The Blog of
John Michael Helms
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Jefferson

What Grace is About

What Grace Is About This year marks my thirtieth year of fulltime pastoral ministry. In 1988 I served my first year of fulltime ministry with Dr. Hugh Kirby as the Minister of Youth at First Baptist Church in Hartwell, Georgia. However, my ministry started long before then.   I began preparing and preaching sermons at the age of 18. I came from a tradition where people believed that when God calls you to preach, you should be given a chance–the sooner the better.  Various churches started calling asking me to preach. I filled in for one church for a month until they found a new pastor. Then another small country church with about 40 people in attendance asked me to come preach at their church. Word about my “calling” had reached their church through a member that was a beautician in town.   Beauticians are not omniscient, but they know most things that happen in a small town. She happened to the matriarch of the church. Her son later called and asked me to come preach a sermon. After that, I kept going, morning and evening for two years until I left the area to attend college at Samford University at the beginning of my junior year. During this time, I was dating Tina, whom I eventually married. Most Sundays she attended church with me.   She supported my commitment to follow God’s calling on my life. This created a strong bond that allowed our relationship to grow. This gave me assurance that she was the person God meant for me to marry. Our marriage began with an unwavering commitment to serve... read more

The Lessons The Broccoli Tree Have for Easter

Easter Sunrise Service One spring day a photographer living near the Southern shore of Lake Vattern, Sweden took a picture of a tree and posted it on Instagram because he thought it looked like a stalk of broccoli sticking up out of the ground.   Forty-three people hit “like” on the photographer’s Instagram post. Over the next several months, the photographer began uploading more pictures of the tree and life that took place around the tree in the park. Nearly a year after he took the first photo, the tree had its own Instagram and was being photographed through the seasons showing all kinds of life of the Swedish people.  The audience grew into the thousands. The photographer staged an exhibition of his photos of the Broccoli Tree at the Broccoli Tree. A Broccoli Tree calendar was published and was well received.  People all over the world began to purchase Broccoli Tree prints for their homes. Three years after the first Instagram post, a tree that most people just ignored was now famous.  People who went to Sweden went to this park just to photograph the Broccoli Tree. It could easily be found on Google maps.  Its Instagram followers grew to nearly 30,000. The Broccoli Tree became the Internet’s single most famous tree… until last September when someone or multiple people entered the park and sawed the tree down. The next Instagram post made by the photographer contained these sad but true words: “You cannot unsaw a tree.” https://www.wimp.com/the–broccoli–tree-a-parable/ Today we live in a world where we have become afraid to share what is good, beautiful, and pure for fear that some person with evil intentions... read more

This Is How People Know You Are a Disciple

For most of us, the thought of washing someone’s feet is repulsive unless it is someone we know really, really well and even then we are not very willing. A few years ago, I served as the camp pastor at a youth camp at Ricks Institute, which is sixteen miles outside Monrovia, Liberia.  We ended our time together with a foot washing.   My son John and one of the camp counselors helped me wash the feet of the campers and the leaders. It didn’t take long before the clean well water turned the color of chocolate from the dust everyone collected from walking the dirt trails on the campus.  Most of the students and the campers wore sandals or flip-flops. It reminded me of the dirty job Jesus had washing the disciples’ feet in the Upper Room the night he was betrayed.  He assumed the role of a servant who typically did that foot washing task as people entered a room for a customary meal.  But on that night, there was no servant and no one volunteered for the job. The disciples were taken aback that Jesus would lower himself to do that job.  Peter protested vehemently.  But Jesus told Peter unless he washed his feet he could have not any part of his life. After that, Peter was all in. It’s almost as difficult to allow someone to wash our feet as it is to wash someone’s feet.  We are proud.  We are afraid of intimacy.  We don’t like people knowing that we might smell or be dirty.   We don’t like for people to know that we have... read more

The Mystery of Quieting the Babies

One of the favorite services of the year for most of our members is the candlelight Christmas Eve service.   It’s amazing how much musical talent we have in our church and some of this talent is always on display at this service. Latecomers missed Hannah Safley singing “Away in a Manger.”  I wonder how many of those great talents on “The Voice” got their start singing in church at age four.  In case you missed it, here is a link to her debut: https://video-atl3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t42.1790-2/25650686_158667331567114_6061037176437604352_n.mp4?efg=eyJybHIiOjM4OCwicmxhIjo1MTIsInZlbmNvZGVfdGFnIjoic3ZlX3NkIn0%3D&rl=388&vabr=216&oh=0995f74f860865a301ec1ff0ee0de0c2&oe=5A52CCA5&ref=tahoe  Just think, just a few years ago, she was a part of the chorus of babies crying during the Christmas Eve service. This is one service we have resisted having a nursery for because it’s difficult to get people to work on Christmas Eve.  We want the service to be as family oriented as possible and we try to make it brief. However, this year by 6:10 P.M., the babies were having their way.  They were letting their presence be known and while it gave us all reason to be thankful that 2016 and 2017 have been fruitful years for many of our young couples, we were also starting to be more thankful for nurseries during our services. Then, the remarkable happened.  When I stood up to deliver the Christmas Eve message, there was quiet.  There wasn’t a single sound coming from a baby.  I almost called attention to it, but I just made note of it.  While there is no such reference in the Bible, I am reminded of the words in “Away in a Manger,” which say “no crying He makes.” As I began to... read more

Finding Life After Loss and Grief

Almost every day my life crosses with someone who is living with some form of loss. One day I am standing in a driveway talking to a man who is slowly watching Alzheimer’s claim his wife one memory at a time. Another day I am visiting a woman in a nursing home with  the same disease that has advanced so far with her that she has lost all cognitive ability to recognize me, carry on a meaningful conversation, or even acknowledge my presence. I have listened to people that have lost their jobs, prayed with people that have lost their health, heard stories of the emotional trauma of miscarried babies, and shared the anger of those whose children have been wounded and violated by others. Not long ago I was preparing messages from the Sermon on the Mount.  When I came to the passage about divorce I thought about the many friends I have who have gone through the loss of relationships because of their divorces, not just from their spouses, but of other family and friends because the promises of a long life together came to an unexpected end. Eight times this past year I have gone to the graveside with members of my church.  Life on this earth ended for their loved ones.  No longer could they reach out and hold that person, talk to her, ask for advice, sit quietly and be comforted by his presence, or be frustrated because they could not agree or get along.   Let’s be honest.  Not everything about a loved one is missed. However, any person or anything of value that... read more

Mia, Irma, and the Butterfly

I was playing outside with Mia, my 18-month-old granddaughter, a few weeks ago when a butterfly decided to join the party. At first, it just circled, to Mia’s delight. Then, it decided to land, not more than a foot from Mia’s hand. While the butterfly was harmless, Mia was not sure that her visitor had friendly intentions. She hid behind me in delightful fear. The butterfly took wing, and Mia was again in awe and filled with joy. The butterfly came back for another visit. Mia watched but kept her distance until it flew away again. Mia and l enjoy looking out the back window of the house at our butterfly bush. The window provides a safe distance from these strange winged creatures that Mia is beginning to warm up to. She hasn’t graduated to three-syllable words yet, but her pointing and garbled gibberish communicates that she knows when one of our winged friends has come for a visit to our favorite bush. After we experienced wind gusts of 60 miles per hour as Hurricane Irma, then a tropical storm, moved through Georgia, we had three houses on our street with tree damage. The butterfly bush had a few broken limbs but maintained most of its blooms. The day after the storm, Mia was back at the window looking for butterflies. Before long, one appeared. It made me wonder, where did a creature that weighs only about a half-gram take refuge in such a storm? The resiliency of the butterfly is seen in the people of the U.S. and all of the other nations impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and... read more

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