Thursday Night

In the parable of the Great Dinner (Luke 14) Jesus tells the story of a banquet where no one shows up. Finally out of frustration the host orders the servants out into the roads and lanes to invite anyone without plans for a meal. I am not completely sure who hung out on the streets in Jesus’ day, but I suspect they were people with nowhere better to go. Today we might describe them as poor, homeless, vagrants, and even strangers to avoid. For the past decade I have been attending a church that lives this parable regularly, especially on Thursday evenings. Prior to attending His Love Fellowship Luke was just telling an interesting story; I never connected it to reality. After all who in their right mind opens their doors to just anyone? The very meaning of the word stranger suggests the idea of unknown or even dangerous. Everything about American culture tells us to avoid anything that could be dangerous. We tell our children to run from strangers. Strangers are not to be trusted.

Every Thursday night my church opens its doors to everyone, even the stranger. They have been doing this for the better part of 20 years. If you were come and visit on Thursday you would be offered a meal, probably smothered in green chili. No questions asked. After supper you would be invited to a bible study where new friends and family would share the good news of the gospel and pray with you. To top everything off, before you left you would be offered an opportunity to visit the food pantry. All of this happens because this is a group of people who take church seriously. They are just naïve enough to act on what Scripture says – to feed the hungry, offer a cup of water to the thirsty, clothe the naked and visit the prisoner. All of this is simply offered regardless of the person’s social standing, appearance, ability to pay, or past.

Isn’t this what church is supposed to be? A gathering a people who ignore the fears of culture and simply act on the words of Jesus. There are those who might describe this kind of person as a “Red Letter Christian.

The Call

In my work I get to spend a lot of time with people who are thinking about the call to full-time ministry.  They want to preach, direct a Christian education program or lead a para-church ministry.  From a distance the “call” can seem adventurous and life-giving.  But that is not always the case; Brain McLaren sums up a reality that many of us in “the ministry” face his book A New Kind of Christian:

I found the pastorate a pretty hard place to be a growing, thinking, honest Christian.  Too many people want you to spout the party line, never question, never think.  In the end, it was a matter of integrity and compassion.  If I had been honest in the pulpit about what was going on in my mind and heart – my questioning, my reevaluating – I would either have split the church or been fired.

 This inner conflict has been part of my reality for the past 20 years.  My Christian faith, my call to ministry is both the most important part of who I am and what I do as well as the most frustrating part of who I am and how I live.  I love what I do but I am always looking for a reason to quit.

These tensions have influenced my understanding of God’s call on my life.  There are days when I feel called and there are days when I am quite sure that God is just messing with me.  In a few days I am going to take a step that I have actively avoided for at least two decades - ordination.

Why am I doing this now?  My struggle with God is still an everyday reality – just this morning I came up with a new reason to quit!  Ultimately my faith is just that – a step of faith.  When I look back at the last 20 years it hasn’t been perfect, but God has been present – encouraging, patiently allowing me to rant and question and providing church families that love on me and my family without condition.

This Sunday, I will take a step of faith;  believing that God has called me into the ministry, not because I have my act together, but because God has called me in spite of my strengths and weaknesses. If you are in Denver this Sunday, September 11 you are invited to His Love Fellowship Church at 3 PM to celebrate the next step in my journey.