Worship, March 8, 2020

God created us whole. All of us have been created to great things. 

The sin we struggle with makes it difficult to fulfill our calling, individually and corporately. Sin makes it difficult for us to love God fully, love ourselves in the way that God loves us, and, in turn, love our neighbors as ourselves. God desires for us to become aware of our sin. God could opt to take complete control and prune us. In turn, we could take (perceived) control and prune ourselves. However, God chooses to work with us in the pruning the sin from our lives. 

Pruning, as difficult as it is, helps us to thrive where we’ve been planted. If we work with God to prune the sin, and nurture the soil, we will naturally bear fruit in the world and draw others to Christ. 

This week, we will focus specifically on the role that control plays in our lives. We will talk about our need for control/our unintended God complexes. We don’t provide water, soil, or sun. Relinquishing a false sense of control helps us to remember that we are connected to THE giver of life, the sustainer.

DEVOTION: The Phoenix Bird, Dec. 19

Scripture When anyone is joined to Christ, he [or she] is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come.   (II Corinthians 5:17)

MeditationIn the old terminal of Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport one finds a large, brightly colored mural depicting the legendary phoenix.  Egyptian mythology tells of a bird that rises from its own ashes to live again.

FBC’s 1995 mission team to Prague, Czech Republic went there to help raise the International Baptist Theological Seminary (ITBS) from the ashes of what had been a Nazi army camp during World War II and a Communist scientific laboratory compound during the Cold War.  We went to work with paint, cement, muscle, sweat, and prayer to renovate this site of former evils into a hope-filled place of beauty where Christ’s life-giving love is now proclaimed.  Although ITBS is no longer in existence, for nearly three decades the seminary made it possible for Christians from many lands to be equipped for spreading the gospel in their own countries.

While we labored to renovate the buildings of the old site, which contained some structures dated to the 1700’s, God was working on renovation in some of our lives, as no doubt has been true on many mission trips Tabernacle has sponsored

Sometimes these life “renovations” come not through pleasant experiences such as missions trips, but through painful ones which are difficult for us to understand.  C.S. Lewis uses a beautiful metaphor to illustrate how Christ brings about change in our lives:

Imagine yourself as a living house.  God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing.  He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on:  you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.  But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense.  What on earth is He up to?  The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards.  You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage:  but He is building a palace.  He intends to come and live in it Himself.

The last verse of the age-old hymn by Charles Wesley, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” echoes this theme of renovation:

Finish, then, Thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be;

Let us see Thy great salvation perfectly restored in Thee:

Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place,

Till we cast our crowns before Thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.

Have you invited the Christ Child into your heart for renovation?

Prayer:  O Lord, thank You for loving us so much that You were willing to come to earth as a lowly Babe, to suffer, die, and rise again for us, and now to transform us into a place where You may dwell.  This Christmas may we willingly enlarge the place of Your dwelling in our lives.  Amen.

For additional information about our Advent devotions and their authors, click here

Making Room in the Inn

ScriptureAnd Jesus concluded, “In your opinion, which one of these three acted like a neighbor toward the man attacked by the robbers?”    The teacher of the law answered, “The one who was kind to him.”  Jesus replied.  “You go then, and do the same.” (Luke 10:36-37)

MeditationA few years ago, I attended a meeting in Cincinnati and decided to spend the night sleeping in a shelter run by a close friend of mine.  For nearly two decades, my friend Buddy had reached out to the homeless men and women in that city.   Buddy was one of the most gentle and caring people I have ever known, unless you were a city official bent on redeveloping his beloved Over-the-Rhine neighborhood and displacing the poor and struggling families living there.

No matter who came to his door, no matter how dirty or confused or inebriated, Buddy put his arm around him and welcomed him into his shelter. 

Tom was one of those men who somehow found their way to Buddy’s doorstep.  The night I stayed at the shelter, Buddy asked Tom to give me a tour.  Tom spent a little time showing me the various programs and residential portions of the building, but mostly Tom took me on a tour of his life. 

He told me how he was abused as a child, how he quit school and got into trouble, how his marriage fell apart and he lost his family, and how drugs and alcohol consumed him for years.  He said, “I have a Master’s in drugs, and a Ph.D. in trouble!”

“But,” he proudly continued, “because of this place and the people who cared about me, I found hope and the strength to change my life.  I have been sober for 10 years.  I have my children back in my life.  I have a job I love, working with others who are struggling with addictions.  And most of all, I know who I am.”

It is clear that Tom’s life was changed by the programs which helped him deal with some very difficult personal issues and by his own willingness to choose hope over hopelessness.  But what really saved Tom’s life was the gift of hospitality — an unconditional acceptance of the stranger in our midst — provided by Buddy and his staff.

Henry Nouwen describes hospitality this way:

Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place…It is not a method of making our God and our way into the criteria for happiness but the opening of an opportunity to others to find their God and their way… hospitality is… a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances.. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.

Prayer:    Lord, help us to reach out to the strangers in our midst, to offer love, hope, comfort, support, and a safe place to find their own way.  Amen.

For additional information about our Advent devotions and their authors, click here.

Sticky Kisses

Scripture:   Jesus said, “Let the children come to me and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.  (Matthew 19:13-14)

MeditationAs I pulled my car into the parking lot at the shelter, I saw another car follow me into the small lot.  The car was crowded with children and belongings.  It looked like the family had endeavored to strap every last possession on the car’s roof, and the trunk strained with the remaining items.  As I sat and watched, three children climbed quietly out of the car, but it was clear that another child remained inside the car.  He was engaged in an animated conversation with his parents.  All of a sudden the car door swung open and the young boy burst out, tears streaming down his face. He was barely 12 or 13 years old. He began to walk briskly down the sidewalk, screaming and crying that he did not want to stay at a shelter, asking his parents, “How could you do this to me?”  As he walked away his shattered and defeated parents stood with their heads bowed, holding back their own tears.

Parents know how tough the years of a middle-schooler can be as they seek to venture out on their own and gain the acceptance of their peers. Can you imagine being a young boy living in a shelter? How do you invite your friends over after school?  How do you even tell your friends where you live?

Homelessness is hell for children, and it shapes their lives for years, if not for a lifetime.  A study by the Interagency Council on the Homeless (now the U.S. Interagency on Homelessness) revealed the sobering statistic that more than a quarter of all homeless adults had been homeless as children, and many others had experienced similar childhood traumas of abuse, foster care, or institutionalization.  Every day that we allow children to be homeless on our city streets increases the likelihood that they and their children will find themselves on those same streets years from now.  We must find a way to imbue this generation of children with hope for a future, or their hopelessness will consume them and diminish us.


We pray for children

              who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,

              who sleep with the dog and bury goldfish,

              who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money,

              who cover themselves with Band-aids and sing off key,

              who squeeze toothpaste all over the sink,

              who slurp their soup.

And we pray for those

              who never get dessert,

              who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,

              who watch their parents watch them die,

              who can’t find any bread to steal,

              who don’t have any rooms to clean up,

              whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser,

              whose monsters are real.

By Ina J. Hughs

For additional information about our Advent devotions and their authors, click here.

The Gift of the Stranger

Scripture Reading:  She gave birth to her first Son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger – there was no room for them to stay in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

Meditation:   It was my first night as a volunteer at the new Salvation Army shelter, opened to address the growing needs of homeless men in downtown Phoenix.  I had never worked with homeless people before, so I sat nervously at the registration table asking each man a few questions as he signed in.  As I got more and more into the flow of the job, I became more mechanical in my duties, soon failing to look up before asking the next man in line his name. As I crouched over my clipboard, I called out for the name of the next person in line.  A voice quietly said, “My name is Joseph.”   Continuing to stare at my clipboard, I asked, “And your occupation?”  Joseph quietly answered, “I am a carpenter,” and then he disappeared into the crowd heading through the shelter door.   

At that moment, just a few days before Christmas, I was jolted out of the complacency of my “official” role.  I realized I could not ignore these men. I could not fail to give them the simple dignity of looking them in the eye. If Joseph were there, could Jesus be there also?   And what if I missed the opportunity to grasp God’s outstretched hand and His invitation to journey with Him in service to the world? 

The Bible does not tell us why the innkeeper felt compelled to find a place for Joseph and Mary to sleep that night.  Perhaps it was the fact that it was clear that Mary was close to giving birth that moved him to compassion, but why had none of the other innkeepers felt so moved?  Maybe it was because the innkeeper had access to the cave where Jesus was born and no one else did, or perhaps it was simply a chance to make a little more money from the travelers visiting Bethlehem to pay their taxes. Or, just maybe, it was because by looking into the eyes of Mary and Joseph the innkeeper caught a glimpse of God’s love and chose to be a part of His plan for revealing that love to mankind.

We will have to wait until we get to heaven to get the answer to that question, but what we do know is that the birthplace of Jesus is an important part of the revelation of God’s story.  Through His humble birth, Jesus was connected to the world of the broken, and through that was able to teach us about compassion and grace and hope.  As Thomas Merton reminds us:

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited.  But because He cannot be at home in it, because He is out of place in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room.  His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of person, who are tortured, bombed, and exterminated.  With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in the world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst… It is in these that He hides Himself, for whom there is no room.

Prayer:   Lord, thank You for the innkeeper who chose to be a part of God’s plan for the world.  Help us to be aware of those around us who need to find room in the inn – be it a place of physical rest or spiritual hope.  Amen.

For additional information about our Advent devotions and their authors, click here.