Monday, December 1, 2008

Pastor Erik--Dec 2008

It's that time of year again when we start thinking about giving thanks and giving gifts. In a time of economic hardship we can get discouraged about how little it seems like we have, wondering how to pay our rising heat bills and stretch our Christmas dollar. Its so easy to let our bank accounts, our shrinking 401k portfolios, and the daily bad economic news distract us and keep us from remembering that God gives abundantly and generously, and calls us to do the same. When we are called by God to a mission, God gives us what we need to make that mission happen—and sometimes that means being creative and trusting that God will use what we have to offer for amazing purposes (read 1 Kings 17 for a great example of this). Whatever gifts we have, when offered wholly to God, can have incredible, unexpected results—and even can result in miracles.

The week I arrived in Spokane in 2006 and began this call at Bethlehem was the week of the Synod Assembly. At that assembly one of the speakers was talking about gifts, how we all have them, how we have more than we realize, and how God can use even what seems like the most insignificant gift for his purposes. He had all of us make a list of the gifts we have, talents, passions, money, time, etc. Then he had everyone list a gift that they had that they thought couldn't be used by God. So I wrote down “drinking coffee.” Now, most of you know that drinking coffee—the stronger the better—is one of my great joys (in fact, I just poured a fresh cup). But I had no idea how God could possibly use such a silly gift to his purposes, but I wrote it down and offered it up to him none the less.

When I came back to Spokane and began to explore the neighborhood around our congregation, I wandered into a place called “Black Tie Coffee Co.” I immediately noticed lots of information about Fair Trade Coffee and when I ordered a cup and was brought out a strong, dark, steaming brew I knew I was right at home. About once a week after that I have found my way up to Black Tie, often for prayer or to study for my sermon, or to meet with someone—always with this “drinking coffee” gift in the back of my mind. I came to find out that Tom, the owner of the shop, is a Christian and not only are talk about God and faith allowed there, he actually encourages it. I began to wonder if maybe God was going to use this silly gift after all.

Over the past two years (and many cups of coffee) Tom and I have dreamed about what God is up to in our neighborhood, I've talked about faith with the employees and customers at Black Tie, we passed along a gift of Bibles that we didn't need that were an answer to a youth group's prayer, we've had the folks at Black Tie at our Fair Trade events, and we've shared our building a few times with Tom's church for their Bible study group and worship. God is clearly at work.

So when I got a crazy idea near the end of summer that involved coffee, it was only natural that I take it to Tom at Black Tie. I'd been thinking about ways to connect to our neighbors, and the school a few blocks down seemed like a natural choice. “Hey Tom,” I said one day while he was making my coffee, “I've got this crazy idea to bring free coffee to all the teachers at Lincoln Heights Elementary on the first day of school. Could you cut me a deal on a couple of thermos pots of coffee?” Instead of a discount, Tom said that if I'd take the orders and handle the delivery, he'd make free espresso drinks to order for every teacher in the school. I was blown away with his generosity.

And so, early on the first day of school I headed out notebook in hand to every teacher in the school. They were blown away too. “Free?” they'd insist, “Whatever I want?” “Yep,” I'd say “from your friends at Bethlehem Lutheran and Black Tie Coffee. Have a great first day of school.” I have to tell you, taking free coffee to stressed out teachers was a whole lot of fun. And thanks to the help of the Bethlehem Quilters, everybody got their lattes and mochas piping hot. I left the school that morning giving thanks to God for such a fun and creative way to connect to our neighbors—and what a way to use this silly gift I'd offered.

Later that day I got the following email from one of the teachers: “When you came into my classroom this morning, I was just praying silently for God to help me. If everything could go wrong, it did this morning, yet by His grace and your kindness, my mind calmed down and the Holy Spirit was able to do its job! I got out of the way and enjoyed the delicious cup of coffee. Now mind you, the day was still hectic, but yet filled with joy and and a sense of love of kindness. Thank you Pastor and please thank the sweet ladies who helped you. What a wonderful gift you brought to our room.”

If you've ever experienced God using you (quite without your knowledge or intention) to work a miracle in somebody else's life you know its an amazing feeling. Who knew God could work such miracles in a simple cup of coffee? But it didn't stop there. Later that week I got a call from Tom saying he wants to do it again somewhere else—and my coffee ministry continues, who knows where it will lead. All this from being willing to offer up a silly, seemingly insignificant gift to God's purposes and paying attention to when the call came to put it to use.

What silly, seemingly insignificant gift do you have that you could offer up to God? Give it a shot and let me know what miracles God works in and through you.