29 September 2016

Rise of the Unaffiliated

Dear Church Family,

The other night about twenty members of the church sat together at the home of Jim and Leigh Walker. It was the third “meet and greet,” informal meetings in homes where Christy and I share a little about ourselves and get to know Grace folk better. Thanks to everyone who hosted! If there is still some interest from those unable to attend one of the previous three meet and greets, we are happy to schedule more. Anyway, after the usual talk things seemed to be wrapping up. It was close to 8:00. Then we began a surprising, in depth discussion of where we saw the church going.

We talked about the decline in worship attendance over the last two decades or so, how to reach younger generations, and what to offer new people when they come to Grace. It’s my belief, and I think this is backed by research, that offering the latest and greatest programming, making our services hip and cool, whatever that means, or offering one style of worship over another is not effective in reaching unchurched people. The truth is: more and more people don’t even consider attending church. It just isn’t a priority. Religiously unaffiliated folk are now a majority in the US. Check out this chart:


And specifically for young people:

chart (1).jpeg

So the challenges the church faces are astronomical. People are not more likely to be atheist; people are more likely to consider religion unimportant. The last two generations in the US were largely raised outside of the church. The typical, “I was raised in the church, fell away when I went to college, and now I’m back because I am married with kids,” isn’t an automatic response anymore.  So when people asked the other night how we should reach younger people, I didn’t have an answer. There just isn’t an easy answer. The best we can do, I said, is to be ready when they show up. Here’s the good news: Grace has great opportunities for young families. The newly redecorated nursery is lovely and welcoming and is staffed with ladies who love Jesus and kids. We have hands on ministry opportunities that appeal to people who want to serve the community. We have a variety of worship styles.

How could we improve our outreach to folk without a church home? The first step is to remember to invite friends, relatives, acquaintances, and neighbors. The FRAN Plan! Who fits that description in your circle of influence? If all your friends already belong to a church it’s time to widen your circle. The data above shows that the odds of finding an unchurched person close to you is highly likely. This is the work of every Christian. Every member and friend of Grace. This is our responsibility. We’ve been welcomed by God and Christian friends into a wonderful fellowship. Now we must welcome others in the same way.

Which brings me to the picture directory. Please, if you haven’t already, sign up to have your picture taken! Think about it in terms of newcomers. If we can hand them a book full of smiling Grace faces, they’ll sense the warmth and love our church family has to offer. If we all show up, new folk will see that our church reflects several generations. It’ll make it easy to learn names and welcome others. If we are to reach out to new people, at times we have to make sacrifices. This is a little one, but the benefits could be important. Click here to sign up! And if there are any other opportunities to help others find Christ, please participate in those too-- even if it’s not your favorite thing; even if you are not the intended audience.

Grace UMC is a special place with great people and amazing opportunities to grow in Christ. Thanks for making it such a place! It’s a joy to be your pastor. Now let’s turn our focus outward and share the love of Jesus with others.

All Grace Is Amazing!
Peace and Joy,
Pastor Frank

25 September 2016

Two Funerals

The lead pastor of First Baptist Church rose to the pulpit to offer the eulogy. A cherished member of the congregation, a leading contributor to the recent education wing addition, had died. The preacher recalled the departed’s impact on the community: his service on the boards of several non profits; membership in the Chamber of Commerce and the Elk’s Club. He had been likable and dependable. Those closest to him, acquaintances more than friends-- the man had no family-- spoke of his generosity and sense of humor. A pillar of the community, he would be dearly missed. “Blessed are those who mourn,” the preacher said. We would be comforted in our grief.

Across town at the morgue in the hospital basement, the attendant signed out the body of a man to the local funeral home. A week earlier, a body was found in the ditch outside one of the stately homes near the country club. “Homes from $1 million+” proclaimed the giant billboard soaring above the security booth outside the city’s most exclusive gated housing development. The man, covered in sores, and emaciated for lack of food, was found by the security guard on his morning check up through the neighborhood. The dead man’s wallet was empty of everything but his state driver’s license, which had expired a decade ago. The man’s name was Lazarus. Upon arriving on the scene, the authorities knocked on the door of the McMansion. No answer. Upon entering the home, the authorities found the man, dead, in his bed. Turns out the owner of the house, a widower with no children or living relatives, also died on the same day as Lazarus.

This past week in our country, two more African American men were killed by police-- one in Tulsa, the other in Charlotte. Protests arose in cities across the US, and in Charlotte those protests became violent-- a protester was killed; it’s unclear by whom-- there was also looting and property damage. Many pastors were seen standing between police and protesters Wednesday night, trying to ensure some peace. Also this week President Obama announced at the United Nations that the US would increase the number of global refugees allowed to settle here by 60%-- to 110,000. Some of those would come to Texas. The Federal Government expects Texas to resettle 25% more refugees next year-- roughly 10,000 from the reported 7,633 we received in 2016.  In response, Governor Abbott threatened to withdraw Texas from the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program. The move is largely seen as symbolic and political-- the funding for resettlement would be transferred to non profits; Texas cannot stop refugees from moving here. The Texas Bishops of the United Methodist Church issued their own response:

As bishops of The United Methodist Church in Texas we join with other faith leaders in our state to encourage Governor Greg Abbott to seek a pathway that will affirm the worth of all humankind.  

As Christians and as Texans our values are grounded in respect and hospitality toward newcomers. Those values lead us to welcome refugees to our state. We recognize that these are difficult and complex times but as Christians, we rely on Jesus Christ to overcome our fear of those who may be different.

The United Methodist Church in our Social Principles states, “We recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God…. We urge the Church and society to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.”

We ask for God’s blessing on those who will step in to serve in the absence of our state’s participation in the resettlement effort, for they are truly being the hands and feet of Christ.

Justice requires a respect for the vulnerable. Justice requires an openness and vulnerability to those who are suffering. Justice acts out of faith and not fear, trusting that we worship a God of justice. The events of the past week, and the message of the parable, challenge us to see and hear the suffering of others-- and to act.

The rich man dressed in fine purple robes. Purple is a color of power and wealth-- the preferred color of royalty. The rich man, unnamed, is king of his own mansion. He feasts every night on the finest food and wine. In his loneliness, he lives a lifestyle of the rich and famous. But there is an emptiness in his life. Not materially-- anyone can see the the luxuries status and privilege can afford us by looking around the guy’s home. Outside, the same beggar, day after day, is silently expecting a handout. How he escapes the security guard outside the neighborhood gate is a constant frustration. This has been voiced more than once at the monthly homeowner’s association, and the rich man makes a mental note to bring it up again next Wednesday night. But he won’t make that meeting. It’ll be cancelled, because the association will need the meeting room for a neighborhood gathering to remember the man’s life.

Outside the house a poor hungry man, Lazarus, is dying. He is not an infrequent visitor to the man’s home. Several years ago he became ill, lost his job and health insurance, and became destitute. Despite his many requests for help, he has been ignored. His body is weak. He is unable to move. The neighborhood dogs come by every day to lick the man’s wounds. Every day he could hear the rich man shouting from his limo: “Get a job!” “Get off my lawn!” “Get a life!”

The other day I went to the eye doctor for the first time in my life. I can see distances clearly, but reading is a little fuzzy. A couple of years ago I snagged some reading glasses from the lost and found of my previous church and they helped, but I thought it was time to embrace reality. So I have these beautiful new readers that actually fit my face. It is amazing how clearly I can read the words of the Bible now. Let me show you:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
  because he has anointed me
    to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
  and recovery of sight to the blind,
    to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
- Luke 4:18-19
Do you see clearly?

The wicked go down to the realm of the dead, all the nations that forget God. But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.
 — Psalm 9: 17-18
Do you see clearly?

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
 — Isaiah 58:6-11
Do you see clearly?

[Jesus] said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
 — Luke 6:20-21
Do you see clearly?

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
 — 1 John 3:17
Do you see clearly?

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need
 — Deuteronomy 15:7-8
Do you see clearly?

As a preacher I am always critical of pastors who quote Bible verses out of context, which I just did-- if you’d like to know the context take Disciple Bible study! I hope you see clearly now a consist message of the Bible is to be people of justice. Many of the challenges of our society come down to this: we are not seeing the needs of our neighbors clearly. Persons of color, persons of a different sexual orientation, people who look or speak differently, people from a different place. Every one of us is a child of God, and therefore worthy of respect. If no one else gets this, the church must.

The Jeremiah text is one of the silliest in all of scripture. As the army of a foreign power surround Jerusalem, Jeremiah finds himself in jail. For 32 chapters he has forecasted this, and now doom is imminent. Then a visitor comes to see him. His cousin, selling the family farm at Anathoth. The scene in the middle of the jail is hilarious: witnesses are called, silver is measured out, deeds are signed and filed. Why? The land is worthless! Except that it is not. The law of the Bible requires property, even worthless land occupied by a foreign power, remain in the family. It is a protection against generational poverty: there will always be a source of income. Jeremiah buys the property as an investment in God’s future: “Houses will be built, and vineyards will be grown, in this land again.” Jeremiah sees God’s future, and God’s vision of justice, clearly. And he acts.

The rich man in the parable did not. Every snide remark, every ignored plea for help, is a brick laid in a bigger and bigger wall between Lazarus and himself. The wall becomes so strong that it separates the two in death. It cannot be crossed over from either side-- that’s how strong it is. Every time we refuse hospitality to those in need, every time we dismiss the cries of another after a police shooting, every time we pretend problems do not exist, another brick is laid in the wall that separates us. The rich man realizes it’s too late for him-- but what about his brothers? Abraham says, “No, they have the law of Moses and the prophets. If they won’t listen to them, they won’t listen to anyone, even if someone rises from the dead.” It’s too late for him, but not for us. See the needs of others. See them as children of God worthy of respect. See them, hear them, and act. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

22 September 2016

Healthy Church Initiative

A couple of weeks ago I participated in a sort of reunion group with other pastors celebrating significant milestones in ministry (it was my 15th anniversary as an Elder in the church). We talked about our approaches to preaching. I said one of my guiding principles in preaching is simplicity. That when I prepare a sermon, I try to bring one person one message. When I am thinking/writing about Sunday's message, I try to envision how one person would hear what I am trying to say. What would I want that one person to contemplate throughout the week?

One message. One person.

The other night Grace's Administrative Council voted unanimously to participate in the North Texas Conference's Healthy Church Initiative. We were invited to go through this process, not because Grace is unhealthy, but to help us better focus on reaching our community for Christ. Grace has an amazing ministry that reaches many people through various avenues, but it's hard to point to a unifying direction for where we are going. This process will hopefully put us on a good track going forward.

This effort will not replace other learning/goals/core values/etc Grace has adopted in recent years. We are not reinventing the wheel here, just trying to bring focus. So thinking about the ministry of the whole church: How might it look if we had one message for one person?

The HCI process has been used by churches from forty different conferences since 2008-- so it is not just a North Texas Conference deal. It is not led by a single out of state consultant. Our church will join other churches from the various districts of the conference. As we continue in the process, we'll pick up new resources and strategies for doing ministry. Or we may decide that Phase One was all we need for now. Here's a timeline for HCI:

Phase 1
January - June 2017. 10-12 layfolk, plus Pastor Leon and myself, will meet with others from different churches around the conference. We will all read the same books, then meet to discuss and learn best practices from each other. These meetings will be once a month for 3-4 hours. We'll read a total of six books. At the end of Phase 1 these leaders will meet with Grace's Administrative Council to share insights from the process. A decision will be made to move on to Phase 2 or not. We are not obligated to continue.

Phase 2
Assuming we do continue, we'll partner with Dr Jim Ozier of the conference, who will be a consultant. We'll also be assigned a coach, most likely a retired pastor. We'll work with those individuals for a deeper study of Grace: finances, vision, goals, conversations with leaders, etc. The conference will send a "mystery guest," an unchurched person, to join us for worship and check out the website to get an idea of how our church speaks to those beyond its walls. This phase culminates in a weekend seminar led by clergy and laity from across the conference. We'll receive a report, which among other things will highlight five strengths and weaknesses. Phase 2 is held during the Spring of the year following Phase 1, so early 2018.

Phase 3
If we continue past Phase 2, and every church that has participated in this process has done so, we'll have a time of implementation of whatever learning we have received. This takes about a year.

So the HCI process is sort of nebulous at the beginning. It's a handful of people from Grace learning from/with a handful of others from different churches. As we go further in the process, we tailor it to best fit Grace's needs. This is not a generic approach to revving up ministry. I'm excited that we enthusiastically agreed to go forward with this. I invite you to pray for Grace UMC, as we seek to better serve the needs of our community by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

If you are interested in serving on the HCI team, or in another leadership position in the church, let me know. Or click here to complete a ministry survey. And don't forget to sign up for our new picture directory!

All grace is amazing!

15 September 2016

Would You Go Back?

I've been reading a new Stephen King book this week: 11-22-63. It's about a teacher in Maine who lives in 2011. His friend Al discovers a rift in time, which transports him to 1958. Every time Al travels to the past he arrives on the same date, in the same place. No matter how many times he goes back, it's always the same. When he returns to 2011, only two minutes have elapsed. Al starts to think about changing the future in a major way-- what if he stopped Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating President Kennedy? Would the Vietnam War still happen? Could he save millions of lives by stopping one murder? One thing Al learns: every time he journeys to 1958 and changes one little, or major, thing, it effects the future in some way. But when he goes back to 1958 again, everything resets to how it was before. The book was recently made into a TV series on Hulu.

When Al becomes ill, he convinces his friend Jake, a school teacher, to go.  Jake takes up the mission to save JFK. He travels to 1958 and finds his way to Dallas by 1960. He settles in a small town near Ft Worth, gets a job teaching, falls in love, all while waiting for 11/22/63. He continues to track Oswald based on his own knowledge of history and his buddy Al's notes. I have about 10% of the book to go. It's an interesting idea, but not one of King's best.

This week I participated in a celebration of my 15th year of ministry as an Elder in the United Methodist Church. I was ordained a Deacon in 1998 (it was a sort of probationary step then not a separate order as it is today), and Elder in 2001. I was a member of the Texas Conference, and transferred my membership, as folk do in local churches when they move, to North Texas in 2002. Before I was ordained, I remember a mentor saying to me, "Think of ordination as a gift." It has been just that-- I am thankful for everyone, from Christy and the boys, to my family, colleagues, and churches I have served, for the privilege.

But of course I have made many mistakes along the way. Some minor, and some more serious. What if I discovered a time-travel vortex at the park one morning while walking the dog? If I could go back in time to change things, would I do it? And what impact would it have in others' lives?

I said in a sermon recently that God does not lead us into the past, but into the future. God calls us to leave behind those past failures and walk into newness of life. God's grace leads us to where we should be going. Sometimes it is tempting to want to go back. Some of you lived in 1958, and you miss those sights and sounds. Others wouldn't go back to 1958 under any circumstances-- as great and romantic as it was for some, it was also a time of Jim Crow, segregation, and oppression for others.

I'm rooting for things to turn out well for Jake, but I hope he doesn't keep returning over and over again to set every little thing right. I'm not sure yet if the story ends for him in 2011 or 1963, just as I was unsure about my own story in 2001 or now in 2016. Wherever we are in time, keep going forward. At the retreat, I prayed with a buddy who pastors a church at a significant crossroads-- they have one foot in the past, one in the future. I hope they go into a future willingly, and with confidence, knowing that God goes ahead, urges all of us onward:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also 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 the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).

11 September 2016

On the 15th Anniversary of 9/11

“Where were you on September 11?” Christy and I were in our apartment on Henderson Avenue getting ready for work.  We were watching the Today show. We watched live, as most of here and billions around the world did, as the second plane hit the World Trade Center.  We were horrified, unsure what to do next.  She drove to her job, near SMU, and I drove to Oak Lawn near downtown Dallas, where I served as Associate Pastor.  I remember driving along Turtle Creek listening to the radio and worrying about Dallas being attacked.  It was doubly terrifying for me—Christy and I had just learned the day before, September 10, that she was pregnant with our first child, James.  Throughout the day I struggled with guilt, watching and reading of great human suffering, while at the same time feeling joy about our own news. That newly announced fetus is now the starting left tackle on the Sherman Bearcats freshman team.

When I arrived at the church, we began to think: how should we respond as a church?  We hastily organized a prayer service for that night.  I went to my office and began sending out emails to every person I knew and asked them to forward it on. That night we gathered in our sacred space to pray.  We were angry, confused, worried, vulnerable.  We prayed for our country, its leaders, its people.  We lifted up emergency workers in New York City, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania.  We thought of hundreds of Dallas folks who turned out to donate blood, seeking any way to offer help.

President Bush called for a time of national prayer Friday, September 14 at noon.  The Music Director and I put together a service of prayer and healing.  The Sanctuary was absolutely packed with people from the neighborhood on their lunch hour, many of whom without a church home.  I remember walking to that pulpit with a profound feeling of inadequacy.  I had no words to explain God’s will in this act of evil.  I knew folk were struggling with existential questions of why God would allow such a thing, where was God, what had we done to deserve this.  All I could think to offer were psalms of lament, the great tradition of laying out all our hurt and anguish before God in a desperate act of prayer and trust.  So I read words from a psalm. And Russ played music.  And I read more.  And Russ played more.  And somehow it worked, as far as I know. 

The two texts this morning speak to the character of God. The first, from Exodus 32, is a scene in the wilderness, following the Israelite's escape from Egypt. They have arrived at the mountain of God, where in Chapter 20 they received the Ten Commandments. The commandments are the foundation for a covenant relationship between God and God's people. The next eleven chapters are details of how the people will live out this covenant. In the meantime, Moses has climbed the mountain to be with God. The people, down in the valley, become restless without their leader. They say to Aaron, Moses' brother,:
People: "Hey, this guy who brought us out of Egypt.. we don't know what has become of him. Make for us a god, who will lead us."
Aaron: "OK. Bring me your shiny stuff."
The people bring their jewelry and give it to Aaron, who melts it down and forms a golden calf. Then the people say, "THIS is the god who brought us out of Egypt, and who will go before us!"

God is listening.
And is furious.

God says to Moses, "This people, whom YOU brought of Egypt, have done this terrible thing. I will destroy them and start over with you."
Moses, shocked: "No, this is YOUR PEOPLE, whom YOU brought up out of Egypt"-- he doesn't want them either-- "But do not destroy them. Remember the covenant you made with their ancestors to be their God and bring them to their own land."

And God changes God's mind.

In the parables, Jesus speaks of a lost sheep and a lost coin. A shepherd has 100 sheep in the flock. One gets lost in the wilderness. He leaves the 99 in order to find the one, and returns, carrying it on his shoulders. And there is a celebration. "Such is the celebration in heaven over one sinner who repents." A woman tears her house apart, looking for one coin in ten that is lost. When she kinds it she calls all of her friends and neighbors, throws a party, which probably cost more than the value of the coin, and there is a celebration.  "Such is the celebration in heaven over one sinner who repents."

Following those attacks, many Christian leaders tried to explain what had happened. They blamed people they considered sinful, and decided God was punishing America for its sinfulness. Homosexuality, whatever. Wait-- haven't these people even read the Bible? Do they even know the character of God? Yes, God's anger burns against the Israelites in the wilderness, but God does not destroy them. God forgives. It is fundamental to God's character to be merciful. The parables tell us of the celebration in heaven over one sinner who repents. God does not punish or destroy. God forgives and offers grace. God saves. Jesus came to the world to offer salvation, not judgment. Here's the thing: scripture affirms that all of humanity is broken and in need of forgiving grace. It's not good people vs bad people thing. We all need mercy. And God celebrates when we accept it.

After 9/11 we responded with war-- in Afghanistan, still raging fifteen years later; and in Iraq, which has descended into chaos and given rise to ISIS or ISIL, whatever you want to call it. A Recent Pew research poll showed that Americans are more afraid of terrorism today than they were after 9/11. 40% of us are afraid for another attack. It's a major issue in the presidential campaign. I am offering this reflection on the character of God to remind each of us that God is merciful and just. Whatever evil we face, God's grace is stronger. The best response to bad theology is good theology. 

So let us remember the nature of God, which is to forgive and offer grace. Let us remember the nature of humanity, which is broken and in need of mercy. And as people of faith who are experiencing the life saving grace of God, live your lives as those who are not afraid, who do not return evil for evil. Today we remember those lives taken fifteen years ago, as well as those who are grieving or suffering from related illness. And we give thanks to God, who offers us faith to overcome any challenge we face. Let us pray.

Lord Jesus Christ, you are the way of peace. Come into the brokenness of our lives and our land with your healing love. Help us to be willing to bow before you in true repentance, and to bow to one another in real forgiveness. By the fire of your Holy Spirit, melt our hard hearts and consume the pride and prejudice which separate us. Fill us, O Lord, with your perfect love, which casts out fear, and bind us together in that unity which you share with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.-- 

06 September 2016

Papaw's Buick

Last weekend our family was in Bay City to visit family. On Saturday Mom took her six grandsons to the Children's Museum. My wife Christy and I decided to squeeze in a quick coffee break with our free time. When we were finished, I went to the car to pick her up and it wouldn't start. Great. Frustrating. We've been having issues with her car for the last few weeks, and thought they were resolved. But here we were, stranded. So I walked to the museum, borrowed Mom's car, dropped Christy off at the museum, and ran some errands. I ran into my Aunt Pam and brother in law Jessie and told them about the car. Then I went to get Dad to help me jump the car's battery. By the time we arrived at the car, Christy was there, joined by Pam and Jessie. All five of us took turns trying to fix the thing, to no avail. We even called Uncle Danny to hear his thoughts. No luck.

Ultimately we decided to leave Christy's car in Bay City to be repaired, and my grandfather lent us his car. Papaw's Buick isn't used very often, but he likes to have it in case of an emergency. He also wants others to use his car and gas when they take him to the doctor. So we loaded up our boys in the backseat, all three across. They were not very excited or comfortable, being used to riding in their own seats in a large SUV. Six hours and 385 miles later, we were safely home. Now we wait to hear from the garage. Everyone is hoping to get our car back soon!

This little frustrating episode speaks to me about the importance of family, or in a larger sense, community. Faced with the car that would not start, several people had to adjust their routines-- and others just stepped in to help, because that is what family does. But how do you define family? On one level family functions as it did in this story-- all the characters are related to each other by ancestry or relationship. Of course we look out for each other. But what about those who have no family? Or those whose families are dysfunctional? Who looks out for them?

Jesus once ate at the home of a Pharisee, and as he examined the dinner guests he said to the host: “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14). Next he told a parable about a man hosting a wonderful dinner for his family and friends-- but no one showed up. He sent his servants out into the community to invite others to his table. Family stretches to those beyond the regular circle to include those on the outside-- the poor, the outcast, the invisible. Christ calls his followers to have eyes and hearts for those others do not see or love. We consider them part of the family, because every person is made in the image of God. As a Christ follower, how can you expand your circle of family to include others-- especially those who could never pay you back? What can you offer to help someone else-- giving particular attention to those different from you? Serving others blesses them with food or clothing, whatever their need is, and we in turn receive blessings-- not from those served, but from God.

This weekend at Mom's house we had a small birthday party for my son Linus. She has an antique table that is expandable-- you can extend it to include more people. What a great metaphor for what Jesus is trying to teach us! Extending our tables is an act of hospitality. When our car broke down, my family responded with offers of hospitality: Papaw loaned us his car; others gave rides or called experts for advice. Let's learn from that example, but also be challenged by Jesus to broaden our definition of family to include more and more people in need. Give and receive many blessings by extending your table through the ministry of hospitality!