Cutting Room Floor: Stewardship

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My favorite preacher, Fred Craddock tells preaching students to avoid, if at all possible, the “ship” and “ness” words and find another word. Fellow-ship, Steward-ship. Righteous-ness, Holi-ness. They are not bad words. The church has just worn them out and they have lost their punch, according to Craddock.

And so this week’s sermon on….Stewardship. The word “steward” is an old word, airlines don’t even use it anymore, so for the sermon, we focused on the word “manager” over “steward.” Of course, I suppose Craddock could equally criticize the “ment” words: manage-ment. All the same, the sermon was about “someone who handles someone else’s stuff.” And so we come to the impasse of this sermon:

Who’s “stuff” is it?

The bible clearly teaches that God owns all stuff. All that we love, including people, the air we breath, all of it. With a multi billion dollar advertising empire behind it, our culture teaches that we own all our stuff, we need to protect our stuff, we don’t have enough stuff and we need more stuff.

Who is telling the truth? God or our culture? How do you preach a message on stuff management without moving into the usual guilt/shame/should do more syndrome of so many sermons?

Can a still small voice speak deeper into our frightened and anxious hearts than the megaphone of Madison Avenue?

Only if you trust.

Jesus tells a parable in Mathew 25 that is stark, threatening and dire, but underneath the hyperbole is the question, “do you trust the owner?” and “what are you assuming about the owner.” The managers who trusted that the owner is good and has good intent managed his property well, so he gave them more to manage. The one who assumed the owner is bad squandered the little he’d been entrusted with. I find this to be utterly convicting – believing that God owns it all comes down to trusting in the nature of God.

And so this week, an opportunity to put your trust in the owner of the cattle of a thousand hills over a culture that incentivizes you to stay discontent. Generosity really does lead to freedom and wonder. Changing our grip on the people we deeply love relaxes our heart and anxiety. God owning it all and us managing it is the free-er way to live.

And finally a wonderful quote from Thomas Merton, “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”

Cutting Room Floor: Compassion

I suppose this is less “cutting room floor” and more “commentary on the sermon process.”

If you boil down every significant religious leader to one descriptive word, it shows how radically different they really are. So many people today lazily suggest that all religions basically believe the same thing or all religions lead to the same path. I say “lazily” because you’d be hard pressed to find a devout muslim or devout Jew who would agree with that, nor of course a Christian or Hindu. I propose that the one word to describe Jesus is ‘compassion.’

This past week I was intrigued to try an experiment. If Jesus really is the embodiment of compassion, could I just grab some random chapters of a gospel and see how he embodies compassion in each chapter? One of my favorite stories of compassion is John 8, so I started there and went 5 chapters ahead and 5 behind. No problem, either way would work. The same trick works if you start at Matthew 10 (Good Samaritan) or Luke 15 (Prodigal Son.) I chose to start at John 3 because I enjoyed being confronted by a painful reality: Jesus is much more compassionate to a wider range of people than I am. Ouch.

As an aside, if your preacher isn’t being affected by the study he or she is doing, beware.

The sermon was fun to preach. They aren’t all fun, to be honest, but anytime I get to simply share the stories of Jesus, I have a good time. I think it is because Jesus is the reason I became a preacher in the first place. Also because I am a grateful recipient of the compassion of Jesus. Mostly though, it is because no matter how many times I study the life of Jesus, I am always scandalized and confronted. As I studied, I renewed my vow to God: more light, less heat. More listening to understand rather than listening to defend. (Thanks to my wife Lisa for that fantastic dichotomy.) More openness to a wider range of people. I have a long way to go.

Throughout the message I occasionally paused and asked a question that God had been nudging me with: What would be different if the church were at least as compassionate as our leader? We are not, as a collective whole, known as a people of compassion. It is never too late to repent and try a different path.

Also, I’m in debt to Andy Gullahorn who wrote a wonderful song “If You Want to Love Someone.” It helped me discover the wonderful quote by Keith Miller,The way you love someone is to lightly run your finger over that person’s soul until you find a crack, and then gently pour love in.”

It also gave occasion for me to ask Jimmy to sing the song. It is one of my favorite things to do: ask Jimmy to sing a particular song for our service. He is always very generous to agree. I doubt many people know how much work is involved in performing a 3 or 4 minute song in such a way as to embody it, but it is his particular gift. He was joined by Lisa on Thursday and Alex on Sunday, both of whom enhanced the song with talent and heart.

Several ideas didn’t make it into the message, this particular one below:

I am listening to Terri Gross interview Nadia Bolz Weber on Fresh Air. She is commenting on a funeral she preached for a suicide. Her comment was that love is not enough to save somebody. I have found myself in this situation, thinking, “if only they knew how much they are loved.” I think Nadia is saying that we can’t love enough to protect somebody from life’s battles. I think that is why we pray. Sometimes all we have is a prayer, begging God that he would show somebody his love. So as I wrap up this blog, I invite you to pray for somebody who needs to know. There may be many telling him or her, but it isn’t getting through.

It made me think that sometimes prayer is asking God to bridge the gap between our love and someone’s perception of it.

A Reminder from Fred

United States is a celebrity culture, far above any other culture in its need to follow, hound and report on celebrities. This culture spills into the church where church leaders, particularly those who spend any time on a stage in front of people, can forget that they are simply one member in the body of Christ.

Yet when a leader uses their medium and platform to serve, the results can be powerful. Here is a needed reminder from Fred Rogers – his acceptance speech for an Emmy Award he won:

 

 

Cutting Room Floor: Church Sermon

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One of my favorite pictures of church!

Other leftovers that didn’t make it into the sermon:

— How about this as the refrain for the sermon:

1. It should not be so with you.

2. Now go and do likewise.

I’m struck by the phrase, “it should not be so with you.” Every time I read a Christian belittling and mocking a political opponent, I keep thinking, “It should no be so with you.” When Christians call Hillary Clinton, “Killary” and I ask them why, they say, “you should see how the other side talk about us!”

Really? That’s the best you have? The adult equivalent of playground fighting? Like, one step from “I know you are, but what am I?” It should not be so with you.

And really? what do you mean “the other side?” Paul said “the other side” is principalities and powers, not humans. It is perfectly fine to have strong disagreements on how you think a country should be run and what you think is important and ethical. But mocking someone? It should not be so with you.  Continue reading

Cutting Room Floor: Church Stories

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Last week on Facebook, I asked anyone willing to send a paragraph or two on how The Church (i.e., not Discovery Church, but any church) has helped them. On the macro level, church has a rough reputation, most of it earned, some not.

But on the micro scale, also known as the scale the church should be on, the church is pretty phenomenal. It is actually the most amazing, life changing community I know. Below are the responses, posted with permission:

FROM BE:
Immediately my thoughts go to the most difficult time of my life and my greatest time of need (which is tough for a person who doesn’t like to need help) a couple of very strong women came along beside me and walked with me through every minute of my husbands terminal illness. They supported, guided, and pushed when it was needed. Unbeknownst to me, they were diligently working behind the scenes to anticipate our next needs and be there ready when those needs arouse.
This beautiful display of caring and selflessness expresses the heart of the church to me. It was a clear reminder that no matter how much I wanted to be mad at God for the situation and the loss, I couldn’t face each new day without knowing that He would be walking each step with me.
I get chills remembering what incredible support my family had, and continues to have.

FROM MF:
When I was a girl of 10 or 11 years old, my sunday school teacher, Gladys Meskimen, saw that I seemed out of sorts and noticed me. She would sit with me if I was alone and she had me over to her house at times to walk in her rose garden. I will never forget her or her small acts of kindness to a confused and lonely little girl at a time when I needed it most. Continue reading

Differentiated Leadership

Well, that’s click bate title if ever there was one 🙂

During my chaplaincy days, I was trained in family systems theory and then went on to take every seminary class offered in family systems theory. Edwin Friedman is the most famous proponent of using this theory for any and all organizational leadership and we’re now 4 years in to training our staff in this leadership posture. For those interested, here is a brief 7 minute video of the major concepts and approaches of differentiated leadership. I have found it essential in church leadership survival. Hope you enjoy!

Trump.

Trump’s comments weren’t “locker room talk” and they weren’t simply “lewd.” Trump went way beyond lewd – he openly bragged about sexually assaulting women in front of several people.
 
I know many, many good men. None of them would talk anything near that way in a locker room or any room, None of them would privately think it. The reason is simple enough: they are decent people who believe in basic human dignity for all. Also they have wives, daughters, sisters, mothers and women friends. I am incredibly privileged to know Lisa, Kaylee, Toni, Gill and many women friends. Their impact is immeasurable. 
 
This isn’t about policy and party issues. I understand that both sides have compelling arguments: life, Supreme Court, poverty, care for the least, foreign policy, health, the economy, the massive unwieldy political system we all feel trapped in. And more personally, overt vs covert sins, cover ups, betrayals, political bullying and outlandish racist statements. I also understand that “sides” is part of the problem. No one side and no independent fully addresses all that is needed in this country, so people are left choosing which issues are most important. Both sides build an argument against, rather than a coalition toward. 
 
My hope is in a good, good Father who made women in his image, a reflection of the Imago Dei. Immeasurably valuable, 100% dignified.  
I’m especially grateful that God put in place this experiment called ‘church’ to show the love of God to all: love of neighbor, love of enemy, love of the unnoticed. The church is to offer particular welcome to those who society sends to the margins. In the earliest days of the church, that included women. In the Roman Empire where women were mostly property or worse, this was truly revolutionary. 
In these more recent of days, we apparently need this reminder more than ever. The gospel of Jesus offers a revolution for any who wish to live different. Someone is going to be president of this country and no matter who that is, the church can still be the church, speaking up, loving neighbor, loving (political) enemy and most radically, inviting in.  

 

When Anne Patel Grey Blew My Mind

Part 2

As I noted prior, I was taking Dr Kip Elolia’s class on Liberation Theology and didn’t want the experience to end when the final exam was complete. I knew that God had vital lessons for me that I needed to keep learning, so after class ended, I kept reading liberation theology and was shocked to discover that our tiny seminary’s library had a robust collection of Aboriginal Theology.

How, you might ask, does a small seminary in upper east Tennessee* happen to have a selection of works from Aboriginal Australians? I have no idea, but I checked out, and subsequently own Anne Pattel-Grey’s “Through Aboriginal Eyes: The Cry From The Wilderness.”

For you liberation theology nerds out there, Pattel-Grey would be considered a Womanist Theologian, but her emphasis here is on general racism and white blindness to the gospel.  Continue reading

Cutting Room Floor: Bible

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I’m starting a new series, mostly for our church family that are the research “left overs” from the most recent sermon.  Often an effective sermon comes down to what you don’t say as much as what you do, and thus editing out good material becomes essential. Here, then are some of the leftovers from this past week’s message:  They are somewhat random and unconnected, but for those wanting more thoughts on Scripture, they may be helpful:  Continue reading

A White Guy on White Privilege

Part 1.

I first heard the term “white privilege” during my second year of seminary during Kip Elolia’s class on liberation theology. Dr Elolia was brand new to our seminary so I didn’t know much about the content or professor, but take a squiz at this piece of Dr Elolia’s biography and see what you think:

As an African theological educator he tries to dispel the assumption that western theology is normative and universal while other theologies (African, Asian, Latin American, and Black) are local, contextual and limited. Therefore, in his teaching he engages students to be open to a broad theological curriculum and pedagogy that goes beyond the emphasis on the Global North (West) to include the experiences of the majority of Christians in the Global South.

So you’re offering to expand my world as someone from outside my worldview?

Sold.  Continue reading