Book Review: Thirst by Scott Harrison

I had first heard of Thirst, while listening to Rob Bell’s podcast, The Robcast. The author, Scott Harrison has a great story to share with his readers which speaks to our own broken human nature on multiple levels. First, it speaks to the individual brokenness that Scott does not try to hide. Second, it speaks to the brokenness of our own world and the inability that we have claimed to be able to get everyone a clean glass of water to drink. If you are looking for something to stir your soul, this book will fulfill that need.

Scott Harrison starts by sharing his story of the good Christian boy gone bad. He became a club promoter, but realized that there was something more to life that drinking all night and sleeping in until late in the afternoon. He would spend money nearly as fast as he could make it. 

As he began to listen to where he was being called he served on a Mercy Ship and out of that experience started Charity:Water. The lives that Charity:Water has touched and changed is incredible as they reach out to those that do not have access to clean water. The ups and downs of the non-profit industry resonate in the book and it is amazing how quickly it grew. 

Charity:Water is not a Christian organization, but it’s heart reflects that of Jesus Christ’s as they reach out to bring a better life to as many people as possible. This book brought me joy and a greater sense of my own call.

God’s Grace is Sufficient

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This past week was my first visit to Houston. It is an incredibly large town and yet while we were at the NRG Park Complex, it seemed very secluded from the rest of the city as our food choices were limited to food trucks and concessions. Which honestly, is not too bad unless you are vegetarian, and your daughter must eat gluten free.

Transportation around town also provided a challenge since we did not have a vehicle. We chose to utilize Uber. It was in these Uber trips that we were able to experience a little of the diversity of the city. Victor’s family came from Mexico before he was born, and he drove to make extra money to support his family. Asomgyee came to the United Stated from the United Kingdom and was a professor at a local college earning extra money during the summer. Desta was our Uber driver on Friday after we decided to eat a nice dinner out before heading to NRG Park for the evening. Desta came to the United States from Ethiopia and is now a United States Citizen. He grew up in the Lutheran church in Ethiopia and now works with the youth of his church in Houston.  All three of them commented on the number of buses that they had seen around town transporting the 31,000 ELCA youth and how incredible it was that we were present in Houston.

I loved hearing their stories and was able to see God’s grace working in each of them. Not only is God’s grace sufficient, it reaches beyond all boundaries and changes everything. In this grace, we experience unending love that resonates in hope for the future.

The disciples were challenged when Jesus sent them out for the first time. He gave them authority over the unclean spirits and urged them to go out and heal. Imagine the apprehension that they had when first given this task. Many of them not too long ago had been out fishing in their boats. They had witnessed the coldness that Jesus received from his own community he grew up and they had to be wondering if he has trouble with those he knows, how can we bring healing to those that do not even know us.

They were placed in unfamiliar surroundings and instructed to do the things that they would not have even dreamed of just a couple of years before. Have you ever been placed in these circumstances? Maybe it is a new job that you have just started. Perhaps it was going off to college and leaving the familiar behind. It may have even been when you found out that you were going to be a parent for the first time. The apprehension can come to us in many different venues and yet we are not alone when we enter these places.

The youth and adult leaders that went to National Gathering were presented with many things to be apprehensive about and questions arose about our place in the world as the church of Jesus Christ. We got to meet new friends, which can be overwhelming when there are over 30,000 people. We heard from speakers with some challenging words on tough subjects, from immigration to hunger, self-harm to addiction, and what it means to be transgender to how race shapes who are you. Remembering, that the theme of the Gathering was, “This Changes Everything!” Let’s take a brief look at the week that was experienced by our group and over 30,000 youth and adult leaders.

Each of the speakers spoke to the love that they found in the church. The people that embraced them and helped them through their rough times. The stories that they shared are stories that we can relate to. Those that shared of their own personal struggles and challenges realized that they were broken and that there is nothing wrong with that. They found out that they are loved, and they were able to find hope in the gospel of Jesus.

Their brokenness is no different than ours. Each of us have our own cracks and bruises. Our own scars and hurts. It is to this brokenness and weakness that Paul writes to in his second letter to the Corinthians. He had his own brokenness and weakness and he confessed to them. It is in this that he hears God saying, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

There is an unbinding hope found in those words. When we find ourselves bound by our own brokenness, Christ is there waiting for us with a message of grace that cleanses everything clean. It is this grace that changes everything. We cannot do any of it on our own, but through Jesus and his love poured out for us on the cross. We are changed by his love forever.

Let us pray, Lord God, you come to us in ways that we are not even aware. We may see you in others, or in those things that surround us. Through it all, we desire to be changed. To live lives that reflect your love and compassion. May we experience your call, love, hope, and grace that changes everything. Amen

Waiting…

Bread Queues

November 12, 2017

Matthew 25:1-13

We spend a lot of our lives waiting.

Waiting in lines at the grocery store, for amusement park rides, in traffic on the highway, for a doctor’s appointment. Yet we get very impatient when things do not come to us as fast as we would like them to. Waiting is not easy.

There is a song from the recently deceased Tom Petty titled, The Waiting. Here is the refrain, “The waiting is the hardest part. Every day you see one more card. You take it on faith, you take it to the heart. The waiting is the hardest part.”

As we enter into these last few weeks before the beginning of a new church year and Advent, we receive a gospel lesson that tells us we must wait. People two thousand years ago were no better at waiting than we are. They were impatient and were especially concerned with what would happen with their ancestors that died before Jesus had a chance to return.

Matthew’s gospel was written about fifty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection and the promise of his coming again to a world that was awaiting his return. The purpose of this parable that Matthew has included in his gospel is to reassure people that waiting is a good and necessary thing. There is much pain and suffering that is happening in Israel after Jesus’ resurrection. Pain and suffering that has been experienced in the fall of Jerusalem to Roman soldiers, and the persecution and death that has came to many of the followers of Jesus. By the time that Matthew’s gospel was written, there were not many eye witnesses alive that had seen Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his trial, and his death on the cross. They have been told of his resurrection, and are still waiting for his coming again. Their faith led them to believe that Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. Perhaps this may sound a little familiar.

So, what are we to do with the bridesmaids from our lesson?

Where do you see yourself in the story? Are you one of the five that thought ahead and brought along extra oil just in case you were left waiting? Or are you one of the five that had just enough to fill your lamp and realized that it was starting to run low and had nothing to refill it? Thus, going out at the last minute to find a 24 hour oil convenience store.

The waiting is the hardest part. Especially when you are ill prepared for whatever may come your way. As the five foolish bridesmaid are off trying to find that oil store, the bridegroom comes and ushers in those that came with enough oil. The five foolish bridesmaids return to find that the party has started without them and they are left on the outside looking in. Jesus concludes the parable with instruction to, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

We can relate with the bridesmaids. Most likely, we can find ourselves in both those that are considered wise, as well as those that are deemed foolish. We live with pain and suffering all around us, in our country and in our world. We live in fear of what may come to threaten life as we know it. The news reports of trucks running over and killing multiple people in the streets and even on the sidewalks. We have people suffering from mental health issues that have access to guns and can rain bullets down on unsuspecting crowds in Las Vegas injuring over 500 and killing close to 60; and walking into a baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and opening fire and killing 27. These are just our most recent examples.

People are quick to jump to conclusions and respond in ways that they may think are helpful. Yet, are we talking with one another and listening, or are we talking at each other? Are we so bound with fear that we are afraid to step foot outside of the house?

I honestly do not have any answers to this. I wish I did. This is the pain and suffering that we are living in our world today. In the midst of it, we are left waiting for answers. We can pray for those that are directly affected by the violence, but is that enough? Will “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an overflowing stream,” as we read in our first lesson from Amos?

In the meantime, we wait. We wait for what has been promised to us in our baptisms. We wait for those words to be fulfilled that we recite during communion, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

We have the same struggle that our ancestors had going all the way back to 1st century Israel. Two thousand years later, we are still waiting. And keep awake we should.

The five wise bridesmaids were prepared. They were prepared to wait. They brought enough oil to last them until the bridegroom came. The waiting is made much easier when you are prepared for what comes your way, or in the wise bridesmaids case, being prepared for a delay.

Are we expected not to get any rest since we are told to keep awake? None of the bridesmaids followed these instructions. They had all been sleeping when the bridegroom had arrived at midnight. In the delay they fell asleep, and when they awoke and trimmed their lamps, it was only the wise that were prepared to go out and greet the bridegroom because they still had oil left.

It is in this preparation that they are called to keep awake. Be ready for the bridegroom, or Jesus Christ, at anytime. It was in these words that those hearing the gospel of Matthew for the first time, fifty years after Jesus death, would find words of hope and encouragement. While Christ may not have returned yet, be prepared as you wait.

How do we prepare as we are left waiting amidst the pain and suffering of our world?

Many of the social justice movements of the present time speak to staying “Woke.” Be aware of those things that are happening in your neighborhoods, communities, states, and country. Be bold enough to speak out against the injustice that you see happening around you. Stay woke to those things and issues that affect the lives of your neighbors and greater humanity. Stay woke to the injustices of racial  and sexual inequality. Stay woke to the injustices that happen to our environment. Stay woke to the legislative issues that are affecting a large number of Americans that do more harm than good. Stay woke and listen to the conversations that are happening among the younger generations as they are the ones that will be caring for the world as we know it in the next twenty, thirty, and forty plus years.

In the midst of all of this, we wait. We must wait in the midst of refugee crisis, mass shootings, and many other injustices of the world. The waiting is the hardest part.

Ed Stetzer, discussing the Sutherland Springs church shooting, wrote in a CNN article:

“Earlier today I asked Kevin Cornelius, pastor of neighboring church First Baptist Church in Karnes City, TX, about the situation as he and others are there, on site, dealing with the pain. He said: The church still works. We don’t have a plan, but we have a community. We don’t have answers but we have grace and peace. We don’t understand, but we’re present. Our hearts are breaking, but we have hope and we’re giving it away as quick as we can.”

We wait, as a community of God. We wait with each other in solidarity in the gospel promise that has been given to us through the grace of God. We wait with each other in community as believers and questioners alike. We wait with each other in fellowship as we break bread together in the hope that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

Let us pray, Risen Lord, we give thanks for the hope that you have infused in our lives. In the midst of our waiting, we look towards the promise of salvation and the grace that comes to us abundantly. While waiting is the hardest part, we find that hope and love in our communities and your word have the ability to sustain us. Amen.

Christmas Eve Devotion

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Titus 2:11-14

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

We have been waiting for this day for a month. And it still has snuck up on us for some reason. Could it possibly be that we are missing the snow and it does not quite feel like Christmas with all of the rain and 50 degree weather?

We come together this evening, regardless of what the weather may be telling us, to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We come to worship and praise God for the gift of Christ being born over 2000 years ago in the most unlikely of places. Today that place may be in the most desolate places in the world. Christ was born to bring hope and a promise of saving grace. This year that hope could be shared in many places throughout the world. In the midst of the violence that is still taking pace in our country and world, God breaks through with the promise of a life that sheds all of the unnecessary things and leaves us simply being in God. May this Christmas Season bring you joy and a passion to go out and share this wonderful news.

Let us pray.

God Incarnate, we give thanks for the birth of your Son, Jesus Christ. May we celebrate this Christmas season by caring for our neighbors and being filled with your love that overflows. AMEN.

 

Advent Devotions December 9

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Luke 7:24-26

When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

There is some curiosity that surrounds John the Baptist. There is something in his voice and the passion that he exudes through his proclamation that draws people in. While some people turn away from him thinking he may be some false prophet, others are attracted to the message that he is sharing: The promise of the Messiah that is to come after John prepares the way.

The people are not drawn to the way that John is dressed. They are drawn to his words. He draws people into the wilderness, which is not a place that people wander about willfully. The wilderness is where Moses and the people of Israel wandered for 40 years. It was the wilderness that they were eager to leave. John draws them back into the wilderness to share the incredible news of Jesus.  What draws you into the places that are challenging? John comes bearing hope and a promise which alleviates the challenge of the wilderness.

Let us pray.

Dear Lord, we give thanks for women and men that call us into something greater. We pray for the wilderness places in our lives and ask for your presence with us as we enter into them. AMEN.

Advent Devotions December 4

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Philippians 1:20-24

It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death.

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.

The greetings Paul brings to the Philippians makes them aware of his current situation and the hopes that he has for them. The hope that he speaks of is the hope that we have for the world and one that rings louder during our time of Advent. We wait anxiously for the coming of Christ, and in the midst of the violence that we hear about daily it is nice to hear Paul’s words knowing that in Christ is gain.

The boldness in which Paul speaks should be an example for the world today as we boldly proclaim the Gospel in our communities. We must not be ashamed of the message that we have to share and shall remember that Jesus too was not welcome in his hometown of Nazareth. The hope that comes to us in the Word is one that needs to be loudly proclaimed in the midst of everything that occurs in our world today.

Empowering God, we ask for boldness today as we go out to proclaim your Gospel and ask that you may lead and guide us on the path. May the hope that breaks through during Advent enliven us to preach boldly. AMEN.