Tag Archives: community


This past weekend, I headed out to Virginia Beach, VA. I was there primarily to recruit wrestlers for Augsburg College at the AAA Virginia State Wrestling Tournament. But, I got to visit and preach at my “home” congregation, St. Michael Lutheran Church. Since 2005, St. Michael has been a meaningful place for my faith. I’ve grown in so many ways – fellowship, doing youth and kids ministry, serving on church council, assisting with worship, and even utilizing my organ-playing skills during Lent in 2008 (long story).

St. Michael has also helped me through some tough times in my life – carrying me through them, and in their witness to me, helping me wrestle with tough questions about God and life, about this gospel message we proclaim, a message about the move from death to life…..cross to resurrection.

It’s been over 2 years since I’ve last been back. We still claim each other – they are my “home congregation;” I am one of their members – but there aren’t as many familiar faces, and the faces that are, aren’t as well known. It’s the reality of being away, you drift a part as you’re not so integrated into their lives on a daily basis.

However, there are some experiences that just tie us together. Last week, someone who I had known well, passed away suddenly. Her health was declining, but she got sick, and within about an hour of being in the ER, she died. This was one of a few tough deaths the congregation has been through. And, if you’ve been following this blog at all, you know from my life, that I’ve had a tough winter in the way of close deaths too. Really, death is an experience that ties all of us together. In a very striking and somber way, our mortality is one of the fundamental things of what it means to be human.

I’ve found that faith and trust are hard in such moments….but perhaps not so much in community. This mini-homecoming reminded me of that. We never trust alone – we are given the gift of people in community to surround us where God and the Spirit are present, being faithful to us, caring for us, even in the smallest of trust. It points to a God who is so faithful to us always, fully, even when we aren’t and can’t be.

We never trust alone….that’s something to be thankful for, and perhaps, something that nurtures and strengthens our own meager faith.


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Filed under Church Devotions (Advent/Lent, etc)

The Uncomfortable Nature of Hospitality

Last week, I led an adult mission trip to the western tip of Virginia, Lee County.  (By the way, the trip was though the organization Appalachia Service Project.  Great organization!)  Our group spent the week digging a trench and installing a retaining wall to help with drainage around the house and installed insulation on the bottom of the house to help with heating and cooling.  There are 12 people living in about a 900-square foot house….and moisture is causing mold in the house.  Our work assisted in improving the quality of life and health of the family.

Now, there are many pros and cons to short term mission trips like this.  Those arguments have been laid out and analyzed, both the social and theological implications.  And I don’t want to get into that here.  What was probably most striking for me, and what I am wrestling with the most, is the notion of hospitality – how it was given and received.

The giving wasn’t hard.  Our group, our congregation, prides itself on extending hospitality to the stranger – to the one who comes from the outside, the one who may not have the abundance we have, the one who comes, seeking relationship with us.  We extended hospitality in many ways, from speaking with the family, to our service project, to being as open and inviting as possible for the sake of relationship with the family.

Yet, receiving the hospitality of the family was a different matter.  I can recall countless times that family offered us water to drink, a snack to share, a chair to sit on, and thoughtful gifts.  One of our couples on the trip celebrated their 26th Anniversary.  The family learned of this, and upon returning from some errands in town, generously gave the couple some cookies they had bought….”we would’ve bought a cake, but we couldn’t find the right one.  I hope this will do.”  And, like their offers of water, snacks, gifts, this gift was met with a response of awkward acknowledgment at best.  We were all often hesitant and uncomfortable in taking up their generous offer to be gracious hosts to us throughout the week.

That raises a big question for me: “What is so difficult about receiving hospitality from others – neighbors, particularly strangers, and especially those we perceive to have less resources from which to offer hospitality?”  My church (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), among other churches, stress welcoming and inviting the stranger – open doors to the church, the Christian community.  But yet, we’re hesitant to receive hospitality from those we want to welcome and invite – not entering through their open doors, their community.   In fact, I’d even go as far to say we are unwilling and in some ways, unable to receive hospitality from others. If that’s true….what is that saying to those strangers and neighbors that we so want to share God’s love and be in relationship with?  The answer to that question would suggest many things, one being their hospitality isn’t a worthy gift.  It has no value to us.

That makes me uncomfortable….because it’s a bit condemning for not only me, but for the church I love to serve, and for the faith I confess.  Being welcoming and inviting is certainly important for Christians and for the church today.  But I think we’d do well to address our inability to receive hospitality from the other – the integrity of our faith, how the other experiences God through us, and our own pursuit and longing for transformational relationships, is at stake.


Filed under Missional Thinking & The Church

Why Faith Matters……Connectedness.

Eric is a friend & is currently finishing up his pastoral internship in Arizona.  I have to admit, Eric & I wouldn’t have gotten to know each other if it wasn’t for my fiancee and his wife being good friends, but even though we’d both agree we’re on different parts of the spectrum in terms of how we see the world, I’ve enjoyed getting to know Eric and calling him a friend.  

You can also check out Eric’s blog here.  His witness and words are good ones.  Enjoy!

“Why Faith Matters”

Eric Clapp

Last week, some scientists claimed to have found the Higgs-Boson particle – “The God Particle” as some have named it. It explains how mass comes to be in existence, making some scientists claim that this is how the world was created. Right away, the claim was that this makes believing in God obsolete. On Facebook and Twitter people were bashing on religion left and right saying this discovery proves that God didn’t create the Universe, then they make the leap to “God must not exist.” Now, I’m not here to debate the finer points of physics with you because, frankly, physics is hard. But I think this does say a lot about how we relate to our faith.

For a lot of people, faith matters because they believe we were created by God and, because we were created by God, that means all the other stuff in the Bible must be true. In essence, many Christians think that to disprove our creation disproves our faith. But if I’m honest with you, that’s not the reason I have faith at all.

My faith matters to me because it connects me to something greater than myself – my community. Going to church and being part of a worship community continually reminds me of two things. The first is that it’s not about me. The second is that it’s about my neighbor. My natural inclination, as a human being, is to be selfish, greedy, and to be on top. But, for me, faith is about emptying myself of those needs so that the people around me can be served.

As a pastor, this can be hard because I spend a lot of my time giving – whether it’s time, attention, or energy. A lot of times I come home pretty depleted. But I have friends, a community, and a God that gives me energy to do it all over again the next day. Faith gives me the courage to look outside of myself and see how I can help my neighbor. I think that if everyone in the world started their day by thinking about how they could best help their neighbor today, and then actually did it, we’d be in pretty good shape.

There’s a rabbi named David Wolpe who wrote a book called Why Faith Matters. In it, he writes, “Faith does not ask ‘Which medicine will cure this disease?’ but ‘How can I use the experience of illness to help others?’” That’s ultimately what it’s about for me. That’s why my faith matters. It’s not about proving or disproving science. But faith calls me out of myself to use my experience as a broken human being to ease the suffering and pain of those around me.

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