Category Archives: church

radical hospitality

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I grew up in the south. That might be a shocker for some of you. But I was born in Chattanooga, TN and raised in Northwest Georgia, although people are sometimes suspect because of my lack of an accent (I intentionally use a y’all from time to time to assuage the naysayers). But I have very unique lenses from which to talk about my Southern heritage after having lived in the Midwest and Southwest. I even remember when my wife and I were preparing to move above the Mason-Dixon line and there was actual anxiety regarding how “cold” the Yankees might be. Honestly I think that is all derived from the fact that everyone is actually cold for eight months out of the year and don’t want to come outside. But after having lived in these multiple regions, can I make a case that perhaps Southern Hospitality is as hospitable as we have always thought? Going further, can I make a case that perhaps none of us have any idea what hospitality truly is?

Hospitality is a unique concept.We all like to think of ourselves as being hospitable; after all, it is a Christian concept. The thing that has given me the greatest lens through which to see this is the hospitality industry…truly. Every time I stay in a hotel these days I think about all the work that happens after my departure (you can’t help but think about this with four kids). I also have friends that run airbnb’s and I get exhausted thinking about all the work that goes into maintaining their facilities. The people who run these facilities put their lives on hold in order to provide an experience for someone else so that the other feels at home; like they belong. And we call this the hospitality industry. Believe it or not Jesus had something to say about what Christian hospitality would feel like from our perspective, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26-27 You don’t see how that refers to hospitality…?

The thing that makes airbnb’s or hotels successful in terms of hospitality is that all of their effort is focused on the experience of the other. We as churches or youth groups could possibly learn a thing or two about this. When people come through our doors we expect them to adjust to our schedule, our routine, our style, our sense, our/my/we/me…and yet Jesus says unless you put aside your own concerns, your own way of doing things, even your own sense of family and life that you cannot be His disciple. Now there will be things that will be distinctly Christian that we invite people to learn as they walk along with us (Creeds, Communion, Baptism, Salvation, etc.). But there are a lot of things that should probably be set aside or even left in the dust so that we can actually learn what it means to be hospitable. And it all starts with being willing to look in the mirror and ask if the actions I live out each week draw people to Christ or make it seem like this club is even more exclusive. May we start to practice radical hospitality today at the expense of ourselves for the sake of the other.

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righteous indignation

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Sunday night I was angry. And truth be told I don’t get angry a lot. I think my wife may actually think there is something wrong with me…but Sunday night, oh man. You see, I had shared a video of a young black man and his white grandmother being pulled over because someone had “reportedly” told the cops that they thought this white woman was being robbed by this black man. And all I kept thinking about was, “This could be my son.” So I shared the video on social media and was astounded at the ensuing dialogue. Some of it was very supportive and resonated well with me, but some of it left me with a little holy anger, if you will. And it’s not even so much what they were arguing with me per se (I understand police procedure and I wasn’t faulting a police officer who could be correctly acting on misinformation), but just the fact that they were arguing for the fact that this is the way things are or how they are done now. You see, for a follower of Christ in this world, I don’t think this approach is acceptable.

Allow me to elaborate a bit. Time and time in scripture we are told about the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom. We hear about it with phrases like “The Day of the Lord” or “When the Son of Man returns” or “The Kingdom of God is at Hand”. And when the disciples ask Jesus how to pray He responds with, “Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done on Earth”. And the images of this in scripture are profound. “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” – Amos 5:25 “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” – Isaiah 61:1 This is what the Kingdom coming looks like. Something new; something profound! Something that challenges “what is” for “what can be”. When we are content to accept the status quo or even pine for the way things used to be, we are submitting to the kingdoms of this world and refusing to see the world for what it can be. We are living out of fear instead of hope.

This isn’t a liberal or conservative issue, but it is a political issue. It’s a proclamation of the fact that we belong to a different kind of Kingdom. The apostle Paul puts it this way in Colossians 3, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things aboveHere there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” – Colossians 3:1,11 This different view of the world is the thing that Christians should always ascribe to and hope for. A world where bias and fear are left in the dust because after all, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” – 1 John 4:18

I remember when I held Jonas for the first time. I was worried about how he might be treated in the world. But I thought to myself, “It’s going to get better…it has to.” And yet today, I am angry. I am hurt. I am sad because the church continues to buy into the narrative of “it will all work out or this is just how things are.” Hear me O church. Christ Kingdom is at hand. We are called to live into this. And the day is now! I still believe it can get better. But church we must get to work alongside Christ building his kingdom here, now, today.


move your feet

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I saw a post recently that was a bit disheartening. It revolved around the latest tragedy involving a mass shooting and it was making light of the idea of “thoughts and prayers” being offered up to change the inevitable reality that we live in a broken world. While I do think that in the wake of brokenness and hurt that the idea of “thoughts and prayers” being a simple offering of a solution isn’t adequate, I also don’t think it is easily dismissed. And I think it all has to do with the way I think about prayer. We sometimes think that prayer is a passive response. We think about prayer as that moment where we don’t know what to do or have no will to do and so we simply turn the “to do” over. But I’m not sure that this is what prayer is meant to be. A few years ago I stumbled across a West African proverb that sums it up for me and it’s where I think the discussion of prayer should always go and it simply states, “When you pray, move your feet.”

This proverb can have a multitude of connotations, but I think the more implicitly implied meaning revolves around giving action to our prayers. And this is a pretty sound Biblical thought. When Jesus is approached by his disciples about prayer his response is pretty familiar to us, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:9-10. And we all know the rest of the prayer, but that beginning…man is it powerful! The word for Kingdom ‘come’ is best translated as, “to come into being, arise, come forth, show itself, find place or influence “. The word for will be “done” is best translated as, “to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be”. So much of what we pray/envision is for God’s Kingdom and Will to come into existence through us in the world around us. But how do we become a part of this?

When God became flesh He went around preaching one dominant theme, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” And then He brought it with Him. He saw those who society had cast aside and went to them and loved them. He was even quoted as saying that the well don’t need a doctor, but rather the sick. And maybe this is the type of prayer that we begin to offer up in the wake of something tragic. Maybe we begin to ask for God to help us see those who need love. Maybe we ask God to help us see those who need human contact. Maybe we begin to ask God how we can even begin to get involved in the lives of victims and perpetrators alike. These tragedies that seem to be growing in number won’t be solved through any kind of easy solution, but perhaps when we pray we don’t pray easy prayers. Maybe when we pray we don’t pray for passive responses. Maybe moving forward, when we pray we move our feet.

 


fearful

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I remember pretty vividly the day we brought our first born home. It’s not every day that you walk into an office building with an empty baby carrier and walk out with a baby. But here we were, at Bethany Christian Services, signing adoption paper work in order to become a mom and a dad for the first time. We walked in and we were ushered into a small meeting room and we signed so much paper work that it seemed like we were finalizing a mortgage. Then our case worker said those words that are forever written on my heart, “would you like to see your son”. We then walked into the room next door and met Jonas for the first time. We were in awe of how tiny he was and we even had to have help loading him into the baby carrier for the first time. I even remembered how slow I drove back to Donelson that day…and it had nothing to do with the traffic. And the one thought that kept repeating through my mind was, “man, I hope I don’t mess this up.”

It’s something that anyone that is a parent has said at one point or another. All of a sudden we find ourselves responsible for another human being and it is absolutely terrifying. It’s funny, but I think there is a verse in the Psalms that expresses this well, but is rarely used for this insight. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” – Psalm‬ ‭139:13-14‬ We often pause to reflect on the wonderful part, but rarely give said due to the fearful part. The word in Hebrew is yare’ and is most often translated as ‘actual fear’. The psalmist praises God because he is made wonderfully and this is easy to see. We are incredibly complex beings. But the psalmist also praises God because he is made fearfully. What does it mean for God to make us fearfully…?

I think it might be a bit like that feeling all parents get when we realize we are responsible for another human life. There is a fear, a reverence, a holy trepidation that the actions we take and the way we care for another influences who they become. As parents of teens and children, this can sometimes become overwhelming as we seek to trust God as he guides us into this responsibility. And the crazy thing about all of this…God made us all this way. Even more astounding is the fact that as the church we have been given the charge to engage all of creation with this same reverence and responsibility. We are God’s plan for redemption of all creation. And sometimes I look at the church and the world and think to myself, “Man, I hope we don’t mess this up.” And yet, the beauty in all of this is that God created us all this way. With freewill that often leads to things that could be considered scary and terrifying, or beautiful and lovely. So today, let us praise God. For you and I and all creation have been fearfully and wonderfully made and we have a mission before us. May all those we come into contact with realize that they too are fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God who trusts all of us with each other.


play

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Last night was fun. How many of our days begin that way? I often wonder. But last night was fun for me because it was our first youth group outing here in Nashville and we went and played FootGolf (It’s basically what it sounds like…golf played with a soccer ball with your feet). And it really was so much fun. Seeing thirty or so middle and high school students run around a golf course kicking and laughing and having a blast. And I was right there with them. For about two hours we weren’t worried about schedules or upcoming classes or responsibilities (and most of them weren’t even on their cell phones). We were just present with each other in the moment. Say what you will about teenagers and youth ministry, but when it comes to playing together we know how to be present in the moment.

It’s actually kind of funny. Over the years you hear different critiques about youth ministry and one of those that always seems to come down the pike is that youth ministry is all about playing. All they seem to do is look for ways to have fun together. Can I flip the coin a bit? One of my main critiques of my peers and those older than me in the church is sometimes this…they have no idea how to play anymore? When do they make time to play? I’m not talking about scheduled recreation or hobbies, but opportunities for belly laughing and goofing off and losing track of time as you find yourselves just being fully present in play with those around you.

In his letter to the Corinthian church Paul writes this amazing passage all about love. And nestled in the middle is this verse that most read through the lens of spiritual maturity, but I look at it a little differently. The verse goes like this, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” – 1 Corinthians 13:11 Now I have the unique privilege of spending my working life around teens and my home life around kids even younger. It’s amazing to see the necessity of play in their lives. It puts them on equal footing, the expectations are understood and for the most part everyone is included. What if in speaking about love, Paul is referencing the loss of naiveté that is the heart of love. A love that doesn’t ask questions but includes everyone and draws them into a beautiful experience as one. You see, this is what play does. This is what so often we are missing as adults. So maybe today you need permission to…walk in the rain, jump in mud puddles, smell flowers, stop along the way, build sandcastles, watch the moon and stars come out, say hello to everyone, go barefoot, go on adventures, act silly, dance, fly kites, laugh and cry for the health of it, go wondering and wandering around, ride bicycles, draw and paint, fall down and get up again, talk with animals, stay up late for or even climb trees…in other words, play. Maybe this might be the way we see the Kingdom come crashing in on our lives once again.


almost heaven

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“Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue ridge mountains, Shenandoah river…” And now most of you will have John Denver stuck in your head for the rest of the day. My apologies to my West Virginian friends, but I’ve never really thought of West Virginia as being “almost heaven”. For that matter, I have never thought about Odessa, TX or Flint, MI, or even Chattanooga, TN as being almost heaven either. Well at least not geographically. However, when I stop to think about some of my encounters in each of these places, I begin to see heaven breaking through a little bit. Bob Benson wrote a poem called Looking for the Threads that I think catches what I’m trying to say:

I used to think,
loving life so greatly,
that to die would be like
leaving the party before the end.

But now I know
that the party is really happening
somewhere else.
That the light and the music
escaping in snatches,
to make the pulse beat faster
and the tempo quicken,
comes from another place.

And I know, too,
that when I get there,
the music and the love and the praise
will belong to him
and the music will never end.

Maybe that’s the almost heaven part? The “light and the music escaping in snatches”. I like the way the writer of Revelation put’s it in his final description, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’.” – Revelation 21:1, 3-4. That new heaven and new earth part sounds pretty awesome. Because I think what limits our scope of heaven and seeing the “light and the music escaping in snatches” is because we are encumbered by time, death, distance, sickness, etc.

Maybe we’ve all experienced the “almost heaven” part, but our vision is limited by those things that will soon pass away. Maybe my visions of heaven in Odessa, TX will come to fruition in the new heaven and earth. I can see me spending a large part of eternity sitting around with Kenny Mayes and just talking about the goodness of God (and hopefully it will feel and smell a bit like his shop). Maybe my vision of heaven in Flint, MI won’t be hampered by the cold and the snow and some of the brokenness that has come to falsely label this great city. I can see myself spending a good part of eternity walking in the fresh grass with Sam Owens just laughing about how grace welcomed us both in. Maybe even the visions of heaven I’ve had from the town I grew up in will fully blossom as one day I find myself fishing with my grandfathers  Raymond Arp and Garland Patterson (who I never got to meet) and us just enjoying being fully in the presence of each other and God.

I’ve never really enjoyed moving away from a place…and it has nothing to do with the geography or the restaurants or the sights or the entertainment venues or any of that stuff. That’s not what defines life for me. But the people who have shaped and changed mine and my family’s life are for me the part that is almost heaven. And much like that same song, they are the path that will help to, “take me home to the place I belong.” This life is short, but I’m beginning to see how beautiful heaven will be through all the folks who have been Jesus to me.


the cloud

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As we have for a few years now, my family and I spent the better part of the month of June with family in Northwest GA and Southeast TN. This is always an amazing time filled with cousins, swimming, day camps and food…we always seem to be eating. And I love this area of the country because it’s so familiar. I love the views of the mountains and the valleys and even the way the clouds roll in quickly before a thunderstorm; which seems to happen almost every summer afternoon. The crazy thing is that this familiar view also greeted us as we rolled back into Odessa a week ago. As we came in on the highway from Midland we could see lightning in the distance and the familiar cloud formations rolling in as Odessa was blessed with much needed rain. And luckily for us, we were able to get our car unloaded before the deluge hit.

There’s a verse in scripture that alludes to what the presence of a cloud might be in our own lives. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us , fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith.” – Hebrews 12:1-2 I love the imagery played out in the the text. I recently was flying from Odessa back to Atlanta before our trek back into town and our entire flight was dictated by the presence of clouds (albeit storm clouds) in Atlanta. After we boarded, an hour later than scheduled, we then had to sit on the tarmac for an extra hour. Once we did get clearance to take off, most of the flight was smooth…until we began to descend into Atlanta. I guess the only way I can describe it is by the rides I seek to avoid at the amusement park i.e. it was a roller coaster of a landing. It was crazy how these clouds effected everything we were a part of even from a distance.

 

This Sunday I will begin delivering my last series of sermons for the people of Odessa First Church of the Nazarene. This has been a roller coaster of an adventure and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I wasn’t terrified and excited all at the same time. But I do know one thing. When I step onto the stage on Sunday it is only through the power of God and the presence of the overwhelming cloud of witnesses that go with me that I am able to do so. This cloud has gone with me from Rossville, GA to Nashville, TN, by way of Yulee, FL while building up strength in Flint, MI in order to serve for over three years in Odessa, TX.  And this cloud continues to grow as we prepare to serve alongside the families of Nashville First Church of the Nazarene in a few short weeks. This cloud is filled with families and loved ones who have cared for my family, invested in my ministry, prayed for me daily and loved me beyond words. Even as I type this your faces flash before me as my eyes fill with tears and I thank God for him bringing us together. It is only by the grace of God and your presence in my life that I can even call myself pastor. And I am both humbled and challenged by your cloud-like presence in my life. So I will continue to run with perseverance the race marked out for me.  And I will boldly proclaim the love of Christ to a world that so desperately needs it. All the while knowing  that I am surrounded by a cloud that is a testament to the love and faithfulness of the God we all serve.


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