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.

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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An Open Table


Mission TableIs your congregation liberal or conservative? 
The man asked me the dreaded question right there in the middle of the coffee shop. This conversation got serious fast. We had only been chatting for a bit after I told him I was a pastor. I know he was trying to get a feel for the church and my brand of theology. I told him we were an open table church. So, is your church liberal or conservative?

Brian McLaren writes that we “have intelligence on ice and ignorance on fire” in today’s religious landscape and by and large he is correct. It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly we begin defining ourselves and more importantly God with neat lines and definitions. We don’t dare venture outside those boxes we put ourselves into for fear of being labeled. You love and are passionate about Jesus,you must be an evangelical. You believe its okay to read the Bible with a critical eye towards context. You must be a progressive. Where is the line? I suspect that the terms that us “insiders” cling to like a life raft mean very little to those outside of our institutions, except to serve as a turn off.  Are we more in love with our theology than we are with God and God’s mission and call upon us?

It’s a futile act to try and reduce this beautiful, wonderful, life-giving and even terrifying mystery we call faith to a simple term or two. In doing so, we are closing off so many possibilities for ourselves and our communities. One of the roles of pastor is that of public theologian. For me, a large portion of this calling is helping people to do their own theology (God-talk) on a daily basis. Could it be that we do our best theological work while also doing our best to follow the way of Jesus? Why are we afraid to let God’s movement of love and grace in our lives and churches stand on its own? Why can’t justice for all, compassion, and working together towards God’s shalom speak for itself?

It’s what Jesus would do, I told him. Best I can tell, God welcomes us all. An open table means that all are welcomed and there are no litmus tests of faith or labels.  God meets us where we are on our journey and continues that journey with us. There is room enough for me and there is room enough for you. There is room for everyone. 

 

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)”

Lessons from the Side of the Road

Parables SeriesI have returned from some time in Columbus, Ohio at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).. Mary Michael and I rented a house with another couple in a neighborhood called Short North. This afforded us about a half mile walk each day to and from the convention center. I told our roommates for the week that Short North could best be described as “high rollers, hipsters, and homeless.”The diversity in people who lived, worked, and played in the neighborhood was both refreshing and challenging. It is interesting to walk to a church gathering and walk past a number of homeless people on your walk. A lot goes on in both your heart and your head. It’s one thing to spend time singing and praying for justice and a whole other thing to be confronted with issues of justice just moments later Continue reading “Lessons from the Side of the Road”