The Hands of God

Cash
Army Captain Christopher S. Cash, 36, died on June 24, 2004 in Baquabah, Iraq when his Bradley Fighting Vehicle came under attack by enemy forces using small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. He was assigned to the Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 120th Infantry, Jacksonville, North Carolina. 

Isaiah 49:8-16

If I am to be truly honest with you, I must confess, that I suppose I am just like most of us here, in that, from time to time, I have my doubts.  I cannot help it, and I’d be a hypocrite to deny it.  It’s just part of my fragmented human nature.

What I believe makes the Bible so great is the sheer honesty of it.  When I slip into the doldrums of doubt and despair, I can always pick up the Bible to discover that I am not alone.

Listen again to these words of Isaiah to the people of Israel in exile:

“Thus says the Lord”—what a powerful statement. This is not a mere prophet’s voice, but the voice of Almighty God, the Holy One, the Redeemer of Israel.

“Thus says the Lord… who is faithful…who has chosen you.” Israel did not reach up and choose God. God reached down and chose Israel. Here, God is the actor, the mover, the shaker. And listen to how God has acted…

“Thus says the Lord…I have answered you…I have helped you…I have kept you…I have given you….”  In other words, “I answered your cries in Egypt, I sent Moses to deliver you, I protected you in the wilderness, and I gave you a promised land.”

“And not only have I acted in the past, I promise to continue acting, reaching out and reaching in… giving you light in your darkness…feeding your hunger, quenching your thirst.  I promise to protect, lead and guide you.  I will transform mountains into roads, lift up highways and show you the way out of captivity…”

“So shout for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth O mountains into singing!  For the Lord has comforted God’s people, and will have compassion on God’s suffering ones!”

And what did the people say?  “Halleluiah!  Thine the glory?”  No, not even close.

The people in exile responded to the voice of God, the divine acts of the past and the divine promises for the future the same way I suppose you and I sometimes respond—with a lot of doubt.

In verse 14 we read…But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.”

Deep within, we know that God has always been with us, never away from us. We know God is for us, not against us.  And we believe in our hearts that whatever our future brings, God will always work all things out for the good. However, due to, I suppose, our sinful, finite nature, the reality is that, sometimes, we have our doubts.

I can go to church on Sunday and experience the love and grace of Christ through my family of faith. I’m greeted each Sunday at the door with handshakes and smiles. I listen to the choir sing. I hear the word of God being read. I sing the great hymns of faith, and through it all, I sense the nearness and the intimacy of God. But then, during the week, a thousand different things can happen and change everything.

Fifteen years ago, I became good friends with Christopher Cash, a member of the National Guard.

On October 1, 2003, his unit was deployed to Iraq. As the only person I personally knew in Iraq, I specifically remember praying for my friend Christ the following year, on the Sunday morning before Memorial Day the following year.

About a month later, I picked up the Saturday newspaper and read the headlines on the front page: “Captain Christopher Cash Killed in Iraq.” I tried my best to read the article, but couldn’t. I never made it pass the sub-title: “Cash leaves behind his wife, Dawn, and two children.”

The room started spinning. I felt sick to my stomach. I was lost.  And I had never felt more alone. With Zion I wanted to cry out, “The Lord has forsaken me. The Lord has forgotten me.”

One moment we’re filled with faith and hope; we sense the intimate presence of God. And in the next moment, we sense only God forsakenness.

A thousand different things can happen…the telephone rings in the middle in the night…there’s been a terrible accident…your child is sick…your spouse is laid off from work…someone who you are supposed to be able to count on for encouragement, lets you down…a terrorist or a crazed gunman attacks…a tornado or earthquake strikes…war rages…the doctor gives a grim diagnosis…a loved one dies.

One day we are basking in the presence of God. We know we’ve been chosen. Our prayers have been answered. We’ve been helped. We have received and kept by an eternally faithful God. We have confidence that as God has not let us down in the past, God will certainly not desert us in the future. God will continue to reach out and reach in, transform, protect, shed light in our darkness, feed and quench, protect, lead and guide.

But then something happens; and just a short time later, with Zion we cry out, “The Lord has forsaken me. The Lord has forgotten me.”

This is why I love the Bible. I love the sheer honesty of it!  In spite of everything we know about God, what God has done, and what God promises to do, like Zion, we fragmented and finite human beings still have our doubts.

Now listen to the good news. The good news is that our God never gives up on us. God never leaves us to our own devices. God never deserts us with our doubts, but always responds to our doubts. God keeps moving, keeps reaching out and reaching in.

In verse 15, we read God’s response to our doubt.  “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?  Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands…”

Tomorrow, our nation remembers those members of our armed forces who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Today, our church remembers members of our family of faith who have died during the past year. But this is not why we have gathered here for worship. We gather to worship this day, not because we remember them, but because our God remembers them.

For our remembering is shallow and weak; our remembering is fraught with doubt; laden with despair. God’s remembering is deep, unfailing. God’s memory endures forever. God responds to our doubt with the assurance that we and our loved ones will never be forgotten by God because they, with us, are in the very hands of God.

And, as Christians, we know something about the hands of God, don’t we? The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ teaches us that the hands of our God are always responding to our brokenness, always working, always doing all they can do to work all things together for the good, always creating and recreating, healing and transforming and resurrecting.

As my heart broke upon learning about by friend’s violent death in Iraq. I must confess I had my doubts. I am sure that his wife Dawn had her doubts. But thank God that God did not give up on us. God responded to our doubts the hands of God kept working, kept moving, kept creating, kept resurrecting. And today, nearly 14 years after Chris’ sacrifice for this country, Dawn has helped to raise nearly a half million dollars in scholarship money in Chris’ memory to assist needy students with college educations.

And for me, well, I still have my doubts from time to time; however this Memorial Day, because of Chris and so many others who gave their lives serving and protecting this country, I possess a deeper appreciation for our country and for this miraculous gift we call life. Because of their sacrifice, I possess a profound desire to serve others more faithfully, to love others more deeply, and to preach the message of peace more fervently.

But here’s the true miracle: Because God never gives up on any of us, because we are indeed in the very hands of God, each time in our humanness we have our doubts, each time we wonder if our faith is even real, that God is even real, our faith miraculously grows stronger.

Thanks be to God that as the very hands of God picked my friend Chris up from the battlefield to hold forever, those very hands also hold us.

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Her Jug Will Never Fail: Remembering Delcea Batterman

Delcea-Batterman-1463996239

1 Kings 17:8-16 NRSV

In 1 Kings we read, “Then the word of the Lord came to him.”

Those of us who grieve the loss of Delcea are also able to celebrate this day, because we know that the word of the Lord came to her.

Because we know that the word of the Lord came to her many years ago when she decided to follow Christ as his disciple, and because of the many ways that she let us know through her faithful love and amazing smile that the word of the Lord came to her daily, today we who grieve also celebrate. We celebrate because we also know that the word of the Lord came to her this past Saturday morning, finally, fully and eternally.

I loved the way her daughter Eilene notified me Saturday morning of her passing. Revealing Delcea’s deep faith in the word of the Lord, and the faith that she passed down to her children, Eilene sent me a text that simply read: “Mom just left this world to be with God.”

Eilene will never forget the first time she truly grasped the depth of her mother’s faith. As a small child she remembers living very meagerly in a mobile home. One day, Eilene asked her mother to make her a peanut butter sandwich, but Delcea had to explain that, at the time, there was no bread in the house.

“But mama, I really want a peanut butter sandwich.”

“I am so sorry,” said Delcea. “And we don’t have any money right now to go out and buy any bread.”

Looking at the disappointment in her child’s face, Delcea said, “But you know something, we can pray for bread.”

The two of them then knelt down by the couch in the living room and prayed for bread.

As soon as they got from prayer, there was a knock on the door. Delcea opened the door, with Eilene by her side, to greet a gentleman who was giving away loaves of Colonial Bread.

Whenever I read stories of the Bible like the ones I read from 1 Kings and the gospel of Mark, someone will inevitably comment: “I sure wished the Lord spoke to people and worked miracles today like God did back in Bible days.”

But I don’t think you will ever hear any member of the Batterman family make that comment. And I know for certain you have never heard Delcea make that comment.

“The word of the Lord came to Elijah saying: Go now to Zarephath and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you when you arrive.”

Notice that, like Delcea illustrated throughout her life, Elijah was faithful to the command of the Lord. He sets out and goes immediately to Zarephath. And when he comes to the gate of the town, just as the Lord had said, he meets a widow who is gathering a couple of sticks to build a fire for dinner. He called to her and said, “Pour me a glass of water. And while you are at it, bring me a morsel of bread.”

But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, [I don’t have a loaf of bread in the house] I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug.” She only had enough flour and oil to make one final meal for her and her son. Then, in the midst of the drought and famine in the land, they would surely die.

Elijah says: “Do not be afraid.”

Hebrew biblical scholar Katherine Schifferdecker imagines her saying:

“Easy for you to say! You’re not the one preparing to cook one last meal for yourself and your son before you die. You’re not the one who has watched your carefully-hoarded supply of flour and oil relentlessly dwindle day-by-day, week-by-week, as the sun bakes the seed in the hard, parched earth and the wadis run dry. You’re not the one who has watched your beloved son slowly grow thinner and more listless.”

But Elijah still says to her, go and make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son” (1 Kings 17:13).

“How dare this man of God ask me for bread, knowing that I have so little? Who does he think he is, asking me for bread before I feed my own child? There is simply not enough to go around. I told him that I have only “a handful of meal, a little oil, and a couple of sticks. There is not enough. And Death waits at the door.”

Then the good news:

“For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.’ She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:14-16).

Have you heard the word of the Lord?

We who grieve this day are also able to celebrate, because we know Delcea not only heard the word of the Lord, she believed it. And today we give thanks that she was a living testimony to the miracle of that word.

Born right before the Great Depression, I am certain that there were many times that her family questioned whether or not they would make it. But Delcea did make it, graduating from Elkhart High School in Kansas and marrying the love of her life, Marion Batterman. Growing up during some of the most difficult years in our country was not easy. I am certain there were many times her family just about ran out of sticks. But the good news is that their jars never emptied, and their jugs never failed.

The two newlyweds farmed together and dreamed of starting a family and making a good life together. But this was 1943, and the United States was in the middle of war with Germany and Japan. So Marian left Delcea to defend his country and freedom around the world. I am sure she worried and prayed every day and night for Marion, and although I am sure she sometimes doubted that her dreams of raising and family and growing old with her husband would be realized, the miracle was that her jar did not empty, and her jug did not fail.

Upon Marian’s return, they both put their faith into action as they both answered a call to Christian ministry. Marian preached in the gospel, while Delcea played the piano. And although they often struggled, sometimes not even having a loaf of bread in the house to make a peanut butter sandwich, the good news is: although their jars got low, they never emptied; although their jugs almost ran dry, they never failed.

I met with Delcea’s children, Marvin, Eilen and Glenda Saturday afternoon and asked them to name some things about their mother that would inspire them for the rest of their lives.

They talked mostly about her faithfulness to them as a mother. They talked about her always being there for them, supporting, them encouraging them no matter what. They talked about her always being there when they go home from school.

They also talked about how much she loved life, always curious. How she took flying lessons, enjoyed traveling and making costumes and participating in the Gaslight Theater.

They talked about a faithful woman whose jar never emptied, a woman whose jug never failed.

For the last several years, unable to walk, Delcea has suffered greatly. Her poor health forced her to move out of an assisted living facility with Marion into a nursing home.

A few weeks ago, she was hospitalized. Her doctors determined that she had suffered multiple heart attacks. They tried to correct the blockages in the arteries of her heart, but they were unsuccessful. They essentially told her that she only had only a couple of sticks left.

Hospice was called in to keep her comfortable. However, each time I would visit her, in the hospital or in the nursing home, Delcea had this amazing, remarkable smile that, considering her condition, was miraculous.

She smiled and laughed with the hope of a young girl who had just gotten married to what would be the love-of-her-life for over seventy-three years; certainly not like someone who had only a couple of weeks to live.

And during her final hours with us, when she was heavily medicated and unable to laugh and smile, if you looked down towards her legs that had been immobile for years, you would see them moving, running, almost dancing, as if if to say: “My sticks may almost gone. Death may be at the door. But my jug will never be emptied and my jar will never, ever fail.”

Night is falling. Jesus has been teaching out on a hillside. And the crowd that showed up that day, well, they were getting hungry.

The disciples with a little panic in their voices insist: “Jesus, there’s a thousand hungry people out there. We need to send them back to town so they can buy something to eat.”

Jesus asks, “But tell me what do you have?”

“Just a few loaves and two miserable little fish.”

Jesus takes what they have, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it.  And, the good news is: it is enough.

However, that is not the end of the story.  Although that would be enough, there is more. We read where “all ate and all were filled.”  They were all fulfilled, all satisfied. They just didn’t receive something to “tie them over” until they got back into town. They ate until they were full and satisfied.

But the story doesn’t even in end there. They took up what was left over and 12 baskets were filled. The truth is: there was not enough. There was more than enough. There was not only fulfillment and satisfaction, but there was a surplus. The good news is: This is simply the way it is with Jesus.

I visited a little while with Marion yesterday. He talked about how difficult life was going to be without his wife at his side. Naturally, he talked about being a little numb, how reality had yet to set in. He knows that will soon find himself in a deserted place.

The good news is, and all of us who knew and loved Delcea know it, the word of the Lord will surely come to Marian, to Marvin, Eilene and Glenda and their families, and to each one of us who grieve this day saying: “Do not be afraid. Because your jar will never be emptied and your jug will never fail, and as long as you are following Jesus, you will always have a great big pile of sticks and more than enough bread!”

All I Really Need to Know, I Learned Playing Baseball

David-Allen1
David Allen Ball Park, Enid, Oklahoma
Message delivered to players and coaches of the Junior College World Series at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes Breakfast in Enid, Oklahoma 5-27-16.

In Robert’s Fulgum’s best-seller, All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten, Fulgum says: “All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten.”

Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat.  Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work everyday some. Take a nap every afternoon.  When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.

I believe every person who has every played baseball could say the same thing; that is, all you really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be, you learned playing baseball. Since we are talking baseball, here are a list of nine things:

  1. Pray Before Every Game

But don’t pray for God to protect you from injury. And please don’t pray for God to help you win the game. Instead, thank God that you are physically able to play the game. Thank God that you are healthy enough to run, and slide and swing to risk injury. And then ask God to forgive you for seeing people in wheelchairs and feel no remorse. Each morning when you wake up to the gift of a new day, pray that God may help you not to take it all for granted or to act as if you somehow deserve it or have in someway earned it.

  1. Back Each Other Up

This is perhaps one of the first things that you learned about playing this game: the importance of leaving your position to back a brother up. What a better world it would be if we all practiced this simple principle and had each other’s backs.

  1. Step Outside the Box

In baseball, you step outside the box to take a deep breath, kick the mud off your cleats, and relax. But you also step outside the box to refocus.

Let me see how focused you are this morning.

You are driving along on a Oklahoma Highway on very stormy night You pass by a bus stop, and you see three people waiting for the bus:

  1. An elderly woman who will die if she is not rushed immediately to the hospital.
  2. An old friend who once saved your life.
  3. The perfect woman you have been dreaming about your entire life.

Which one would you choose to pick up, knowing that there could only be one passenger in your car?

Why wouldn’t you give your car keys to your old friend who is good at saving lives and let him take the elderly woman to the hospital? Then stay behind and wait for the bus with the woman of your dreams!

Sometimes we gain more in life when we step outside the box and refocus (from (drrobertbrooks.com).

  1. Don’t Be Embarrassed to Spit or Scratch or Make Other Necessary Adjustments

There is only one requirement to become a Christian. And that is to confess that you are not perfect, you’ve got some problems and you need some help. The trouble with the church today is that we have too many people in it who simply do not meet this basic requirement. They think they are better than others, more holy, more righteous. So much so that they are very quick to judge others who are not like them. So go ahead, spit and scratch, be human, be real, let people know you have problems and you need some help.

  1. Watch for the Signals

What happens if you fail to look down at your third base coach? What happens if you look down at the coach, but ignore his signals? It’s not good.

Frederick Buechner, one of my favorite preachers and writers, has written:

If you really keep your eye peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even in the most limited situations, God through life itself has something to teach you.

In other words, every day God is giving us signals.

He continues:

Taking your children to school, and kissing your wife goodbye.  Eating lunch with a friend.  Trying to do a decent day’s work. Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace that God is not present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly.

 6.  Keep Your Head in the Game

It was the great Yogi Berra who once said: “Baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical.”

If you understand Yogi’s wisdom, you know that what you focus on and think about before and during the game can make or break your performance.

Without the mental toughness to handle pressure, to bounce back after making an error, striking out, falling behind, or suffering an injury, without the ability to focus on what’s important and to block out everything else, you will never win at anything.

The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way: “Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus….”

Each day, before I encounter someone, my neighbor, a co-worker or a stranger, before I face any obstacle or make any decision, I try to get my head together. And as a Christian, I do that keeping my mind on the words and works of Jesus: “Love everybody, including your enemies.” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” “Feed the hungry.” “Do not judge.” “Forgive those who have wronged you.” “Remember, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.”

  1. Be Willing to Sacrifice

Many a game have been won with a well executed bunt or a sacrifice fly. This principle is the very heart of the of the Christian faith. This coming weekend, Americans will pause to remember those who have sacrificed their lives defending their country and freedom around the world. Jesus once said: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus says that if we are not willing to sacrifice in this life for the sake of others, we will certainly lose our lives. 

  1. Someone Is Depending on You to Get Them Home

Although they might be able to steal home, it is much easier to score if someone has an RBI.

American Journalist George Will once wrote:

Baseball is a sport that thrives on personal accountability. Every day, fans, sports executives and ball players alike can check the box scores to determine how well certain players performed in the previous game. Whether a player struck out three times or went 5-for-5 with a pair of home runs, the information is easy to access and provides people with the numbers necessary to formulate their own assessments about a particular player or team.

Imagine what type of country we would be if everyday America’s doctors and teachers, lawyers and preachers, firefighters and police officers, every business owner and every worker, says Will, had to “read in the morning’s newspaper a box score measuring the caliber of their previous day’s work.”

  1. Play the Game, Not the Clock

One thing that is unique to baseball is that it is played without a clock.

Just as we have no idea how long a baseball game might last, none of us know how many years we have on this earth. Therefore, life is not so much about how long we live, as it is how we live.

In his Pulitzer-Prize-Winning musical, Rent, author Jonathan Larson wrote the following words:

Five-hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes

Five-hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred moments so dear,

Five-hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes

How do you measure—measure a year?

In daylights—in sunsets

In midnights—in cups of coffee

In inches—in miles

In laughter—in strife.

In five-hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes

How do you measure a year of life?

How about love?  How about love?

How about love? Measure in love.

Seasons of love.  Seasons of love.

When it is all said and done, none of us can control the number of days we will have on this earth. No one knows how many minutes or even how many innings will be played. We can, however, control the love that we offer to others. And in the end, others will truly know what kind of life we lived.

Yes, the truth is, all you really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be, you learned playing baseball.

Holy, Holy, Holy

trinity

2 Corinthians 13:11-13 NRSV

The Bible calls God “holy.”  I used to think that “holy” meant that God is good and perfect in every way.  But “Holy” is actually the designation for the distance of God, the hallowedness of God— “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

It is the designation for God’s awesome mysteriousness, God’s divine otherness. God is a peace beyond understanding, a love that can never be contained. As C.S. Lewis once said, God is a “dynamic pulsating activity, a drama, a life, a dance” that is larger than our mortal minds can comprehend.

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the understanding that God is one but is experienced as Father, Son and Holy Spirit reveals just how awesome and mysterious our God is.

Three persons in one— Throughout the centuries, scholars have been trying to explain this complexity in simplistic language, but such explanations only scratch the surface of who God truly is.

You have probably heard that God is like a pie. You can cut a pie into three pieces, but it’s still one pie. Or God is like many of us. I’m a brother, a father, and a son, but I am still one person. Or God is like water, and water has many forms. Steam, ice, liquid, but it is still water.

However, no matter how simplistic we try to make it, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity will always underscore the complexity, the sheer largeness, the wonderful otherness, the richness, and the wonder of God.

My good friend and pastor, the late Warren Carr, used to be fond of saying he has never believed in Children’s Church or Children’s messages.  He said the reason that churches have children’s church or children’s messages is because they want to make sure that the children understand something while they are at church.  Carr used to say: “Maybe it is better that they don’t understand everything that is going on in church. Because when they come to church and don’t understand, they learn something very valuable about the sheer mystery of God.”

Carr understood that a great hindrance to the church has always been people who think they have it all figured out. For them, God is not a mystery. They understand God completely. There’s nothing complex and confusing or even Holy about the Trinity. When it comes to faith and theology, they know it all. They have all the answers. And, unfortunately they are usually the ones who are very quick to speak on the behalf of God

When Lori and I lost our first child late in the third trimester, these people came from everywhere to share their insight.

“Jarrett, God is just not ready for you to be a father.” “God has some reason for taking your baby.” “God doesn’t make mistakes.”

Although I remained quiet, I wanted to raise my voice and say back to them, “But God is ready for children born every day out of incestuous relationships, and God is ready for children to be born every day to abusive parents or parents strung out on cocaine or heroin!”

During that most difficult time in our life, people said some of the most hurtful things to us, and they said those things in the name of God—in the name of the God that they have all figured out.

The truth, is when it comes to God, with our human limitations, all of us are quite ignorant. The Apostle Paul was right when he said while we live on this earth, we will always see as through a glass dimly or darkly.

When it comes to theology, I have learned that one of the most intelligent things a person can say is: “I don’t know.”  And when you are trying to comfort someone who is grieving any loss, oftentimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. A sincere hug or even a simple handshake, a holy kiss on the forehead will express the wonder of God’s presence and love better than any words.

However, and it’s a big however, although God is holy, complex and mysterious, although we are limited by our human finitude, the good news is that God is not entirely unknowable.

This mystery, this wonderful otherness, this wonder we call God constantly reaches in and out to us, and continually seeks to encounter us as the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

And here’s some irony. The same doctrine which reveals God’s mysterious distance is the same doctrine which reveals God’s intelligible nearness. The Holy Trinity is how we know the mysterious, distant, yet intelligible, intimate ways of God.  The Holy Trinity teaches us how God moves and works, what God wants, and where God is moving and working in our world.

Listen carefully, because what I am about to say is all I believe we need to understand about the Trinity. Forget all about the three slices of pie. Forget all about me being a father, son and a brother, and forget all about ice, steam and liquid.

  • God, the creator of all that is, the power behind our universe, gave God’s self, emptied God’s self, poured God’s self out and became flesh and dwelt among us through Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus Christ, while he was on this earth, gave himself back to God by becoming obedient to God even to death, even death on the cross.
  • Before he left us on this earth, he promised not to leave us orphaned, he promised to be with us always by giving himself back to us through the Holy Spirit.

Do you see the one characteristic of the Holy Trinity which stands out?  God gave God’s self through the Son. The Son gave himself back to the Father. And God once more gives God’s self back through the Holy Spirit. This is what we can know about this mystery, this wonderful otherness that we call God. God is a self-giving God. God is a God who loves to give to others the very best that God has to offer, the gift of God’s self.

Even when we rejected and nailed God to a tree and crucified him between two criminals, God gave God’s self back to us in the resurrection of Jesus. There is nothing in heaven or on earth which prevents our God from giving all that God has to give, the greatest gift of all, the gift of God’s self.

God is a giver. That means that God is not a taker. For givers are never takers.

Isn’t interesting that people, many of them Christian, often characterize God as a taker?  Do you remember the song, “O where, o where can my baby be? The Lord took her away from me.”  How many funerals have we attended and heard the words, “God took her home; God was ready to take him.”

Our first child died, but I do not believe God took him. We have all lost loved ones to death. But the self-giving nature of the Trinity teaches us that God did not take them. For givers are not takers. A more accurate way of describing what happened to our loved ones when they breathed their last breath on this earth is that God fully, finally and eternally gave all of God’s self to them.

When we experience the heartache and heart break of this fallen and broken world, there is one thing of which we can be certain, God is here with us, not taking, but giving us all that God has to give, the best gift of all, the gift of God’s self.  If we don’t know anything else about the complexity and mystery of God, we can know this. God is a giver. For it is God’s very nature.

This is a very important concept for us to grasp as Christians because God has mysteriously called us share this self-giving love with all people. Like the dynamic activity of the Holy Trinity, God calls us to give ourselves back to God, die to self. And then ask God to give God’s self to us, come into our hearts, fill us with God’s love, so we can share it with others.

When people face a crisis, I have said that it is oftentimes better to be present and silent. Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all.  A hug and handshake will suffice. Giving the gift of yourself, as God gives God’s self, through a hug, a handshake, or a holy kiss is more than sufficient. However, there are many of us who just have an innate problem keeping our big mouths shut.

So, if you have to open your mouth, remember the Trinity. God is a giver, not a taker. Therefore, always focus on the self-giving God instead of on some false taking god.  In ignorance, instead trying to explain why something bad has happened to someone, remind that person that God is there with them, not away from them. God is there for them, not against them. God doesn’t take. God gives. God is there giving all that God has to give, the gift of God’s self.

If you have open your mouth, you can never go wrong in pronouncing upon them the great Trinitarian benediction of the Apostle Paul—“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you.”

And you can promise them this.  Mysteriously, yet certainly, that gift of God’s Holy Triune self will be all that they will ever need.

You Never Know

Pentecost fire

Acts 2:1-21 NRSV

“You never know!” There are a couple different places I hear these three powerful words.

One place is in the midst of chaos and pain. It is a phrase that is frequently heard in hospitals or at funeral homes. It usually comes after an accident, a diagnosis, or sudden death. It comes after the telephone rings in the middle of the night, and it is not the wrong number. It comes when we hear words from our employers like “cutting back,” “laying off,” letting go,” or words doctors like “cancer,” “inoperable” and “terminal.”

“You never know when life might change, and change dramatically. You never know what each day will bring. You never know what tomorrow is going to be like. You never know from one day to the next. All of a sudden, in a blink of an eye, your whole world can change.  You just never know.”

Then the other place that I oftentimes hear these words is when God suddenly takes us by surprise. We think we have life all figured out. We think we finally have a plan our lives. Then God somehow, some mysterious way reminds you that God is the one with the plans. Someone once asked me: “Do you know how to make God laugh?”  Make a plan.

It was only one short year ago. We had just bought a new house in Farmville, North Carolina. We told several members of our church family that we were there to stay. “Eastern North Carolina is our home,” we said. “We have no plans to ever move again,” we said. Well, you never know.

This type of surprise is what I would call a God-ordained surprise, a divine, holy surprise. I think it would also be fair to call it a “Pentecostal surprise.”

Pentecost, that time and place when and where “suddenly” (“suddenly”—now there’s a good Pentecostal word, a word that denotes great surprise), “suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house.”

Then they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Holy Spirit enabled them.

You just never know.

But that is not the only thing that surprised them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?

You just really never know do you

It’s what Joel was talking about when he said, young men will see visions and old men will dream dreams and sons and daughters will prophesy.  You never know.

I believe this is exactly what Jesus was trying to explain to Nicodemus when he was describing the life of the believer. It is what happens to a person when that person no longer lives by the flesh but by the spirit of God living in them.

We read in John’s gospel:

“You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born anew.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

In other words, “Nicodemus, if you are born of the Spirit, if you are filled with the Spirit, and if you are led by the Spirit, I can promise you this old friend, you will never be bored.  Cause you just never know.

Last Sunday, since it was Mother’s Day, I had a longer than usual phone conversation with my mother. She told me that she had just started babysitting a two-year old little boy, while the boy’s father, who suffers with bells palsy, goes to his part-time job. My mother, whose grandchildren are all grown, who is not in the best of health, is now caring for a toddler almost daily, ministering to a young family in need in a way she could have never dreamed.  You never know.

My sister called me later that day. We talked about mama taking care of this little boy, how she is helping out this struggling family.  It was then my sister said, “Oh Jarrett, Mama is not helping them out as much as they are helping her. That little boy has given mama a reason to get up in the morning. That boy is what keeps mama going. That boy and that family is ministering to mama. You never know.

You never know when God reveals greater purpose for your life, a purpose that is bigger than your life, plans that are bigger than your plans. You never know when your life might change and change dramatically.

One Sunday Jesus rides into Jerusalem celebrated as King of the Jews by children with palm branches singing Hosanna. A few days later the shouts of Hosanna turn into shouts of “crucify him, crucify him.”

On Sunday they throw you a parade. On Friday they crucify you between two thieves and bury you in a tomb.

But here is the good news, “Although your world is turned completely upside down, even if you are buried in a tomb that is sealed with a stone, the good news is, are you ready?  The good news of our faith is: “you never know.”

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, trying to comprehend what had happened, how in a blink of an eye, their whole world changed, went to see the tomb.

And before they knew it, it happens.  “Suddenly (there’s that great Pentecostal word again), there was a great earthquake.  And in the midst of their surprise, an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it and surprised them even more. You never know.

The angel said to the women “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here.  For he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then, go quickly and tell his disciples. “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him. This is my message for you.”

“Then, we are told, “Suddenly, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”  “And the women came to him,” and did the only thing they could do, “They took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.” Then Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Hold on! I thought the women were in Galilee.  For that is what the angel had said, “He is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him.”  The angel even bolsters these instructions by saying, “This is my message to you.”  But where do they see Jesus?  Somewhere along to road to Galilee.  The angel’s wrong. The good news of the gospel is: even the angels just never know.

And listen, if the angels do not know exactly when or where the Risen Christ will suddenly appear with a presence and with words which cause us to take a hold of his feet and worship him, how can any of us presume to know?

Thus, as Christians we should never despair, that is, we should never believe that things have gotten so bad that the Holy Spirit of the risen Christ might not show up. Because we never know.

The good news is that when our lives are suddenly surprised by evil, Christ will always come, suddenly, perhaps when and where and in ways we least expect it, but he will suddenly come nonetheless and surprise us some more.

The risen Christ will suddenly come and change our world forever. And Christ will do so until that day comes when the Spirit utterly amazes all disciples with the undeserving gift of eternal life, a life that is so amazing and so wonderful, that until we experience it, we will never know.

Until that day comes, the Holy Spirit is here. The Holy Spirit is here touching each person in this place. Calling each person here to use his or her gifts to be the embodiment of the living Christ to meet the needs of people in our community and in our world in ways we’ve never dreamed.

Think of what would happen if every believer in this church truly answered this call of God’s Spirit, truly believed that the Holy Spirit has a greater purpose for your life, a purpose that is bigger than your life, plans that are bigger than your plans, a purpose that will not only bring you a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, but one that will be the reason you get up in the morning.

Imagine what this church would look like, how this community would change if every believer suddenly commits him or herself to follow the Holy Spirit of Christ wherever he leads.

Well, you just never know!

Maternal God

mama bear

I need a brand new start, a fresh new beginning. I need to begin again, begin anew, begin afresh. I need to experience some new life, some new creation, some new opportunities, some new birth. I need some more Easter in my life. I need to be born again, born anew. This world and all of its injustices and hate is draining the very life out of me.

The good news is that it is Mother’s Day. We are in church. The Bible is open, and our maternal God is making all things new.

Deuteronomy 32:18  “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”

The Bible suggests that one of the reasons that we yearn for newness of life is that we have simply forgotten the God who gave us new life in the first place. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God is portrayed as the mother of Israel. It is God who gave birth to the nation and loves Israel as a mother loves her child.

In the New Testament, it is obvious that Jesus understands this maternal love as he uses birth imagery to explain the gift of salvation, the gift of new life, abundant and eternal. Jesus told Nicodemus that if he wanted to truly experience life, he must be born anew, born from above.

And throughout the history of the Church, baptismal waters have always been symbolic of the waters of the birthing process. For the God that is portrayed throughout scriptures, the God we worship this morning is a God who is continually in labor. Always creating, recreating, working all things together for the good. Always making a way when there is no way.

So if you are yearning for a fresh start, a new beginning, a new birth, some more Easter in your life this morning, the good news is that it is Mother’s Day. We are in church, and the Bible is open to help us remember the source of all new life.

Psalm 22:9  “Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.

This is a beautiful portrait of God as a midwife who helps in the birth process. As the church, one of our chief goals is to make sure that we do everything in our power to help others experience new life. I believe we are called to share the maternal love of God and its power to create, re-create, renew and refresh with all people.

One special way we do this is by being a community of love and forgiveness, one that always gives all persons a welcoming and accepting environment to be born again and to start afresh.

Whenever people walk through the doors of the church they need to instinctively know that that they are loved without conditions, without reservations, and without limits. People need to know that, unlike most places in this world, we are not as concerned about your past, as we are about your future. In this place, we don’t care as much about what you have done or where you have been, as we care about where you are and where you are going.

So, if you are looking for a new birth today, if you are looking for a little more Easter in your life, the good news is that it is Mother’s Day. We are in church, and the Bible is open proclaiming the love and grace of our birth giving, new life-giving, maternal God.

Isaiah 49:15  “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?  Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.”

 I think that it is important to acknowledge on this Mother’s Day that the Bible does not blindly and sentimentally honor our earthly mothers as some churches will do this morning. The Bible is honest enough to admit that for some of us, this day we call Mother’s Day brings more pain than it does joy. Today, some of us remember mothers who abused us or abandoned us. And for some of us mothers, this day is a fresh reminder of children who have continually disobeyed and disappointed us. Today, there are mothers everywhere who have been forgotten by their children. For some there was no card in the mail and there will be no visit or phone call. However, as Isaiah reminds us, God, our Heavenly Mother, who gave birth to us, the true source of our lives, the one who nursed us when we were children, will always show compassion for us and will never forget us; will never leave nor forsake us.

As a church that is committed to share this maternal love with all people, may we never forget the pledge we have made to Gentry Jo today and so many other children we have pledged our support to in this place.

May we not forget this pledge when one day we are asked to volunteer in the nursery, to teach a Sunday School class, to serve as a camp counselor, to work at Vacation Bible School, or to spend the night at the church for a children’s lock-in.

And may we not forget this pledge, and sit quietly and idly by, as Gentry Jo’s schools continue to be underfunded, Gentry Jo’s teachers continue to be underpaid, and public education in general continues to be undermined.

And may we not forget the pledge we have made to our children and remain silent when we hear of children who are being exploited or abused, who are being bullied and harmed for being different, for being poor, or for being vulnerable.

May children everywhere know: It is Mother’s Day. We are in church. The Bible is open, and we are worshipping and serving and following a Heavenly Mother who never forgets any of her children. We are worshiping and serving and following a Heavenly Mother who has filled us with compassion and a determination to bring new life, re-creation and restoration to all of God’s children, especially to those who are easily and conveniently forgotten by the majority.

Hosea and Isaiah proclaim this tenacious determination:

Hosea 13:8a  I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs…” 

Isaiah 42:14  “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.”

 This passage reminds me of the great words of Martin Niemöller, the prominent German Lutheran pastor who was arrested and placed in a concentration camp for being an outspoken critic of Adolf Hitler. He is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

According the US Department of Health and Human services, 27% of Oklahoma’s children under five years-old live in poverty. 12,000 children in Oklahoma are the victims of neglect or abuse a year. The number of child victims has increased 62.2% since 2009. Of this number, 61.7% were either Black, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander or of another ethnicity other than Caucasian.

These numbers are not often talked about in the majority of churches in Oklahoma, because these children are not in the majority. Just as the majority of churches are deathly silent today in the face those who are currently legislating, dictating, and propagating hate and discrimination towards minorities.

However, it is Mother’s Day. And we are in a church that truly believes where the Bible speaks, we speak; and thus, like a woman in labor, like a mama bear robbed of her cubs, we are no longer restraining ourselves, but are crying out with our maternal God against the evils and injustices that are so much a part of our world.

And we do not cry out in despair, but like a woman giving birth, we cry out with great hope knowing that something inexplicable, yet certain is coming. Something is about to be born. Something new is coming. Something miraculous is coming. Something refreshing and comforting is coming.

Isaiah 66:12-13  “For thus says the Lord; I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, an dandled on her knees.  As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

We never cry in despair, because we know that whenever we cry out to God honestly, whenever we cry out telling God the whole truth, our God always shows up, filling our cup, giving us hope, making a way when there seems to be no way, sending a river in the desert, and enveloping us with a peace and a comfort that is experienced by a child nursing in her mother’s arms.

So, today, we cry out like a woman in labor, we gasp and we pant knowing that God is coming to work all things together for the good. For it is in God’s very divine maternal nature to extend God’s peace and comfort and God’s grace and mercy to all people regardless of who we are or what we have done. Thus Jesus says:

Luke 13:34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

The good news is, albeit good news that is difficult for us to hear, that there is not only hope and comfort coming for the children who are exploited and abused, there is also hope for the perpetrators. We worship a God who maternally loves and cares for all people, good and bad. And because of that unconditional love, our God is suffering greatly this day. Our God is suffering like any mother who has felt the sting of her children’s rejection. So, as difficult as it may be, it is for the sake of God on this Mother’s Day, that those of us here in the church with our Bibles open, also pray for our enemies, as we will continue to pray for the entire creation.

With the determination and tenacity of a mama bear, we will pray for and work for the comfort of all of God’s children, that all may experience new life, experience the hope of Easter, experience the grace and the forgiveness, the comfort and the peace in the shadow of the maternal wings of our God—until that day comes when God makes all things new!

Hear now these very maternal and hopeful words from Revelation:

Revelation 21  “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
God will dwell with them;
and they will be God’s children,
and God will be with them
to wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’”

Yes, thanks be to God, it is Mother’s Day. We are in church. Our Bibles are open, and our maternal God is wiping every tear from our eyes and making all things new. Amen.

The Baptisms of Lydia and Traci

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Acts 16:9-15 NRSV

I believe the baptism of a certain woman named Lydia, and the baptism of a certain woman named Traci, have much to teach us this day.

Luke tells the story the baptism of Lydia. It begins with Paul and Silas sharing the good news of Jesus in Troas, an Asian town situated across the Aegean Sea from the European district of Macedonia. Paul has a vision of a man in Macedonia pleading: “Come on over and help us.” Convinced by the vision that God was calling them to go and proclaim the good news in Europe, without hesitation, they sailed to Macedonia, went through Samothrace and Neapolis, eventually settling in the leading city of Philippi.

While they were there, Paul and Silas heard about a group of women that had been gathering for worship down by the river outside the gate. So when the Sabbath came, they went and found the women, sat down with them, and engaged them in a conversation.

Then Luke says that it was obvious that this one woman in the group, this woman named Lydia, was really paying attention to what Paul had to say. And then he says some very remarkable things about this woman. First of all, he points out that she is an Asian business owner from Thyatira. Secondly, because he says that “she and her household” were baptized, it’s evident that she was the head of her household.

Now, remember, this is the first century. It’s not a period known for women working outside of the home. Females were treated as second-class citizens and even as “property.” Males were the leaders, the heads of business and the heads of households. And yet, here is a woman who is the head of both.

And since she is the only one who is pointed out to be really paying attention to what Paul was saying, she also appears to be the head of that community of faith which gathered there each week by the river.

And this says Luke, this baptism of a foreign woman who shatters all cultural expectations, this baptism of a woman who lived life two-thousand years ahead of her time, the baptism of this woman as the first European Christian, is the result of a vision from God that came to Paul.

So, what in the world was God trying to say to Paul and Silas through that vision of a man saying, “Come to Macedonia, because I need some help!”

Could it be that God was saying: “Paul and Silas, I know you are clear across the sea on another continent, but I need you to get in a boat right now and set sail to Macedonia. I need you to come over here to Europe, make your way through Samothrace and Neapolis, all the way to Philippi, and help me, once and for all, show the world that through my love revealed in Christ Jesus who continually lifted up the status of women, elevated the foreigner, accepted the Eunuchs, and did something almost daily to shatter all cultural expectations, destroying the stigma of status, race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality, that in my kingdom, there no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female. Help me clearly make the statement that in Christ all are one.”

It is as if God is saying, “I know people have heard the stories of Jesus calling women to be counted among his disciples. I know the word is out that Mary and Joanna were the first ones to proclaim the good news Easter. I know many have heard about my disciple Tabitha and her works of kindness and gifts of charity. And I know that folks are hearing about the good work of sister Phoebe leading the church at Cenchreae; however, I am still afraid I am going to need some more help here in Europe. Because I have this bad feeling that if I do not do something as radical as making the first baptized Christian on this continent a strong woman like Lydia, some of these Europeans, not to mention their descendants, are still going to argue, even two-thousand years from now, that a woman has no business being at the head of a communion table, or being the head of a household, or even being the head of her own body.”

“And I know people have heard the story of the Good Samaritan, that despised foreigner who proved to be a holy neighbor to the Jewish man who who was beaten and left dead on the side of the road, but I have this terrible inkling that if I don’t make a foreigner the first European convert, some Europeans, not to mention their descendants, even two-thousand years from now, may still harbor all kinds of prejudices against those who are not of European descent. So, get yourself over here to Macedonia as fast as you can and help me baptize this certain woman named Lydia!”

I believe Paul may have Lydia in mind when he penned the following words to the church at Ephesus: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; …and has broken down the dividing wall… So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2).

Then, there is the baptism of Traci. Like Lydia, Traci is also a certain woman; however, fortunate for her, she has joined a church that has learned a thing or two from Lydia. For, here at Central Christian Church, the gifts of women are valued just as much as the gifts of men. Traci will be encouraged here to use her gifts to freely follow Christ wherever the Spirit leads.

Traci is not a foreigner. However, since she was not raised in our church, she was a stranger, an outsider to most of us. Therefore, I believe the baptism of Traci reminds us that we have been called by God to reach out beyond our walls and embrace others like Traci who did not grow up in this church, or any church for that matter, so that they will no longer be strangers.

It is as if God is saying: “I know people have heard the Great Commission of the Risen Christ to “be witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” making “…disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…” But I have this bad feeling, that if I do not stir the hearts of people like Traci, and draw them into the renewing waters of the church, enlarging and changing the congregation, then the church might be tempted to become so comfortable with the status quo that they grow apathetic, just uninterested in reaching out to welcome the stranger.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. told a story at the recent men’s retreat that reminded me of something that happened to my wife Lori a few months before we came to Oklahoma. Rev. Jackson said that he went to a Popeye’s Chicken restaurant one night to get him some chicken. He went through the drive through and ordered a Chicken Combo plate. And lo and behold, the person working the drive thru window told him that they were out of chicken.

Lori had the same experience with a Bojangle’s Chicken and Biscuit restaurant in North Carolina. She went to Bojangles, which is similar to Popeye’s or a Golden Chick, to get her some chicken, only to be told that they were out of chicken.

Lori came home and said, “I am so mad. Bojangle’s Chicken and Biscuits told me that they were out of chicken. She said, “I can understand if they run out of the mashed potatoes. I can maybe even sympathize a little with them if they run out of biscuits. But Bojangle’s, like Jesse Jackson said of Popeye’s, has got no business running out of chicken!”

The baptism of Traci reminds us what the church is all about. If a church is not continually working to break down dividing walls and to build bridges and relationships with those outside the church, with the goal of having several baptismal services a year like this one a year, then the church is like a Rib Crib opening their doors for business when they’re fresh out of ribs! Might as well close down and put a chain on the doors.

After Lydia is baptized, notice the first thing that she does. She extends a gracious welcome to Paul and Silas inviting them stay at her home. Her words following her baptism remind me of our identity statement as Disciples of Christ, “We welcome all to the Lord’s table as God has welcomed us.”

I was on facebook Friday night, and I read these words from Traci’s timeline that are so so reminiscent of Lydia’s words: “Please come and visit Central Christian Church. The service starts at 10:15 am. It is a great church.”

Lydia and Traci remind us that each person in this room who has been baptized, who has been welcomed by God through the gracious hospitality of Christ, should feel compelled by the Holy Spirit of Jesus to go out from this place and welcome all people.

Through the baptisms of a certain woman named Lydia and a certain woman named Traci, I believe God is saying to each of us: “Go out, reach out, tear down a wall, build a bridge, connect, engage, get on facebook, get in a boat if you have to, travel through the streets of places like Samothrace and Neapolis and Philippi and Enid and North Enid and East, West and South Enid, because I need some help! I need some help sharing the good news that all are welcome at my table.”