I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scriptures, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. James 2:8
Jesus’ brother James summarizes for us. The Christ follower “doing well,” who fulfills the intent of the law, is the one with great love for his/her neighbor and self. So the question becomes, “Who are our neighbors? Do we even know our neighbors?” For the Houstonian, the task of knowing and loving our neighbors is a monumental task because we live in the most diverse city in the United States.
In 2018, Houston was awarded the title of Most Diverse City in the United States by the financial website Wallethub. To crown the diversity champion, WalletHub compared 501 of the most populated cities in America across five key dimensions: socioeconomic diversity, cultural diversity, economic diversity, household diversity, and religious diversity. Houston came out on top.
As Houstonians, we work alongside, go to school with, and live next door to people of other religions, and yet most of us understand little about their faith. In this sermon series entitled “Loving Our Neighbors,” we explore how there is common ground between Christianity and four other world religions, as well as where they differ from one another. Following Jesus always means stepping toward, not away, from our neighbors, that we might grow in understanding, respect and love. This week, we will start with a study of Christianity and Buddhism.
One of my favorite of Jesus’ parables is found in Matthew 7:24-27. It reads, “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”
This passage especially came to mind about this time eight days ago, as I sat at the church office watching endless torrents of rain fall and 3 feet of water flowing down West Lake Houston. As I strategized about how I was going to wade across the newly formed bayou and pick up my kids from Creekwood Middle School, my phone rang and it was Amber letting me know that she (and her car) were forced into a kind stranger’s driveway by rising water about one mile from our house in Elm Grove Village.
Everything turned out fine. It took a few hours, but I was able to get across the street to pick up the kids and ultimately make my way in a first responders boat through the flooded streets of my neighborhood to “rescue” Amber. Our house was not flooded and we slept comfortably in our beds that night. Sadly this was not the case for 400 of our flooded neighbors including the Reynolds family in Woodland Hills Village. The church weathered the storms well, with the exception of the rooms across the south, exterior wall of the fellowship hall. Thanks for the help of Wayne Barker, Ray Thompson, Steven Bolich, Gini Brown, the Setia family, Stan and Emily Hollibaugh, and others in the ongoing cleanup process.
In moments like that, when life seems to be spinning out of control, you search for anchors, stable places to hold on and brave the storm. I think that Jesus understood this very well. That is why he offered these wise words to those seeking to build a life that will not crumble when the winds blow, the torrents come and the water rises. He advises, “Anyone who listens to my teaching and puts it into practice is wise like a person who builds a house on solid rock.” Notice, the wise person is not saved by listening alone, but by listening and practicing.
The longer I serve in pastoral ministry, the more these words prove true. How do we experience the salvation (literally deliverance or rescue) of Jesus in this life? It is through listening (believing) and following the teachings of the master that we build a life that can weather any storm. By the way, I think that same principle applies to the church as well. May God bless you and keep you.
If the season of Lent had a mantra this might be it.
“Wake up sleeper. Rise from the dead. And Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14
One of my favorite parts of living in Kingwood is the trail system that links all of the villages into one larger community. Yesterday, I went for a walk with a good friend in an unfamiliar, yet beautiful part of the trails. As we wove through the canopied paths, the sunshine peeking through the trees making artistic designs on the ground and the birds singing an especially joyful tune, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “My how God is on full display today.”
Upon further reflection I thought, “What set the spirituality (or God-full) of this day apart from any other day?” Surely, a spectacular day with sparkling company doesn’t hurt, but isn’t God on full display everyday if we would open our eyes to see it? Isn’t God’s handiwork on display everyday? Isn’t everything spiritual, full of God? Author and activist Rob Bell said, “All of life is spiritual. You do not have a spiritual life. You are a spiritual life.” Do you believe this? It is true. Nothing in creation is void of God.
So how can we open our proverbial spiritual eyes that we might enter this most hopeful way of seeing and living? I suggest that you take a walk… a prayerful walk that is. Choose a day when you are pressed for time and prayerfully walk through your house, your yard, your neighborhood, your office, your grocery store or your local walking path. Walk anywhere and pray that God would open your eyes to see the sacred. Then listen for what God is calling you to do in that space.
Through walking, seeing and listening, may we join in the chorus of creation singing of God’s presence and yearning for awakening.
As I look outside my office window, the foliage remains bare and brown. The cool breezes of Winter linger for at least a few more days. But March will be here before you know it. Temperatures will rise and the buds of Spring will cover our beautiful community.
This time of year in the church calendar is synonymous with the season of Lent. The Lenten season is traditionally thought to be a time where we are reminded of Jesus’ life and death. It is time of self-examination and penance, a time to reaffirm the timeless truth of mortality. The Scriptures remind us of our common plight with all created matter, that we are dust and to dust we will all return. Any seasoned church goer will also remember Lent to be a season of fasting, giving up things that prevent us from drawing closer to God.
This year, I want to turn Lent upside-down. Instead of asking you to give up something for Lent, I want you to add something. For the 40 day season of Lent, March 6 – April 21 (excluding Sundays), I want you to add a connection point outside of worship with the church. Whether it be joining a bible study group, volunteering for a service project or gathering with others for fellowship, fostering deeper connection blesses us all.
Study Opportunities: Join our new FFF (Family Friendly Friday) Small group at the home of Jose and Lisa Aguilar, starting March 1 from 6:30-8:00PM, or the “Encounter” Bible Study Class starting March 10 at 9:30AM, led by Anne Amis and David Putz. We also have the Maranatha Class, the Adult Choir Class and the Community Class meeting during the Sunday school hour. The Sisters of Spirit Group led by Lindy Nelson-Paryag meets every Thursday at the church from 12-2PM. Youth and Children’s programs meet every Sunday morning for Sunday school and evening from GROW and Big Gig from 4-6PM in the Fellowship Hall.
Service Opportunities: The Freedom Bus Ministry serves every Wednesday, Feed my Lambs feeds every first Tuesday and Family Promise welcomes new families March 17-24. We are making Manna Bags for the homeless and collecting can foods through First Fruits for the hungry. The Children’s and Youth Ministries and Building and Grounds Crew are always looking for helping hands.
Fellowship Opportunities: Linger and share a cup of coffee after worship at Coffee Connections, get moving with friends at the Running and Walking Crew or share a meal with the Golden Guys and Gals (GGG) on March 14 at MOD Pizza. You could also join a Deliberative Dialogue on March 12 and discuss challenging topics to our community and nation.
These are only a sampling of the ways you can connect at KCC. Contact the church office for more details. This Lent, don’t subtract, commit to adding a deeper connection with your church family.
Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and being born in human likeness. —Philippians 2:6
These thoughts from Paul to the church at Philippi are worthy of pondering. Jesus, the Son of the Living God, our teacher and model came and comes to us offering this powerful image about God. Though it might seem that our world moves along amassing power, positions and possessions, God is constantly outpouring, emptying (him)self to make room for something new. This is the way God thinks, acts and moves history forward.
This process is called Kenosis, the Greek term for self-emptying. It is God’s’ unexpected, upside-down strategy for healing the world. Think of it like the flow of a waterwheel from God to us. This flow starts with God’s self-emptying, sacrificial love. This flow passes to Jesus as he comes and walks among us exemplifying the same “self-emptying” way of teaching and living. Finally in the gospel of John, the flow continues as Jesus breathes over his disciples giving the Spirit that leads us to take on the posture of a servant. Thus the cycle of self-giving continues.
The potential impact of a self-giving life is unending. Its flow is perpetually fed by an enduring trust that God is faithful and will provide more. The only way to stop the flow of Kenosis is to decide that the opposite is true, that God is not faithful and will not provide. Jesus called and calls his disciples to step into the flow and risk vulnerability. Risking vulnerability is an unavoidable component of discipleship.
This is the path we walk together. This is the way of Jesus. How is Jesus calling you to participate in this flow, pouring out your life for the sake of hope and healing in our world?
We go to church so as not to be alone – alone in our joys, alone in our suffering, alone in the everydayness of our lives, alone in the important passages of our lives. We go to church to tell people we love them, and hopefully to hear them tell us the same thing. -Ronald Rolheiser
Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking about the importance of family and community during the holidays. In a society that celebrates independence, the holidays serve as a reminder of the part inside us all that cries out for connection, a sense of belonging. Knit inside of us is a need for community. It is the divine signature of our Creator.
Jesus taught his followers that they were apart of a family. They were not meant to journey through life alone, but to be a part of a community of faith, the church. No part of the body or community of Christ functions by itself, nourishes itself or serves itself alone. Every part is for every other part – whether hurting or rejoicing. We need each other to share the mundane everydayness and miraculous gifts of this life. Perhaps most importantly, we need each other to give and receive love.
Henri Nouwen reminds us that the Spirit does her best work when we gather in community, when we “create a free and empty space when people can gather and practice true obedience.” At our best, the church of Jesus creates a space free of judgmentalism, self-righteousness and arrogance. Jesus described and modeled a community brimming with love and acceptance where all are welcomed as a part of the family. It brings me so much joy to see this kind of community blossoming here at KCC.
Let me share with you some thoughts from a book I’m reading by John Pavlovitz called A Bigger Table. Of course, I was immediately drawn to the title for obvious reasons. Our church family at KWCC aspires to build a bigger table, a table big enough to welcome all people, a table that truly celebrates diversity. Building faith community that embraces diversity is fraught with challenges though. Pavlovitz writes, “Almost every church on the planet claims to desire, seek and welcome diversity – until real, messy, diverse diversity shows up at the door looking for a home, and then there’s suddenly no room in the inn.” Pavlovitz goes on to claim that every congregation has a diversity threshold, a limited level of difference that they will tolerate comfortably.
That got me thinking, “Do we have a diversity threshold?” Do we have a point at which we draw the line and say, “Ok, that is enough different people thank you very much!” My great hope was that our promotional campaign, announcing KWCC to be Loving, Accepting, Open and Inclusive, and the launch of the Table service would effectively open our doors to well… everyone. I am happy to say that is exactly what is happening. In the three Sundays since the launch, we have welcomed between 40-50 first time guests between the Traditions and Table Services… and many of them are returning again and again. That is amazing!
Upon hearing their stories, I learned that these guests come from diverse backgrounds culturally, socio-economically, religiously, politically and generationally. One guest said, “I usually don’t feel welcome in churches. I have a pretty messy past.” I replied, “Bring it on. We are very familiar with messy around here.” Another new family said, “We have been driving down into Houston searching for a church that would love and accept us. I am so surprised to find this church right here in Kingwood.” Another guest simply asked, “Should I wear nice clothes to come to church? I do not have many nice clothes.” I said, “Come as you are. There is a community of love and acceptance waiting for you at KWCC.”
Diverse crowds are coming and that will require open minds, open hearts and a reaffirmation of our core value of Love, not Judgment. My hope is that we never discover a diversity threshold at KWCC, but that God will walk alongside us in welcoming our diverse neighbors and expand our hearts to love and accept all people as we follow Jesus together.
You might have heard it said, “God never changes.” Do you agree? It is certainly true of God’s existence. The Psalmist writes, “God, you are constant, your days will not come to an end.” It is certainly true of the character of God. As the prophet Isaiah writes, “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” God is forever trustworthy, forever loving, forever faithful. We can stand firm on this foundation.
But certainly the ways of God are always changing. Each servant of God starting with Abraham offered their unique gifts and graces to the mission and thus God’s movement evolved in form and changed in practice along the way. The heart of God’s message does not change, but certainly expressions of gospel ministry change from context to context. This is also true of local church congregations and denominational structures as well.
The Coastal Plains Area of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), of which we are a covenant member, is entering a time of change and restructuring for our next season of ministry. Essentially, the Area offices located throughout the Southwest Region are consolidating into a centralized office in Fort Worth, Texas. This restructuring will shift all administrative and financial oversight to the Regional Office, while maintaining the continuity of our various ministries within the Houston area. Our Area Minister Rev. Peggy Edge expects to continue in her position providing pastoral and congregational support as well as assistance with Search and Call for churches seeking new leadership.
I have attached a letter below with additional information about the restructure from Rev. Dr. Michael Dunn, Area Moderator and Senior Minister at First Christian Church of Houston. This is a prudent and necessary transition for our area, one that allows for greater focus and efficiency for our shared mission as a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.
So what are people saying about the new Table Service at KCC?
“What a blessing! I loved it and will be back! What a sacred and beautiful gathering! Wonderful, wonderful day… I just got finished raving about it to my friend. God was very present for sure. It felt like home. I have several friends I am going to invite to join me the Table. It was like living water. God is good!”
These were just a few comments that I received this past Sunday after our church family courageously stepped out and launched the Table Service. We welcomed between 65-70 (depending on who you ask) to our first gathering. By my estimation, about 30-35 of those attending were regular attenders to our Traditions Service and the rest were new friends and neighbors from our community. Yes… you read correctly. Half of our crowd were guests who were either invited by our folks or saw our promotions and decided to check us out. Wow, what a blessing!
An extravagant welcomes statement set the tone for our service claiming the Table as safe, welcoming space no matter your age, skin color, marital status, sexual orientation, abilities or special needs, health or emotional state, gender identity, citizenship or immigration status. No matter if you believe some of the time, none of the time or all of the time, you are welcome at the Table. “It truly felt like a celebration of diversity. I felt truly welcome.” said one first time attender with tears in her eyes.
KCC family, ours is a very special and important message of welcome, love and inclusion of all people. It is a message that many in our community long to hear. The uniqueness of our message even drew the interest of the Houston Chronicle who sent a columnist and photographer to do an article for the Religion section (coming soon). This message is spoken loud and clear in the Traditions and Table services. Claim this as an opportunity offer an invitation to someone in your life seeking a place of love and acceptance. There is a place for them at Kingwood Christian Church.
On this beautiful morning as I sit in my office looking out over the playground and several youngsters running, swinging and squealing away the morning, I realize that have much to be grateful for. I am grateful for this day of life, brimming with opportunities to learn and grow. I grateful for my family, our health, our love and the many good things that surround us everyday. I am grateful for this beautiful community that we call home and the many friends that make this place so special.
I am grateful for our church and all of you. It is hard to believe that I first came to the church over four years ago. It doesn’t seem like that long at all. I believe that God has done some really important work in our years together, helping us to address some things that were holding us back and enabling us see more clearly our shared values and calling within our community. We have come a long way in the past few years and I am grateful.
There is good energy and positivity growing in our church. I sense this positive energy growing every Sunday and others sense it as well. Visitors are returning and joining, Sunday school classes are growing and new, talented staff members are joining our team. The Spirit of God is moving, ushering us into a new season in our sacred story together. Let me encourage you, THERE IS NO BETTER TIME TO INVITE SOMEONE TO JOIN US! Invite a neighbor, a friend, family member, a colleague from work. Invite a KWCC member that you haven’t seen in a while. Invite them to come and see the new things God is doing at KWCC.
On Sunday, we will launch a new worship service to compliment our beautiful Traditions Service (10:45AM) called The Table (11AM).
Please plan to be at church on this important Sunday and invite someone to join you in your chosen service!