Advent: Love

This is the final piece in a four-part Advent devotional written by Executive Director Joe Tucker. See prior posts on Hope, Peace, and Joy. 

 

Of the countless Café conversations I have had at The Front Porch, there are a few that remain clear in my memory. One conversation that I often recall was with my father.  We sat in the back of the corner of The Front Porch and I shared about my work and ministry.  

In my sharing, I made some generic critique about the church not being active enough in service and the impact that ministry has had on developing my own faith. My father was quick to remind me that our salvation was faith-based, not work-based.

I recall laughing at this moment.  Not in disagreement, but in an experienced knowing.

At South Street, I know that my (our) work will never suffice.  There is simply not enough grace within me to forgive the 3rd or 4th relapse of a friend struggling in recovery.  Within my own self, I cannot produce sufficient patience to long-suffer another semester of disrespectful and chaotic After School youth.  And it seems almost daily, that my love is insufficient.

Just yesterday, a homeless friend visited the Café after being released from prison. He went from table to table looking to find some kind and unknowing patron to buy him food.  We know this man well — this is his hustle.

I treated him to some coffee and we talked briefly, and I found myself to be impatient and apathetic.  At South Street, I never worry about a works-based salvation. My works and my brotherly love consistently fall short.

But thanks be to God for the Advent of Jesus.

Thanks be to God for the reality of love made flesh some 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem.  This child, born of a promise, would grow to eventually claim that apart from Him, we could do nothing.

The love of God sustains us as we minister.  I know this to be true. Apart from God, my love, caring, and output simply falls short.  But in Christ, a deep love is made manifest.  Jesus delivers this message in the Garden of Gethsemane, the last command of his ministry, ‘Love each other.’

To know Jesus, is to know love.  The fourth Sunday of Advent calls us to the Love of God in Christ. To remain in His love, abide in it, and minister from God’s abundant love. As we take a deep breath at South Street at the end of the year, we pause and remember what it is to abide in Christ’s love.  

I will leave you with Jesus’ words found in John 15: 5-17.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.  If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”

 

To become an unlikely partner in the work of South Street Ministries, click here. 

Advent: Joy

This is the third of a four-part Advent devotional written by Executive Director Joe Tucker. See prior posts on Hope, and Peace. 

 

One of the more unique challenges of my day is the honest answer to the simple question, “How are things going at South Street?”  As a Director, I wear many hats and oversee over a dozen programs, persons, and projects. Any one of those things could be in crisis-mode, a funding hardship (or blessing!), or simply be running well, while being continually exposed to some of the brokenness and toxicity of the world around us.

For example, this Saturday we hosted our Fourth annual Christmas store! It was a Joy! Dozens of After School youth came through to shop for gifts for their families. Studio teenagers helped and participated. And many kind volunteers wrapped, iced cookies, and cleaned up. Yet the event ended with a staff member and I waiting for the Akron Police Department to pick up some drug paraphernalia that a volunteer had found outside.

Ministry life has its ups and downs. So does everyday life.

I left the Christmas Store to return home to have a challenging, yet needed talk with some extended family. It was uncomfortable and emotionally wearing. I then proceeded to take my eldest son (2 and a half) Christmas shopping for his little brother. It was an endearing time for me.

Everyday life has its ups and downs.

This Sunday, the third candle of Advent represents Joy. I’ve had a hard time drafting a South Street blog around joy.  Joy seems to be elusive, especially in 2017. I’d rather scroll through Facebook and allow my blood to boil through various posts and comments. I’d prefer to entertain myself through the latest Netflix release than engage in anything of real depth. It takes self-and-spirit work and intention to step towards joy.  In fact, many times this year I have responded that we are choosing joy at South Street, we are fighting for it.

My Christmas Store Saturday ends in front of a screen. Both boys in bed while my wife and I catch up on the work of the week (charting for her and a hard blog-deadline for me). It’s tempting even now to disengage. To opt out of the fight for joy and settle into apathy via Netflix.

This is why I value the practice of Advent, the discipline of it. Lighting a candle, reading the Scriptures, and speaking ‘joy’ are in some respects acts of resistance.  We embolden our spirits in the fight for joy by remembering God’s promises, God’s good, and God’s glory.

I will leave you with the same strengthening Scriptures I will recite this third week of Advent. Read them aloud and join the Advent fight for joy.

 

ISAIAH 35:10

Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness.

ISAIAH 49:13

Sing for joy, O heavens! Rejoice, O earth! Burst into song, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on them in their suffering.

LUKE 1:8-11

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!

 

 

To become an unlikely partner in the work of South Street Ministries, click here. 

Advent: Peace

This is the second of a four-part Advent devotional written by Executive Director Joe Tucker. 

 

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14

I’ll confess something — I’m a sucker for the Holiday. If Christ was taken out of Christmas, I would still Fa-La-La over for the trees, movies, merriment, jingles, sleighbells, and presents. The festivities of the Holiday in many ways have eclipsed the traditions of advent. It’s easier for me to grab a peppermint mocha in a red cup, then take time to crack open the books of Luke or Matthew (or Isaiah for that matter) for an Advent devotional.

It’s easier to celebrate winter-time merriment than practice the waiting of Advent. I think of all my favorite Christmas-movies (Home Alone, A Christmas Story, Elf, and even Die Hard) all ending with families reunited singing or embracing each other.  I know for many families we ‘fake-it-until-we-make-it’ through the season to maintain that it is the most wonderful time of the year.

When it generally isn’t.

For many individuals (perhaps the majority of people?), the Holidays recollect pain, loss, and brokenness.  Holiday sentiment doesn’t begin to answer the inner-pain of a miscarriage, infidelity, addiction, abuse, or separation.  But does Advent? Does God?

One of the founding values of South Street is authenticity. We try to keep it real. This includes our theology — what we believe about God has to match reality. If Jesus is he Prince of Peace, then there should be some reality of peace in my life, if I consider myself his follower. That’s what the angels in Luke 2 proclaim, “peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When I ask the youth of After School what peace is to them the talk about a serene beach or a quiet meadow — images from commercials and movies. The real notion of peace seems distant in a small house crowded with 2 and a half families yet still struggling to make ends meet.  Moreover, the real notion of peace seems distant to me in a spacious house with a nuclear family in 2017!

What peace? Where is this real notion of peace to be found?  The practice of Advent slows us to find it … in a barn, with bleating animals and visitors from third-shift shepherds.  The angels proclaim peace, because it is not presently apparent.  It is the fool who claims peace, when there is none.  It is the faithful, the favored, who name peace by claiming it through Christ.

Let’s not pretend that all is well, from deep systemic issues and historic wrongs, to our own individual hurts. But peace is real. If we believe in virgin births, guiding stars, and angelic visitors, we can believe and act in real peace — peace that transcends understanding.

As enjoyable as Die Hard is to watch, a peppermint mocha is to taste, or Winter-Wonderland is to sing, there is a much deeper reality found in the Advent of Christ. This second week of Advent we lean deeper into the reality of peace.  

 

To become an unlikely partner in the work of South Street Ministries, click here. 

Advent: Hope

This is the first of a four-part Advent devotional written by Executive Director Joe Tucker. 

 

The Tucker family had a long drive on Thanksgiving — from one corner of Ohio to the other to visit family.  We listened to Tish Harrison-Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary on our drive back from Dayton to Akron, and I was reminded of some of the depths and paradoxes of our faith.  

Waiting is one such paradox. We live between two Kingdoms — the Kingdom that is here and the Kingdom that is to come. Advent is a practice I have come to deeply value — principally because I am not good at waiting. I want quick responses to my e-mails. I stare as small dots blink on my iPhone waiting anxiously for the full response. Advent is a church-rhythm that leads us towards hope and expectation.

Over the past four years, the Tucker family has spent every other Advent season pregnant — expecting. It is perfect metaphor for God’s Kingdom, an expectant mother that knows the joy and fullness that is to come and waits for the full delivery of good news. I value the Advent practices of waiting, lighting candles, and thinking of what is to come.

What good news will God bring? What past promises still carry me today? What hope do we carry?

Hope has carried us this year at South Street Ministries. We hope in the Resurrection and in seeing lost ones again. We hope in Restoration for returning citizens (ex-felons), for recovering addicts, and for regimented do-gooders who do not know rest.  We Hope in the perfect Rest that is found in Christ — a Rest that stills our busy-ness with the simple, yet deep knowledge that He is God and we are not.

My propensity for quick results and responses stands in stark contrast to Advent. The Church has waited and waited for so long. And we continue to wait. We cry Maranatha (Come Lord Come) as we see the division, hate, and vitriol around us, yet still we wait.

The Hope of Advent does more than remind us to continue waiting. It bolsters and strengthens us to be God’s agents of change between two Kingdoms.  Thus we plant gardens and wait for fruit. We work with After School kids and address the same disciplinary issues again and again. We strive to maintain support for reentry and recovery and health and wholeness at the Front Porch Cafe to make sure there exists a place in-between for all peoples.  

The Hope of Advent reminds us that we are an in-between people. The work we do, from repairing a bicycle, to hosting a community event, to working with teen girls has eternal ramifications and slowly ushers in ‘good news’.  The Hope of Advent is fully realized in Jesus — this unlikely representation of the fullness of God, come at the fullness of time. Advent helps me filter the merriment of Christmas-time for the depth of God’s inception here on earth and the calling we have presently — to wait, to rest, to work, and to hope for God’s Kingdom fully come, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

 

To become an unlikely partner in the work of South Street Ministries, click here.