Tuesday night is quickly becoming my favorite night of the week. It is the night that Peyton and I make our weekly trek down to Humble Middle School for his Special Olympics basketball practice. Upon entering the gym, the warmth of these wonderful athletes and their families is felt immediately with a barrage of “hellos or great to see you,” smiles and hugs. Peyton and I counted 10 hugs last night before I could find a place to sit.
The athletes on Peyton’s team have various skill levels and range in age from 12-56. Though agility and stamina levels vary, there is no shortage of effort or competitiveness on the court with athletes diving for balls on a regular basis. There is also no shortage of sportsmanship and kindness. There is always a ready, “Good job,” or high five, or extra pass to make sure that everyone gets a chance to shoot. The parents always offer a tireless source of encouragement celebrating every achievement and player as essential to the team.
I sat there watching the controlled chaos last night thinking, “What a gift. I can learn so much from these beautiful friends.” On display in front of me was kindness, compassion, gentleness, humility, wisdom, sacrificial giving, joy, hope, community, desire and love. Some label these individuals with Downs Syndrome, Mental Retardation, Aspergers Syndrome or Autism as disabled. I would suggest that they are differently abled. These differently abled friends remind me of who I am. I often live under the illusion that I am not disabled or handicapped in different ways, that I have it all together.
Our society has a tendency of pushing aside the weak, the old, the simple, the uneducated or unaccomplished, the differently abled, abnormal or ugly (whatever that means). Yet a closer look at these “differently abled” others reveals a bounty of gifts, blessings, insights and contributions to offer. Each Tuesday night I am reminded of these undeniable truths. I challenge you to find some way to be in immediate contact with the differently abled neighbors in our community. You will be blessed.
Richard Rohr starts off one of this brilliant meditations with this series of statements. Nothing in this world is an end in itself, including the church, priests, pastors, popes, laws, bible – nothing. Only God is an end; everything else is a means. Only God can save us, not the church.
I for one have immense love for the church. When I was young, my family was among the faithful present every time the church doors were open. The congregation was like a loving, extended family and words cannot express how much I was formed and benefited from participating in the church through the years. That said, the church cannot give us what we so desperately need. It cannot save us or set us free… only God can do that. The church (at its best) is a beautiful gift, a means by and through which God heals, loves, teaches, serves, cares, feeds, clothes and otherwise ushers in the Kingdom.
Sadly, sometimes the church mistakes itself as the point instead of the means to God’s point. It is this kind of thinking and acting that leads congregations down unhealthy and destructive paths. When we, the church get the idea that our people, our buildings, our programs, our budgets, our agendas and our survival is the point, then we have lost something essential to our intended identity and mission. It is no longer about the great, aforementioned Kingdom mission, but rather getting butts in the pews, money in the church coffers and defending our positions.
In a time when church attendance continues to decline many ask, “How can we save the church?” I suspect that God might redirect us to a better question, “How can we continue in our mission to save the world?”
I have heard it said on many occasions that Houston is the most diverse city in the world. What an extraordinary calling card for our city. Within the greater Houston area, we display the greatest diversity in skin tone, language and cultural heritage in the world. From a faith perspective, it could be said that when we look out over our city we are blessed see the colors of heaven. Let me explain what I mean.
Genesis 1 teaches us that we are ALL made in the image of God. All of us are little, walking talking revelations or pictures of the Creator. God is not represented in one or a few of us, but in all of us together. Early Christian philosophers and theologians taught about this beautiful truth by using the Latin word persona. Persona referred to the large theatrical masks used by Greek actors to set apart different characters in the play. Each mask and player was unique in size, shape and color, but still an essential part of the larger play.
According to the Scriptures, we, humanity as a whole, all wear masks. But our unique masks offer glimpses of God. Consider that for a moment. Each and every person that we encounter in our beautiful city, regardless of size, shape, color, language, culture, intellect, ability or disability, affluence level, religion or sexual orientation are revelations, faces of God. All of us are unique, beautiful image bearers of the Creator. So church, let us not allow our differences to divide us. May we follow Jesus and recognize that in every face we encounter, no matter how different, the face of God is revealed.
“When that generation too had been gathered to its fathers, another generation followed it which knew neither Yahweh nor the deeds that he had done for the sake of Israel.” They had forgotten. Judges 2:10
Where have all the children gone? This is the question being asked by most church leaders in this season of history. Unlike the generations of faithful masses that have frequented traditional churches looking to find God, the younger generations, the Generation Xers and Millennials, are on the whole nowhere to be found. Thus, the question entrusted to today’s pastor and lay leader is this. Where have they gone and how might the church reengage and welcome them into faith community once again.
I had coffee with a community leader the other day and our conversation turned to this topic. He shared with me some interesting insights that the greying church would do well to consider. He said, “The younger generations do not need the church to find God. In fact, many believe that God is much easier to find in nature, art, music or philosophy than in the traditional church. The younger generations no longer need the church for community. They find friendships at the office, at the gym, in their yoga community or online. The younger generations require legitimate faith to be connected to a cause that makes the world a better place.
The church must embrace the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the refugee, the outsider, the LGBTQ community, the lonely, the weary, the addicted, the depressed and the hopeless. We embrace, not for the purpose of conversion or membership, but because of love and an eagerness to see God’s just kingdom here as it is in heaven. That is the church that will welcome these younger generations. That is the church that proves its faith authentic and worthy of a hearing in the public square. I would suggest that is the church Jesus envisioned from the beginning.
The life and words of Saint Francis continue to challenge and inspire us almost 800 years after his death. The resounding message he leaves us is that of worship, living in a constant practice of praise and adoration for God. He praises God for this and praises God for that. In every situation, whether it be seemingly good or bad upon viewing it from the outside…he praises God. How is he able to live like this?
I believe the key to his devotion is this. To believe that there is no time, to place, no situation in which God is not loving us. Allow yourself to consider the implications of this statement upon daily life. What if we trusted that in all circumstances, good and bad, that God was right in middle of it loving us? What if we believed that God claims every event, every conversation, every failure and success to love us and teach us again what love is? If you think about it, affirming this statement not only ushers us into a life of praise, but invites us to reinterpret everything.
This is what I have to say about the subject.
I was talking with one of our members the other day who works in the executive office for Humble ISD, one of the best and most awarded school districts in the state. She told me something interesting. Recently, the senior staff took a trip to Google headquarters to tour the campus, observe the organizational culture and learn from their executive leadership. One might ask, “Why would they do this? Why would one excellent, executive team travel to observe another excellent, but very different organization?” The answer is simple. Excellence never sits on its hands. It is always learning, always growing, always seeking to get better.
Several times lately I have been asked, “Why are we making all these trips to visit other Disciples of Christ congregations?” The same principle applies. Though Kingwood Christian Church does many things well, we can learn much from other thriving, growing congregations. This past weekend our Evangelism Task Force visited First Christian Church of Tyler, a congregation averaging about 250 in worship each Sunday. Interestingly, FCC Tyler was the size of our church 8 years ago. In the past 8 years, their congregation grew significantly in ministry involvement, community service and membership (specifically reaching young families). How did they do it? What were the key decisions and initiatives that inspired this growth?
This is why we made these trips, to observe, to listen, to be inspired, and to discern what translates to our context. The Evangelism Task Force looks forward to sharing our experiences and findings with you in the coming months as we enter this exciting season of discernment and new directions.
With great love,
As most of you know, over the past several months a team of leaders from our church have been commissioned and resourced by the Coastal Plains Area for a very important initiative to visit some of our denomination’s most vibrant and growing congregations. Our first visit was to Middletown Christian Church in Louisville, KY and our second trip was to Geist Christian Church in Indianapolis, IN. We are in the process of planning a third trip to a sister congregation here in Texas for later this month. Our objective is to observe the guiding principles and healthy practices that enable these congregation to flourish in reaching all generations.
During our visits, we were like sponges soaking up every conversation, insight and experience. We attended worship services and special events, observed Sunday school and small group gatherings for all ages, and interviewed pastoral staff, lay leadership and various congregation members. Among many helpful insights, one prominent characteristic stood out. Churches that effectively reach all generations place a HUGE priority on children and youth. In fact, one pastor said that reaching children and youth is the first priority among the leadership of the church. This begs the question, “What would KCC look like if we decided that reaching children and youth was our number one priority? How would this priority effect worship, small groups, service opportunities, fellowship events, our church budget and facilities?” Imagine what that would look like.
This week, two excellent leaders have joined our staff to serve in this key area. Emily Hollibaugh joins us as the Interim Director of Children’s Ministry and Denise Morris as the Interim Children’s Ministry Event Coordinator. We are blessed to have such talented leaders to guide our children through this time of transition.
Jesus said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the Kingdom of God is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” Matthew 13:52
It was 1983 and the crowds of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo were packed into the Astrodome in anticipation of seeing the headliner Eddie Rabbitt and his new hit, “I Love a Rainy Night.” Finally, it was time for the show to start and the opener comes strolling out on the stage. There was no buildup or fireworks. He simply said hello to the crowd and started playing his opening number, a little known song called “Amarillo by Morning.” Yes, the opener was none other than George Strait. Rabbitt would later come on and whip the crowd into a frenzy with his charismatic style, but many in the crowd left recognizing that they hadn’t just seen one superstar that evening, but two.
Jesus makes this same point in a different way speaking of a householder, a keeper of the treasures of God’s Kingdom, who pulls out of his storeroom some new and old treasures. The new treasures represent the extraordinary, brand new pictures of God emerging all around us. The old treasures represent the wisdom of the ages, especially the ancient stories and hope of the Israelites. The point Jesus is making is that we need both. The church needs both, rooting the new deep within the old and allowing the old to come to fresh and exciting expression in the new.
Many churches struggle with this challenging teaching. We choose either to cling to old treasures resisting new expressions of faith, or discard the wisdom of years gone by for the sake of what is new and trendy. Jesus challenges us to celebrate and embrace both the old and the new. Are we able to recognize the rightful place of the old and new in our treasured expressions of faith? May our church family always be rooted in the wisdom of our past and eager to receive new visions of the future God desires for us.
Reflection on Matthew 13:1-9
Our message for the week centers on one of Jesus’ most memorable stories. Jesus loved to tell a good story. Who doesn’t like a story? The only thing is that Jesus’ stories were unique often having hidden meanings beneath the surface. He often said, “Let those who have ears hear.” The fact is that some are ready listen and receive the message and others are not. The practice of good listening sits at the center of Jesus’ parable as well.
Hearing spiritually is related to the concept of deep listening. Personally, over the past several months, I have been trying to develop my capacity for listening for God, even repeating, “I am listening,” under my breath throughout the day. Deep listening is more than receiving though. Jesus reminds us that that we are to listen with compassion. We listen to understand and finally we listen with intention, specifically the intention to act. In fact, the Greek word eisakouo can be defined as to hear, to heed, or to obey. Just as a teacher may instruct his/her students to listen closely because the material can be on the test; Jesus tells the crowd to listen not only to understand, but also to act on the teaching, to obey and bear fruit.
Consider for a moment, how can you develop your ear for deep listening? We listen for Jesus to speak through the scriptures, the voice of a friend, the sound of a rushing stream, a gentle breeze or a quiet moment of solitude. It is through listening to the words and practicing the ways of Jesus that we will find life over-flowing and full of meaning.
See you Sunday,