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!
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
It might surprise you, but on a regular basis desperate individuals call the church office or walk through our doors in need of help. Though their needs vary from rental or utility assistance, to money for medication, gas or food, I always encourage our staff to find a way to say, “Yes.” That is what people in need yearn to hear. “Yes… someone cares. Yes, you are not alone. Yes, we will help.” It is my firm belief when we are loving our neighbors, we are loving our Savior.
Saying yes does not mean that we can meet every need, assist with every bill or fill every empty tank. Saying yes often means we will give our neighbor in need some time, listen to their story and pray for God’s peace and provision. It might mean connecting them to the right community service organization or social worker. Often, our response to those in need is to say “yes,” and then look around to survey what we have to share from the resources entrusted to us.
Lorellye and the youth group decided to gather helpful items to fill gift bags for our neighbors in need. These bags will contain hygiene items, small clothing items, snacks and water. We hope these bags can serve as symbols of our love for our neighbors. I cannot think of a better project to teach our students about poverty and Jesus’ call to love and share with the least of these.
And you know what… time and time again when we say “yes” and share from what we have, our resources are miraculously replenished. In fact, in the past few months we received donations from Alternatives Gifts International in the amount of $1500 to help fund our Feed My Lambs ministry. Then, this week we received another check from Black River Center for Learning in the amount of $2,000 to help in our continued response to those effected by Hurricane Harvey. What generous gifts designated to bless our neighbors in need!
And you church are a huge part of that blessing. The work that is done in and through Kingwood Christian Church in our community and beyond, is just incredible. There is no way that I can list all of the wonderful ministry leaders, but you know who you are! Thanks for actually living into our value statement of being a community of faith, practicing love, not judgment.
At long last, the time is drawing near. Our church is stepping out into a new season and adding a brand new expression of worship. On October 7, we will launch “The Table” service at 11AM in our fellowship hall. This unique worship gathering is prayerfully crafted to welcome and connect to young spiritual seekers looking for love, acceptance and spiritual community. It also seeks to provide a safe space for the de-churched, people who have walked away or been hurt by the church.
On launch day, we will become one church with two concurrent worship gatherings. There are many advantages to the concurrent schedule. It protects one shared Sunday school hour and maintains the traditional service at 10:45AM in the sanctuary. It also requires flexibility and coordination for me to make a seamless and timely transition from the traditional service to the Table.
So… the next two Sundays, September 23 & 30 we will be practicing the transition. Here is what to expect.
10:45 Chiming of the Hour
Call to worship
Prayer time (and Lord’s Prayer)
The Blessing of the Children
It is imperative that the Choir Anthem move after the sermon allowing me to join the Table Service by 11:20. The rest of our worship service will follow the traditional schedule.
Transitions are difficult, so please know that your staff and leadership are committed to working extra hard on your behalf. I encourage you to be positive, flexible and supportive as we journey toward together.
One of my new found measuring sticks of a good day or a good week is the richness of my conversations. This week, I had a great conversation with a tow truck driver about faith. Amber’s car had broken down and so I decided to ride with the tow truck driver back to the repair shop. Just a few moments into our drive, he made the fatal mistake of asking me what I did. I replied, “I am a pastor here in Kingwood at Kingwood Christian Church.” After a long period of silence I said, “Revealing that is almost always a conversation stopper.” He laughed. My comment broke the ice and provided an opening for the great conversation that followed.
He went on to tell me about how he had grown up in the church, “dragged by the ear most of the time,” he said. “It took though,” he said. “I am firm believer in God, pray every day and try to help others every chance I get.” He went on to tell several stories of helping out strangers and serving meals to homeless folks in need. I said, “It sounds like your faith is strong and you are doing God’s work. But, if you don’t mind my asking… why do you not attend a church?”
He sighed and said, “Well, I don’t feel very welcome. Church folks don’t like the way I dress (jeans, boots and a t-shirt). They don’t like my rough demeanor, my scruffy beard, my Harley and all my tattoos. Most of all, they do not seem to like my questions and my unwillingness to accept everything they say as the gospel truth. I am also not a big fan of all these big fancy churches, when so many people are hungry and hurting.”
I responded, “So it sounds like you are looking for a church that loves and accepts people as they are, a church that is comfortable with questioners, a church that is authentic and real, and a church that wants to make the world a better place.” He said, “Yes, do you know of a place like that?” I smiled and said, “Yes, yes I do.”
Friends, folks in our community are looking for a church with the values that we hold dear at KCC. Do not be afraid to share the news.
This past week I challenged you to the practice of centering prayer, an expression of prayer that uses very few words and seeks to fix our full attention on the presence and love of God. This form of prayer might seem awkward or ineffectual at first. Its gifts are not measured in euphoria or delight, but rather in how a centered heart anchors us in the storms of daily life.
This is one of the great gifts of faith in God, not that we would be shielded from the storms, but that our quiet center would hold us amidst the ever-changing wind and waves of life. Prayer and silence are the vehicles to cultivate this quiet center. Prayer slowly opens our eyes and reorients us to the greater realities of God and faith in this life. Without this quiet center, we are prone to opening our mouths with words void of wisdom causing more harm than good.
My question for you is this. Are you practicing prayerful silence, cultivating a quiet center with God?
Abba Isidore of Pelusia (5th century) said, “To live without speaking is better than to speak without living. For the former who lives rightly does good even by his silence but the latter does no good even when he speaks. When words and life correspond to one another they are together the whole of philosophy.”