Sermon: The Sin of Pride

A Sermon on Luke 18:9-14


Pride is one of those things that can be a positive and a negative it is however in inwardly directed emotion.  If we view this from, the negative meaning of the emotion pride refers to a foolishly and irrationally corrupt sense of one’s personal value, status, or accomplishments this is often used with hubris.  But if we look at pride from the other side, the positive side, pride refers to humble, and content sense of achievement towards one’s or another’s choices and actions and comes from a sense of praise, independent self-reflection, and a fulfilled feeling of belonging.

Pride can be viewed as a corrupt vice or a proper virtue.  It is like most everything, what is the result of the pride, what is the goal?  We can be filled with pride at our accomplishments, but if we boast about them to bring another down, then we have quickly gone from virtue to vice.  And that is what we see on the Gospel passage from Luke today.

First, a little background to set the stage.  The law required three daily prayer times, 9 am 12 noon and 3 pm.  It was important that the prayer is held in the Temple.  Now one could pray where ever they were at those particular times, but there was a better chance of your prayer being heard by God if you were standing in the Temple.  It was at one of these times that we find the two men in the Temple praying.

First, we have the Pharisee.  As we know Pharisees were, and are, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity.  Now he did not go to pray to God; he prayed with himself.  True prayer is always offered to God and God alone.  We may ask someone to pray for us, but the prayer we offer, or a prayer that is offered for us by another, is always directed towards God.  What the Pharisee was doing here was giving himself a testimonial before God.

The law also prescribed only one obligatory fast, the one on the Day of Attornment.  But those who wished to gain special favor fasted on other days.  In the Orthodox Tradition that I came from before coming here, fasting was a large part of the religious and spiritual practice of the people.  Orthodox Christians fast from all meat and dairy products on Wednesday and Fridays as well as during the preparation periods of Advent and Lent.  If one was to count the actual fast days, there were far more than non-fast days.  I used to sit with people and discuss the fast; the first thing was that most were guilt ridden because they did not adhere to the fast as best as they should.  Okay, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a spiritual practice and one that, well, needs to be practiced won’t be perfect from the start.  But the second most common discussion was around the hypocritical nature of the fast.  The people who claimed to be the best at fasting, wait the pride thing again, were often the most hypocritical.  The second definition of Pharisee if hypocrite, and these were the ones that Jesus was speaking the most harshly too when he was talking to the religious leaders of his day.

Fasting, by its very nature, is supposed to change a person spiritually.  The ancients believed that if we could control what we put in our mouths, we would be able to control what came out of our mouths.  It’s not that the food was unclean but what came out of our mouths that are often unclean.

But the Pharisees often take the fasting a bit further; they would paint their faces white and wear disheveled clothes and would show great piety to those who would see them.  This was not done out of some form of penitence; this was done to draw attention to themselves a “look at me and how pious I am” sort of thing.  Not only did they fast more they would tithe more than required.

Scripture demands that we give 10% of what we have to God, that’s pretax by the way, we render to God before we render to Caesar.  The Pharisees would give all they had and make a great show of it so others would be able to see how great they were.  The Pharisee did not go to pray; he went to inform God how good he was.

Then there is the tax collector.  Keep in mind that tax collectors were the most despised in society. They worked for the Romans, and so they were considered traitors by their fellow Jews.  They also took more than the tax allowed.  They would charge more and keep the difference for themselves.

He came to the Temple, and stood afar off, in the corner maybe, and would not even lift his eyes to God.  Notice the words he spoke in his prayer, “O God be merciful to me – the sinner.”  In his mind, he was not just a sinner, but the sinner, the chief sinner if you will. “And,” Jesus said, “It was that heart-broken, self-despising, prayer which won him acceptance before God.”  What we see here are two very different people.

This parable is a parable about prayer, and it teaches us a few things to keep in mind about prayer and how we should pray.

No one who is proud can pray.  The gate of heaven is so low that none can enter except upon our knees.  Now this can mean physical or spiritual; I tend more towards the spiritual here.  We should be humble in the presence of the King when we pray.  Keep in mind we are addressing God, the creator of everything and the author of life; we are not speaking with someone down the street.  We should have a certain familiarity with God, but there also needs to be a sense of awe and wonder.  When we are in the presence, we humble ourselves before it.

No one who despises others, humanity, their neighbor, can pray.  Now you did not think I was going to preach and not mention love your neighbor did you?  We are all in this together, and we need to be mindful of one another.  We need to pray for one another as well as we pray for ourselves.  The Jewish ritual law required before you could make your sacrifice, to go and make peace with all you have harmed and who harmed you, then come and make your sacrifice.  The law stated that if you did not do this, your sacrifice would not be acceptable to God.  We cannot pray with hatred in our hearts.

True prayer comes from setting our lives beside the life of God. There is no doubt that what the Pharisee said was true. He did fast; he did give his tithes; he was not as others are; he was less like the tax collector. But the question is not, “Am I as good as my fellow-man?” The question is, “Am I as good as God?”  We are called to follow Jesus not follow other Christians.  We should not compare ourselves to other human beings for they are as flawed as we are, the marker of our Christian journey should be are we following Jesus?

I have mentioned this before.  Years ago those little bracelets with the “WWJD” written on them were all the rage.  The question should not be “what would Jesus do?” for we are not Jesus, the real issue is “What would Jesus have us do?”  Jesus left us an example in word and deed, and that is what we should be asking, how does this apply to my life in my situation.

The sin of pride is comparing ourselves to others rather than simply laying our lives at the feet of God and asking for forgiveness.  All of us need forgiveness, and I hope we have the knowledge that if we ask for it, God will give it.  On the day of His crucifixion, Jesus was hung between two thieves.  One of them asked him for forgiveness and Jesus granted it and told him “today, you will be with me in paradise.”  There was no other requirement than for him to ask for forgiveness.  Jesus did not require him to go to the altar and weep for his sins; he did not require him to sing three verses of Just as I am or anything like that.  The thief asked for forgiveness and Jesus granted it.  He did this because as the famous verse for the Gospel of John says, “God so loved the world that he sent his Son, so that all who believe may have eternal life.”

Know this; God loves you each and every one of you.  Know this, if you ask God to forgive you, God will forgive you, in fact, he already has.  There are not many things in this life that I am certain of But I am certain of the fact that God loves each and every one of us right here and right now.

Sometimes we Have to Climb Trees

A Reflection on Luke 19:1-10


The 19th Chapter of the Gospel of Luke contains the story of Zacchaeus and is a story that points out to us that the grace of God can accomplish what humanity can never hope to achieve.

As with all of Scripture, this passage contains a lot of symbolism that applies to our lives each and every day.  The writer of the Gospel points out that Zacchaeus what short of stature and that for him to see Jesus as he passed by he had to climb a tree that was on the side of the road.

The shortness of the stature of Zacchaeus is related to the depth of his faith and virtue.  Zacchaeus is not only a tax collector, but he is the chief tax collector and not the most honest man.  Tax collectors were notorious for taking more than the tax and keeping the difference for themselves. Although he is a Jew he cheated his fellow Jews and worked for the Roman Authorities this would not have placed Zacchaeus high on anyone’s list of virtuous people.

But something inside of his started to change and when he heard Jesus was coming he ran out to see him.  There was a stirring inside of him that told him his life was not heading in the right direction and he needed to make a change and get his life on track.  This would not be easy for him to do since truly for this to happen he was going to have to leave his job.

So he rushes out into the street and finds that the crowd has already assembled and he cannot see from where he is standing.  I imagine a group on the side of the road like there would be for a parade going by and the poor, short, Zacchaeus is in the back.  He spots a tree and climbs to the top so he can see over the crowd.  Zacchaeus had to throw off his attachment to earthly things, and in this case, the earth itself, to see God.  Sometimes the call of the material world is far stronger than that of the heavenly and our desire for material possessions, comfort, and power keep us from seeing God and hearing God’s voice in our lives. It’s not that these things in and of themselves are bad, it is what we do with them and they prevent us from doing that becomes the problem.

As Jesus passes by he sees Zacchaeus in the tree, calls him down, and then does the most extraordinary thing for someone in Jesus line of work would do, he tells Zacchaeus that he will have dinner with him tonight. For a Rabbi such as Jesus to enter the home of a tax collector was just simply not done.  But Jesus was not an Orthodox Rabbi, and so off he went.

Notice Jesus did not condemn Zacchaeus; he did not even tell him that he had to get his life back on track.  He was nonjudgmental and only said, I’m coming to your house tonight.  Jesus treated Zacchaeus as a human being, and Jesus treated him with love and understanding.  Who knows why Zacchaeus ended up in the profession he was in?  Perhaps he fell on hard times, and this was his only way out.  None of this mattered to Jesus all he saw was a man that was willing to change and he helped him do that.

Because of this loving witness Zacchaeus was converted and told Jesus that he was giving half of his goods to the poor and that if he had wronged anyone he was going to make it right, but not just right fourfold rightness was what he was going to do.  Half of what he had, not everything, we are not called to impoverish our families, but we are called to help.

How different this story would have been if Jesus, when seeing Zacchaeus in the tree, stopped and pointed at him and called him a sinner.  Yelled that he was going to hell for his choices in life and just walked past in righteous indignation.  Tradition tells us that Zacchaeus, who was surnamed Matthias, is the one selected to replace Judas Iscariot after he betrayed Jesus.  Tradition also says that Zacchaeus preached the Gospel in what is not the Republic of Georgia and was stoned to death for doing so.

This story teaches us that God does not call the equipped he equips the called and that the Grace of God can do far more than we humans can ever think of doing.  Because Jesus showed love and understanding to Zacchaeus, he went on to be one the greatest evangelists in Church history.  As you often hear me say, and as we have seen in this passage, love is the answer.

Withdrawing for Prayer

One of the most important, yet often overlooked, aspects of pastoral ministry is self-care.  As ministers, we need to take care of ourselves, so we are in the right frame of mind, the right place in our spirituality, and we are physically able to help people. Self-care is one of the tools that is vital to pastoral ministry, and I only wish it was given more time if any, at seminaries as minister candidates prepare for service.

As a general rule, ministers are givers, and we give until we cannot give any more and that usually leads to burn out.  What many congregations do not understand is the stress that is placed on ministers especially in churches with shrinking number and a population that is aging.  On top of that, we face problems with our health or the health of family members that only adds to the stress.  Our parishioners are also under stress from their lives, and that lands at our feet as well, and we continue the cycle of caring for others and not caring for ourselves.

I am a fire chaplain and also work in disaster recovery. This is an aspect of ministry I never thought I would be involved in but one I am glad I did say yes too.  It has added a dimension to ministry that most ministers never get to see.  Sure I saw a lot of things I wish I never saw and been to places that have seen better days, but helping someone after a disaster, or being with that firefighter outside a burning building is a wonderful ministry.  But all of this requires training and retraining.

I was recently involved in a one day class to refresh and renew my skills in the delivery of Critical Incident Stress Management.  Without going into all the details, CISM is a process that focuses on the incident at hand, deals with the aftermath of that incident, from a psychological perspective, and allows the participants to return to their daily routine more quickly with less likelihood of experiencing PTSD.  There is a one on one and a team approach to the delivery of CISM, and it requires a honing of the necessary skills from time to time.  One aspect of CISM is the self-care of the team.

And often overlook aspect of psychological trauma work is the vicarious victimization this is when people are traumatized by an event by being involved from a distance with through a family member or event watching the events over and over again on television.  News saturation can cause trauma in an indirect way even hearing about an event can traumatize someone and this why self-care of the CISM tram is of vital importance.

Sitting in class, I called to mind all of the times that Jesus withdrew to a secluded place to pray.  This usually happened after a rather stressful moment in his life.  After healing many people or teaching for an extended period, he would withdraw from the others and go and pray.  He would come back to them refreshed and ready to face another day.  Jesus had to do this, and he is the Son of God, so a mere mortal like me needs to do this!

What this withdrawal does is refocus us or bring us back to our center.  When an event is unfolding there really is no time to process fully what is going on and what has happened.  We are in the thick of it and need to focus all of our attention on the task at hand.  We are on auto-pilot, and our training takes over at this point.  But what happens when we switch the auto-pilot off?  This is when withdrawal becomes necessary.

Self-care involves knowing our limitations and knowing our triggers.  None of us like to admit that we have limitations especially those of us involved in ministry.  We want just to keep going, but if we do, and take no time for refreshment, we will burn out and then we are of no use to anyone.  Learning how to say no is critical in the sort of work ministers are involved.  But knowing our triggers, the things that might set us off, is also important.

I am not saying that we all need to pray more, although that is not a bad thing, that may not be your thing.  Prayer works for me and that is great you need to find what works for you.  What is it that relaxes you and centers you, know what that is and then do it.

We all need time to process the things that we experience and that time is different for each person.  Some can bounce right back while others need a little more time, but to take time say a day every few months, to withdraw for a few hours will go a long way in helping to keep us on track.

Christian Values, What are They?


There has been a lot of talk during this presidential election cycle about Christian values.  Candidates have talked about their faith more in this election than in any other I can remember.  Religious leaders speak of the Christian values, and that is the only basis we should use when selecting a candidate to high office.  So what are these Christian values that they speak of?

Jesus summed up for his followers what Christian values look like in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew:

“for I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you gave me clothing, I was sick, and you took care of me, I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'”

So in summary Christian values are:

Feeding the hungry
Providing water for the thirsty
Clothing the naked
Welcoming the stranger
Visiting those in prison

And why do we do this?  Because whatever we do to them, feed or not feed, give water or not give water, clothe or not clothe, welcome or not welcome, visit or not visit, we do to Jesus Himself. Oh and notice it makes no mention of the worthiness of the person that requires help.

A Warning to Today’s Religious Leaders


Of all of the things that I learned during my seminary education that has stuck with me is the Eastern Orthodox sense of being responsible for those God placed in your care.  We were taught that on the day of judgement the priest would be held accountable not only for his own sins but for all of the advice, good and bad, that was given to those entrusted to him.  He would be held accountable for those whom he helped bring to the kingdom and those whom he helped out of the kingdom.  I recall this teaching daily in my pastoral work and still, to some extent, believe it to be true.

Religion has played a very large role in the US Presidential election, in fact religion has been a major factor in this election between one candidate claiming to be “anointed by God” to another whose actions are being written off because they have now had a “conversion” experience.  As religious leaders we have a powerful pulpit from which to speak and are willing to compromise our faith, attack people who have been attacked, write off sexual abuse and a life long history of racism and misogyny for the promise of Supreme Court Judges?  We are selling our faith for 30 pieces of silver and the people God has entrusted to our care deserve much better than this.

So here is a little warning to those of us doing the work of God.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,  “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.’ How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation. Matthew 23

Sermon: The Greatest of These

A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 13


You have heard me preach about love before, well I think I mention love in almost every sermon I preach.  I do this because love is central to the Gospel message.  When asked what the two greatest commandants are Jesus response by saying love God and love your neighbor.  He goes on to say that on these two hang all the law and the prophets.  So everything then hangs on our love of God, and our love of neighbor and one feeds the other.  If we love God, we have no other option but to love our neighbor.  If we truly love God with our whole heart and our whole soul and our whole mind, then we have no other choice.

The chapter we heard read today from the 1st Letter of Paul to the Corinthians a letter written by Paul to the church he founded in the City of Corinth.  Paul’s letters are personal and pastoral and written to real people dealing with real issues.  This chapter, or parts of it anyway, are used during wedding ceremonies and thus has been reduced to love between spouses, but by doing this, we lose the intended meaning of what Paul was writing.  Sure there is much in this that we can use concerning the relationship between two people but let’s take this a little deeper.

We need to set the stage here, and I would like, to begin with, verse 11:

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.”

I am sure we can agree that we do not talk to children the same way we talk to adults.  As we get old, our capacity for learning changes and we move from the concrete to the abstract.  As children our brains have not been formed enough to understand ideas from a theoretical point of view but as our minds mature our ability to think in this way changes.

Before my attending seminary, I was a school teacher.  I taught primarily in the middle grades 6th, 7th, and 8th.  I would occasionally teach in the elementary grades to fill in when necessary, and I did teach a year in High School.  All of those grades require different teaching techniques to reach the students in front of me at the time.  I cannot teach a high school student the same way I would teach a 1st-grade student.  Well, I could, but neither one would learn very much.

What Paul is saying is that as children we learn stories to help us understand what we need to learn.  Jesus taught with parables to illustrate his lessons, and he used language and images that they would know and understand.  But as adults we have to take it farther than that past the stories we learned in Sunday school, push past those images and look for the real meaning of the Scriptures.

We do this by understanding the language and the culture of the day.  You have heard me mention before that there are four words in the Greek language that mean love.  In English we have, but one word and the way I like to describe that word is it is the same word for “I love hamburgers” and “I love my spouse.”  Not the same thing.

We begin, and in no particular order, with the phileo, the feeling of companionship, affection, fondness or likening.  This is the love that comes from our heart in response to the pleasure we get from an object or a person.  It is the love that responds to kindness or appreciation.

Agape, the most common form of the word used in the New Testament, is the love that comes from the heart that comes from esteem. It is the noblest word for love in the Greek language.  It is not kindled by the merit or worth of the object or person but originates in its own God-given nature. God is love. This is the love that keeps on giving even when the loved one is unresponsive, unlovable, and unworthy. This is unconditional love. It desires only the good of the one loved and is a consuming passion for the well-being of the other. This form of the word was hardly used outside of biblical writing and is used approximately 320 times in the New Testament.

Storge is the love that has its basis in one’s own nature. It is natural affection or natural obligation it is the natural movement of the soul for husband, wife, child, dog. It is a quiet abiding feeling in the soul of a person that rests on something close to us that we feel good about.

Eros the erotic form of love. A love of passion, and overmastering passion that seizes and absorbs itself into the mind. It is a love that is an emotional involvement based on body chemistry. The idea of this love is self-satisfaction, “I love you because you make me happy.” Eros looks for what it can receive and not for what it can give. It has the philosophy that to be loved one must be attractive in some way to another person.

I am sure by now you have deduced which form of the word love Paul used in this passage.  Agape is the form he used, the noblest and dare I say the purest form of the word.  The King James translation uses the word “charity” here rather than love, and that word works as well, but most other translations use the word love.

This is the love that comes from God and our God-given nature.  In the creation story, we read that when humanity was created God breathed into his nostrils, this is the breath of life, this is our very soul, this is love.  Humanity is the only part of creation that God has this intimate link with, humanity is the only part of creation to receive the breath of God, the soul, the nature of God.  For the ancients, the soul was the very center of our being, our nature.  In philosophical terms, this is our “ness” the very thing that makes us who we are, our humanness. But at the same time, it is an individual “ness” our Peterness our Billness if you will.  We are individuals, but we are also one. In that sense we are very Trinitarian, we have separate natures, but we also share the same nature, God.

In this passage today we see three movements that are distinct but at the same time similar.

In the opening phrases of this passage Paul is saying that if we do not love we have nothing.  If we do not love, unconditionally we have nothing.  We can do all of the good in the world, we can speak as the prophets, we can become martyrs, but if we do not have love, it is all worthless.  Remember this love is the agape form the same form used in John 3:16, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” But that verse does not just end there it goes on to tell us why God did this, “so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” God loves us not matter what.

The second movement describes what love is, this is the part that is usually read during weddings. Love is patient, kind; it is not envious, jealous, boastful, arrogant, or rude. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends!

So what Paul is saying here is that if we love others than we have to be patient with them, even if we disagree.  We have to be kind to one another we cannot be jealous or envious of others.  We cannot be boastful pointing out all the things that God has done for us or how great our lives are.  We cannot be arrogant, thinking that we have all of the truth or have found the true way, and we certainly cannot be rude, a Christian should never be rude.  We cannot get irritable or resentful, we do not look to get back at those who have harmed us, we seek justice, but we also seek mercy.  We cannot rejoice when another stumbles but we must be there to pick them up and help them along the way.  We must bear all things, hope all things and endure all things.  Because in the end love never ends!  The love that God has for us never ends and the love we should have for others should never end!  Remember this is unconditional love.

The final movement of this passage speaks about the future and how we might not have all of the answers now but one day we will.  But it also points out to us that our journey never ends on this earth we have to keep learning and striving and growing in our Christian life. Just like in verse 11 I pointed out above, Paul says when he was a child he spoke as a child and reasoned like a child, but now that he is an adult he needs to put away childish things.

We have to develop the agape love in all of our dealings, image what our world would be like if we just loved people because they are people.  I have to learn this as well.  I am not always tolerant of others who do not see things the way I do, and I need to work on this.  What Paul has laid out for us in this passage is the ideal, the place we all should strive to get to, but we will not get there overnight.  However, if we start here, in this place and we just start to love each other a little more we would start to change the world.

One of Pastor Bill’s favorite songs is “Let there be peace on earth” and the closing line of that song is “let it begin with me.”  If we want the world to be more peaceful, we have to be more peaceful.  If we want the world to be move loving, we have to be more loving.  It all starts with us, not the government or anything else.  It begins by asking God to bring us the peace that passes all understanding into our lives and our souls.  There is enough hatred in this world, let’s start with some love.

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Why People are Leaving the Church


One of the responsibilities of anyone in pastoral leadership is to be able to answer the question of why people are leaving your church.  I know this will ruffle some feathers, but sometimes we have to think of the church as a business, and when we do that, we need to pay attention to the trends taking place in society.  We might have the best product in the world, and I think eternal salvation is pretty great, but if no one comes through the door then no one will hear the message.

As a church, I believe we have bought into the narrative that the world has become secular, and there is no room for the church.  We need someone to blame so we turn to the culture of the day and point the finger at television, video games, etc. while all the while we ignore any role that we, the leaders of the church, might have.

There is no doubt that society has become a more secular place, but this Is not a new trend, in fact, it has been going in this direction since the 1960’s the church has just woken up to the idea.  There is no way we are going to complete so we just need to stop trying.  We need to realize that Sunday is just another day of the week but that there are six other days.

So where am I going with all of this?  Well for starters we as a church need to face up to our past and take responsibility for the role we have played in all of this.  We are not passive bystanders we are players and have contributed to where we are today.  We need to look, and when I say look I mean take a long hard look, at everything we do and how we do it and then seek answers to questions about what we can do to assist in making things better for our little corner of the world.  The mission of the church is a simple one, make disciples, not make converts, and not make cookie cutter people, make disciples.  How do we do this?  It’s quite simple, and Jesus told us how to love God and love neighbor.  We do not love them by screaming at them and telling them they are wrong.

I stumbled across an article recently that puts a fine point on what I am trying to say.  “Dear Church Here’s why People are Really Leaving You.”  Take a few moments and read the article then come back.

For the longest time, I thought worship was the problem.  I was told that traditional worship, where the minister wears a tie and robe, were not right.  We have to wear jeans and a t-shirt.  We cannot call our churches a sanctuary it is an auditorium.  Singing hymns are not good enough we need a rock band with flashing lights and smoke.  I’m not saying that any of that is wrong what I am saying is it does not matter what you do if it is not authentic then it’s not going to work.  Wear jeans if that’s what you want but if you are committing adultery with your church secretary, it’s not going to work.  Have a band and flashing lights, but if the people outside the door of the church are hungry, and you are doing nothing to help them, you are doing it wrong.  Some of the biggest hypocrites I know, including myself, are church members.

Here are some questions to ask and these come right from the end of the article.  Again, if you have not read it take the few minutes, it takes to read it and reflect on it.

Church, can you love us if we don’t check all the doctrinal boxes and don’t have our theology all figured out? It doesn’t seem so.

Can you love us if we cuss and drink and get tattoos, and God forbid, vote Democrat? We’re doubtful.

Can you love us if we’re not sure how we define love, and marriage, and Heaven, and Hell? It sure doesn’t feel that way.

We need to be able to authentically answer these questions.  We do not need answers, but we need to be open to the process of finding the answers.

Disinterested Charity

A Reflection on Luke 14:12-14


Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12-14


This passage requires us to examine on a deep level to consider the motives behind our generosity.  There are four reasons why someone gives.

  1. We give from a sense of duty. We may give to God and our fellow human beings in the same was as we might pay our income tax. It is a duty that we cannot escape, and so we give because we feel that we are required to do so under some penalty.
  2. We may give to others from motives of self-interest. We might look upon this as some investment, and we might even regard this giving as an entry on the credit side of our account in the account books that God is supposedly keeping on us.  This type of giving is so far from being generous it is called rationalized selfishness.
  3. We may give to feel superior. This sort of giving is a very cruel thing indeed.  This type of giving can cause harm to the one that the gift is being given to more than if we just refused to give them something.  When we give from this position, it is if we are standing on a high hill looking down upon those we are giving too or looking down our nose at them.  We may even accompany the gift with a little lecture or some other corrective stance; it would be much better not to give at all than to give from this position since all we are truly doing is gratifying our vanity and our desire for power.
  4. A person may give to another because we simply cannot help it and this is truly the only way to give. The law of the kingdom is this – that if a person gives to gain reward no compensation will be paid, but if one gives with no thought at all about a reward, then our reward is sure. The only genuine and Christian giving is that which is the uncontrollable outflow of love.

In the end, it all comes down to this; God gave to the world because he loved the world and because of this we must also give out of love.

Some Things I Have Been Reading This Week

Here are a few links to some of the blog posts I have read this past week.

Finding Religion in the American Revolution

Jared Ross Hardesty Lecture and Seminar, 14-15 Sept.

Church Membership Vs. Carrying the Cross

The Sacrament of the Church Rummage Sale

Religious History is Intellectual History, No Qualifications Needed

Congressional Chaplains: Can They Welcome All Religions and No Religion at All?

How Do Americans Decide Where to Worship?