First Sunday

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Greetings on a beautiful Spring day in Downtown Memphis!  If you have worshiped with us in the last few weeks, you may have noticed a little bit of a trend in the New Testament scripture I have been preaching from. It's been the same scripture passage for a few weeks. I promise I have not run out of ideas or options for scriptures to preach from. I have chosen to spend a few weeks on Matthew 28:16-20 for a very important reason. 

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

After Jesus rose from the dead and before he ascended into Heaven, Jesus made one thing very clear to the disciples. He made sure they knew they would be the primary vessels he would use to build his Church and continue what he began. They would be the messengers of the Gospel to all of those who did not yet know. They would be the community that he would choose to love and embrace his children with. They would be the one's through which he would glorify himself and make himself known to the entire world.  
Jesus made sure the disciples knew that as they had decided to become followers of Jesus they would also be called to go boldly into their homes, their neighborhoods, their workplaces, their culture, and even far beyond to make other disciples of Jesus. Jesus chose to use people like you and me to be his primary means of ushering in his Kingdom.  
While we have all too often in the church become so focused on raising up organizations and institutions we have easily forgotten our primary role and responsibility as followers of Jesus is a relational one. The First Sunday we will be worshiping in our new sanctuary will be August the 5th.  
We have decided our first "official" gathering in the sanctuary be our community worshipping together as we do each Sunday. Worshiping God is the conerstone of all we do. We will be gathering to not only offer thanks to God for bringing us to this wonderful day, but also responding to His call upon all of us to go outside of our community to make disciples.  
It is my prayer we will move more and more from a church who hopes people will attend our events to a community who increasingly engages people not connected to a Christian community and invites them to become apart of all God is doing in and through each of us. 

Grace and Peace,

Andy

 

He is Risen! Let's Go!

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Greetings from the post-Easter haze that covers many of us who put so much into last weeks wonderful and impactful worship and celebration of all God has done for us through Jesus and continues to do today! Unfortunately, there is a tendency in the life of churches to drop off a little and begin losing momentum after Easter going into the Summer. In fact, the Sunday after Easter tends to be one of the lowest attended Sunday's of the year. I believe us preachers are very much to blame for this "coasting" after Easter. I suspect the Sunday after Easter has the greatest number of guest preachers in pulpits than any other Sunday of the year.
This Sunday (April 9th) I preached on the last passage in Matthew following the Resurrection account. In this passage disciples have just been through some very tumultuous days emotionally and physically to say the least. They went from watching their friend and Lord being paraded through the streets and crucified on a cross to discovering an empty tomb then finally coming face to feet with Jesus after He rose from the dead. I suspect they were exhausted in every way possible. After all of this, Jesus gathered them in Galilee and let them know clearly that Easter was not the end it was the beginning of God's plan to make known to all the world that reconciliation with God through Jesus was now possible as well as true reconciliation with each other. Not only that, Jesus let them know He would be doing this through them.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...

Whether it be because of a busy Easter week, the rebuilding of our sanctuary, or the personal events and circumstances of our own lives; I'm sure the thought of moving forward boldly as a congregation to reach more people from downtown and beyond makes you as tired thinking about as it does me. I notice that Jesus as this point doesn't have tell his disciples how they are going to do these things. Honestly while I have some ideas, I don't know how Jesus is going to use us to reach people close to us who don't know Him. Jesus does tell them the most important thing,

Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

If you are at a point where you feel like you need to pull back and let others fullfil the mission of Jesus in your place, hear the words of Jesus sending his disciples into the world. I can promise you even though the mission Jesus is sending us on can be exhausting and unpredictable, it will be life giving and exciting because it is the best way for us to experience the power of the Risen Christ in us!

Grace and Peace,

Andy

Where are we now?

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Greetings from your outpost of dynamic and Christ centered ministry each and everyday in Downtown Memphis!  I am absolutely amazed at how much has taken place in the last year at First Church.  The most visible event is obviously the building of the new sanctuary.  As I have said so many times before, this sanctuary is just the beginning of what I believe is an incredible new chapter in the life of First Church.  As we are able to expand our capacity to reach others in worship, we will be able to expand the impact the people of First Church will have for God’s Kingdom.  

Where are we now in the sanctuary building process? 

As you know a little less than a year ago we signed a contract with Chris Woods Construction to begin construction of the exterior of the sanctuary based on the amount of money we had on hand and add the interior portions of the sanctuary as money was raised.  At this point we needed to raise over 2 million dollars to be able to complete the sanctuary.  As construction was starting, we had a series of vision banquets leading up to a Sunday of celebration as our congregation pledged to give just over $400,000 towards the building of the sanctuary over three years.  As of today, we have already received about half the money pledged and we are still in our first year of giving!

In September we received another $500,000 from Mrs. Hamilton getting us very close to having enough funds to at least get us a certificate of occupancy and be able to worship in an unfurnished and very much bare building.  After a lot of hard work from our fund raising committee, we received another gift of $500,000 from Robert and Carolyn Rogers as well as other generous gifts allowing us to add a significant portion of the sanctuary interior to our contract as well as meet the very basics of our audio needs.  We need to raise approximately $500 - $700,000 more for furnishings, complete Audio and Video, and installation of the Whitehaven organ.   

Every step along the way, there have been significant challenges and even times where we have wondered how in the world we would be able to complete this huge project.  This a few Sunday’s ago I preached on the story of Jesus inviting Peter to join him as he walked on the water.  Peter did great walking on water until he began to question his ability to walk on water.  Of course he couldn’t walk on water!  At least, not on his own power.  We learn through Peter that Jesus always provides whatever we need to do what he has called us to do!  Plus, Jesus is even there to pick us up and put on back on our feet after we lose faith and fall!  

Let us make sure we keep our eyes on Jesus at this critical time in the life of First Church.  If we do, we will not only see a new building erected at the corner of 2nd St and Poplar,  we will see a sanctuary filled with people experiencing the presence of God and going out each week to reach our City for Christ!

Grace and Peace

Andy Rambo, Pastor

Why I'm Excited About the Steeple

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The month of January has been really exciting here at the corner of Second and Poplar.  The really big equipment came rolling in and the steeple on the new sanctuary was put together piece by piece and set amongst the skyline of Downtown Memphis.  I have found my self particularly excited by this feat of architectural, engineering, and construction efforts.  I also was surprised by the overwhelming sense of joy I have felt seeing the steeple installed.  So, I’ve decided to reflect here about why I have been so excited about this steeple.

1. It’s really cool to watch!  Nothing brings our my inner kid more than big machinery picking up heavy objects and placing them in high places.  I have honestly not gotten a whole lot done in the office this week.  I have chosen to offer my “Pastoral Supervision” to the steeple project outside much of the week.  I’m sure the people with Chris Woods Construction were really happy about that.

2. It is a unique architectural mark of churches.  The city scape of Downtown Memphis is full of so many beautiful and grandiose architectural buildings and structures.  In fact directly after the steeple was placed, I rode the elevator to the top of the Pyramid to see how it looks in the midst of downtown. It is unmistakable now that in the middle of all the buildings at the corner of Second and Poplar that a community of people are worshiping and serving our Creator and Lord!  I pray it will become a unique beacon drawing people to come and join us as we fulfill our calling as disciples of Jesus.

  3. It reminds us the cross is to be lifted high.   As you stand on the sidewalk in front and look up to the steeple, all the lines and angles guide your eyes upward to the cross and then towards the heavens.  We should be reminded that our calling is the same as that of the steeple.  In a simple way this tells the simple message of the gospel.  We all stand together beneath the cross that was lifted high holding our savior as He died for our sins.  Because of the victory of His resurrection, we have access to the dwelling place of our Father in the heavens.  Like the cross on the steeple, our lives and faith should guide people’s vision beyond the ordinary, upwards to the cross, and then to the dwelling place of God.

4. It shows we are committed to ministry in Downtown Memphis.   God is blessing us with something that is extremely unique for a downtown church in any city.  There just aren’t many new steeples being erected in the skyline of any downtown city anymore.  As we build this sanctuary and people see this steeple from the Memphis bridge, I hope they see clearly we believe in what God is doing in Downtown Memphis and we are committed to serving Him here for many more generations to come.

5. It reminds us that God is a God of Resurrection. The life of a church and the lives of individuals are such that there are many times where circumstances bring us to points where it seems defeat is imminent.  It would have been easy for the people of First Church to feel defeated on October 6th, 2006 when the old steeple fell in the fire.  I expect many outsiders were confident that would be the death knell of this historic church.  It has taken many years but we are now beginning to see the visible fruits of a resurrection of ministry and mission at First Church.  I truly believe there is no more strategic location in the city of Memphis for a dynamic future of mission and ministry.  

While it is exciting to see God is guiding us through this process of rebuilding the Sanctuary, I am confident that the future of ministry at First Church depends on what happens once we open.  Will we sit back and hope this new sanctuary draws in people to worship with us or will we take this opportunity to reach out to our neighbors, our co-workers, and anyone God has connected us with to invite them to come and become a part of our community?  Will we be willing to let go of some of our preferences of “how we do things” to make our community more inviting and relevant to a new generation of people seeking a worshiping community? Will we be more excited about what God is doing and will do at First Church than what He has done over all these years? One thing I am confident of is that if we continue to be faithful to the leading of God, the future of First Church is full of hope and promise.

Grace and Peace, 

Andy, Senior Pastor

Christmas Lights

Greetings from the heart of Downtown Memphis which is beginning to look a bit like Christmas!
Unbelievably we are now pretty much fully in the Christmas season. In fact, this Sunday is the first Sunday we will celebrate Advent in our worship service.
I love the Christmas season for so many reasons. One of those reasons is there is so much imagery and symbolism in our celebration that it makes it much easier to prepare a sermon series. This year we will be focusing on one particular image we find all throughout the Bible, especially in John’s Gospel. We are going to focus on Light. The series will is entitled “Christmas Lights”. I actually had mixed emotions about naming the series, “Christmas Lights”. I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas lights as do many of you, I’m sure. I can remember as a child how much fun it was to get in the car as a family and go out searching for the houses with the best light display and beg my dad to take us to the big house that even had music. When I finally had my own house and family, I was excited about being able to begin our traditions of lighting the house and our own tree. Well, that is where the hate part of my relationship with Christmas lights came in. After many years of lighting our Christmas tree and our home, I now fully understand why there are so many homes that have almost no lights at all. Putting up Christmas lights is hard and unbelievably frustrating!!! In fact, I insist on being the only one in the room when I am putting the lights on the tree. I would rather there not be a record of what I might say or do in the process.
The Gospel writer, John, tells us Jesus (the True Light) broke into the darkness of our World and our lives to draw us to himself and provide us not just life direction, but Life itself. This True Light is absolutely beautiful and stirs up within us desires to draw near and experience it’s warmth and glow. The scriptures even tell us clearly that when Jesus came as the Light of the World, he also invites us to become children of the light and inherit his mission of spreading this light everywhere we can. This work of becoming Christmas Lights while being the most satisfying and joy producing mission in our lives is also often times difficult and frustrating. So often, we try and become light and shine light all on our own as if we were the source. When we do, we find our light fading and we just begin to try and survive our days in the midst of darkness.
Here’s the good news!! We are never called to produce the light necessary to bring light and life to others. Actually, any attempts we make on our own to produce the light we need always fall short and end up as counterfeit lights leading us nowhere. We are called to daily draw closer and closer to the True Light, Jesus. Allowing him to break through our own darkness and transform us so we may be able to reflect his light to those around us. That is one of the primary messages of Christmas. Embrace Jesus and let him pierce the darkness of your life as scary as that may be. He will in turn make you a beautiful Christmas Light pointing everyone around to the source of life, Jesus.

Grace and Peace,

Andy

We have Windows!

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Greetings from First United Methodist Church the downtown church that now has some windows in it’s new Sanctuary!! 

I really never thought I would be excited about coming to work and seeing windows installed but I really was excited Monday when I noticed the crew was putting in the first pane of glass in the top windows.  For some reason, that made the reality of the new sanctuary real for me this week.  It is so exciting to see the visible and tangible progress of what God is building up here at First Church.

God is teaching me a lot in this sanctuary building project.  Last January we as a congregation made a decision to move forward with the sanctuary project knowing we only had enough money on-hand to complete the outer shell.  I was clear to me God was leading us to move forward with the resources He had already provided without making it clear how He would provide what we needed to complete the sanctuary.  Along this journey, my faith has been tested quite a few times.  I have at times succumbed to the fear that we would only be able to finish the outer shell and have to stop construction once again with an nicer but still unusable structure on the corner.  Even with a great consultant and a great team of volunteers, the prospect of raising another 2+ million dollars has caused me to worry.  

This experience parallel so many other experiences of faith in my life big and small.  God continually calls us into waters that are too deep for us to navigate on our own.  When we stop in the midst of our journeys and begin to assess our circumstances based on our own wisdom, abilities, and resources; our natural response is fear.  Fear is not, however, the opposite of faith.  Fear should be a holy cue for us to lean further into God and move forward with faith and courage in the midst of fear.  

Since January it has been so exciting to see the many ways God is getting us closer to being able to complete the sanctuary and begin building up our worshipping community in our new space.  Last May, each of you increased your financial sacrifice to God’s mission and ministry at First Church by pledging and giving almost $500,000 towards the sanctuary.  Just a few months ago we were blessed by a another gift of $500,000 from Barbara Hamilton.  These gifts and pledges have put us across a threshold of being able to at least occupy the sanctuary space, most likely by February 2018.  It would still be sparse and we would use chairs we already own but we know we can still worship in there.

We have 1.2 million dollars left to raise to be able to complete the sanctuary and be fully able to open our doors to the community ready to move to our next challenge of bringing in the many people in downtown Memphis who are not currently connected to a christian community.  We are presently working hard at trying to identify people in our community God may be leading to help us complete the sanctuary.  While I again don’t know where and how God is going to provide, I am confident He is going to lead each step of the way.  

As we stand in this exciting place in the life of First Church, I challenge you to pray God will make clear our steps towards completing the sanctuary and prepare us to hit the ground running on our mission to reach the downtown community when it opens.  

Grace and Peace,

Andy Rambo, Senior Pastor

Charlottesvile ....

Charlottesvile ....

Greetings,

It wasn’t until late Saturday night I began to hear about the horrible events that took place in Charlottesville.  I was a little more “unplugged” from the outside world than usual.  I looked at my twitter feed that night and began to discern some of the events of the day by people’s reactions on Twitter.