May 28, 2014

Dear Centenary family,

A couple of years ago our congregation went through a time when I issued a challenge to write the gospel in seven words.  Here are some of the ideas/submissions that came from the Centenary congregation:
God creates meaning from chaos.
The Lord has promised good to me.
A Song of hope in the silence.
God’s passionate pursuit of his own.
The Kingdom has come – live it out.
God’s Law requirements are superseded by grace.
Love is all you need.
God provides coverage for our pre-existing conditions.
Love God.  Love others.  Love yourself.  Serve.

I want to invite you to a new challenge – writing your spiritual autobiography in six words.   It is a challenge, but it pushes us to look at what we have learned and are learning in our spiritual life.
Let me tell you about one I stumbled across:  “Eat the manna.  More will come.”  To Marilyn McEntyre, this was an expression of her ongoing anxieties about “saving and spending, keeping and letting go, prudent stewardship and the practice of generosity.”  McEntyre writes that her six-word spiritual autobiography reminded her of the way her mother lived – not far from poverty yet “rich in trust and stories about just the right amount of food, money, help showing up just when it was needed.”   Eat the manna.  More will come.
Send your submissions to me at     And yes, I’ll be thinking of my six-word spiritual autobiography too.
Have you checked out the new podcasts?  Talisa Hanson, Philip Elder, and Jerry Elder have been working on this.  Each Sunday’s sermon is now on our website.  To listen to a particular sermon, visit our website at   On the right side of the page, you will find the podcasts under “News”.   If you missed Andrew Legare on May 18 or Eric Mayle on May 25 you now have the opportunity to hear them.  Both are really great sermons! 
This Sunday I will be preaching a sermon about the ascension of Jesus which I titled “Up”.   The children of Centenary are helping us with communion.  They are making the grape juice and baking the bread.   Hope you will plan to be present for worship.

Manna and Mercy,
Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love others.  Love yourself.  Serve.

May 7, 2014

Dear Centenary family,

Let’s talk about guns.  I realize that it can be a polarizing topic in today’s culture.  The reason this is on my mind is because of the recent Georgia law that was passed by the Georgia legislature and signed by Governor Deal.  The law is called the “guns everywhere” bill.  The law creates a situation where even churches now have the right to invite licensed gun owners to bring their weapons to church. They are also allowed (and even welcomed) in bars, government buildings except where entry is typically screened, school safety zones, school functions, and school-provided transportation.  Firearms dealers no longer need to maintain records of sales and purchases for state purposes.  Banning or restricting lawful firearm possession in public housing is now illegal.  Gun shows cannot be regulated.  There is no fingerprinting requirement for license renewal.  No one is allowed to maintain a database of information on license holders across jurisdictions.

So, let’s look at this from a faith perspective.  I am a red-letter Christian.  Let me rephrase that – I am a red-letter follower of Jesus.  (The word “Christian” has been so abused and misunderstood that it is hard for me to align myself with some of the basic assumptions that culture has of Christians.  We Christians can be and are our own worst enemies.)  I want my life to be molded by Jesus.  I readily confess that I am not a biblical literalist, nor do I aspire to be one.  The Bible was not written to be taken literally because literalism diminishes and obstructs truth.   But one does not have to be a literalist to take the Bible VERY seriously. 

Biblical faithfulness, for me, means that how Jesus lines up on issues is of great importance.  I seek to use Jesus as my plumb line.  As a follower of Jesus, I want to stand outside of solely political debates.  (Not that Jesus did that all the time.  He, on occasion, mixed it up with political and religious opposition.  At points, there was even a touch of sarcasm directed toward the elite in some of his responses.)  Generally, however, gospel trumps politics

And one final chord in this prelude/preface– I’m not willing to demonize members of the NRA or people who enjoy shooting.  In the past I’ve owned guns and hunted.   I don’t hunt now, but I enjoy fishing on occasion.  Pulling a fish out of the water and cleaning the fish is no different from shooting a bird or a deer, etc.  There is little doubt in my mind that Jesus ate things people had hunted or raised and there is no doubt that he ate fish.  He even cooked fish over a campfire after he was resurrected.  (I guess even resurrected bodies get hungry?)   Without a doubt, Jesus was not a vegetarian.

But will you agree with me that the rhetoric on this gun control conversation is beyond the pale?  Is there any point at which we can find a common lens through which to look or a common language so as to understand each other? 

A couple of things strike me about our state and national conversation:
  1. Can we really imagine Jesus with a loaded handgun under his pillow or a concealed weapons permit?  As a red-letter follower of Jesus, I think that one can own a gun for
    1.  Sport.  Target shooting, skeet shooting, etc. are legitimate sports, in my opinion.
    2. Hunting (for those who choose to hunt their game rather than buy it at a supermarket). 
    3. Protection from predator-animals.  Predator-animals in the New Testament do not include humans.
  2. The Second Amendment is not the lost ending of the Gospel of Mark.  We can argue all day long about the intent and interpretation of the Second Amendment.  I won’t go there.  However, if you believe that gun ownership is a “right” to be defended as if it is holy writ, then show me specifically how you draw that conclusion from the document that takes precedence over the Constitution – the red-letter words of Jesus in the Bible.   You see, I think evangelicals have missed a huge opportunity in this debate to talk about biblical faithfulness.  One can’t argue that Jesus’ day was different from our own.  He certainly talked about violence and how to deal with it.  If you believe that the U.S. government is over-reaching and threatening, then look closely at Jesus’ culture.  He lived in that exact type of culture!  Rome was in control and out of control.  Jesus was in the middle of it all to the point where he was physically threatened on several occasions.  He confronted “empire”.  In the middle of it all He consistently chose a different way, turning from any hint of a violent solution or resolution.  True?  The Zealots even wanted Jesus, as the Messiah, to lead an armed revolution against Rome.  Jesus refused. 
This is what is missing for me in all the arguments:  Where is the gospel?  There is no equivocation from Jesus on calling his followers to non-violence.    Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela understood that ultimately non-violence is more powerful than violence.  From where did their movements come?  Jesus.

Guns are reality, just as spears and bows and arrows were the reality of Jesus’ day.  There is one instance that I recall where it is clear that Peter was carrying a concealed weapon (or maybe it wasn’t so concealed).  It happened in the Garden.  Jesus’ life was under threat.  (And by association the disciples were under the same threat.)  When the combined forces of government and church (religious) came to arrest him, Peter cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest .  It is particularly interesting that this story is in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) as well as the gospel of John.  The gospels disagree many times over incidences, omissions, significant chronological differences, etc., but on this matter they are of one voice, speaking out of different traditions.  In Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus criticizes the violent act.  Matthew adds the phrase, “those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.”  It is clear that Jesus turns his back on a robust defense, just as he did throughout his life.   He quickly does a miracle ear reattachment as if to say, “That was pretty stupid, Peter!” 

Anne Lamott writes that the difference between us and God is that God does not think He is us.  So, I want to state clearly that I am not Jesus.  But I am a follower.  Many days I spend part of the day on the streets of Macon with some of my friends.  They are gang members, homeless people, drug addicts, alcoholics, and mentally ill persons.  Many of them are carrying weapons – knives, razors, and handguns.  Sometimes I talk with them about that.  They carry the weapon for the same reasons some of us carry a weapon.  Fear.  Defense.  Power.  They are afraid of us and we are afraid of them.  So, what is the solution?  The solution lies not in increasing arms, but in laying down, or at least curtailing what we have – even if we are harmed – even if we die.  The person who does that is the one with the power – so says Jesus.

Following Jesus is, in my estimation, the best gun control ever.

P.S. The Dream Team of Centenary Church met for a planning retreat on Saturday, May 3.  These 25 leaders of Centenary decided that they believed that Centenary should be a gun-free and weapons-free zone.  So, in the future our bulletin will carry a “No Guns” logos, at the initiative of the Dream Team.  +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Cinco de Mayo on Siete de Mayo.  Come tonight (Wednesday) at 6 pm for a celebration hosted by Nueva Vida.  Not to be missed!
Sunday is Mothers’ Day.  Hope you will be present as we worship.  My sermon this Sunday is the best-known and much-loved Psalm 23.  See you in worship!

Manna and Mercy,
Tim Bagwell
Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.  



May 14, 2014

Dear Centenary family,

Do you remember this wonderful story from Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain?  Huck is told by his Sunday School teacher that if he helps a runaway slave (whose name was Jim), he will go to hell.  (That position was orthodoxy for the church in the South at a certain time in history.)  Huck defies his Sunday School teacher by befriending Jim.   Later in the novel as he reflects on the Sunday School teacher’s warning that he was hell-bound if he helped Jim, Huck says:  “All right… then I will go to hell.”  Could it be that Huck, in developing a friendship with Jim, was closer to heaven than the Sunday School teacher?  

Huck Finn would have loved Jesus, if his Sunday School teacher had presented the real Jesus!  Jesus constantly had questions about organized religion.  He saved some of his best “zingers” for the professional clergy of his day.  Consider the fact that Jesus ignored many religious purity laws.  He developed relationships with those who were on the fringes.  He loved a good party with sinners more than he enjoyed hanging out with religious professionals.  Faith, for Jesus, was not limited by ideology and orthodoxy.  His encounter with the Other was alive, vibrant, challenging, sometimes uneven, but very real.  Jesus danced with God.  Jesus invited and encouraged others to dance with God. 

So, what did the church through the centuries do with this Jesus?  The church took this unorthodox, dancing  Jesus and made him orthodox.  Creeds and ideologies sprang up all over the place.  The Jesus who challenged the rules was transformed into the one who was the focus of the rules.  That which was intended to be movement, Spirit, dynamic, dancing, and relationship became rules and creeds.  The creeds then became ways to determine who was “in” and who was “out” because creeds defined “correct belief.”  Correct belief was orthodoxy and orthodoxy was determined by whoever was in power at a given time.   The Jesus who questioned and rejected orthodoxy and rules became the object of orthodoxy and rules.  Ironic, isn’t it?

Does your heart want to dance with God?  The regimented dance steps and the dance orthodoxy of Arthur Murray’s Dance Studio don’t work well on God’s dance floor.  Loosen up… Rumba, Polka, the two step, Tango, a waltz step, the twist, a bit of improvisation…even a little head banging might work… Sway back and forth… Will someone teach us how to do the Charleston?  How about some Saturday Night Fever disco?...  Maybe the Bunny Hop?  Occasionally we might even break into a line dance!  Can you feel the rhythm?  Get up!  Jesus is in the house!  Let’s dance with God.  You might even meet a Huck Finn or two.


Men’s Breakfast – Saturday, 8:30 a.m. at Jerry and Phyllis Elder’s farm.

I look forward to worship at Centenary this Sunday!  Several months ago, I askedAndrew Legare, a member of Centenary, if he would consider sharing his story in worship.  After thinking about it, he agreed.  Andrew’s story, full of twists and turns, is the ultimate picture of grace, redemption, and hope.  Andrew was in prison for many years on death row.  Not many people get a chance to walk toward freedom from death row.  Andrew became a powerful symbol of hope in one of the bleakest places on the face of the earth – Death Row at Jackson Prison.  Don’t miss worship this Sunday.   Andrew’s witness is titled“Keep Hope Alive”.  See you Sunday. 

Manna and Mercy.
Tim Bagwell

Love God.  Love Others.  Love Yourself.  Serve.