Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to Lazarus’ tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus, said, “Take away the stone.” Martha said, Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed,
you would see the glory of God.”
This morning in one of my devotional readings Richard Rohr offered these enlightening and inspiring thoughts. I hope they are living water for you as well.
Jesus taught us about resurrection not long before his own resurrection, when he called his friend Lazarus back from death. In John’s telling of the story, Jesus comes before the tomb, the tomb symbolizing the deadness, the coldness, the hard-heartedness in all of us. He stands as the victor, the one holding all power over that deadness.
Then Jesus does something unexpected. After asking the family to roll away the stone, he requires a further sign of faith. He asks, “Do you believe that I can do it? Can you be with me as I do it? Jesus is calling the people to step out in faith. Make a bit of a fool of yourself, “Move away the stone, never mind the smell. Untie him and let him go free. Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the wonders of God?”
Notice, John may well be saying something revolutionary to the community. Though Jesus brings us to life, he needs us, the Body of Christ. He needs the church to believe in Him and respond faithfully in unbinding Lazarus. Yes, we (the church) are invited to cultivate and participate in the resurrection stories of our friends and neighbors. Make no mistake church, Jesus calls us to believe in him, to go into the tombs of the dead and dying, to get our hands dirty in the Lord’s healing work and we will see the wonders of God. May it be so.
Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. Exodus 3:5
If you imagine a land cleared and cultivated, prepared and blessed with new growth, Holy Week is the time of its consecration. The word consecration means to claim or set aside for holy purposes. Remember with me the extraordinary scene where Moses encounters the burning bush. He stumbles into a cave, seemingly by accident, and finds a bush that is burning, but not consumed. Then a voice emanating from the bush calls his name, “Moses, Moses! Come no closer. Remove you sandals, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” The voice identified itself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Overwhelmed with fear, Moses hid his face in reverence for God. With the act of removing his sandals and closing his eyes, Moses claimed this cave as a holy meeting space with God. It was in that holy space that God revealed an extraordinary calling to Moses.
This week, I encourage you to claim your holy ground, your sacred meeting place with God somewhere in your home. You might use an entire room or just a corner or alcove. Design the space so it feels comfortable and welcoming, include furniture or pillows to sit on. Bring into the space any objects you regard as sacred – books, photos, candles, nature objects, icons, or other sacred symbols. Display them in such a way that you feel surrounded by them.
Enter this space each day and allow yourself to rest in it. As you enter, remove your shoes and close your eyes. Imagine yourself and the space filled with holiness, the very Spirit of God. Pray, using words if you like, or pray without words by sitting quietly in the presence of God. Perhaps on Thursday, commemorate the Last Supper by taking communion in your holy space. And on Friday, read the scriptures and mediate on the Passion of Christ’s crucifixion. Then on Easter morning, claim your holy space as the empty tomb.
Friends, please know that God yearns to meet with you. So claim your Holy Ground, then listen for the still, small voice of the Spirit to whisper God’s hopes and dreams for your life.
Holy Week is upon us. Can you believe it? Beginning with Palm Sunday, we retrace the steps of Jesus through that fateful week from the upper room and Last Supper, to the garden, to the trial, to the cross and finally to the empty tomb on Easter morning.
Each year we offer a special service to remember the events of Holy Week. This year we celebrate the Christian Seder Meal. What is the Christian Seder Meal? It all starts with Passover. Passover is the oldest and most important of Jewish religious festivals and marks the beginning of the Jewish religious year. It is based on the rituals of ancient Israel preserved in Exodus 12 to 14 in which Israelites celebrated their deliverance by God from slavery in Egypt.
The focal point of Passover is a communal meal, called the Seder (meaning order). It is a time of rejoicing and celebration at the deliverance for the Hebrews that God accomplished in the Exodus. Unlike most Holy Days of Christianity that are observed in Church, Passover has been celebrated in the home with family and friends as they eat a meal together. The Seder is more than a festival. It is a teaching experience, especially for the children, using all the senses.
Jesus adopted the Passover service as a symbol to help his followers remember and understand God’s new work of deliverance through Himself. So we, alongside Jewish communities all over the world, will gather next Thursday (March 29) at 7 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall around tables for this really fun, interactive and informative meal for the whole family.
And do remember, it is a symbolic meal so eat dinner before you come;)
Something happened last night in the Fellowship Hall of Kingwood Christian Church that most might claim was improbable, if not impossible. Despite our polarized political landscape, ten highly engaged Republican leaders and ten passionate Democratic leaders from our community gathered for a dialogue seeking a “fix” for our broken political system. Sound like a recipe for disaster? Perhaps so, or could gathering the seemingly entrenched sides for respectful conversations be the key to breaking our political gridlock.
Dr. Jay Theis, the Director of the Center for Civic Engagement at Lone Star College in Kingwood, believes that the way forward will require gathering for difficult conversations that foster cooperation. Theis believes that the significant issues that divide our country cannot be understood or resolved in two minute sound bites, but in respectful gatherings of people with diverse views. For this reason, Theis reached out to a cross-section of community leaders and invited them to participate in a deliberative dialogue hosted by Kingwood Christian Church.
The Deliberative Dialogues construct used by Theis’ team at Lone Star provides a way for community members of diverse views and experiences to seek a shared understanding of a problem and to search for common ground for action. Dialogues are led by trained moderators, and use an issue discussion guide that frames the issue by presenting the overall problem, followed by three or four broad approaches to the problem. Dialogue participants work through the issue by considering each approach; examining what appeals to them or concerns them; and also what costs, consequences, and tradeoffs may be incurred in following that approach.
What was the result of our conversation? After a two hour discussion, the groups agreed on three areas of common ground. Yes, I will say it again. Three significant areas of agreement were identified that, if addressed, could really improve our political dysfunction. The group plans to reconvene in May and present these points at a candidate forum co-sponsored by the Kingwood Area Republican Women and Kingwood Area Democrats. How is that for a night’s work? The tried and true art of respectful, open-minded conversation prevails again. And I could not be more pleased that Kingwood Christian Church was the host.
For more information on deliberative dialogues click below:
We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, Ephesians 4:14-15
As a dad, one my favorite things to do is pick on my kids. I think it is in some Mattingly family contract somewhere. “Thou shalt picketh on thy children every day.” I find immense satisfaction in pulling a prank or joke on my son or daughter. They are just so gullible. Sadly, I have pulled so many jokes on them through the years that they question the truthfulness of many things I say. Alas, they are growing up and becoming wiser.
Paul makes it very clear that we, as followers of Jesus, must grow up in faith as well. Young Christ followers are easily tossed to and fro, distracted, manipulated and taken advantage of. But each day presents a new opportunity to take another step toward maturity in our Christ-likeness. This is what spiritual growth is all about… becoming more like Jesus. Throughout history, Christians have used different spiritual practices as catalysts for growth and anchors for faithfulness.
Over the past several weeks, I have challenged you to identify a spiritual practice for Lent. Many of you have done this, which is great, but perhaps you are struggling to find a practice that is right for you. Some practices work for one person, but not for another. For that reason, I attached below a simple Spiritual Pathways Assessment. It only takes about 10 minutes to complete and will help you identify your “pathways,” how you naturally connect with God. If you have any questions, please contact the church office.
For the PDF version click below and print:
For the Excel version click below:
Spiritual Pathway Assessment
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.