Shine Like Stars
Shine Like Stars
The greatest runner of all time may have been Emil Zatopek. He won gold medals in the 5,000 meter, 10,000 meter, and the marathon in the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. All three were Olympic records. That trifecta has never been matched. When comparing himself to athletes who ran only the mile, he said, “If you want to run, run a mile; if you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.”
I was always a miler until I came to New Orleans. Now I have run a marathon, and it has changed my life.
Some of you could tell this story better than I, you have heard it so many times. But I want to tell it again anyway, and then talk with you about what it means to me, and how I see it working out through these 20 years.
I could see Orion’s Belt suspended above the peaks of the Franklin Mountains when I looked out my bedroom window. I studied that constellation for years and still find comfort when I find it in the night sky.
The wide-open spaces of the Great American desert—and those bright stars flung so far out into space—shaped my perception of the world and my place in it.
I enjoyed star-gazing as the pastor of FBC Temple, Texas. Our home just five miles outside the city limits sat on the high point of 41 acres of rich black land. No artificial lights obscured the stars.
On an exploratory trip to New Orleans I searched the night sky from a hotel balcony, looking for stars and finding none. Then my eyes fell to the twinkling lights of the city that stretched from the base of our hotel out in all directions as far as I could see. And God said to me, “These are your stars now. I want you to come to New Orleans and help my people shine like stars.”
Twenty years later I still love the stars. I also love this city and, especially, the people who live here.
Here is how we shine like stars in the universe: we are going to continue to love God and love our neighbor.
I was introduced to the phrase ‘continuum of care’ as a part of our compassion ministry. The idea in the phrase is that different people and organizations are providing different pieces of the puzzle for those in need. If you have the information about who is doing what, you can provide your piece and then refer your clients to others who will help with their next steps. We are part of a continuum of care as we do the Care Effect.
In the continuum of care which is First Baptist New Orleans we are approaching 175 years. In fact, the 175th anniversary of our church is in 2018, the same year that our city will celebrate its 300th birthday. I want our Heritage Team to begin to plan that celebration.
- The facilities of First Baptist New Orleans were used as a hospital during the Civil War.
- Our church family has met in six different facilities, at least, during the course of our long ministry in this city.
Care for One Another, and we will shine like stars.
Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” - John 13:35
The apostle Peter said that we were to “love each other deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). Peter is using a modifier to describe agape. It is the word for “without ceasing, intense, earnest.” I want us to think together about how we can deepen our love for one another in the coming days and weeks and years.
There is a doctrine of one another. It concerns the behavior internally in the church of Jesus Christ. It is about how we love each other. We are to love one another as Jesus has loved us.
- “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you” - John 13:34.
This congregation has always been distinguished by its care and concern for one another. The long and lasting friendships that are birthed here year after year are a testament to that truth.
- The second pastor of this church loved his church. He refused to leave the city during a plague that was killing thousands. His place was here, he said. He contracted the deadly yellow fever and died at his post.
We cannot shine like stars in our world unless and until we love each other deeply, as we are commanded. This means mutual sacrifice, mutual submission, and mutual support one for another.
I am calling us this morning to a renewed care and concern for one another. This requires both a structure within the body to accomplish this and a spirit among the members to do this.
I want you to think about giving our Tithes and Offerings as part of caring for one another. “See that you also excel in this grace of giving” - 2 Corinthians 8:7.
- Let your giving follow the teaching of Jesus. He told the Pharisees—and all of us—to practice justice and love, but not to neglect the tithe.
- Let your giving follow your hands and your feet. You are deeply involved in the work of Christ through First Baptist New Orleans. Invest also through your finances. See this as your House of Worship, the Storehouse that is mentioned by the prophet Malachi. And bring the whole tithe into the Storehouse.
- Let your giving follow your eyes and your ears. You are fully aware of this ministry. You know what we do. Giving close to home is an investment in local Christian work.
Care for Our Neighbor, and we will shine like stars.
A reporter asked me about the witness to our culture. My response: until we renew our love of neighbors we will not renew our witness.
“Who is my neighbor?” the expert asked.
- He may be someone who is near you who needs help.
- He may be distant from you in race, class, or culture.
In the census of 1810 New Orleans had a population of 24,556. The city was 13% white people of Anglo-Saxon descent. The vast majority of the people who lived here were people of color. When Andrew Jackson gave commands to his troops, his words had to be translated into Spanish, French, and Creole.
- This is increasingly the situation for all our communities in these United States. Therefore, we who understand how to know and love our many diverse neighbors can model this love for all those churches who are finding themselves surrounded by neighbors to love, but neighbors different from them.
How do I love my neighbor? I address his need. That is clear in the story of the Good Samaritan.
How do I love my neighbor? I present the gospel. “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony (marturias); and they loved not their lives unto the death” - Revelation 12:11.
- The testimony of which we speak is one delivered both by words and deeds. So we are not saying that love of neighbor is not a testimony. It is. But in order for it to be understood as such, we must use words. Our words are the light that illuminates the activity of God and the power of the Savior.
- The “him” in this verse is “the accuser of our brethren” who “accused them before our God day and night.” You may wonder what the accusation is. All you have to do is think about your own shortcomings, how you feel about your life in Christ, and you will hear the Enemy accusing you of all kinds of things.
- We must hardwire the words of the Gospel with the deeds of the Gospel so that we are known, as Jesus was, both for mighty words and mighty deeds.
The study we just completed about the woman at the well is a great one to revisit with this question in mind: How can I do a better job of sharing my faith with those around me?
Care For Outsiders, and We Will Shine Like Stars.
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity” - Colossians 4:5.
When we talk about outsiders, we are using the language that was used by Paul. They are people who are “outside the doors.”
- Many of ministries reach out to people beyond the doors.
We do not want to be just a blur. We want to be a brilliant point of light in our city. We want that light to be focused and clear so that all may see and understand the Savior’s love.
Nothing so distinguishes the church of Jesus Christ and the followers of Jesus as love for outsiders. It is a profound and amazing command that Christ gives us. And it is counter-intuitive in all human communities. We care for our own, and we are suspicious of others. That is how we are all wired, and it is how we gravitate unless we allow the love of Christ to change us.
Who are these outsiders?
- They are strangers that we do not know.
- They are unbelievers whom we seek to love.
- They are enemies that are hostile to the gospel.
The Holy Spirit is a dynamic presence in our lives, helping us shape our work together for the greatest outcome.