?  What blessings!  What memories!  What reconnections!  But also…what possibilities!  What opportunities!  What ideas and energy for the future!

Thanks is due to so many: the 175th Anniversary Task Force; Kati Hoffman and Scott Looney who represented us on the TCBF General Assembly planning group; the Missions Committee and their work on the TCBF service day, the Great American Bake Sale, and the Faith In Action Cleanup; the Children’s Committee and Leadership for the Palm Sunday processional and the Easter Egg Hunt; our Flower Cross leaders; and, of course, our amazing ministerial and support staff.  I’m sure I left off someone.  Do forgive me.  

But most of all I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity to simply have been a part of God’s good work in and through FBC this past month, as well as the one to come.   So , in the words of Dag Hammarskjold, “For all that has been—Thanks. For all that will be—Yes!”

Grace,   David 

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the May edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Thursday, May 1, 2014 | 0 comments
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Connecting the Dots

Wow!  Its here! What’s here?  April.  April is here.  It always seemed like a rather humble, unassuming month.  But not here.  Not at FBC this year.   It is loud and proud and chock full.  We have many wonderful opportunities for all of us to be present to God, to one another, to our community, and to ourselves.  Indeed, it would be easy to get lost in the shuffle if not execution of all of it.  

First of all, it is Lent, and Holy Week will be the second full week of this month, with Easter being April 20.  But before that we have our 175th Anniversary on Sunday April 6, with a grand homecoming and dinner on the grounds.  And then on April 11-12 we will join Trinity Baptist and Second Baptist in hosting the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Assembly here in Memphis, culminating in Dr. Suzii Paynter, Executive Coordinator of CBF, preaching at FBC on April 13.   Whew!  I’m tired already.  But each of these has something to teach us, by themselves, and as they stand beside one another.    

The themes are rich.  In Lent and Easter we have the themes of sacrifice and resurrection and new life.  In the TCBF assembly we have themes of community and missions.  In our anniversary, there are themes of faithfulness, foundation, and future.   What might we learn by connecting the dots?  Here are some thoughts/questions for reflection that have occurred to me.

How many sacrificed over and over again to give FBC these 175 years?   What types of sacrifice are required of us now as we lean into the future?

Jesus was not/is not a stagnant entity.  He grew and changed and adapted over time.  We see this clearly in his death and resurrection and ascension.  How do the challenges of today require us to change and adapt?  What do we need to let die, so that something else might be born?  What is God seeking to bring to life within us and through us even now?

Jesus did not operate alone.  He did what he did in community.  He came to create a community.  That being said, it was not a large community, and yet through that relatively small band of disciples, he changed the world.   Our main state and national affiliation is the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  It is much smaller than the SBC.  What challenges are here?  What opportunities are here?  How can we work together and with other Christians as well as people of other faiths to have a maximum missional impact on our community and world?

We, as a church are also smaller than we once were, and thus our vision has changed over the years.  What opportunities and challenges does this offer us?  How can we maximize our missional impact?  What steps do we need to take, what sacrifices do we need to make, to make possible the next 175 years?   God is faithful.  How are we to be faithful to God, to our heritage, to one another, to our community?

Our faith teaches us that God is everywhere, and that God can use anything and everything to teach us and lead us and guide us and shape us.   We have a full and active month ahead of us, but let us not allow it merely to be busy, but rather rich as well.   Let us drink deeply from these wells.  Let us attend to what each moment has to teach us.  May we listen closely.   May we follow eagerly.  And so may we honor our Foundation by leaning into our Future.

Grace, David 

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the April edition of Together.

Posted by Bridget Ellis at Wednesday, April 2, 2014 | 0 comments
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A Future for a Foundation

What do you buy someone or something for their 175th birthday?  It’s a tough one, isn’t it?  I mean especially when that someone already has their own gym, bowling alley, racquetball court, commercial kitchen, organ, bell tower, etc.  Talk about having it all!

Well, we’re talking about a church here, of course, not a person.  Still, it’s our church, it’s our entity, it’s an institution we love and cherish and value, and so no ordinary gift will do.  It needs to be special.  

Well, I’m not the best gift giver in the world.  I’ve had a few duds of my own over the years.  But if I’ve learned anything about gifts, it is that the best gifts are gifts of oneself—one’s time, energy, thoughtfulness.   Even if the gift is a simple item, it needs to be one that shows that thought, intent, and effort went into its procurement.

Maybe that could be a starting place for us as we think of what we might offer this beloved church that turns 175 this year.  At the end of the day, the best gift we could offer our church is an investment of ourselves into the mission that brought FBC into being in the first place—a commitment of our time, talents, and resources—intentionally, thoughtfully, freely offered.  In short the best gift we could give this grand foundation of a church, is our investment in its future.  Others “paid it forward” so that we might be here today.  We can do the same for future generations.

One image that might be helpful to us here is one that I learned from the noted church historian, Dr. Martin Marty.   Dr. Marty once said that it is of utmost importance how we handle our heritage.  He said one way was to dismiss it.  We can say this is a new day that requires new ideas, so the sooner we get rid of the old and make way for the new, the better.  Such a vision, says Marty, is almost always nearsighted.  “What is” was created to meet the needs of people far more like us than not.  Thus a strategy of dismissal almost always ends in regret.  

On the other side of the spectrum is nostalgia, that deification of what was and the ways we used to do them that fails to take into that change is necessary.  Splitting the horns of this dilemma, Marty suggests a third model: Restoration.  Now while we are familiar with that term from home repair, its true definition, says Marty, is much more obvious and Biblical.  Restoration, means literally to “Re-Store.”   Think of the church as a store.  Over time the shelves of the store become depleted, as people come in and use what they need.  That’s OK, of course, because that’s the purpose of the store, in some sense.  But for the store to remain vibrant, it must be restocked, re-stored, with that which the customer really needs, in packaging that makes it accessible and even attractive.  That will mean, says Marty, that some products will come and go while other “staples” will never go out of style.   For us such staples would include—grace, acceptance, missions, forgiveness, spiritual development, etc.  Even these, however, will need to be repackaged and remarketed from time to time.

Like all metaphors, this one has its limits.  Indeed the only way this one works is if we understand that one of the products that church offers, maybe the main one, is the opportunity to serve, to give back, to give our lives away.  But still, this idea of Restoration has potential for most all churches, especially those 175 years old.

So as we think of the future we seek to shape for this grand foundation of a church, how might we “re-store” its shelves?   What is essential and needs merely to be adapted?  What new elements and approaches might we stock on the shelves?  What part do each of us play in that?  What does this “re-storing” ask of us?  How might we be a part of what God is doing now and “pay it forward,” too?  If we think of it in these terms, it makes all the sense in the world that one of the first ways we will celebrate our anniversary is to spend a morning beginning to think about such questions.  

Vision Day is Sunday, March 23.  On this day, we will gather in the Fellowship Hall at for breakfast to be followed by sharing conversation around the tables.  We will be discussing that which we love and adore about our church, that which brought us to FBC in the first place.  We will be defining our essentials.  And in the process, we also begin to think about new offerings and approaches that might help us capitalize on these strengths.   I trust that you will make every effort to be present.  You can call the church office or make your reservation online

Until then, Grace, David

This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge and originally published in the March edition of Together.
Posted by Bridget Ellis at Saturday, March 1, 2014 | 0 comments
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