Hospitality at the Holidays


Supper Church Shoeboxes

One thing I really like about this time of year is all the parties and open house events. It’s the time of year when we feel compelled to get together with our neighbors and friends to eat food. It’s cold outside, the holidays are here and it’s time to visit with everyone. It’s time to remove the dust bunnies, cook up some food, and invite people over before everyone disappears for Christmas.

For some this might seem like a lot of work or a pain. After all, there can be too many parties to attend and too much work involved in a party. But to me the bottom line is that this is a time of year for hospitality. We welcome people into our homes to have a good time. There’s something special about that.

One of the things Jesus does in the Bible is eat. A man’s gotta eat right? He eats in all sorts of locations. He eats on the hillside after he feeds five thousand people. He eats at Pharisees’ houses. He eats at his friends-Martha, Mary and Lazarus’ house. He eats at the house of a tax collector named Zacchaeus. He also famously ate his last meal with his disciples in the upper room the night he was arrested.

Jesus is more than happy to be the invited guest. People opened their houses to him and his disciples over and over again. We too should do the same. We should open our houses to each other over and over again. Hospitality is part of the faith. It’s part of being a community of faith.

As we move through the end of the holidays, lets try to enjoy the parties and the fun. And maybe for 2018 we can think of ways to extend the invitation. When can we have people over for dinner again? When can we invite folks over for a party? And how can we deepen our relationships with each other over a tasty meal?

2018 can be a lot of things, but I’ll go with good food, fellowship and friends.


St. Nicholas: Bishop of Myra

As Baptists we really don’t do much with Saints. The only two we really talk about are St. Patrick and St. Nicholas (Santa Claus). And the reason these two make the cut is because of the secular nature of both St. Patrick’s Day and Christmas. But I thought we would look at St. Nicholas, a real life Bishop of Myra this week. It’s worth reclaiming the real St. Nicholas during the Advent Season.

St. Nicholas lived long ago during the 300s or fourth century. He was Bishop of Myra, which is in modern day Turkey. Very little is actually known about his life. He is remembered as a man of great faith and compassion. He didn’t leave any writings behind either. We are only left with the legends surrounding his life. But I think the legends are worth looking at because they inform us about his character.

There are two famous stories about St. Nicholas. The first one may be surprising to you. At this point in Church history, there is a grand debate about Jesus. They are discussing whether Jesus is equal to God the Father in status and in power. It’s known as the Arian controversy. So, a gathering is announced. It’s called the Council of Nicaea. There is a story about St. Nicholas who attends the Council. Nicholas is confronted by a person who won’t be convinced that Jesus is equal to God the Father. And what does St. Nicholas do? He slaps that man in the face. Or so we are told. He is later reprimanded for this and is thrown into prison by Emperor Constantine. He has a vision while in prison, is redeemed by it, and is reinstated as bishop.

St. Nicholas is also known for his gift giving. His parents died when he was young and he inherited lots of money. The most famous story about him is about his gift to a poor father and his three daughters. The father has lost all of his money and is unable to get husbands for his three daughters. The daughters are in danger of becoming prostitutes. So one night, St. Nicholas tosses three bags of money into the open window. Or in some versions the bags of money go down the chimney. St. Nicholas saves the daughters from a terrible fate.

For years the church celebrated the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6th. Because St. Nicholas is known for his gift giving, children would receive presents from St. Nicholas on his feast day. This custom immigrated to North America with the Dutch as their children told their neighbors about “Sinter Klaas”-the bishop in red vestments who brought them surprises on his feast day.

The American Santa Claus came from the St. Nicholas feast day tradition and the mispronouncing of “Sinter Klaas”. Santa Claus still wears red but has taken on a life of his own complete with a North Pole address and reindeer. Both Santa Claus and St. Nicholas give gifts but the gifts are different. Santa has his bundle of toys. St. Nicholas gives nothing short of freedom from poverty and desperation. He is one who practiced true charity. (Richard John Neuhaus, 40)

Our St. Nicholas is a man who brought people out of poverty and slapped heretics in the face. He’s a bit different than our Santa Claus, but I like him. He’s sassy and he’s giving the best gifts out there-dignity and hope.


Info taken from two sources-including some direct quotes.

God With Us-Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, Paraclete Press, 2007

The Saint Nicholas Center-




Silent Night, Holy Night

Cloth for the Cradle

It’s a busy time of year. There’s a lot to do. There are parties to attend. There are gifts to purchase. There are Christmas Plays to see. There are worship services to attend. There are friends and family to visit. There are decorations to put into place. And there’s lots of food to eat.

It always strikes me how this time of year tends to sneak up on us. It’s always there on the calendar, but its arrival seems too soon and too fast. Wasn’t it just Halloween? Didn’t we just eat hot dogs on the fourth of July? How did Christmas get here so fast?

In the midst of all the things to do, in the midst of our crazy, greedy, violent and broken world there is a need for God’s presence. There is a need for the incarnation, Emmanuel, God with us. There is a need for a reminder that God is still moving and takes big risks to save us from ourselves-even the big risk on Christmas Eve. God comes to us from Mary’s womb as a tiny baby sleeping in a feeding trough for animals. Baby Jesus is vulnerable, powerless, and adorably cute. But it’s this vulnerable, powerless, and adorably cute baby that is the hope for the world.

When we sing the Christmas Carol, Silent Night, Holy Night, we are reminded that on Christmas Eve Jesus is born and all the world notices that something is different. Something has happened. It’s as if the world stops for a moment to recognize the birth of Jesus. It’s a still, small moment of calm peace. It’s a moment for the whole world to realize that God is still moving, God still loves us, and there is hope yet for our broken world and broken humanity.

May we all have multiple moments this Advent season when we realize that God is still moving, God still loves us, and there is hope for us yet. Jesus is coming. Jesus, God with us, Emmanuel, will bring God’s love face to face to us yet again this year.

Walking the Advent Journey

Crossroads Christmas Tree

Thanksgiving is over. The Christmas shopping season has begun. Lights have been put up. Trees have been decorated. Christmas music is playing on the radio. Christmas time is back again. For some like my two year old, everything seems new to her. She’s never heard the old Christmas songs. She’s never helped decorate our Christmas tree until this year. Christmas is very new to her.

But for adults, Christmas is something we do every year. We are used to it. We know the drill. We know what’s supposed to go on the to-do lists. We’ve heard all the old songs a million times. It can be hard to see Christmas in a new way. It can be hard to experience it like it was the first time.

But here we are. We are beginning the Advent journey. Each Sunday we will hear an old familiar story-John the Baptist, Mary and Gabriel, the birth, and the Wise Men. We will sing the familiar Christmas Carols. And we will journey towards Christmas Day reminding ourselves of the big message of this season: that God came to earth to live among fragile humans and willingly did so. God did this out of great love for each one of us.

And so as the hectic season begins let us remember that this is all about God’s great love for us. It’s not about anything else. It’s not about how busy we are, how many things we use to decorate our house, or how delicious the turkey is. It’s about God’s great love for us, a love that refused to give up on us. A love that went the extra mile and was born in a feeding trough to two terrified parents with only animals to watch. That’s how far God’s love goes. May God’s love carry us through this busy and hectic season.

Giving Thanks for Mooreland Baptist Church

Fall Pumpkins

Sometimes when I talk to people my own age I find out what they think about the church. It’s not good. They think the church is self-interested and just trying to preserve itself for tradition’s sake. They think the church doesn’t understand the world outside of it. They would rather go out on their own and visit lonely people at a nursing home than do that as part of a church. Some people have had some bad experiences in church and it’s painful to hear their stories. My heart hurts on their behalf.

As painful as these stories can be, I still believe in the Church. Not just our congregation-Mooreland Baptist-but the Church as a whole. Things are shifting and changing inside the Church and I think it’s a good thing. I think change brings new things, new growth and new opportunities.

I recently went to the Baptist General Association of Virginia’s Annual Meeting last week. Our executive director, John Upton, gave a report of what’s been happening around the state. And he got excited. Really excited. He was excited about all the church planting that’s been going on. He was excited about our young leaders network-the Spence network-and how it’s impacting the Church. He was excited about all the Fresh Expressions of Church that are happening. There was a video about a church that was started aboard a navy ship. And do you know what he said? He said, this has been my favorite year of all the years I have served Virginia Baptists. Don’t worry about the future. The Church is and will be just fine.

And he’s right. The Church will be fine. It will be more than fine. We don’t know how it’s all going to turn out. Who could have predicted that a church would be started on a navy ship? Who know’s what will happen next? But it will be fine. It will be different and that’s ok. Different can be life giving.

And as pastor of Mooreland, I cannot help but give thanks for our congregation. We are not self-interested. We are involved in the community. When the elementary school asks for donations we are there. When the North Garden Area of Community Churches looks for donations and volunteers we are there. When a local family in our community needs something we are there. When there’s a need for coats at the local clothes closet, we have a stack of them in the sanctuary within a week. When there’s a family who needs to borrow the sanctuary for a funeral, we say yes every time. If there’s a community group who needs to borrow the sanctuary for a concert or the fellowship hall for a party, we say yes every time. This week I was asked if the local school buses could turn around in our parking lot. I didn’t have to ask. I knew the answer from the church was yes. I approved it without hesitation.

Mooreland Baptist Church is a healthy church. We certainly aren’t perfect, that’s not what I mean. We are church who does its best to serve the community, worship God, support one another, and have a healthy fellowship. And that’s the goal. That’s what makes us a healthy church.

I am grateful for Mooreland. It’s a church where I can invite my friends. It’s a church where I can take my daughter and she will be loved, she’ll worship God and learn the old stories from people other than her parents. It’s a church that has been a constant, stable presence in North Garden. It’s a church who is very much loved by her God.

Mooreland Baptist Church may seem like a small congregation in an out of the way place, but it is so much more than that. It is a loving place. It is a place with a big heart for its neighbors and community. It is a place where the faith is taught. It is a place that strives to live the faith outside its walls. It is a place that has meant so much to me and so much to its community. Don’t forget that. Don’t forget the impact we can have. Don’t forget that we too are the hands and feet of God, even in a small place as North Garden, Virginia.


Martin Luther: 500 Years Later


This week marks a special anniversary for the Church. 500 years ago in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the doors of the church in Wittenburg, Germany. This marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Our Baptist tradition eventually comes out of the Reformation.

Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, Germany. He had a harsh upbringing and later suffered from depression and anxiety. In his early twenties he joined a monastery and became an Augustinian monk-one of the more harsher options for monks. Luther went to confession and would worry that he didn’t confess enough. Eventually his spiritual advisor decided Luther needed to become a priest and a professor.

Luther becomes a professor of the Scriptures at Wittenberg University. It was during his years as a professor that Luther had his discovery of God’s grace in the book of Romans. He struggled with the idea of the justice of God. But he looked at Romans 1:17 where the good news and justice are linked. Luther then discovered that our righteousness is not our own, but God’s. The righteousness of God is that which is given to those who live by faith. (Gonazalez, 19).

Meanwhile the Catholic Church (the only Church in existence) was a total mess. Priests who were supposed to be celibate had virtual concubines and many illegitimate children. Monasteries weren’t places of devotion, prayer and service. Instead monasteries were places of leisure and pleasure. Local priests who wanted a position in the church would have to go bribe someone to get a position. Pope Leo was concerned more with power, money and building projects than the faith.

Luther’s 95 theses got him into trouble because of his words about indulgences. Indulgences were sold to raise money for the building of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City in Rome-Pope Leo’s pet project. These indulgences were supposed to get people out of purgatory faster. Those who sold them would make big claims. You’ll be cleaner than Adam before the fall, they said. You’ll be cleaner than when you came out of the waters of baptism, they said. Luther called the church out on this. Pope Leo took notice because he needed the money to build the basilica in Rome. Luther became a problem and an enemy of the Church.

500 years ago these things happened. Sometimes it’s hard to believe the Church has been around 500 years, much less 2,000 years. Nowadays there are many Protestant traditions, Baptists being one of them. The Catholic Church has changed and reformed. They especially reformed after the Second Vatican Council that began after WWII.

Martin Luther stood up for what he believed. Most scholars, Catholic and Protestant, believe Luther was right. The Church was a mess. Speaking up was necessary. If Luther hadn’t started the Protestant Reformation, then someone else would have. The time was ripe for it.

The Church has been around a long time. Even though the Church is shifting now and things are changing-the future awaits. God’s still working and the Church will still be around. It might change and reform. It might become corrupt even. But God still works through the Church and hasn’t given up on us yet.

(Historical Info taken from The Story of Christianity Volume 2-The Reformation to the Present Day, Justo L Gonzalez, HarperSanFrancisco, 1985)




A New Day


I always feel like this is the time of year to begin again. The leaves are turning, the cooler weather will be here soon, and the new school year is underway. There’s a level of excitement and newness in the fall. The same is true in the Church when our new Church year begins with a new budget, new committees, and new Sunday School classes.

This past Sunday we had all our Sunday School classes in full swing. The adults met in their three classes. The ladies downstairs are even learning about Islam, because we realized we know very little about it. The children were meeting in their two classes. The older children went upstairs to make Noah’s ark together. The younger children met downstairs with Leighton and Susi.

This week will also bring Supper Church, our monthly Wednesday night program for all ages. We will eat pizza and pack shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse Ministries. We’ll send these off to Boone, NC like we do every year.

Our new deacon board will meet in a few weeks. We’ll work on some housekeeping things and also plan a time to brainstorm. What does the church need right now? What can we focus on in the next few years?

All of this gets me excited. We’re learning together, serving together and dreaming together. And as always, we worship together. That sounds like Church to me. How is God moving in your life? A new day is beginning in our lives and in the church. Let us embrace it.