At the Table this Past Sunday

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I wanted to share this picture with you. Garrett Laubscher happened to take it during the first worship gathering. It struck me in a beautiful way because I know that it all just, well, happened. Each Sunday when we invite members of our church family to come a preside over the Lord’s Table there’s no method to it. We just ask people to come, serve and see.
 
Look closely at the picture and witness an embodiment of grace. Standing at the Table is a picture of diversity uncommon for our city, yet possible. It is what the gospel can do when the Church allows the Holy Spirit to work, even when it means pushing us outward to the margins of society. 
 
In the picture to my left is our beloved sister and friend Sally, who leads CenterPeace and was working with some of us this weekend. To my right is a member of our church family, Mabel, an hispanic wife and mother of two. To her right is another member of church family, Frank, who when we first met almost five years ago was living through homelessness. In this picture we see lives represented by gender, nationality, race, sexuality, or social economic status all finding a common seat at the Lord’s table, placing these identity-markers in submission to that which is first important, our baptismal identity.
 

As society imposes upon us a logic of separation and distinction that tells us to which social categories we should belong, the church announces a different social reality. Any one can find a home with God and His people because each week at His Table we once again proclaim that Jesus is Lord and Lover of all. We have been joined together in Him as a new society and eternal family. We see it at the Lord’s Table every week and catch a small glimpse of it in this picture. Only the crucified and risen Lord who welcomes all could do a thing like that.

Today, Mabel told me that as she watched our church family come together around the Lord’s table in all our beautiful diversity of cultures, ethnicities, and stories:

“I was so overwhelmed with emotion that when I went back to my row I just had tears streaming at what I saw. I’ve been thinking about it all week and sharing what I experienced with people I work with. It was an indescribable moment.”

Thanks be to God our Father who by His Spirit makes us one in Christ and invites us to celebrate our differences, including stories of redemption and grace. I praise God for what he is doing in and among us.

May what we see when we come together in our Sunday worship gatherings open our eyes so we will grow in love, hospitality, and in our desire to see the wrongs in this world made right through the Lordship of Christ living through and among us by His Spirit.

Your bro,

Fred

The God Who Bends Down to Us

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A picture of Ian and I when he was fifteen months.

Hello WCC family,

Please read Hosea 11:1-11. If you missed last week’s conversation, Our God Who Won’t Give Up on Us you can listen to it here. During our gathering on Sunday we will walk thru Hosea 11 together. It is a beautiful expression of God’s heart for his beloved Israel as The God Who Bends Down to Us.

Don’t forget Israel’s rap sheet (remember, Hosea is a contemporary of Amos):

  • Israel is Hosea’s home
  • He was prophesying in the thirty years or so leading up to Assyria’s destruction of Israel in 722 BC
  • Israel was experiencing great economic and peace under King Jeroboam’s reign 
  • Nationalism and unhealthy patriotism was flourishing
  • A great economic gap was increasing between the rich and the poor
  • They had turned blessings into idols and valued the blessings over the God who blessed them
  • The courts of law were corrupt and laws and policies were upheld to protect national status and the wealthy
  • There was a breakdown of morality throughout the nation
  • Religious practices of worship were mixed in with the beliefs and practices pagan religions from surrounding nations, particular the Canaanite god of fertility, Baal (though “Baals” becomes it seems a catch all term for idols of various kinds)
  • Hosea’s prophetic ministry is very different from Amos. God asked him to live the tragedy of Israel’s unfaithfulness by marrying a harlot
  • God is portrayed as both a scorned lover and heart-broken father

As you read Hosea 11:1-11 tend particularly to verses 1-4.

  • What do you see in the text?
  • What picture is the prophet painting as he describes God’s relationship with Israel?
  • Given all we’ve discussed so far, what do you think God wants to do with the word pictures in this prophetic text? 
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Image taken from Theodore Rokas’s article “The Prophet Hosea and His Allegorical Marriage,” 20 October 2013, http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com; /2013/10/the-prophet-hosea-and-his-allegorical.html.

 

A Word of Thanks

Hello WCC fam,

I want to say thanks. I have many friends in ministry, men and women who seek to faithfully serve and pastor God’s people. Some are well cared for and have the joy of walking with a faithful expression of the Church. Some are in difficult situations.

It made me reflect on our church family and the common life God’s Spirit is cultivating between and among us. It compels me to give thanks, to God and to you. I know we are a mess of a bunch, imperfect in so many ways. I know we are always learning about what it takes to love more faithfully. I know we can work harder at being more welcoming, loving, and thoughtful in how we care for one another and our city and neighborhoods in which we live. I know that we can work to be more open to not only giving but also receiving, in reaching out to one another when we find ourselves in need or see others among us in need. But I am grateful that we are seeking to be faithful nonetheless.

Please, take some time to read this and celebrate with me. Give thanks and pray that we grow in faithfulness. Here are some of the reasons that I am thankful for what God is doing in WCC, and for each one of you:

  • I am thankful for how you desire to proclaim and embody the gospel of God’s kingdom faithfully and love all people, especially the last, least, left-out and lonely.
  • I am thankful for how you’re willing to humbly receive and learn the Scriptures. For example, I am thankful for how you’re working through our Sunday conversations on the minor prophets (this week we will begin a two week conversation on Hosea and listen to our God who refuses to let us go.)
  • I am thankful for how our missional communities are gathering weekly to discover what God is up through the Scriptures and communal discernment in order to faithfully remain present in their neighborhoods and network of relationships.
  • I am thankful for our family ministry (families with babies to kids in elementary, middle school and high school) and all who lead and serve not only on Sundays, but throughout the week in relational ways.
  • I am thankful for the ‘prayer and care’ life within our congregation, and how we fight for others in prayer and care for those who are hurting, sick, alone and in need, like our Sunshine Ministry; how we connect our families to pray for seniors; our Monday and Friday rhythms of prayer; our Firstfruits prayer warriors; our seniors wednesday bible study group who send cards and faithfully pray for the sick…I could go on.
  • I am thankful for how you are committed to work for the good of our city, from the town square to the neighborhoods.
  • I am thankful for how you’re willing to honestly and candidly work through difficult and often culturally controversial conversations with humble civility and love.
  • I am thankful for our 3e Restoration ministry and how we walk with friends transitioning from homelessness to holistic sufficiency through gracious hospitality.
  • I am thankful for Celebrate Recovery and how our leaders who, by the Spirit, work to help people find recovery and victory over hurts, habits and hang-ups.
  • I am thankful for how you love our beloved Lwanga men and women who live every day of their beautiful and important lives with a particular set of circumstances. I am thankful for how you love and receive the Little Sisters of St. Francis who serve them.
  • I am thankful for your commitment to global mission and for the way you respond to the AIDS orphans in need of sponsorship through CRF, or to Tarakwa Village and Williamsburg Christian Academy in Tarakwa Kenya.
  • I am thankful for your generosity to give to causes, needs, organizations and worthy efforts for the good of others and to the praise of God’s glory.
  • I am thankful for our faithful shepherds and their families, our gifted ministers and their families, and all other ministry leaders (there are so many–nothing happens automatic in our church). They lead and love us well.
  • I am thankful for our praise team and technical team who give unknown hours to serve us when we gather on Sundays. Their talents and commitment is used by God’s Spirit to form us.
  • I am thankful for the people who serve the Church in quiet unseen ways, from cleaning the church building to cutting the church lawn, from watering the plants to organizing the kitchen when it’s out of sorts, from changing light bulbs to repairing our computer network and posting our podcasts…I could go on.
  • I am thankful for our WCC Connections ministry that works to connect college students to families, and all the others who make themselves available and purposefully welcome the college students into their lives. I am thankful for the college students who participate in God’s mission with us!
  • I am thankful for how you all support the many ministries and efforts God’s Spirit calls us to tend to as a church family (from the ones already mentioned to our Relay for Life Sassy Sisters for a Cure).
  • Finally, I am thankful for how we meet around the Eucharistic Table each week in mutual submission as we submit all ideologies to the presence of Christ among us and proclaim our commitment to His Lordship and one another. I am thankful for how each one of you are determined to stay put and work toward reconciliation despite living in our polarizing and ideologically divided society.

I really could go and I will in my prayers of thanksgiving. I just wanted to mention it here so you could see, celebrate, give thanks and dig in as you remain faithfully joined in God’s pursuit of restoring lives in and through our church family.

See you Sunday.

~ Fred

A Community of Prophets & Priests: Hospitality as Central to Our Story, Conclusion

If you’re new to the series you can read the first post here and the second here.

In the Roman Empire, the world regime in which Jesus lived, many babies did not grow up at all. In the ancient world unwanted babies were left to die through a legal practice called exposure. The head of the household had the legal right to decide the life or death of other family members, including children. This decision was most often made within the first 8 days of life.¹

The most common reason for exposure would be if a family lived in poverty, or if a wealthy family did not want the estate divided up, if a child was born deformed or disabled, or if the child was the wrong gender. By the Law of Romulus in Rome, the father was required to raise all healthy male children, but only the first born female. Any other babies were disposable, especially the ones born as females.

Please don’t misunderstand me, though these are historically documented facts (dare I use the word) it is also true to say that ancient parents were as compassionate and loving as any of us. But children’s worth and value was ultimately determined by how well they would serve the State’s purpose. Christians believed that human beings served a purpose far higher than any ruling empire this side of heaven.

The 4th century Greek poet named Posidippus once wrote,

“Everyone raises a son even if he is poor but exposes a daughter even if he is rich.”²

The Jews were opposed to this practice and the practice of exposure. Their law led taught them a higher view of humanity, one that demanded they care for even the poor, widow orphan and immigrant. But due to the influence of non-Jewish cultures and their stubbornness toward God, if a child was born out of a forbidden relationship or unwanted they were just abandoned. These abandoned babies were often left on a dump or a dung hill. They most often died, though sometimes they were rescued. If rescued they were orphaned and most often became slaves. This happened so much that hundreds of ancient names written in the pages of history are variations of the word KROPOS, which was Greek for “dung.”

Abandoned & Left To Die No More

The babies that did grow up to be women in the Greco-Roman world of Jesus were generally shut off from education and public life. Some grew up to be slaves, who were needed for their labor but regarded as inferior to those who were free.

Though some of these views of children and women still happens today in some parts of our world, it does not happen so much in the Western world. Why? The answer is more simple than you think.

Jesus’ love for children rewrote the story of their future. As the ancient world become filled with orphans, a community of Jesus followers stepped forward and began collecting money for these “least of these,” all because their Teacher demonstrated this in His life. It created another one of those Christian movements.

By the late 4th century, a the Roman Emperor outlawed the practice of exposure for the entire empire. His decision shaped the entire Western world. Over time, instead of leaving babies on dung hills people began to leave them outside of monasteries and church buildings. This would be the beginning of what we now call orphanages, which were usually associated directly with a monastery or church. No more were children legally confined to exposure and infanticide, including females. All thanks to Jesus and the followers He empowered and inspired.

Whether or not I, a christian, should welcome and care for others is not a question I have to ask. It is only a question of “how.” As a christian my social orientation should be toward hospitality, not away from it. If someone comes to me from underneath a bridge in my city or from the other side of the Atlantic, I must extend God’s welcome to them and do for them and their loved ones what I would want done for me and mine (see Matt. 7:12 and Matt 22:37-40).

Without question my “holy book” teaches me that it is important to the Lord that I give my self over to hospitality—a love of strangers—rather than fear. Without question the two world-changing stories from the past told in this series of blog posts teach me that following Jesus includes welcoming those he welcomed. After all, it is to King Jesus as Lord of all that I have pledged my allegiance and it is in His eternal in-breaking kingdom that I have my primary citizenship.


¹ Much of the historical sketch I offer is owed to John Ortberg’s good book Who Is this Man: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 46-58.

² Posidippus, 11E, cited by Stobaeus, Flor. 77.7.

A Community of Prophets & Priests: Hospitality as Central to Our Story, Part 2

We continue on in our week long series. If you’re new to the conversation, you can catch Part 1 here.

During the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in AD 165 an epidemic of what many believe to be have been small pox killed almost 1/3 of the population, including Marcus Aurelius himself. Less than a century later another epidemic overcame the western world: a great plague. At the height of this plague it is recorded that up to 5,000 people were dying daily in the city of Rome alone.¹

No one knew what to do. Leaders, politician, philosophers and teachers were at a loss. Greek historian named Thucydides wrote this about how society in Athens Greece, where 75,000 to 100,000 people died, responded to the plague:

“They died with no one to look after them. Indeed there were many houses in which all the inhabitants perished through lack of any intention of care. The bodies of the dying were heaped up, one on top of the other…. No fear of god or law had a restraining influence.”²

What was happening in Athens was happening in Rome:

“At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from the dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease.”³

But there was a community of people who remembered they followed a Man who claiming to be God in the flesh and Creator of all, healed the sick, embraced the forgotten and touched lepers. They remembered how He told His disciples to do the same. They remembered His teaching when he said, “Whatever you have done for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you’ve done to me.” Dionysius, 3rd century bishop in the Church of Alexandria wrote this about Christians:

“Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need, and ministering to them in Christ. And with them departed this life serenely happy, for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors, and cheerfully accepting their pains.”4

As Christians began to serve the hungry, poor and sick, outsiders began to take notice and the Christian gospel spread like a wild fire.

As 2nd century church father Tertullian said:

“It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of our opponents.”5

This was true. By the late 4th century, an opponent of Christianity, Emperor Julian the Apostate, verbally disciplined his pagan priests for not keeping up with the Christians:

“I think that when the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by the priests, the impious Galileans observed this and devoted themselves to benevolence…. The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.”6

Later, a 4th century Church father named Basil had an idea. What if christians build a place to love and care for the poor, sick, widows, orphans, strangers, and even lepers? Since they don’t have money or a way to pay for it, why don’t we raise the money?7

Basil’s good friend Gregory of Nyzianzus (also a Church father) then preached one of the most famous sermons of the 4th century, pointing to Christ’s teaching in Matthew 25. It reads:

“Lepers have been made in the image of God. In the same way you and I have, and perhaps preserve that image better than we, let us take care of Christ while there is still time. Let us minister to Christ’s needs. Let us give Christ nourishment. Let us clothe Christ. Let us gather Christ in. Let us show Christ honor.”8

This was the beginning of what would become known as hospitals.

A pivotal council of Christian leaders called the Council of Nicaea (the council named for the famous ancient Christian Statement of Faith called the Nicene Creed) declared in 325 AD that wherever a Church building existed, there must be a hospice, a place of caring for the poor, sick, widows, orphans and “strangers.” Eventually the government of Rome offered funding and hospitals developed throughout the world.

When by the Spirit the church extends God’s welcome to others with relational embrace, especially the least, last, left out and lonely of society, it has the power to change civilization. Hospitality–a love for strangers–is central to the Christian story.

~ Fred


¹ Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), 73-94.

² Ibid. For a different english translation of Thucydides’ account, go to http://www.livius.org/sources/content/thucydides/the-plague/

³ Ibid.

4 George Herring, An Introduction to the History of Christianity: From the Early Church to the Enlightenment (New York: Continuum Publishing Group, 2006), 320.

5 Tertullian, Apologeticum 39.7

Julian the Apostate, Letter to Arsacius

Andrew T. Crislip, From Monastery to Hospital: Christian Monasticism and the Transformation of Health Care in Late Antiquity (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2005),108-10.

Andrew Hofer,Christ in the Life and Teachings of Gregory of Nazianzus, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 224.

A Community of Prophets & Priests: Hospitality as Central to Our Story, Part 1

Yesterday day was a first for WCC. We set aside the fifth Sunday of the month to give our entire offering to 3e Restoration Inc., an organization that is the Hoy Spirit-birthed result of our desire to be a people of gracious hospitality. You can hear some of the beautiful stories of what God is doing here. We celebrated God’s work through this movement and revisited how hospitality is not only central to 3e’s inception and current work, but how it is central to our story as Christ-followers.

Due to so many of you wanting to think this through in a more self-reflective way I want to offer a daily post that captures the core of what we discussed yesterday. Today I begin with a sketch of hospitality in the Hebrew Scriptures and how it frames hospitality in the Christian Scriptures.

In ancient Israel, hospitality was more than a demonstration of good manners, warm milk and pleasant conversation. Hospitality was a moral institution upon which all pillars of social order rested and grew out of the harsh desert and nomadic existence led by the people of Israel. The biblical customs of welcoming the weary traveler and of receiving the stranger (ger) stands at the center of hospitality in the Jewish tradition, so much so that the law of Moses consecrated it as a way of life. They were to care for the stranger by tending to their whole person–physically, socially, emotionally–because they were once mistreated strangers in a strange land and should do for others what should have been done for them (see Lev. 19:34 and Ex. 12:49).

Hospitality as a sociopolitical/religious policy (the law of Moses was their system of governance) was to influence all social relationships. Foreign travelers and immigrants, although not receiving full benefit of the law of Moses (see Deut. 15:3), could count on the Jewish custom of hospitality for provision and refuge. Fugitive slaves escaping from masters were to be treated cared for and protected (see Deut. 23:15-16). The elders of the so-called “cities of refuge” were required to support and protect the person who kills another unintentionally seeking refuge in their cities until the death of the high priest (see Num. 35:9–34). The most vulnerable of their society—the poor, the fatherless, the widow and the immigrant—was frequently and explicitly specified by the law as to receive hospitality.

Almost every prophet in the Hebrew tradition had to remind God’s people to “administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another” and to “not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor” (Zech. 7:9-10). Prophets like Isaiah reminds God’s people that hospitality must be tangible expressions of holy love when he states that one of the duties of the faithful is to “share your bread with the hungry,” and to “bring the poor and homeless into your house” (see Isa. 58:7). The Hebrew Scriptures are packed with teaching and examples of hospitality and is the backdrop upon which Christians ought to view our practice of hospitality.

Jesus of Nazareth, a faithful follower of the Hebrew tradition, offers his own script for hospitality. In one of his more famous teachings he connects giving water to thirsty, food to the hungry, clothes to unclothed, care for the sick, relational presence for the imprisoned, and a home for homeless strangers and foreigners as extending hospitality toward him (see Matt. 25:35-36). This should not surprise us since Jesus preached that the gospel would be good news for the most vulnerable when he said he had come to preach that God’s kingdom would receive the poor, bring peace to the oppressed, and set the captive free. (see Luke 4:18-19).

Paul, a well trained pharisee turned christian church planter and leader, commanded that christians “pursue hospitality” (Rom. 12:13)—the word “pursue” in the greek means “to hunt or aggressively chase.” He also said that christians should “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7). Even the writer of Hebrews gets in on the conversation as he/she calls back to Abraham’s encounter with the Lord in Genesis 18 when the hearers are reminded not to neglect hospitality just in case they end up neglecting an angel of God (see Hebrews 13:2).

In keeping with the Hebrew tradition of hospitality the christian command to pursue hospitality and extend God’s welcome to others involves caring for another’s emotional, social, and physical well-being, rather than neglecting them because, after all, “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Rom. 13:10). Hospitality is central to the gospel and should become an essential posture for the Church. It is a dominate theme in the story of our faith.

~ Fred

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WCC Connections!

Hello all,

We are excited to get this new ministry moving forward. Intentionally creating a way to welcome others is becoming increasingly important in a society of fragmentation that builds systems of exclusivism and exclusion.  We have proximity with others but no neighborliness. WCC Connections is our way of intentionally embracing the colleges students within our proximity, those living and worshipping among us. It is a way of “adopting” a college student into your life and family, to welcome them as Christ has welcomed us into the family of God. They are, in turn, doing the same to you.

WCC Connections promotes gracious hospitality among families through embracing, supporting, and encouraging college students. Here is how it will work:

Interested students at WCC will be connected with a family as a pathway to community with the church. Families will strive to make weekly connections with their student(s) in a variety of ways. These points of connection can be big or small. Examples included:

  • Inviting students to their home for family dinners
  • Praying regularly with and for the student
  • Inviting students to sit with the family at church gatherings
  • Sending encouraging cards or texts
  • Meeting & treating for coffee, dessert, or a meal
  • Assisting with transportation
  • Making laundry facilities available

As ministry leaders commissioned by the Shepherds of WCC, Adam and Danielle Barger, will help facilitate these connections through connecting families to students, offering support, and communicating connection ideas and reminders to families on a regular basis. We are grateful for their leadership!

If you are a interested, please go here and fill out the appropriate questionnaire:

Student:
Family:

If you have any further questions, email Adam (fonz87001@yahoo.com) or Danielle (dcbarger87001@yahoo.com).

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