Devotional – Psalm 139.4

Devotional:

Psalm 139.4

Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.

Weekly Devotional Image

I was shaking hands with people on their way out of worship when a young man, about my age, walked up. We exchanged the pleasantries due to one another in a place like church and then he asked if I would be willing to pray for him. I said something like, “Sure I’ll be happy to add you to my prayer list” and then prepared to shake the next person’s hand. But the young man kept standing there and said, “No. I need you to pray for me right now.”

He told me about the struggles in his life all while people standing in line waited patiently. He shared about his inability to find work, his complicated relationship with his father, and his general feeling of despair. And then he grabbed me by the hands, closed his eyes, and waited for me to pray. So I did.

I had casually known the young man for a couple years but I had no idea about his struggles. Week after week we were in the same church, singing the same songs, offering the same prayers, but I knew nothing about what was happening under the surface.

The psalmist proclaims, “Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.” And this is good and right and true. The Lord knows what we need and what we want even before we can articulate what we need and what we want. But just because God knows our words before we do, that doesn’t mean that everyone else does as well.

shutterstock_153536591

In today’s world many of us are uncomfortable with the thought of asking someone to pray for us, let alone having him or her do it right in the moment of our asking. Instead we fill the time of prayer concerns with the needs of other with whom we are familiar. And even then, the expectation is usually that a general prayer will be offered for individuals and groups removed from the immediate situation so that we can move on to something else.

The Lord knows what we need, but the people closest to us (our friends, family, church members) usually don’t. Instead, they are habituated by the masks we wear. They grow comfortable with what they experience and then assume that so long as everything on the surface appears normative then everything deeper must be the same.

What would it look like for you to ask someone in your life to pray for you this week? And not the “can you pray for me sometime” casual request we are used to hearing but the “I need you to pray for me right now.” It might be uncomfortable and even frightening, but it is at the heart of what it means to be in relationship with others in a way that is true, deep, and faithful.

Advertisements

Devotional – Mark 9.37

Devotional:

Mark 9.37

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Weekly Devotional Image

I just finished welcoming all of the preschoolers into St. John’s for the first day of school. Many of the students and their parents were eagerly waiting in the parking lot holding their cameras in anticipation of some precious photographs. When I finally opened the door, tears immediately began to fall (though mostly from the adults) as everyone approached the building.

From my vantage point I had the privilege of witnessing some profoundly beautiful moments as children reached up to their mothers and fathers for a final hug and kiss before the day began. I saw all the new and perfectly coordinated outfits that you would expect for the first day. I experienced God’s holiness in the children reconnecting with their friends as they walked down the hallway toward their classrooms.

As much as I enjoyed watching the children and their parents this morning, what I really enjoyed was watching the preschool teachers. From the moment they arrived early this morning, they had permanent smiles stretched across their faces in anticipation of the new school year. They expressed a deep and profound love for all the children returning, and they welcomed them with open and joyful arms.

995085_833137600095889_2723574813095297781_n

From my office I can hear all the students laughing and playing in the preschool and I know they are going to have another incredible year. Yet, I can’t help but ponder about this beautiful morning in connection with the way we all interact with one another. Jesus once said “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” When I saw the preschool teachers welcoming their students, I experienced God’s presence and love in the preschool.

Why is this feeling so unique and rare? Why do we only feel this kind of excitement and love on the first day of school? If we can experience God’s love by welcoming the people in our lives like the way we welcome children, then why don’t we do that all the time?

This week, as we continue to wrestle with what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ, let us strive to welcome all people in our lives the way the preschool teachers welcomed their students. Let us reject our false assumptions about those who are different from us. And let us remember that when we rejoice in love, we are making God’s kingdom incarnate here on earth.

12002989_878596355550013_2054279923538527080_n

What Is Love? (Jesus Don’t Hurt Me) – Sermon on 1 John 3.16-24

1 John 3.16-24

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater that our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

tumblr_lcd0x7hrio1qectnco1_500_large1

1 John is a letter written by a wise, old, veteran Christian leader who continues to help those who are new and young to the faith by addressing the challenges of discipleship. What we have read this morning encompasses John’s understanding of love, Christ’s love, and the need for Christians to find this same love in their lives. Now, to be clear, I am not like John. I am not a mature Christian leader, with years of experience to rely upon. I cannot pull from the wisdom of leading churches throughout the decades to help those who are struggling. I am not like John. In fact, I’m the kind of person that John wrote this letter to in the first place.

Yet, knowing I am not qualified, I decided to write my own letter this week as if I were John to our contemporary church…

tumblr_nlfp9qcFN51u06rnxo1_500

Dear St. John’s,

What is love? Do you ever find yourself asking that very question? Love seems to be one of those things, those words, that we tend to just throw around without really thinking about what it means. I love your outfit! I love what you’ve done with the place! I love eating frozen Kit Kats! I love you!

Love, as a word, has the power to mean everything and nothing. For instance: when we start dating and we grow closer and closer to someone else and they say for the first time: “I love you” it can mean everything in the world. Time can slow down and we can remember the way we felt when we heard it for the first time. However, years later, “love” can become routine, that word we use to end conversations rather than to declare how we feel in our heart of hearts. Love becomes a filler rather than a feeling.

What is love? Is it something that we can only experience in a romantic way? Can we love our friends and family? Can we love our church? Can we love the Lord?

This is how we know what love is: that Jesus laid down his life for us – and we ought to do the same for one another. Now, stay with me if you can, I know that as you read this letter you might already start to grow weary of this thing called love. How willing are we to really lay down our lives for other people? Frankly, most of us will never have to come that far, we will never be martyred for our faith. For as much as we talk about lifting up our cross to follow Christ, it is unlikely that we will ever find ourselves hanging on that cross for what we believe.

Yet, as Christians, this is how we know what love looks like. That a man, fully God and fully human, delivered himself to die for us even when we did not deserve it.

St. John’s, how can the Lord’s love abide in us when we are filled with the world’s goods, but we refuse to help our brothers and sisters in need? Is it possible to love without sacrifice?

Most of us want to love and be loved so long as it doesn’t hurt. We want to know all about love, and we are ready to follow the Lord’s commands so long as it won’t cost us anything.

Love is never really love unless it has the power to harm us.

Discipleship is never holy unless we are willing to sacrifice and be deeply honest with ourselves and others. Trust is never fully possible until we know what’s its like to have our trust broken. Love is what it is because it can both build us up and tear us down.

We might never have to die for somebody else like Jesus did for us, but to love others implies a willingness to lay down our needs and desires for someone else’s needs and desires. What is love if not a willingness to be vulnerable with another?

So, if we want to love, let us do so not with words or speeches, but in truth and action. Anybody can say “I love you”; it is far harder for our lives to match our words. Do we practice what we preach? Are our feet and tongues in alignment? Do our actions match our professions?

Love is hard. It requires dedication and commitment, vulnerability and sacrifice, honesty and attention. We would rather love with our words because we do not have the strength to love with our actions. This is why we pray; We pray for the Lord to give us the strength to love the unlovable because we cannot do it on our own.

Have you ever noticed the covenants made at a wedding? The couple consents and promises to love one another in the sight of God and witnesses, but then the entire congregation makes a promise to nurture that couple in love. Romantic love and a promise between two people is not enough to sustain a life-long marriage. We need others to hold us accountable to the promises of love, and in particular to the love between partners.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes, in fact many times, the Lord does not answer our prayers? Or at least not the way we would want to the Lord to answer them? We know that the Lord is greater than our fickle hearts and that he answers our prayers, but sometimes we ask for the wrong things.

How often do we pray for the Lord to fix this or that, to make our children better, to rid us of our sickness when we could be praying for the Lord to give us the strength to address our own problems, the courage to be honest with our kids, and the endurance to bear the pain?

The Lord is greater than all of our selfish desires and trite fixations. The Lord’s love knows no bounds and continues to seek us out even when we turn away. This is the truth of the Good News, that God’s love remains steadfast even as ours falters. We will never be able to love others in the exact same way that God does, but our challenges is to strive for it nonetheless.

tumblr_m9ho7dWZYb1rcmqo9o1_500

St. John’s, our church needs some encouragement so despair will not take root. We need to love and feel loved. We need to lift one another up with this sacrificial love so that we might know and experience God’s love right now through each other.

If we fail in our own eyes, if we feel that we have been a disappointment, be assured that God knows our hearts better than we do. We might look in the mirror every morning and see regrets, failures, and short-comings, but the Lord sees hope, beauty, and wonder. We might replay in our minds the hateful words that have been shouted at us by our bosses, friends, and spouses, but the Lord wants us to hear only one thing: you are loved.

Do we know that we are loved? Do we feel it in our lives on a regular basis? Do we experience a feeling of worth from the Lord through others?

The Lord has given us a worthy commandment: we should believe in the power of his Son Jesus Christ, and we should love one another. 

I asked the children of our preschool about love and they were able to describe it in a way that many of us forget by the time we grow up. They want to love because it makes them happy, they feel love through hugs and snuggles and time well spent. Yet, when I asked one particular boy if he feels loved, this is what he said: “I feel loved by my mommy and daddy whenever they hug me and sit with me. But I don’t know why they love me.

It is so sad that we believe love can only exist when it is deserved or warranted. We live in such a commodified society, that we expect that love only accompanies good behavior.

God’s love is unconditional, and ours should be to.

You might not know it, or even believe it, but I have seen this love made real and tangible through the people in our pews.

When we learned about the needs of a community in West Virginia, men from our church volunteered to shave their faces just so we could raise money for the mission trip. They literally put their faces on the line for God’s kingdom. At the same time, everyone that contributed financially sacrificed from their lives so that we might bless and love on others in need. We responded in love not because of what people deserve, but simply as a reaction to need.

When we learn about someone’s recent diagnosis or loss of a loved one, we gather together to nurture them and surround them with care. We write cards and offer prayers, we drive to homes and cemeteries, we sit and we listen. We respond in love not because they once did the same for us and we believe that we owe it to them, but we do so because living by loving is the only way that makes sense as Christians.

If love is real, there is no “why?”

What is love? God is. We love others because God loves us. God was willing to humble himself to the form of flesh, to know what we know and feel. God was willing to walk among the people and listen to their needs and hopes, to lift them up and offer them worth. God was willing to carry death on his back and hang there for all to see. God was willing to die for you and the world. God was willing to love us, and continues to through every moment of our lives.

Do you know that you are loved? Whenever you look at a cross, remember that Jesus died on one for you. Whenever you look at a loaf of bread, remember that Christ’s body was given so that you could live. Whenever you look at another person, remember that Christ died for them just as much as he died for you. 

When we love we abide in the Lord and he abides in us. Loving others is the closest we can ever get to really being Christ’s body for the world. When we love with our actions we allow the Holy Spirit to live and move through us. Whether we love with a hug or a letter, a smile or a sacrifice, a commitment or a vow, we are abiding in the Lord.

St. John’s, loving is the greatest thing in the world, but it can also be the hardest. Love can build us up and break us down. Love can inspire majesty and travesty. Love can bring us closer to God and drive us away.

Love is hard, but if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be worth it. Amen.

Devotional: Mark 1.4

Devotional:

Mark 1.4

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 

5a41c986c792a4cfdb6fa2be67b9c637

I had been waiting at the garage for longer than I had hoped. I had neglected to take the car in for an inspection during the month of November, and I was running the risk of receiving a ticket for my negligence. I was prepared to speak with my hypothetical police officer about the numerous demands on clergy during Advent, but every time I made the list of excuses in my head, the more pitiful they became. Only after Christmas was I willing to finally bite the bullet and wait for my car to be inspected.

I thought it would be a quick in-and-out appointment, but I continued to sit in the waiting room while my car was being checked out. After thirty minutes, I saw my car coming out of the garage and was re-parked right outside the window. However, when I approached the cashier, she informed me that I still needed to wait. The time passed idly by while I made small talk with the other customers about being a pastor in town and the recent arrival of the holidays, but the repair shop neglected to call my name even while my car was parked outside with a new inspection sticker clearly placed on the front window. I tried to be as patient as possible, but when I could no longer take it I went back to the cashier and explained the situation, to which she apologized for making me wait for nothing, and handed me my keys. She explained that the paperwork had been lost in the shuffle and asked if there was anything she could do. I laughed to myself and then said, “It’s okay, I’m a pastor and I’m supposed practice what I preach, including patience.”

FamilyForgive

After church yesterday afternoon, my wife and I were enjoying lunch at a local pizza shop when she brought up the familiar topic of practicing what I preach. The sermon had been about forgiveness and the need to act on the words that we so faithfully pray in the Lord’s Prayer every week, and it was clear the Lindsey wanted to explore the topic further. She spoke in a way that halted and haunted me: “Taylor, you kept talking about our need to forgive. Is there anyone that you need to forgive? Or better yet, do you think there’s anyone out there who might be wrestling with whether or not to forgive you?”

John appeared proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It is too easy, particularly from my side of the pulpit, to neglect the need to repent for my faults, and forgive others around me. It is even harder to open my eyes to the fact that there might be people who have not forgiven me for something I have done. As we take our first steps into 2015, let it be the year we actually practice what we preach. Let us strive to be people of patience, forgiveness, and repentance. Let us be brave with our love, and seek to be truly reconciled with everyone around us.

Interrupted Salvation – Sermon on Mark 5.21-43

Mark 5.21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a women who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

hemorrhagingwoman 6-26-12

This Sunday marks the conclusion of our sermon series on Women of Faith. Over the last few weeks we have focused on women from the Old Testament who lived our their faith in such a way that it continues to speak to us in our faith journeys. The point has been to explore some of the great females from scripture, particularly those who are not regularly mentioned from the pulpit. We began by looking at Rahab the harlot before the fall of Jericho and talked about how our pasts do not define our lives. Last week we looked at Deborah and Jael from Judges and talked about how women are powerful and being faithful is complicated. Today we conclude by looking at the unnamed hemorrhaging woman from Mark 5. So, here we are, may God bless out time together as we look at one more woman with profound faith.

The loneliness is getting unbearable. She lives in Staunton, has a full time job, while also maintaining the aspects of home life. Her husband largely ignores her, never asks about her day, and expects dinner and the laundry to have been taken care of by the time he gets home. The children are involved in such a high number of activities throughout town that she can barely keep track of who is supposed to be where and when. Though she won’t admit it to anyone, her life feels empty, as if its being drained from her slowly and decisively.

Twice a day she finds herself driving up and down Augusta street and whenever she passes St. John’s she struggles to keep her eyes glued ahead. She has admired the witty marquee in the past, and she feels something drawing her to the building, but church is the last thing she wants in her life.

For months this goes on, and every time she passes she catches herself glancing more and more at our building. She sees the children during preschool walking on the front lawn looking for insects and leaves for projects, she observes the Christmas tree sales with families giggling as they explore the various options, she witnesses a number of older adults laughing manically as they fall down the 18 ft. inflatable slide during the Community Cook-Out. On certain Sundays she finds herself getting in the car and driving to the parking lot but she never leaves the vehicle; she can’t explain why she’s here and she’s too afraid to come inside.

One morning, when the emptiness and loneliness has become so frighteningly palpable she drives to St. John’s on a typical Sunday and bravely makes her way from the car to the sanctuary. She hopes against hope that something incredible can happen here.

But we’re in the middle of something else, worship has already started and I’m up here in the pulpit going on and on about the grace of God, or the service has yet to start but most of us are greeting our friends and asking them about their weekends, or worship is already over but most of us are solidifying plans for lunch. We might not even notice the woman who risked it all to be here with us.

—————————

Jesus was beckoned by Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, to come and heal his daughter. “Please Lord. My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” So Jesus, doing his Jesus thing, went with Jairus to heal his daughter. Like worship on a Sunday morning, Jesus going to heal someone is typical and part of his routine. He is prepared to meet the young girl and heal her as he has done so many times before.

However, on the way to Jairus’ house a strange thing happens. A woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years, who had been isolated from her family and community, sees the Messiah that she had heard so much about. Building up her courage she stepped forward, reached out her hand and touched his clothes, hoping that it would cure her. And immediately she felt in her body that she had been healed. But Jesus will not leave it at that; feeling the power go out from him he turns to the crowd and demands to know who touched his clothes. With fear and trembling the woman stepped forward and told Christ the whole truth, and he responded by saying “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

healing-of-the-woman-thumb-300x3861

Jesus was interrupted on his journey to heal Jairus’ daughter by a hemorrhaging woman, and in so doing the young girl died at home. He took too much time with the other woman’s problems, and now an innocent girl has passed away when Jesus could have done something about it.

—————————

The woman sits in one of the pews of our church alone and afraid to speak to anyone. She has never been in a church before and so much of what we are doing is strange and bizarre to her. She is thankful for the bulletin directing her to the hymnal with tunes she has never heard, and prayers that she has never uttered. Most of it means nothing to her but she continues to worship with the hope that something will help. 

Our service ends and she follows the people around her as they file out toward the back of the sanctuary. She keeps her head low and whispers thank you as I shake her hand, I thank her for being with us today, and she walks out, perhaps never to return again. She came looking for something life-changing, hoping for something to heal her and make her well, and all she got was a strange youth message, a mediocre sermon, and more loneliness.

—————————

When Jesus arrived at Jairus’ house, even with the young girl dead, Jesus comforts the father, “Do not fear, only believe. Your daughter is not dead but sleeping.” And the people in the house laughed at him, but he put them all outside and took Jairus and the child’s mother and went to the girl. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Little girl, get up!” and she immediately got up and began to walk around, hungry for something to eat.

Jesus allowed the interruption in the street by the unnamed woman knowing that he would be able to still make it to Jairus’ house and bring about the healing and salvation that was needed. He might have been content with merely allowing her to touch his clothing and be healed but he took the extra time for personal touch and contact.

—————————

When the woman comes to St. John’s we could happy with letting her experience worship on her own, free to return to the life of loneliness and emptiness, but if we are to act like Christ we have to go one step farther. The terrible disease of loneliness is something that we have the power to fight against, we just have to be open to interrupted salvation.

Mark 5 is an incredible reminder for all of us, for the teachers who are so often interrupted by students, parents harried by the demands of their children, and even preachers that are stopped while working on a sermon, that interruptions are important. Someone once said, “You know… my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.

I was having lunch on Thursday with a clergy friend, talking about the ways that we are trying to serve our churches, when a man casually mentioned something about his cancer and we invited him to join us for lunch. He interrupted our conversation to share with us his struggles and fears. I was preparing for worship two weeks ago, running around the building just trying to make sure that everything would be ready, when Steve Wisely scared me half to death. He interrupted me in the midst of my work to tell me that his father, Russ, was dying. Every Sunday I stand at the back of the church, thanking all of you for being with us in worship when I am often dealt a hard and frightening truth about someone’s struggles, I am interrupted while doing my job with a difficult diagnosis, a struggling marriage, or a lonely woman.

What do we do with our interruptions? When the stranger arrives at church, sitting alone in the pew near us while we are in the middle of a conversation, how do we respond? Are we content with introducing ourselves, shaking hands, and then going back to our routine, or do we act like Christ and take the extra step to offer them not only a smile, but wholeness? When your child struggles with a decision in their life, do you offer a few bits of wisdom, or do you drop what you are doing to demonstrate that you deeply love them? Do you see interruptions as interruptions, or do you see them as opportunities for salvation?

That woman with the hemorrhage has more faith than I’ll ever have. She, in the deep recesses of fear and disappointment, reached out to the Lord with the hope of receiving something so improbable, that we would mock it today. Her faith is so real and palpable because she lived it out, she took those frightening steps to the Lord and believed that he could do something incredible with, through, and for her.

That unnamed woman who arrives at our church and sits in her car unsure of whether to enter has more faith than I’ll ever have. Though deeply rooted in the fear of her own loneliness and emptiness, she bravely enters the church with the hope that the Lord, with the people inside, can do something so improbable that we often ignore it. Her faith is so real and palpable because she lives it out, she takes those humbling steps to the sanctuary and believes that the God of Christ can do something incredible through us for her.

Showing up to church is wonderful. When it becomes part of the routine of life it begins to habituate us toward a new understanding of discipleship where we can truly act as Christians without having to overthink what we are doing.

But believing that God can actually do something for you, that the church can bring about a sense of salvation in your life is what faith is really all about. 

The woman walks out the main doors and makes her way toward the parking lot. Frustrated by her foolishness in believing that the church could actually change anything about her circumstances she is surprised when she hears a person hurrying up behind her. Someone from St. John’s, one of you, tries to catch up with her to apologize for not introducing yourself earlier. You tell her that you saw her sitting by herself and you felt God pushing you to do something more and you ask if she would like to get a cup of coffee sometime this week, just so that you can get to know her better. “I would love that” she says with a shy smile.

The final few steps to her car are filled with the brightness of hope, something she has not experienced for a long time. Still smiling from the invitation she hears a soft voice, as light as the wind, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.

Amen.

Devotional – Isaiah 55.1-2

Devotional:

Isaiah 55.1-2

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 

Weekly Devotional Image

I stood behind a table filled with enough food for a feast. We had completed our service and work in Beckley, West Virginia and now we were hosting a community meal for the many families that we had worked with during the week. The room was full of exhausted middle-schoolers sitting next to the children they had been reading with all week in addition to the parents and relatives that were invited as well. The meal was free for all in attendance and there was a steady line for 45 minutes as we served and ate together.

Offering food and drink without a cost is a remarkable gift that the church has to offer to our communities. In two weeks our church will be hosting a Community Cook-Out for the people in our neighborhood for free. Like the prophet Isaiah we are inviting everyone who thirsts to come to drink from our waters, to eat what is good, and delight themselves in rich food.

isaiah_55_1_by_sweetlysouthern-d5i6t2r

However, we recognize that (as Paul said) “food will not bring us close to God” (1 Corinthians 8.8). Without a willingness to build relationships with the people we serve and dine with, food will remain an ordinary element of life. When we served the food to the people in Beckley, West Virginia it would have remained a simple and nice gesture unless we were willing to sit side by side with our brothers and sisters and foster new relationships. Even with all the greatest and most delicious food it would have meant very little without our youth sitting down and laughing with their new friends. It is my hope and prayer that everyone in attendance that night will remember the joy of conversation rather than the food that we provided.

Offering food and drink is a wonderful thing to do as Christians. Hosting a meal at our homes for neighbors and friends reflects the goodness and abundance that God has provided in our lives. Yet, if we are not willing to offer our friendship with our food than we have neglected to take the necessary step to live out God’s Word in the world.

This week I challenge you to think about someone in your life who could benefit from receiving a free and delicious meal. Perhaps you have someone that you could take out to lunch, or invite over for dinner. But more than that I encourage you to think of how your willingness to love them and offer your sincere friendship will have a greater impact than any food or drink you could ever offer.

Devotional – Romans 7.15

Devotional:

Romans 7.15

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate. 

Weekly Devotional Image

While I was in seminary I became fascinated with the way particular theologians lived their lives. I would read the great treatises and reflections from the likes of Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, and Barth and have my mind opened to the great wonders of God’s interaction with creation. Their words became life-giving for me as I found myself persuaded by how they understood the world and their critiques of human behavior. However, for as much as I loved their writing I became frustrated with the ways they lived out their faith. With every wonderful theologian I discovered a dark and dangerous life of sin that appeared incompatible with what they were writing about.

Church Dogmatics

Church Dogmatics

For example: Karl Barth, my theological mentor, wrote the massive collection of Church Dogmatics which have slowly become earmarked and absorbed throughout my brief career in ministry. Barth engaged a new theological perspective focused on the paradoxical nature of divinity while at the same time opposing the rise of the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler in Germany. Barth’s thoughts have greatly shaped my understanding of God and church and I am thankful for his witness to the divine in the realm of theology. But like all Christians, Barth was both a saint and a sinner.

vonk

In 1924 Karl Barth met the young and gifted Charlotte von Kirschbaum after he had been married for 12 years. They quickly hit it off and became enamored with one another to the degree that she was invited to live with the Barths beginning in 1929; a relationship that would last for 35 years. They worked together on Barth’s work and were indispensable to one another while creating the Church Dogmatics. While Barth’s wife, Nelly, took care of the children, he and Charlotte would take semester break vacations together. The relationship caused incredible offense among many of Barth’s friends and colleagues and Barth’s children suffered from the stress of the relationship.

After I learned about Barth’s academic and perhaps physical affair, it was hard for me to respect his writings. The dialectic theology that had been so compelling quickly collected dust on my shelf. It took a long time for me to return to Barth’s work, only after I reflected about the sins in my own life.

Sin is unavoidable. Paul reflected on his journey of faith and the temptation of sin in his letter to the church in Rome: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.” What an incredible reflection on sin. We know, those of us who have been raised in the faith, what not to do. We have been taught how to recognize the sinful temptations in our lives. We want to be good and make the right choices. But sin is unavoidable. We choose they very thing we hate and sin continues to creep into our lives with disastrous consequences.

I wonder how often we reflect on our sinfulness. We might hear about what to avoid from the pulpit or from scripture but do we admit our sins to ourselves? I will freely admit that for me it is far easier to reflect on the good things of my life than to admit my short-comings. Perhaps today is the day that we should join Paul and begin to wrestle with our sins. We can begin by admitting the inner conflict within us and then recognize that, like with Barth, God has come in the form of Christ to redeem even our greatest sins so that we can live into a new life of faith and forgiveness.