Monday, July 31, 2023
I just returned to the office from visiting with some members of the church in the hospital. Their health is compromised, and as I leave their rooms I wonder, 'will they get better? What does 'better' look like?'
One of the ugly parts of long-term illness that I witness is that it robs the individual of hope.
They are sick and without the intervention and skill of others, their illness will not be healed, helped, or resolved. In that room we are confronted with our own stuff--mortality, regret, a lingering desire to be reunited with others. In that room there is little to do but contemplate and wonder about what it will be like to end the humanly suffering and be with Jesus. . . and for most, even those with a deep sense of faith, there is uncertainty that sits on the bed or in the chair next to us.
You see, I don't know what it feels like to stop breathing and feel my heart stop for the final time. . . and neither do they. . .
We can have a strong faith, a deep faith, a faith taught to us generationally by loved ones and lived out in the church, but when it comes right down to it (and I have experience to back this up) we are anxious--in that room.
And so I wonder: What does it look like to show up and dwell in those lives? I wonder what happens when we leave everything go and just sit down in the chair, take their hand, and remind them that they are sacred, they are loved, they are cared for, and they are redeemed?
Perhaps that is the good news that we can offer. .
Thursday, July 27, 2023
Well it has been terrible hot this week; the humidity today makes the air look hazy outside my office window. The heat, as expected as it is, impacts much of what we do in York.
The truth of this statement was on display last night as we gathered again at the fellowship hall door to distribute food to our community.
Walking the first table out under the canopy we setup, I saw a vehicle pull up a little before our posted start time. Didn't matter. We handed the couple in the blue car a few bags of food and offered them a warm, sweaty, smile. Before long we had 3 trucks in line and the bags of food were flying out of the fellowship hall door and out into the community.
It was an amazing night!
But we could have lost track of something as the sweat poured down our faces and we carried food to the folks sitting in their air conditioned cars. . . We could have stopped listening.
Like I said, it was very hot. Add to the heat, that we needed to communicate from person to person as we coordinated our deliveries, and we could have been so preoccupied with our work that we missed what God was doing. Now before you guess what I think God was doing: pause.
Certainly God was at work as we cared for the community around us. God was also at work with us as we smiled and worked together as the Body of Christ. But God was also with the people in the cars--and that fact often gets overlooked when the Church serves its community.
Over and over we heard words of thanks and appreciation. I expected that. It was not necessary, but I heard it anyway. What was wonderfully-surprising was the amount of 'God bless you' that we heard. Could it have been lip service, sure. But I don' think that it was. It felt genuine; it felt sincere. And again, that blessing also was not sought. Yet it was given.
But I wonder if we are so busy trying to be productive as the Church that we miss the blessing that people are literally saying to us? Maybe today just listen a little more--a little closer. Perhaps there is a blessing being given to you. . .
Wednesday, July 19, 2023
A short time ago I finished listening to a talk given at Duke Divinity School. It was recorded some time ago at the retirement of a famous faculty member. The question the speaker asked as he began his lecture was: What difference does Jesus make?
Now I do not want to argue his point with you in this post anecdotally, but just wonder about the question being asked in your life?
You see the speaker's point is that Jesus came to earth, He came to dwell among us, He came to be with us, and He made a difference in that choice. We can argue if the second person of the Trinity had a choice to come for us or of God the Father just sent Jesus without discussion. And that argument has little if any value in actuality because Jesus came.
He made the difference.
While people around Him scoffed at Him, and those closest to Him denied Him in public, Jesus was busy making a difference. When He retreated to pray and submitted Himself to God the Father in heaven in the Garden on His last night, Jesus was making a difference for us. He was making the choice.
Yes, much of what He endured cost Him terribly. He was hated by His critics and beaten by the authority of the day. We know well the narrative of His torturous death, but again He made the difference by His choice.
There is always a reason, perhaps a valid one in your mind, why you can opt to not make a difference in the community which God places you in. But that would be your choice. . . a choice to NOT make a difference. You could stand on the sidelines and question and bemoan what is happening around you.
Like the Messiah you could enter into the work and world and speak about how Jesus made a difference in your life. I wonder what that story might sound like and how God might use it today?
Monday, July 17, 2023
I wonder what stops us from trying?
And let's be specific when we think about answers to the question. . . What truly stops us from trying?
Last night the youth at Bethesda challenged the 'older youth' (adults) to a game of kickball in the Family Life Center. After the game concluded the ice cream churns would produce their bountiful offerings to soothe the tired souls after a nine inning game.
52 people came to the game last night. Some played. Some watched and cheered. But everyone laughed and everyone participated in relational growth. As I took pictures I noticed the faces around the Family Life Center: lots of joy, lots of happiness.
It was a night of fellowship and fun. . . But let's be honest, it was also a night that could have failed.
The dozen-or-so youth who took one side of the court could have looked back at home plate and saw 5 'older adults' standing there who were only their parents and no one else. It was possible that no one from the larger church family would come. After all, it was 91 degrees yesterday in York.
I might have offered a little tongue-in-cheek barb to encourage the church to come while we were together in worship, but that may not have worked. They could have laughed off my joke and then continued on a previous course.
What mattered last night was that we tried. It was that simple. We tried. When there were plenty of excuses that could keep people away, the excuses lost last night because the church practiced what it believed--trust in God to bring the people.
I believe that trying is what the Lord asks of us. God does not demand success or perfection (that's a human thing). No, we just try and trust the Lord.
Perhaps that is a message, and a question for you to consider today in your faith walk. . . What stops you from trying?
Maybe just step out there and let the Lord work in your life. . .
Thursday, July 13, 2023
Do you enjoy a good conversation? I do. . . Let me tell you a story.
Not long ago this church was presented with an opportunity to care for a neighbor. This family does not attend Bethesda. This family has no ties to our church--except--that they work in close proximity to our physical space. So that makes them part of our larger community.
After an initial conversation, I brainstormed with some folks at the church. I hoped that together we would find a solution or a pathway forward to care for this person. But at that time I heard a lot of questions put to me. None were especially negative; they were just questions that needed an answer. Questions which sought clarification. These answers would help move the project from 'blue sky' toward implementation--and they were necessary.
I listened to the questions, and I thought long and hard about what was being asked.
Some time later I spoke again with some of the folks who asked me questions the first time. This time our conversation was decidedly more hopeful and energetic. As I shared what I learned from their first questions, I saw heads begin to nod. I saw eyes beginning to fill with energy and creativity.
Now the project has some legs and has a clearer vision.
But I wonder. . . What might have happened if I took the questions and gentle pushback and allowed them to personally discourage me? How would my future conversation take shape if I shut down people who do not completely and wholly agree with me?
Perhaps in that thought there is a lesson and way forward. Perhaps listening and questioning can help us find better solutions to life's problems in the Lord? The only way we will know for sure is to come together, listen, and grow our trust.
Wednesday, July 12, 2023
Yesterday, after quite a bit of back and forth, I was finally able to meet with someone in our community who needs our help as the Body of Christ. They are looking for someone to partner with them in an act of caring--and their need is pressing.
As I got ready for the meeting, I was running through a number of scenarios and responses.
If this person said "X" then I could counter with "Y," and together we would find a way to support this new need, and care for their need, and be faithful to our missional call from God.
So as the time came for our conversation I was getting excited about the possibilities that were available to us. But if I am totally honest, I was also a bit guarded. I wanted to help but there are only so many things that we can do as the church. What if the need was greater than our ability and gifts? What if I had to look at this person and say, 'sorry we cannot help you.' That is not the response I wanted to offer.
Thankfully, as we talked it became clear that my fears were unfounded. This person was far more gracious and flexible than I initially thought they might be because I did not have the whole story laid out before me. An initial plan was formed and now we are working on getting this idea off the ground.
But my tension, my fear, my hesitation could have been a stumbling block to the whole project.
I wonder, do you find yourself in that same situation? Is an idea accessible to you, a plan possible, but tension, fear, and hesitation could stall the whole thing?
Perhaps this can be an opportunity to lean into God; to trust God. What could happen if you loosely held the idea and let God work out the details? Perhaps a new mission and ministry could be about to burst onto the scenes in your life?
Monday, July 10, 2023
As we finished our first food distribution on Thursday evening I had such an overwhelming sense of joy and hope. . . but not only for the reasons you might suspect. Let me back up a bit. . .
I was unable to be present as the distribution began since I had Bible study at the same time. So for the first hour and a half, I taught from the gospel of John and prayed that God would bring our community to the church so we can feed them.
As I left the class and walked over to the tents where bags of food were being passed out, I wondered how the work was going? I wonder who from our community was coming for food, and I wondered what we were learning as we pass the food out? I wondered how God was calling us to adapt to meet this presenting issue?
I then took my place in the food-line and began running bags out to the cars that pulled up into our parking lot.
Over the next 45 minutes I spoke to a lot of people--people that I did not know. People that I had never seen before. Their responses, while diverse, carried a familiar and consistent tone. They were grateful and they offered us a blessing. Many people responded to us with a "God bless you" and/or a "thank you so much." My heart was touched.
As I walked back to the house with Jennifer, I was reminded of something Lillian Daniel wrote. She said:
"We had a feeling that there were people in the [community] who has something to teach us."
What a powerful statement! Trusting in people that we do not know to teach us something important--something from God.
I wonder: Are we willing to listen to what our neighbors were offering to each us?
That is not only a challenge that we deal with here at Bethesda as we pass out food to our community, but I believe it is a challenge that we should address each day as we meet and encounter our community.
And so I wonder about you: are you willing to listen to your community? Because they might just have something to teach you too. . .
Thursday, July 6, 2023
Tonight a new mission and ministry begins at Bethesda. And while this is not a completely knew mission project, it has been a while since Bethesda undertook a ministry like this and so the air here feels charged with possibilities.
Around the church there is an air of excitement, anticipation, and hope being passed from member to member.
We have done all the preparation and all leg-work that we can. We have prayed diligently to God about this idea--just as we prayed with God about the idea itself. Listening to God has also been part of our work. We do not want to do anything that is outside the will of God for us. Now tonight we will see how the Spirit of the Lord moves in the lives of our community.
But I wonder what happens when we are done tonight? What happens next?
This is a question that each member of the Body of Christ struggles with on a regular basis. Regardless of seasons of blessing or seasons of trial, we wonder, what's next. . . and we wonder how are we going to remain faithful.
Perhaps the next thing, the next action, is one that is grounded in sharing? Perhaps the next thing that God asks us to do is just talk about the things that God is doing in your life?
For whether tonight goes well (which I believe it will), or not, God is still with His church. God has never forsaken any of us.
I wonder what might happen in your work, your faith, and your call if you shared what God is doing with someone else? Because one thing I know for certain, God is at work in your life?
Wednesday, July 5, 2023
While hauling trash to the dump, I was listening to a conversation on a podcast that spoke to me. Kelly, the host, was talking about how her relationship with her mother has grown and evolved over time in an unexpected way.
With laughter filling in the silence of the story, Kelly talked about how she and her mother could not be more dissimilar. Then Kelly recounted a number of social and theological differences that exist between her mother and herself--all the while chuckling about the apparent gap between them.
The story reaches its high point when Kelly realizes that for her entire life her mother has just let Kelly be Kelly. Specifically she says, "In that moment I realized that mom never tried to edit me. She just let me be me." And while that conclusion might feel very self-help-y to our ears, I was held in the depth of the statement for a few minutes as I noticed that God lets me be me. God trusts me enough to find Him and grow as I spend time in His Word.
Mom just let her daughter be who she is. She did not try to smooth out any rough edges or correct any errors in thinking or living--which were present the whole time. She just loved her child and trusted her to find her way forward with the Lord's help. It's a brave choice, but it left a mark on Kelly.
From that point on, when Kelly would visit her mom she just let mom set the pace for the entire encounter. Mom picked supper. Mom picked what to watch on TV without judgment. Mom could watch her favorite news channel right after the ballgame was complete. Mom could even pick the wine for the evening.
In that choice a tremendous amount of relational growth happened. . . it germinated.
And that got me thinking and it got me wondering. . .
I wonder, who do you know, who do you encounter, who could you care for who needs the world to stop editing them so that they can be held close to the heart of the Lord? Who needs the community, or the church, to just embrace them for who they are and help them find the Lord?
Perhaps letting God do the editing is a far better way to disciple the community? Maybe my job, our call, is just to care for them authentically and fully?
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