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It’s the Simple Things

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I had a conversation with a preacher yesterday who asked me, “What’s your approach to evangelism?” Good question. I probably should have an answer for that, but the truth is, I don’t know that I have an “approach”. So I answered as best I could, and I’ve been thinking about that answer today.

In my mind as well is the fact that my wife and kids have been gone for a week, and I deeply miss them. I always (perhaps unfortunately) appreciate my wife the most when she’s gone. I know she gets tired and worn out taking care of three kids, and I know it’s easy to feel like you’re losing purpose in the midst of the daily routine of waking up, feeding kids, herding kids, disciplining kids, cleaning up their mess, etc. I find deep theology in her daily tasks, even if she can’t see it in the midst of the storm.

Sarah

(This pic is an oldie but goodie. Thankfully she has Katherine here now to balance the boys out!)

Okay, so what on earth does that have to do with evangelism? Maybe I just miss my wife too much and this is a stretch, or maybe I’m on to something, or maybe both…I’m not exactly sure, but I’m brainstorming here. For me, evangelism looks a bit like proclaiming and living the nearness of the kingdom. That sounds big and bold, but I don’t always think it is. Or maybe our definition of “big and bold” needs to shift. For the people in Luke 10, it was simply a manner of hospitality and welcoming the disciples. If you read Paul and all of his deep theology, he always goes back to the simple idea of loving your neighbor (Romans 13, Galatians 5, and other places). For my wife, it is the big and bold task of waking up each day and loving those children well. It is the big and bold task of being a welcoming and friendly neighbor on our street. It is the big and bold task of being a good friend.

So my answer to my preacher friend was simple. My approach to evangelism is to proclaim the nearness of God in word and deed by being a good neighbor. It is the simple task of loving my wife and children every day. It is the simple task of getting to know my neighbors, and being a welcoming presence in my neighborhood. It is the big and bold task of being a friendly face in all of the public spaces I go. It is the big and bold, yet simple task of loving my neighbor. It’s not big and elaborate. It’s not a defined plan. It’s the simple way that my wife models for me everyday, and the simple way that the New Testament keeps calling us back to, “love one another”.

So, no matter how mundane your life may feel today, if you choose, you are a participant in the kingdom of God. You proclaim its nearness in simple, earthy ways when you “love your neighbor as yourself”. If you’re a stay at home mom, maybe the most important thing you can do for the kingdom of God today is love your children well. If you’re a working mom, maybe the single most important thing you do for the kingdom today is love your coworkers. Dad’s, you can fill in the answer as well based on your situation. Don’t discount the simple, yet bold and big task of waking up each day and loving God and loving neighbor, starting with the neighbors in your house. After all, the law and the prophets hinge on these two things.

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A Table Experience

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I confessed to my church this past Sunday before I preached that when I woke up that morning, I didn’t feel like going to church, which is an awkward confession for a minister to make. But, I didn’t. I had a 3 year old coughing in my ear all night, and my wife was up and down feeding our newborn. So, sleep was scarce. Not to mention having seen on Facebook over the weekend all of my friends who spent their holiday weekend lounged on the beach. It was easy to be tired, and not want to get up after sleeping 3 hours to come to church. However, my almost 2 year old and I came. And I am so glad that we did.

I’ve said before, and I continue to say, the Table is the most significant thing that happens when we gather. It is the reason that we gather. I appreciate some at our church who are trying to think of ways to put more emphasis on that moment and remind us that we gather each week, not at an altar, not in rows, not even in a worship center, but at a table. In a world of churches that are larger than a household or two, we need words, thoughts, and pictures to recover that imagery. This past Sunday was a neat table experience for me, and for a moment the imagery was recovered.

Table

We had our typical welcome and invitation to the Table. It’s a welcome and invitation extended by Christ. We acknowledged his presence there, acknowledged the only reason we were there was because of him, that all are welcome, and then one of our Shepherds invited us to bow as we prayed for the body and blood of Christ in which we were about to partake. However, he took it one step further. With no one standing up front (this gentleman was seated on the front row), he called to mind the table in his home and how when they pray before their dinner, they join hands. Then he invited us all to join hands.

And for a moment, I caught a glimpse of the table. All of us in that room, a part of one body, joining together with Christ at the head. Though not physically, for that moment our hands were joined with other brothers and sisters all around our community, our state, our nation, and our world. All one body, with one head and one host, Jesus Christ. No matter what church we were gathered in, or what our worship services looked like. For just a moment, I recovered the imagery of table in my mind, and I broke bread with a large family. No one was greater, no one was lesser. It was a table of forgiveness, reconciliation, unity, hospitality, and welcome. I left that table filled with Christ, learning more to live the way of Christ in the world, dying to self that others may live. It was a beautiful moment.

So, nothing profound here, but just wanted to share a table experience with you that made me glad I wasn’t out of town this holiday weekend. I’m thankful for my church that is helping me grasp the kind of community God is forming us to be.

A Prayer for My Church

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Confession time: I’m not a good pray-er. There are those that pray and the words just flow eloquently from their mouths. I’ve been around those people, and I deeply respect them. They always have a prayer on their hearts and lips, and I used to find myself feeling spiritually lesser than these individuals. Over the past few years though, I’ve found that maybe I don’t have to be the best pray-er. I think some people have a gift, and maybe for some they work a bit more at it. I work more at it, and I’ve found that written prayers prayed over and over seem to work well for me. I’ve found a rich history of prayers in the Christian faith that still work well when prayed today. And, I’ve found that I tend to pray the same prayer often.

So, with all of that, I wanted to share a prayer with you, my church, that I pray for you most everyday. I hope this prayer blesses and encourages you. For any of you who struggle to pray, I hope this encourages you to know that you are not the only one. And for anyone who wants to pray for their local church, I hope this gives you a starting point.

O God,

I pray today for my church. Not the building or institution, but the people scattered all over this community in their neighborhoods, schools, places of work, and anywhere else they find themselves today.

For those who are hurting and sick, I pray for your healing, peace, and comfort.

For those who struggle with addictions, I pray for freedom.

For those who feel lonely, I pray for them to find community from this church family.

For those who feel far from you, I pray that you would be near.

For those who feel lost in the routine of life, I pray that you give them purpose.

For those who are faithful and dedicated, I pray for renewed energy to continue faithfully following you.

And for everyone within our church, I pray they know they have been called to partner with you in your mission of restoring the world, beginning right where they are today. Help them to see you at work all around them, and to see Christ in others. Grow within them the fruit of your Spirit, that they may be more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled people, so that they may live lives that point to you, and proclaim the nearness of your kingdom in the River Region.

In the name of the one we call Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,

Amen

hinnay tobe!

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For the three of you that regularly read my blog, you know how much I have loved my master’s program through Rochester College. Once again, if you are a minister, elder, or just someone involved in a local church that wants to grow and stretch, I HIGHLY recommend the MRE in Missional Leadership. What Dr. Mark Love is doing with graduate education for ministers is unparalleled. I want to share a quick snippet of something I learned at our intensive course back in January from Dr. John Barton that fits nicely with the events of today.

This morning, the Common Prayer book had a devotional reading from Psalm 133. This was a striking reading today based on the scene in Baltimore. Dr. Barton and my cohort dwelled in the text of Psalm 133 when we were in Portland earlier this year. We learned that the Psalm begins with the Hebrew words “hinnay tobe!” Or, “Behold! Good!” Now I am not a biblical language expert, so I’m taking Dr. Barton’s word on this one. But, he says the Psalm begins with this proclamation that is the same one God uses when the world is created. “God made light. There was morning and there was day, hinnay tobe!” This isn’t a sentimentalized cushy “good”. This is a divine proclamation from the Creator. And what is it that has the Psalmist using this phrase? “When kindred live together in unity!”

The psalm goes on to describe that it is like oil running down the beard of Aaron. In a dry climate with cracked skin, soothing oil would have been a practice of hospitality. Then the psalmist describes that it is “like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion.” The psalmist is naming something physically impossible, but invoking the imagination of the people. Why? Because God cares deeply about reconciliation and unity.

So Dr. Barton shared these thoughts with us, and I want to share a few good quotes I have in my notes from him:

“You want to know what God is excited about? The goodness of unity.”

“God is into reconciliation that leads to unity, especially between former enemies.”

God gets excited about the goodness of unity. God is into reconciliation, especially between former enemies. Think of Paul here in Romans 5 noting that God reconciles us to him while we are still his enemies. And think of Christ dying while we were still sinners. And Corinthians says we have been given this same ministry of reconciliation. If God gets excited about the goodness of unity and proclaims “hinnay tobe!”, what must God be feeling in light of the chaos in Baltimore, and around the world?

Today, join me in praying for unity, reconciliation, and forgiveness for God’s good world. Let us resist the urge to cast stones and engage in internet debates about how things should be handled. Rather, let’s come together as God’s people praying for peace, and living lives that extend that peace as far as it is possible among us, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I leave you with one final thought from Dr. Barton. He said that we live in a world where violence and chaos are unsurprising. All we need to do is take a short history course to see this reality. What is surprising, so says Dr. Barton, is when there is an outbreak of peace. Then, “hinnay tobe!” We are called to be God’s agents of outbreak, outbreaking peace in a violent world.

“A lesson from Baltimore: You cannot police well unless you love your neighbors and you cannot wage wars well unless you love your enemies.” – Miroslav Volf

Knowing That They Are Loved

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When I was 17, I said I would never have children. My nephews had lived at home with my family since I was 14, and I was tired of kids. Then I met my wife a couple of years later and things changed. Fast forward 14 years and my wife and I just welcomed our third child and first girl into the world. Meet Katherine Claire Lassiter, named after her beautiful mother, Sarah Katherine.

Sarah & Katherine

This is my third go round with having a child, and every time I find myself choking back tears in the hospital room as nurses and doctors are speaking to me. I look at that precious child and only faintly realize how amazing this really is, and only faintly realize how much my life has now changed. When we had our first, George, I remember thinking there is no way I could love another child this much. Then we had Henry, and I realized how much room I had in my heart for another. Then we had Katherine and I learned the same lesson. I love these 3 kids more than I could state in words. Or, as George tries to say, I love them “to the moon and the back”.

George & Henry

So I have been thinking a lot this week about 3 kids and what that looks like. What do I want to see happen in their lives? What do I want them to know? What do I want them to be like? I find I get really worked up when they don’t listen and obey, because I know what is best for them. I get really worked up when the toys are scattered around the house because clutter drives me nuts (I’m mildly OCD, which mixes with toddlers like fire and gasoline). I get really worked up when they don’t eat their food because I know the importance of nutrition.

Then I got to thinking, is that really what I want most for them? If these are the things I talk and care about the most, are their thoughts and memories going to be that Daddy cared mostly about their behavior, nutrition, and cleanliness? “Did Daddy care most about our obedience and behavior, or about us?” To think that my kids may one day ask that question haunts me.

I am also thinking about what our doctor told me right after Katherine was born. He reminded me that my children’s view of God is greatly shaped by me. I would add to that is greatly shaped by my wife as well. How our children view God likely starts with how they view us. I’ve been thinking about that as well as a thought one of my mentors and friends Mike Cope shared with me. Mike has told me that our (America, the West, etc.) parenting seems most concerned with obedience and behavior modification. Mike wants our kids to know first and foremost how deeply they are loved. Mike wants our kids to know that at the end of it all, Mama and Daddy and home are a loving and grace-filled place they can go. Yes there is obedience, but this isn’t the central concern.

I like that. I want that for my children. I’m thinking that I will try and let that rule my thoughts and heart when I’m tempted to always fight obedience battles with toddlers.

I pray every day that my children will know how much they are loved by their mother and me, and as a result they will know how deeply they are loved by God. The kind of love that Paul says is unavoidable and inescapable, even in death.

My kids will know about obedience. They’ll know I care about that. They’ll know I wanted them to learn and do the right thing. They’ll know that there was punishment when they didn’t. But first and foremost, I want them to associate Mama and Daddy with a deep, unending, inescapable love. And in turn, I want them to see at the center of the character of God is One who is slow to anger, merciful, compassionate, and abounding in steadfast love.

So welcome to the family Katherine. I hope that you, Henry, and George all know how much your Mama and Daddy love you. No matter where you go or what you do, that love never runs out on you.

Family

Don’t Forget About Friday

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So this Sunday will be my first Easter as a preacher. Granted, I’ve taught classes on Easter Sunday and other ministerial duties, but never have I poured so much thought into Easter Sunday before actually arriving to church that day. I was thinking about it today and realized how easy it is to move to Resurrection Sunday and forget about the violence of Friday. That sounds weird, but I’m asking that we don’t forget about Friday.

Here’s the deal though, I think many people see and interpret Good Friday only through the lens of the wrath of God. Certainly there is a place for that, but I’m not sure that is the main and central purpose of Friday. I’ve always seen Good Friday from that vantage point, so I’ve always struggled with the violence of Friday and wanted the joy of Easter. Who wouldn’t when the picture we have of Good Friday is of God’s wrath being fully displayed?

So, I lean into verses like I John 3:8 tomorrow and remember that Jesus came to destroy the work of the devil. Jesus died to destroy the power of sin and death. Jesus died not because of wrath, but because of love. I agree with N.T. Wright that contrary to the line we sing for the modern hymn “In Christ Alone”, the cross is not God’s wrath satisfied as much as it is his love satisfied. The cross is God’s full demonstration of his power and the means by which all other powers, even the power of sin and death are destroyed. The cross is God’s demonstration of love. When we see Jesus hanging on a cross on Good Friday, we should see the love of God on display.

Jesus says in John 14 that when we’ve seen Him, we’ve seen the Father. When we see Jesus dying for our sins while we are still enemies, we see the Father. When we see Jesus taking on sin and death in order to destroy it, we see the Father. When we see Jesus lay down his life for those he loves, we see the Father. When we see Jesus dying and destroying the work of the devil, we see God dying and displaying the full measure of his love. And that’s good news.

Does God have wrath? Absolutely. Is that the only way to see Good Friday? I think not. As we anticipate the joy of Sunday and the resurrection of Christ, I encourage you don’t fly through Friday without stopping and thinking of God’s love fully poured out for the redemption of this world he loves so dearly.

One Foot In Two Places

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This past Sunday at my church, Hunter Hills Church in Prattville, AL, I preached a sermon on a text from the book of Mark that I find strange. It is in Mark 9:2-13. Jesus takes 3 disciples up on a mountain with him and there he is “transfigured”. It is here, on top of this mountain that these 3 get to see the glory of God fully revealed in Jesus Christ. They see God’s future world, and for a moment they have a foot in that world that is coming.

Without re-preaching the whole sermon here, I will just say that I tried to make the claim that this story we call “The Transfiguration” is the turning point in Mark’s gospel. Up to this point, Mark has been making a claim for the identity of Christ, and then on top of that mountain in verse 7 it reaches a climax when the voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Identity crisis solved. This is Jesus, God’s Son, God in the flesh. This is the One that will fulfill the law and the prophets. This is the climax of Israel’s story. Listen to him and follow him. So, here comes the turning point.

After this story, Jesus leads these disciples back down the mountain. The world we got a glimpse of is pulled away, and we follow Jesus back down the mountain into the valley. We have a foot planted in God’s new world that is coming, but we also have a foot firmly planted in this world where there is pain, suffering, death, disease, and failures. There are some discussions in Christian thinking that I think lead us to a place of “hanging on to our pews” and waiting for eternity. If we live in this broken world, and a new world is coming, then we just wait to die, right? I think there is more to the Christian life than this. I like a quote by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove that says, “Eternal life isn’t something that begins when you die. It’s an invitation to begin living now the kind of life that can last forever.”

So, we like the disciples have seen and tasted the glory of God on top of that mountain. And we, like the disciples follow Jesus back down the mountain into the valley. We assume our positions as disciples behind him, following in the path of the Crucified One. And following the path of the Crucified One is learning to live a different way in this world, particularly in how we live toward others. As the quote above tells us, following in the path of Christ is an invitation to begin living a life now that can last forever. When we practice patience, root out racism, turn the other cheek, love our enemies, forgive, mend broken relationships, and other things that restore the brokenness in this world, I think we are learning to live the kind of lives that proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God, and point to that glorious day when God will be all in all.

We live with one foot firmly planted in God’s future world, where the brokenness is restored. But, we live with one foot in this world, where there is still brokenness. We are learning to follow the path of Christ, the path of discipleship, where we live the kind of lives that restore the brokenness we see all around. What if our churches became known as communities of people who seek to restore the brokenness of the world as we learn to journey on the path of the Crucified One.