Never Stop Praying

There were a few things that intimidated me when I made the transition from journalism to ministry. Would I be able to teach the Bible with authority, honesty, and humility? Would I be able to preach in ways that glorifies the Lord and engages our souls? Would I be able to keep up with all the different committee meetings?

All of those questions gave me moments of pause and reflection and they still do. Yet, what intimidated me the most about entering ministry were none of those things. What intimidated me the most was praying in front of people, especially during worship.

The pastoral prayer intimidated me. I didn’t always know what to say. Growing up in the church, I remember pastors having long and beautiful prayers that were both powerful and deeply emotional. I didn’t know if I could do that. I didn’t know how to do it. Was there a proper way to pray as a pastor? Did it have to be a certain length? What if I didn’t cover everything? Would God not honor those prayers?

These were simply the questions of a nervous new intern and pastor starting out in ministry. If we were to be completely honest with ourselves I think we would admit we have all felt some of those same questions. Perhaps not the same exact ones, but I would imagine we have felt some sense of intimidation with prayer and the feeling of not always knowing what to say.

We know prayer is important for our spiritual development, yet we don’t always know what to do with that time. We may know prayer is a powerful and holy way we communicate with God, but we may struggle with coming up with the right words to say. As well, we may also know that a life in continual prayer is life changing, but we may not know what to pray for.

Prayer is important. It is as common to us in our familiarity with prayer as it is distant to us in how we understand it. Our lack of understanding prayer or knowing what to say or how to pray can lead to frustrations. In these frustrations, we begin to look around and say things like, “Why hasn’t God answered my prayers in a proper time?” We may get so frustrated with prayer, either by our own doubts of not knowing what to say or our belief that God must answer us in proper time, that we may give up praying all together.

No matter who we are we have felt some of these frustrations. The good news is I believe Jesus is speaking to us in these moments in our passage from Luke 11:9-13. What he tells us is that even when we don’t know what to say, or when we get frustrated to always keep praying. Jesus calls us to a prayerful life that keeps listening for God’s voice in our prayers and lives.

This teaching comes as Jesus concludes a section on prayer.  From Luke 11:1 to 11:13, Luke describes Jesus’ teaching on prayer that begins with the Lord’s prayer and ends with these words of asking, seeking, and knocking. The Lord’s Prayer serves as a framework for prayer. The middle section about the persistent friend reminds us to always pray for the things that are on our hearts. This serves as the context when we come to this concluding section. When Jesus mentions the words “ask,” “seek,” and “knock,” he is giving us some guiding words that help us to be people who never stop praying.

Jesus says, “keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.” Asking involves bringing to the Lord our greatest need in the hopes that God will hear our prayer.

When we think of asking in prayer we may think this means going to God with our “wish list” of items. One of my favorite authors, Miroslav Volf, says we treat God like Santa Claus. We think all he does is fulfill our wishes. By this, we go to God with all those things we believe we need and then expect God to give us every good thing. For instance, “Dear God, please help me to find a new home and car,” or “Dear God, will you help my favorite team win tonight,” or “God, will you make me popular?” In asking, we go to God with a list of things we want fulfilled and act like God is at our disposal to do just that.

This is not what prayerful asking looks like. Prayerful asking is a deep experience where, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we tell the Lord our deepest need of our heart and lives. God already knows those things that we truly need or are on our hearts. In the asking, though, we lay these needs at the Father’s feet and ask that God will be there with us in those places of need, whether they are physical, emotional, or spiritual. It is a powerful and humbling act when we simply ask God to hear the needs of our heart and lives.

Jesus also says to pray by “keep on seeking” so that “we will find” what we are looking for. We pray seeking God’s presence. That’s not how we always go to God in prayer. Sometimes we pray seeking our own will instead of praying to receive the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. By this, we go to God saying, “Lord, we know what we want and need, so please fulfill these request, or else we will go somewhere else.” That’s not seeking God, but seeking our own self.

When we think of seeking after God we mean listening for God’s desires. We pray to listen to what God’s desires are for our lives, our families, our communities, and our churches. In prayer, we seek God’s voice so we will know what God wants for us. Keep in mind, though, there is more to this than simply listening. One commentator notes that this element of seeking involves us doing some work. For instance, we cannot pray for a deeper understanding of Scripture and then not seek after this through reading reading the Bible, going to church, and being active in small group studies. Prayer is not about us sitting on the sidelines waiting for God to do the work. We pray by listening for God’s voice and then join in what God is doing in our lives and the lives of our communities and churches.

Jesus says we pray by asking and by seeking. He also says to pray by “keep on knocking” because the “door will be opened to you.” We do not ask for things in prayer once and move on. We keep on praying. Jesus calls us to be persistent in prayer, and not just persistent, but passionate.

That is what is involved in prayerful knocking. Think about when we go to someone’s home and we knock on their door,. We don’t lightly tap on the door as to barely make a sound. We knock in such a way that we get the homeowner’s attention to let us in. That is what knocking in prayer is like.

The best picture of knocking and being persistent in prayer in Scripture is the story of Abraham and Lot. Knowing that God was about to destroy Soddom, which is where his nephew Lot lived. Abraham pleaded with God to save Soddom and eventually God relents in such a way that protects Lot’s life.

Knocking in prayer is about getting God’s attention. It is about the Lord know about our desires, and being persistent in such a way that we may change God’s heart. John Wesley, who was the founder of the Methodist movement, reminds us that “God does nothing but in response to prayer.” Our prayers are powerful, bring us closer to God, and help us to connect more closely with the Lord. We are persistent in prayer, knocking in ways to get God’s attention, because our prayers are important and God is active in our prayer.

Jesus calls us to pray by asking, seeking, and knocking. Three simple words tell us so much about having a prayerful life. Everyday is an opportunity to engage our Lord and ask God to hear our needs, to seek God’s voice, and to be persistent in our prayers. Sometimes our prayers only do one of these three words. Sometimes our prayers involve all three at the same time. No matter how we pray, or when we pray, the one thing that is important for us to remember is that, as a church, we are called to be people who are praying and who never stop praying.

With that in mind, what might we be in prayer for as a congregation? There are so many things for us to be in prayer about. Allow me suggest a few. Never stop praying for me, the ministry God has called me to do here, and my family. I cannot do what I am called to do without your prayers. Never stop praying for each other. We are in community with one another. We are not only friends, but truly family. When one of us hurt we all hurt. When one rejoices we all rejoice. Never stop praying that God will be with each of us in our lives and how we seek to live for the Lord each day. As well, never stop praying for the mission of our church. Pray that God will open doors for us to be the church our neighborhood needs us to be. Pray that God will equip us in being disciples so that we can go and make disciples of all people. Never stop praying that we will be about the business of doing God’s will and not our will.

Truly, never stop praying. Even when prayer seems intimidating, keep asking for those things that the Holy Spirit has laid on our hearts. When we are frustrated in our prayers, keep seeking after God’s voice and desires. When we feel like giving up, keep knocking on the door and trust that God will provided us the greatest gift, the Holy Spirit, in the midst of all of our needs.
Ask. Seek. Knock. Three words that say so much about a life of prayer. I wonder what God will show us if we were all to pray in this way?


Being Inspires Doing

We live in a constant state of being busy.

One look at our calendars and we can see the extent of how busy we are. We move from one event to the next. We have work, family responsibilities, bills that need paid, errands to run, events to attend, chores to do, and many other things. If we work, our days are filled from sunrise to sunset with the demands of the day. Even if we do not work, our days can be filled with the many things we do each day.

Ever wonder how we have become so busy? Renowned Catholic author Henri Nouwen wrote that being busy has become a status symbol. If we are always busy, always running from one thing to another, we believe the world will see us as successful.

If we believe this about our lives and families, just imagine how this thinking influences how we do missions and the ministry of the church. Our churches, today, can be defined by a constant state of activity. We tend to believe that the more we do in our churches is evidence of fruit in our mission of “making disciples of all nations.” The more programs, the more activities, the more services we have and offer, then, the better and stronger that our churches are and, thus, the closer we are to God.

We can become easily tired when we think about all that we do, whether it is in our families, our jobs, or even the church. That exhaustion leads to frustrations and even resentment that we have if others do not understand why we are busy or share in our activities.

This might be what we see in Luke 10:38-42. In our passage, Jesus is visiting Bethany and the home of sisters Martha and Mary. We see Martha in a state of anxiousness and activity making sure everything was right for Jesus. She was so busy that she was becoming frustrated with Mary, because she was not helping her out. Instead, Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus. A place that Jesus says she was right to be at.

We can relate to Martha. In our fast-paced, consumer driven, success minded culture, we understand why Martha was so busy and consumed by her plans. In fact, we don’t want to admit it, but we can all be like Martha. However, when we are consumed by our Martha moments we fail to see what being like Mary can teach us. When we allow ourselves to be like Mary, it helps and inspires us to be like Martha and do the things God has called us to do in our lives and within the church.

Luke is the only Gospel writer to mention this story about Martha and Mary. He places it in an interesting place in a section that focuses on Jesus’ intent to go to Jerusalem. It comes after the Parable of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus tells the legal expert to go and be a good neighbor to all people in response to God’s love. In a way, then, Luke gives us this story as perhaps a lesson not to take the Parable of the Good Samaritan to the extremes. That extreme being a belief that our salvation comes only in doing good deeds. This is an extreme that Luke, and especially Jesus, wants us to avoid.

It is an extreme that Martha perhaps experiences. She has a servant heart, but being a servant has gotten the best of her. Martha wants everything to be perfect for the worship and the celebration for Jesus. Her spiritual gift is hospitality and she is wanting to give her best to the Lord, but the desire to get things ready has overwhelmed her. She’s stressed. She’s anxious. She was distracted by the very things that were in front of her, which included the presence of Christ.

Martha was so anxious and distracted that when Jesus arrived her primary concern wasn’t to be in the presence of Christ. She wanted Jesus to support her anxiousness and demand that Mary leave her place and join her. Martha is so consumed by the stress of busy plans that she cannot understand why others are not there with her in her anxiousness.

We can relate to this in our own lives. We know how our anxiousness can overtake us. However, I also believe in Martha we can see the church. One of my biggest concerns is that the church can be defined more by what it does than for who we are. What I mean by this is that our activities, programs, and functions can be what motives us and we forget that discipleship must be our primary focus. As a friend of mine says, we can do all the good we can, but if we lose sight of the importance of discipleship, and being the church, then it will be void of the power of God.

Mary never lost sight of the importance of being in the presence of Christ and discipleship. That is what Jesus reminds Martha when she asks him to make Mary come help her. Jesus tells Martha that she is too consumed by worry and anxiety. He wasn’t going to tell Mary to move from his feet. Instead, Jesus says Mary has found the one thing that was truly important in life.

Note what is going on in this scene. The fact Mary was at Jesus’ feet was symbolic of discipleship and teaching. It was uncommon in Jesus’ day for a woman to be found in a place of discipleship, but Jesus welcomes Mary and says that she understands what is important. That is being in the presence of God. Mary knew that what was most important was her faith in Christ and being in a relationship with the Lord.

Being in the presence of God is the essence of faith and worship. Our relationship with the Lord as a disciple is the most important thing. We grow in faith by a willingness to be defined by the love of Lord and what God has done in our lives. When we find ourselves at the feet of Jesus, the presence of Christ transforms everything we are and everything we seek to be. It is there where we are reminded of Christ’s love, of who we are in Christ, and how God continues to pour grace upon us each day. That was true for Mary. She was defined not by the anxiousness of life, but by the love of Christ.

Martha and Mary seem to be images of extremes: Being and doing. Yet, the two must be held together. When we find ourselves, like Mary, at the feet of Jesus and allow our faith in God to define who we are, then it inspires us to be like Martha and do the work that God has called us to do as individuals and as a church. Our relationship with Christ gives power to the work we do for the kingdom of God in our communities and the world.

There is a rhythm to being and doing. As we find ourselves at the feet of Jesus and listen for God’s voice to speak to our hearts and shape who we are, we are equipped to serve and share the good news of Christ’s love with our neighbors and the world. This rhythm reminds us that we are not saved by what we do, but by who we are as redeemed by our faith in Jesus Christ. Our relationship with the Lord, our being in Christ, sends us out to do the work that God has called us to do as individuals and the church.

As a church, is important that we never forget that we are called to be disciples who find ourselves at the feet of Jesus. We cannot go out into our neighborhoods and seek to serve the many pressing needs that surround Latonia without first being equipped and strengthened by our relationship with Christ. When we grow in our faith in Christ we will find our mission and hear what God has called us to do in our neighborhood.

The call to discipleship and relationship is for us all. The call to being in the presence of Christ sustains us in the world and informs how we go into the world. We cannot do the work of the church unless we are willing to find ourselves at the feet of Jesus and allow Christ to be our vision and light.

My prayer is that this will be what defines us, both as individuals and a church. To be people who continually seek to find ourselves at the feet of Jesus so that we are strengthened and equipped for the mission in Latonia, throughout the River Basin area of Northern Kentucky, and the entire world.

What would it look like if we were not defined by a constant state of business, but instead our relationship with the Lord and being in the presence of Christ? What would we look like, as a church, if our common discipleship in Christ was the catalyst for everything we are and everything we hope to do in our community?

I can only imagine that we would be a church known for being strengthened by our faith in Christ like Mary and our willingness to serve the Lord like Martha. What a wonderful community that would be!

Ten Questions Following the George Zimmerman Trial

In my occasional and ongoing series asking 10 hard and pointed questions to the church, here are 10 questions that I believe will take us all time to answer in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman trial. Some of these questions will have multiple parts.

1. Are we willing to admit that we, in the United States, have a problem with cultural biases and stereotypes? Do we want to admit that our biases go beyond race, but also include gender, societal roles, economic conditions, ethnicity, educational status, and so much more?

2. Do we judge high-profile cases based upon these biases and stereotypes?

3. Do we desire revenge or justice? Do we know what justice is?

4. Are we more willing to pray that someone “gets what they deserve” or pray that someone seeks forgiveness and redemption in the name of Christ?

5. Do we allow the media to determine guilt and innocence for us? Is there room for “innocent until proven guilty” in a media-dominated culture?

6. What are we willing to say to the family of Trayon Martin, who are still looking for answers to what took place? What are we willing to say to the family of George Zimmerman?

7. How do we, as a church, take the lead in bringing racial and cultural reconciliation to our land? Are we willing to admit our own mistakes in this area?

8. What do we say to our children when they ask us about our racial and cultural problems?

9. Are we willing for the church to reflect the multicultural nature of God’s kingdom?

10. Do we want to be “one in Christ and one with each other?”

Sometimes We Need a Good Neighbor

The story of the Good Samaritan is one of the most recognizable Scripture passages. It is familiar to us. We’ve studied it in Sunday School classes, during Vacation Bible School, in small groups, and, yes, even in sermons.

As the story goes, a Samaritan helped an injured person after meeting him on the road to Jericho. The injured person was left for dead after being robbed of his possessions. Of course, the other important aspect to the story is that the Samaritan provided help after others, who were more expected to help, refused to do so.

The example of the Good Samaritan has inspired us for generations. Organizations and missions have been based upon this passage. We have tried to live by Jesus’ call to go and be like the Samaritan in how we care for our communities and the world.

One reason why this passage inspires us is because we can relate to it. We have been both the injured person and the Good Samaritan. Each of us have experienced brokenness and the need for others to offer help to us. As well, there have been times when we have help someone in need. These moments show us something about God’s love and what it means to care for our neighbors, both in our own lives and as a community of faith.

However, our familiarity with the story of the Good Samaritan presents us with a challenge. The challenge is that we can come to this passage and think “what more can be said.” Because we have read and studied this passage and that it is so familiar, we tend to gloss over these verses and think there is nothing more we can take from it. How can we approach this parable in a way that inspires us to live for Christ and love our neighbors today? We do so by going beneath the passage’s surface. Once we do we will see there is much we can take from the parable of the Good Samaritan that is applicable for our lives and mission today.

The parable comes as a legal expert questions Jesus about how someone receives eternal life. Jesus perhaps knew that the expert wanted to be honored. This might be why Jesus turns the question back on him and asks how he reads Scripture. Knowing the commands of the Torah, which are the first five books of the Old Testament, the expert responds with passages from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, which call us to love God and our neighbors.

Jesus affirms the expert’s reading and encourages him to go and do likewise. This is when the expert believes he has Jesus where he wants him. The expert wants to trap Jesus in his answer. He wants to discredit Jesus, which is why he asks him who exactly is his neighbor. The expert likely wanted it defined based upon who was like him or shared similar interests. Jesus had others ideas. The call to love our neighbors is to care for everyone and to see all people as our neighbor.
Jesus presents this understanding of neighbor through a story. Parables were an important tool that Jesus used to teach and express the values of the kingdom of God. A parable uses familiar illustrations to express something of greater importance. The best way to understand a parable is to look at all the elements and see how they are connected.

This particular parable tells about a man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. It is no accident Jesus mentioned this road. This was a very dangerous road during Jesus’ earthly time. The journey was approximately 18 miles and featured steep descents. That made it a place where robbers would hide and attack non-suspecting travelers.

Jesus says this is what happened to the traveler. Robbers approached him and took all he had. He was beaten and was left for dead. This traveler was broken, abused, violated, and, now, ignored. He was injured and needed someone to help him.

This is where we begin to relate to this story. Even though we likely have not felt the same physical or emotional pain, we know what it is like to hurt. We all have felt physical pains. We have been broken, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, by situations in our homes, our jobs, or the world. All of us have carried hurts and burdens with us and have needed someone to be with us in those moments. Even if we don’t want to always admit it, we know what it is like to need help.

This is a part of the parable I can especially relate to. My story of how I went from a journalist to recognizing my call as a pastor came out of a time of brokenness and a need for help. It’s a long story, but one that can be easily summarized. When I lived in West Virginia I dated someone from my high school throughout college. We didn’t have the best relationship, but after three years of life together we got married because “that’s what you do.” In time, we learned we were polar opposites and not in a good way. Failure to properly communicate led to distance and distrust. Eventually, she left when I was gone for work. I was hurt and broken, both emotionally and financially. I needed help, but I didn’t want to recognize it. I tried to help myself through unhealthy and unhelpful ways.

Those moments when we feel brokenness and hurt makes us vulnerable. It is a reminder that we cannot live this life on our own. We need others. In these moments of hurt, perhaps just like this traveler, we wait for someone to come to us and offer help.

Just imagine then the additional pain the traveler felt when no one came to help. I have to believe the traveler saw the priest and Levite look at him and refuse to help. They were the ones expected to help. They were the religious leaders of the day, but they decide not to help. Some have suggested it was because they did not want to become unclean for worship. If the traveler was dead, which is what they presumed, and they touched him, it would have made them ceremonial unclean. We might be able to understand their motives, but we wonder why someone called to help, and who likely had the means to help, would simply move to the other side of the road to avoid doing so.
This adds insult to the already painful injuries. I’m sure the traveler thought no one would help him. Long after the wounds have healed from the physical pain, that kind of rejection takes years to overcome. Think about this in our lives. We have experienced moments when someone knows about our hurts or we’ve approached someone for help and they decide not to help us. Whether it is a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or even the church, when we feel this rejection it is more painful than that initial pain.

Even though the traveler believed all hope was gone, truly help was on the way. It came in an unexpected way. A Samaritan traveler stopped and provided help. Why would this have been unexpected? In those days, Samaritans were a despised group because of their views about worship and what mountaintop was important to Moses. Perhaps the traveler didn’t expect the Samaritan to stop. The Samaritan does more than just stop. He cares for the traveler’s wounds, puts him on his own donkey, and takes him to an inn where he pays for all his recovery expenses. The Samaritan showed God’s love to the traveler when he needed to experience it the most.

Think about it in this way: The most unexpected person (a Samaritan) offered help in the most unexpected time (after normal avenues of help didn’t come through). This is what God’s grace and love looks like. God pours out his love through servants we may not have expected and in ways we may not have considered. We have all experienced this. For me, it was through a community who showed me what it meant to have a friend when I had given up on having the support of others. For you, it might be something else. We all know those moments when we have experienced unexpected help when we needed it the most. Without a doubt, those were the moments when God’s hand touched us and showed us the way out of our pain.

After Jesus told this parable, he looked at the legal expert and asked who really showed grace to the neighbor. The legal expert correctly responded when he said it was the Samaritan. Jesus tells him, and us, to go and do likewise. This command calls us to share the love of Christ with our neighbors. Jesus calls us to share love and hope with everyone, no matter who they are, in response to what God has done in us, for us, and through us.

The story of the Good Samaritan is the story of God’s love and how God’s presence is active and at work in every situation, especially in moments of deep pain and brokenness. God sends the Samaritan to provide assistance, grace, hope, and love when we are in need. That is God’s grace. God is the true god love. The Lord’s love is always present and at work.

As recipients of God’s grace, we are called to be like the Samaritan and share love to our neighbors when they need help. Our neighbors are not just the ones familiar to us. They are everyone. In God’s eyes all of humanity are our neighbors. How might we be like the Samaritan and respond to God’s love in the places of need in Latonia, throughout Covington, in Northern Kentucky, and all the world?

We’ve all experienced the love of a neighbor who has been a witness of God’s love in our time of need. Let us share the gift of God’s love in the ways we help those in need. Can you imagine the difference we could make in our communities and world if we lived like the Good Samaritan?

How We Can Relate to the Parable of the Good Samaritan

On Sunday, I will preach from Luke 10:25-37. You might know it better as the story of the Good Samaritan. It is one of the more recognizable parables in Scripture. The story tells us much about Jesus’ love for all people and the calling of those who seek to live by his example.

With any parable, the key is to find how we (as individuals and the church) relate to the story. I think that is one of the reasons why this parable is famous. We can  relate to each character and the legal expert with whom Jesus interacts with.

The legal expert came to Jesus wanting to be honored in the Lord’s presence. He wanted to be affirmed for his knowledge of Scripture. (As an expert of the law he would have known the Torah and what it meant for the people). He goes to Jesus wanting the “seal of approval” for his actions and faith.

Sound familiar? Often our devotional life with the Lord is similar to the legal expert’s encounter with Jesus. We read Scripture wanting our values to be approved or validated. We pray for our agendas to be accepted as holy in God’s eyes. What we want is for Jesus to look at us and say, “Wow, you’ve got it right.”

This can hinder our faith. Instead of wanting to grow in Christ’s love we instead only want to grow in our definition of self and what we believe it means to follow Christ. The legal expert needed to be stretched in his understanding of faith and serving others. We often need to be stretched, as well.

The injured person was the one who needed help. He had been robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. It is likely  he was in a serious amount of pain and needed immediate attention. Jesus doesn’t say it, but we can imagine he was screaming for help.

We all need help from time to time. Each of us will experience trials, whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual, that will test us. In these trials and difficult moments, we are reminded we cannot go through life alone. One of the most vulnerable moments in our lives is when we admit we are in need of help. It is a recognition that we need the community and we are allowing the community to care for us. In a culture that prides itself on individuality, we have to be taught how to depend on others and even how to ask for help.

The injured person reminds us that it is OK to ask for help and assistance from others. It is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of  faith and trust in God’s ability to provide for our needs through the gifts and love of others.

What about the priest and the Levite? Both had opportunities to help the injured person and, yet, for whatever reason they decide not to. Some have argued that it was because of the ceremonial rules of the day. They did not what to be considered unclean and, thus, unable to attend worship services. Regardless, the two people saw there was a need and perhaps had the means to provide some level of help.

One thing we don’t want to admit is that we can relate to the priest and Levite. Situations will come where we will see a need and for whatever reason decide not to help. The reasons could be as understandable as those of the priest and Levite. The parable invites us to think about those situations when we have moved to the other side of the road to avoid helping someone.

That can be a painful experience of remembrance. The parable also reminds us of God’s grace. We are going to get things wrong and will miss opportunities to serve. God’s grace is there in those moments and helps us to grow in such ways that, hopefully, we will be more like the Samaritan than the priest and Levite.

This brings us, of course, to the Samaritan. The person who offered help to the injured person was the least likely to do so. He was a member of an “outcast” group. This was because of their beliefs about where to worship and how to live out God’s desires. None of that matters here. The Samaritan finds a way to help when he sees the injured person. In fact, the Samaritan goes the extra mile and pays for the cost of the injured person’s recovery.

We want to follow the Samaritan’s example. We want to be able to reach out and provide care and love when we know of needs in our communities. The Samaritan’s example reminds us that no matter who we we can offer help to our neighbors. Keep in mind, for Jesus the idea of neighbor extends beyond those who are close to us and includes all of humanity.

Perhaps the best way we can follow the Samaritan’s example is by actively finding opportunities to care for others. In big and small ways, we can help our neighbors in need by sharing the love of God in appropriate ways. That should be the mission of our churches and each of us.

The Good Samaritan is a classic parable. While we often focus on the Samaritan, hopefully we will see that Jesus was speaking and teaching us through each character.

Are You Getting Settled?

One of the most common questions that, I believe, Abbi and I have received lately has been the classic “Are you getting settled?” It’s a great question, because it shows how much everyone at Trinity recognizes the big change a move to a new church and community is, as well as a recognition of the enormous task to unpack a home with a 4-month old.

To answer the question, we are becoming more settled with each passing day. The amount of boxes in the parsonage is slowly being reduced and we are starting to learn more about where everything is in the area. It may take awhile, though, to get used to the 5-way intersection near the church. My guess is that we are not alone in that.

As I’ve answered the question, I can’t help but think about it as it relates to our faith in Christ. I don’t want to be settled when it comes to my faith. When I think of being settled in my faith I think of being comfortable. It’s the image of being complacent, happy with where I am in my relationship with the Lord, and not being challenged by God’s presence. Those are ideas that I do not want to define my relationship with God.

Our faith is anything but being settled. It is a daily journey of being stretched and challenged by Christ’s presence in our lives. Through Scripture, prayer, and life experiences, we are encountered by God’s love in such a way that helps us to experience God’s love more fully and to see how we may life for God in our world and neighborhoods.

The journey of Christian discipleship is never completed. It is a journey of daily renewal and of growing closer in our trust, dependence, and love of the Lord. I hope that is our goal every day as we seek to live for the Lord.

In Christ Alone

What is church?

It is a very basic and complex question. It is also one we may not have not expected to be asked this morning. Yet, it is one worthy of our time and consideration. What do we mean when we say “church?”

To be sure, it is a question we have wrestled with for some time. The question one is being debated as we seek to engage a culture that is ever changing and ever questioning the truth of Christianity. How we answer this most basic and difficult of questions will help us as we seek to “make disciples of all nations” in the name of Jesus Christ.

So, how do I answer this question? The way I answer this question may help you to understand my heart for ministry and what it means to reach out, in God’s love, to our neighbors and community. I believe the church is the ongoing witness of Jesus Christ and called to share the truth of God’s love to all people. I believe the church is a community of believers where each of us have special gifts and talents to be used to serve Christ and others. I believe the church is called to be active in our communities with both our words and actions.

I want us to focus on this last thought. We are the church. This is true not just because we have gathered in this appointed time, but because of our faith in the Lord and our desire to be guided by the Lord’s presence. It is not a fact that defines us for a few hours on Sunday morning, but everyday and every moment. We carry the mission of the church, the message of Christ, with us everywhere we go, in everything that we do, and in everything that we are. People look at us to see how we take the message we hear and proclaim on Sundays and live it out in how we influence the world the rest of the week. It is important for us to take seriously the mission of the church in the world, because we are living it out every day.

We’re not alone in thinking about these things. Since the earliest days of the church we have thought about what it means for us to be the witnesses of Christ in our lives and world. How we live out this witness is at the heart of our passage, this morning, from Galatians 6:12-16. Paul takes up his pen to summarize points he has made throughout the letter. In doing so, he discusses an ongoing issue in Galatia and one that speaks to us this morning. Seeing how Paul answers this issue can help us in being the church in our communities.

At the time, two groups were trying to win over the hearts and minds of the Galatians. They were both concerned about what it truly meant to live in response to Christ’s love. One group, known as Judaizers, proclaimed that the ritual practices of the time must be maintained to receive salvation from God. The other group, led by Paul, said that was not the case. When Jesus, the Son of God, entered the world and offered himself on the cross that it provided the way to receive salvation and a renewed relationship with the Lord. The cross was and is the means of salvation. In looking at these two groups, Paul recognizes there was a motive as to why the Judaizers would attempt to tell others that salvation did not come through the cross, but by their own actions.

Paul says they were more interested in “looking good to others.” What does he mean by this? Think of it in terms of a politician who is trying to win an important election. The politician orders a poll to be taken of the voters to see what issues they consider important. Once the poll comes in and the results analyzed, the politician then changes their views in order to gain enough support to win the election.

That is essentially what Paul claims that the Judaizers were doing. He says they were so worried about what others thought that they were willing to change what it meant to follow Christ simply to please others. The others they were willing to please were those who were actively persecuting the church. To protect themselves, the Judaizers were willing to redefine the mission in order to gain more believers and be seen as acceptable to the masses. More than that, they were also bragging to others about how many new followers they had gained through their practices.

Unfortunately, this sounds all too familiar. We have the tendency of being just like that in the church today. In a day and age when the church faces more challenges to reach people and influence our communities, we face the temptation of reducing the mission of the church in order to gain more members. We’ll say things like, “Jesus didn’t mean what he said,” or “there are many ways to get to heaven,” or “you don’t have to be active in a community to grow in faith.” Even more, we’ll say if you do good deeds or are a good person then all will be forgiven, regardless if you have claimed Christ as both Lord and Savior or not. With these and so many other statements, we weaken what it means to be the church and the witness of God’s love. We do it so that we may be more acceptable to the larger community and world.

There has to be a better way to reaching out into our communities. There must be a way to maintain the mission of the church and be true to what it means to follow Christ. Paul shows us that way in going against the Judaizers. He says that in Christ alone will we find our purpose and mission.

In Christ alone is our salvation. Paul says he will boast in nothing but what the cross has done for him and the world. It is on the cross, not in the things that we do, that we find our salvation. For on the cross, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for our sin and disobedience. Through the most inhumane form of punishment the world has ever devised, Jesus humbly provided the healing and restoration for our relationship between us and God. In Christ alone do we find peace, hope, forgiveness, and transformation.

When we claim that it is in Christ alone that we find salvation and hope we are making an important statement. That is that it is not about us and what we do, but about what Christ has done in us. Claiming Christ and his offering of grace on the cross transforms us into the people God created us to be. We become a new creation by participating and trusting in the life of Christ. The Judaizers claimed it is what you did that made you whole in God’s eye, but Paul reminds us that this is simply not the case. Salvation comes in believing and trusting in the Lord and claiming Jesus as both our Lord and Savior.

Claiming that in Christ alone do we receive salvation helps us to put our mission and ministry in perspective. We do not go out into our communities in order to receive salvation. Our works of caring for the poor, advocating justice, and bringing in new people are not good works in order to receive salvation. Instead, we go out into our communities, share the message of Christ, and influence others in response to what Christ has done in and through us.

Trusting in Christ alone, and not ourselves, helps us as we go out into our communities to share God’s love with others. Following Jesus’ example guides us as we seek to be the church and the witness of Christ’s presence in Latonia, throughout Northern Kentucky, and across the world. We do not go out into our community trusting in ourselves and claiming that we know the way forward. What we do is claim the message of the cross that is available to all and offer it to all. We do this everyday and every moment. We do so in how we live our lives, how we raise our families, and how we connect with the children, the families, and needs that are present in our community.

It’s not about us. The Judaizers forgot this most basic truth. They thought it was about them and their own desires. Let us not be the church that forgets what the mission of the church is really about. The mission of the church is to trust in Christ alone as we seek, together as one, to serve Christ in how we care for one another, love others, and in how we share the greatest hope, joy, and peace the world has ever known.

In a moment, we will gather around the table and share in communion. This meal is a meal of transformation and remembrance. As we partake in the bread and juice, we are reminded that in Christ alone do we find salvation. We are transformed into a new person when we trust in his name and grace. We are also reminded that in Christ alone do we find our mission and purpose to go out. Trusting in Christ alone helps us to be the church that isn’t just about Sunday mornings, but every day.

Only when we trust in Christ alone can we live this out. Only when we claim that message of Christ for our own can we go into our world and proclaim this love. So, let us do just that. Let us cling to the cross, the hope of Christ, and love offered to the world, and share grace, hope, and joy with our communities.