The Power of Love

It’s Valentine’s Day, which originally began in the church, of all places, as a feast for the huey-lewissaint Valentinus. The story goes that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for those who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to followers of Christ who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. As the story goes, he was put to death around February 14.

We mostly celebrate today with flowers
chocolates, and cards. It’s become a big day for the Hallmark company. We would be remiss not to remember what we celebrate on this day and the responsibility given to us.

Valentinus had the courage to defy orders from the Roman Emperor in the name of love. Anyone who has known love knows that there is risk involved. We become vulnerable when we love another and when we allow another to love us.

The Apostle Paul tried to capture love’s essence is his letter to the church at Corinth when he wrote that love  bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. This is a real, flesh and bone kind of love that cannot be captured by a Hallmark card or experienced during a Lifetime movie. This is the kind of love that originates from the way God first loved us. Jesus understood this as agape love. Agape love is the universal, unconditional love that God has for all of creation. As a child of God, we are called to embody this unconditional love towards others. This is a love that can take all that is broken in this world and make it into something that is whole and good. That is the power of love.

What is the best way to celebrate one who so boldly risked and eventually gave up his life for the power of love?  Perhaps it is to live each day empowered to love boldly and fearlessly.

Grace and peace,

Danny

Build Lives, Not Walls

It is early in the morning, the sun rising over the neighborhoods of Tecate, Mexico. mex-for-blogTecate sits about 25 miles due east of Tijuana, and straddles the border between Mexico and the United States.From certain places in town you can see both sides of the border. I’m s driving a van full of kids, eager and nervous for their first day of building a home for a family. As we pulled into the dirt street, a man in silk pajamas suddenly appeared in front of the van. This is unusual to say the least. He is waving his arms, motioning us forward. What is he doing? Then it dawned on me. He is showing us where to park. He is offering a gracious gift of hospitality. For the next three days he did the same thing. A parking attendant in silk pajamas.

Build Lives, Not Walls

We arrived at the site where we would be building a home and begin looking for the tools. AMOR Ministries provides certain tools that are delivered to the work site ahead of time. We couldn’t find them anywhere. Someone suggested that perhaps they were at another house in the neighborhood. A few of us begin walking down the street yelling “martillos.” We thought this was the Spanish word for tools, but it turns out it means hammers. This begins to become apparent when people emerged from their homes holding hammers, offering them to us for our use. The use of hammers for a group and a neighbor in need. They are offering a gracious gift of hospitality. I think about how many of my neighbors in my neighborhood would be so willing to offer such a gift to me if I walked up and down my street yelling “hammers.”

Build Lives, Not Walls

It is the end of the day and the sun is beginning to go down. It gets cold in the desert climate of Tecate, Mexico around sunset in the spring. A man is sitting outside his clapboard home around a fire. The fire is his kitchen for the evening. His makeshift refrigerator is a bucket filled with ice. On the menu for the evening is fish, fish moving from the bucket to the old grill over the fire. I’m fascinated by his resourcefulness. He waves me over and I draw nearer to take a closer look. We exchange a glance and with a quick wave, he invites me for dinner. I’m a complete stranger to him and he is a complete stranger to me. Except that we aren’t really strangers.We are neighbors.A human made border doesn’t change that fact.  We are  children of God who have been given the gift to break bread together. My neighbor offering a gracious gift of hospitality. 

Build Lives, Not Walls

I’m grateful these new friends took an interest in building my life. I’m thankful that building walls was not on their agenda.Grace abounds.

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.–Exodus 22:21

He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. Deuteronomy 10:18

” and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

 

Where Do You Draw the Line?

I’ve been thinking about a couple of things todayline-in-the-sane-620x400

  • Jesus- I’m getting ready to start a new series on the life of Jesus as told in the early chapters of the Gospel of Luke
  • New Year’s Resolutions- There is reason devotional sales are high in January. Everyone wants to be a better, more devout, go to religious services type of person in (insert year here)
  • Where people see themselves along the spectrum of Christianity.

 

I had coffee this morning with my buddy Michael McCluskey and we talked about some of these things. I have a gift for having coffee with others. It’s easily some of my best work. I shared that I really believe that the labels we as Christians have given ourselves are changing (Mainline, Evangelical, Conservative, Liberal, etc.) Among the issues are the baggage these labels carry, the way they shortchange the breadth and depth of faith, and the confusion and division they perpetuate.

We use these because we need to use them in order to fit in somewhere. We need to describe our communities and our faith to others. We need to tell our story (God knows we need to do this) so we fall back on old descriptions. How do you describe something that is in many ways indescribable?

I can’t remember which of us said it, but we began to talk about the idea of a line in the sand. The phrase is a metaphor that generally means a point beyond which one will proceed no further and a point in a decision from which one cannot return.

Who do you believe God loves? Who do you believe Jesus loves? Where would you draw the proverbial “line in the sand?” Who’s in and who’s out? That’s some real practical theology there isn’t it? If Jesus is our model for living, a quick read of the Gospels would suggest that Jesus draws his line pretty far out. It made folks uncomfortable then and it makes folks uncomfortable today.

Where would you draw your line in the sand? Could it be that our best resolution for 2017 is to draw that line as far out as God does. I believe being more faithful means paying better attention to who God loves. We should be in communities of faith who love others as Jesus loved others. As leaders, we should call our communities of faith to love others as Jesus loved others. That’s perhaps more critical now than it ever has been.

Where does God draw that line? Farther out than you can begin to imagine.

Who does God love? All of us, even you and me.

Claiming New Life

CrossOn Easter Sunday, Christians around the world bore witness to Resurrection, that nothing will ever be the same again. History is full of incidents where people sought to snuff out the movement of God, afraid that Jesus is on the loose. During Holy Week, we remember such a time when authorities were so scared of this movement that they put Jesus to death. Even death couldn’t stop Jesus, couldn’t stop the movement of God.

During my Easter sermon, I asked people if they knew that they were joining a revolution by coming to church on Easter Sunday. That’s exactly what happened, one that began anew as a group of faithful disciples peered into an empty tomb long ago. Jesus was on the loose. The promise of a new way of life and a new day was true. A revolution that bears witness to God’s love, a love so strong that it could not be defeated, even by death.

I believe the Resurrection speaks to the desire of God for all people to know the fullness of life. The opportunity before each and every person to claim a new life, to claim who God has created them to be. stands true. Blessings on you as you claim that new life, blessings on us as a nation and world as we claim new ways of being in the world. Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!

Dear Andy, What Were You Thinking? From One Pastor to Another

Andy, I’ve been there.  You are preaching and you are onto something good and the Spirit is moving in you and among the congregation. You say something, thinking it will resonate with the crowd. After the sermon is over, someone reminds you what you said and you think, “did I just say that?” Maybe you did mean to say and meant it how it sounded. That people who take their kids to over 80 percent of the churches in our nation are selfish. That everyone should go to your church or a church like yours. Granted, you started something and started something big. You are one of the founding fathers of the megachurch movement and I understand you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you. There is a lot us mainliners can learn from you. Some of what you have done has helped us change for the better to meet the challenge of being a 21st century church.

I know you are passionate about the “next” generation. I am equally or more passionate about the next generation as you are, I’m just not quite as famous. Surely you don’t think the megachurch, specifically your megachurch is the only place children and youth should feel at home. Actually, why do we have to call them the “next” generation when really they are today’s generation. They can tell us what’s authentic and what’s not. My 4 year old  has been walking around our house all week singing songs from their children’s assembly this past Sunday. I wonder how many adults are doing that.

I’m fortunate to serve a church that is large by our denomination’s standards. We are large enough to have critical mass and resources for great ministries with children and youth. We can afford gifted and called youth and children’s ministers, and we have an excellent volunteer team. Not as big as your team of course, but still. We do excellent work with children and youth. They are known. Their teachers know them. Their ministers know them. Volunteers know them. Adults in the church know them. Even the senior pastor knows them. Parents have confidence that there is a village surrounding their kids that is helping to raise them. Get this, when they grow up, they come back. They serve as teachers, as youth sponsors, planting a new worship service, building homes in border communities of Mexico, feeding the hungry. Some have gone out into the world to be missionaries, to work in advocacy, policy making, teaching abroad and in our inner-city. I believe the church played a huge role in these calls on their lives. They were encouraged, prayed for, struggled with, listened to, etc. by those who knew them, knew their life, and could sense their call.

Like I said, we are one of the larger churches. I know countless others, the ones you call small, in our tradition, that are empowering and equipping youth and children like you wouldn’t believe. It’s truly inspiring to see the faithfulness of some these churches.They don’t even have the huge worship production budget and other resources that many of us have. They are simply trusting in the love of God and our relationships through God

My church is all that far from yours. We’ve even had a few of your people become our people. I’m sure some of my people have become your people as well and that’s okay.

We are all trying to accomplish similar things. Share the love and grace of God, transform lives, heal the world, and bring justice and wholeness to our world. I happen to think the “next” generation will do wonderfully at this, whether they are a part of your church or not.

It’s tough as pastors, especially when we are proud of our churches and the ministry they do. But our pride doesn’t have to diminish another’s ministry. I’ll keep that in mind as well. Together, no matter whose building we are in on Sunday let’s work together to continue God’s good work in our midst. Thanks for listening.

 

 

 

 

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No More Apologies (or Labels)

Church

“Oh, I’m not that kind of Christian.” I have uttered those words more times than I can count. As a child, playing with neighbors, in the halls of middle and high school, in social gatherings in college, in offices I’ve worked in, and now, as an ordained minister, seemingly to most every person I meet. I’ve grown weary of apologizing for my faith. Maybe you have as well. Continue reading “No More Apologies (or Labels)”

3 Resolutions for the Church

The following are three resolutions for 2016 that I offer for the Church universal. While this is no means an exhaustive list, it’s hard to work on more than three items of transformation at once. I also believe if we get these right, we will get a lot of other things right as well.

 

Be Civil, Nice, and Respectful of One Another

2016 is an election year. The former political junkie side of me still gets excited. The current clergy side of me is fearful. I’m fearful that the way we talk to one another about political matters will continue to encroach on how we talk to one another in general. Most clergy also hear the following comments in most presidential election years-“you are being too political” or “you are not being political enough.” I believe people are curious as to  what Jesus would have to say to our land today. I suspect most of us wouldn’t like it as much as we think. While we can argue about whether Jesus was political or not, one thing is certain- Jesus was contextual, and I am sure the election will be at the center of many a conversation. I pray that our candidates are civil and respectful of one another. I pray that our conversations are civil and respectful. Let’s remember that we when talk about candidates and their supporters, we are talking about real people. Let’s remember that when our government makes decisions, real people are affected.  We are all first and foremost not Republicans, Democrats or other- we are beloved children of God. That’s the glue that holds us all together. The church can be a model for how people of different opinions talk to each other.

Draw our Circles Bigger, Not Smaller

Our land is growing more diverse and one of the benchmarks for healthy churches is a commitment towards diversity in all forms- gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious background etc. For some, the reaction has been to close ranks and to attempt to draw lines of who is in and who is out. I am reminded that no matter how big we draw our circle, the circle drawn by God is always bigger. When it comes to welcoming all, we are never ahead of God. God’s mission for the church includes everyone’s gifts and graces. When we are busy judging, we are wasting precious time that we could use loving others. Let’s recognize that everyone is just as important as we believe ourselves to be in the eyes of God.

Leave Fear Behind

We live in a world where the threat of terror is real, fueled by extreme ideology. We cannot allow this fear to fuel how the church lives and loves in the world. We cannot allow fear to cloud how we respond to basic human suffering, as it has with the refugee crisis. Do we want the Church’s witness to be that fear is more powerful than love? At the very least, can we engage in meaningful interfaith conversation, seeking to understand, rather than jumping to blanket conclusions? One of, if not the most, faithful things the church can do, is bear witness to the truth that love is more powerful than fear. We can never be the people God creates us to be coming from a place of fear.