Giving the Invitation

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Joe LaGuardia’s new book, Awe and Trembling: Reflections for the Christian Journey, is scheduled to be released in late May.  As an anthology of articles and homilies from the Baptist Spirituality archives, the book encourages, inspires, and deepens a life of faith and our pilgrimage with God.  This article, originally released in 2013, is included in the book.  

By Joe LaGuardia

Like so many churches in the South, the church I pastor, Trinity Baptist Church in Conyers, Georgia, still has a time of invitation after the sermon every Sunday.  It consists of an altar call or a request for worshipers to reflect on the message, along with a moving hymn to stir the heart.

Although this might seem a bit antiquated—a hold-over from a simpler, revivalist tradition of yesteryear—it still holds a meaningful place in the midst of our worship to God.  It is, at its basic level, a time to respond to God and reflect on a personal challenge for the week ahead.

I realized long ago that our church is too small to give an altar call every week.  I’m not one of those preachers who make the pianist play the hymn repeatedly until someone comes forward, so over the years I’ve had to expand my invitation to include other calls of response.  I now urge my parishioners to take the initiative to respond to God on their own terms.

The shift in emphasis from invitation to initiative is a reminder that there are many ways to respond to God aside from an altar call, decision for baptism, and prayer with the preacher.  In fact, all of us—no matter where we are in our faith—should realize that an invitation is a time to follow God’s leading.  God is in the business of calling us to action, obedience, surrender, and mission.  We are obligated to respond if we claim to believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

One way we can respond is by committing to a life of praise and song.  I don’t envy the Christian who only hears or sings praises to God for a few hours a week.  Ours is to be a life of song, and we can sing and recite hymns or choruses wherever we are, no matter the day or the hour.  The Bible is full of praises that intend to respond to God: “How good it is to invite us to respond to God,” Psalm 147 states, “for God is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.”

Another response is to do something for the Lord each and every week.  This action can be as simple as writing a card to a friend in need or a church member who is struggling.  It can be something more demanding, such as “paying it forward” by purchasing a stranger’s groceries at the store.

You may also choose to do something based on the sermon.  I’m sure your preacher’s messages include at least one challenge for the week ahead.  When your pastor gives a challenge or sermon application that is fitting, write it down so you don’t forget.  Consider posting or tweeting your commitment on social media so that people can hold you accountable.

A final way to respond to God is to live a “life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).  I realize that people are called to do different things in life: one is called to be a teacher while another is called to be a missionary.  All of us, however, are included within the calling we are all obligated to fulfill—namely, to practice the Great Commission and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  This requires holy integrity and obedience to God’s empowering Spirit, to walk in righteousness, and to advocate for justice and grace.

Some churches have done away with the traditional invitation, and more than one church has put hymns such as “I Surrender All” aside.  But all of us, whether in a church with revivalist leanings, contemporary praise songs or formal liturgies, bear the weight of responding to a God who calls, seeks, knocks, and commissions with relentless passion.

The Not-So-Good Goodbye

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By Joe LaGuardia

Authors note: This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book by Daphne Reiley and Joe LaGuardia for people who are receiving care from others.  We hope the book will be published in the next year or two.  It is posted on our current book’s blog, A Tapestry of Love.

This past autumn I lost my father to gun violence.  A disgruntled citizen of the township of Ross, Pennsylvania, entered a public town hall meeting and indiscriminately fired off nearly 30 rounds in the crowd.

I remember the night vividly.  I received a call a little after 9 PM from my sister who was beside herself.  She didn’t know details but only knew that Dad had been involved in a shooting.

Over the next several weeks, I spent time with family in New York and Pennsylvania grieving the loss.  My father lived a wonderful life, and he didn’t have any regrets.  He was the life of the party and loved his Lord and his church; we grieved as Christians do: with hope and peace that all who call Christ Lord share in the promise of eternal life.

Yet, I am still bothered to this day that I never got to say “Goodbye” to my father.  As a pastor, I have sat with numerous individuals at their bedside and with families of loved ones whose hours on this earth were coming to a close.  I tell them that its important in those final minutes of life to say “Goodbye” and to confront any unresolved issues…Click here to read more.

Four years in the making: “A Tapestry of Love: The Spirituality of Caregiving”

Joe LaGuardia and Daphne Reiley have authored a new book to help caregivers along the way in their spiritual journey.

Tapestry bookA Tapestry of Love: The Spirituality of Caregivers is a resource for caregivers who often feel isolated and prone to exhaustion, loneliness, depression, anger, and resentment.

Using Jesus’ interaction with Mary and Martha as recorded in Scripture, A Tapestry of Love provides a framework for spiritual formation that nurtures the crucial work of caregivers, bolsters their relationship with care-receivers, and promotes intimacy with God. This narrative loom weaves a tapestry of practices that garners a strong and supportive, creative and vibrant, time-tested and relevant spiritual path for the caregiving journey.

Chapters cover such topics as prayer, grief work, caregiving as a vocation, worship and Sabbath.  Purchase your copy online through Amazon Createspace today!  A Kindle version will be released within the next week.

A website devoted to the book will be online soon!