The Seven Deadly Virtues — 1

Dave and I are excited to offer you some things to ponder each week  Our first week is about the “Deadly Virtue” of HUMILITY, the antidote to the sin of pride.  I write this section and then we both add some ways to respond whether you are reading this by yourself or using this for a small group. May Jesus meet you on your Lenten Journey!   Mike Sares

“I’d like to be humble, but what if no one notices?”    

—John Ortberg

Humility, according to the dictionary, is “freedom from pride or arrogance : the quality or state of being humble.” As C. S. Lewis wrote (more helpfully), “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” How pleasant it is when we meet and talk with people who are not as concerned with their own agendas as they are with whatever is before us at the moment. Even more, what about those folks who are more concerned about us than themselves? We tend to love being with them.

Pride is an excessive opinion of one’s own importance—whether in thought, word, or deed. Pride is known as the first of the “deadly sins,” for it leads to every other sin. Not only does it destroy a proper view of ourselves, it damages our relationship with others and with God Himself. What kills pride? Humility. Humility is the way to not becoming the kind of person most of humanity despises. This is how the Bible puts it: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2) 

If the choice between humility and pride is so clear, then why do humans consistently choose the vice over the virtue? Perhaps we are so insecure that we work hard to establish our worth in the eyes of those around us (and even in our own eyes). Maybe pride is just a selfish preoccupation with ourselves. Whatever the reason, pride ravages the rapport we have with anyone. It looks like this: the more pride we have, the more we despise it in other people and the more we resent any perceived neglect. Pride is a pretty sure-fire way of not getting along with folks at home, at school, at work, or in the neighborhood.

Recognizing this about us, Jesus offered instructions to those at a dinner who had chosen the prestigious seats at the table. “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor,” He said. “… But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:8-11)  Jesus contends that we humans are given two choices: either humble ourselves or be humbled by others and by God. It is a strong warning from the God-man, but there is hope. 

In the same way that pride is a door to every other vice, so humility is the portal to every other virtue. Humility appears to be the foundational virtue of Christ Himself, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8) 

Thinking of ourselves less and thinking of others more is the obvious basis for compassion, generosity, and love—all virtues that have humility as their foundation. Not assuming we are entitled to excessive rest and pleasure makes way for diligence and temperance. Being humble enough to accept whatever circumstances we find ourselves under (looking to the Lord for strength) brings us great peace (Philippians 4:12-13). Thus, we find that all other virtues are built upon humility.

To get us started, consider praying this prayer for humility as we embark on this Lenten journey through the Seven Deadly Virtues:

“O God, your Word says that You resist the proud and give grace to the humble: grant me the virtue of true humility. Keep me from false humility, which is only pride in dress-down clothes. Jesus, you are the perfect pattern for me; let me follow in Your footsteps. Let me learn of You, Jesus, for You are gentle and humble of heart.”

Responding to the Deadly Virtue of HUMILITY:

  • If humility is thinking of yourself less and others more, who in your life has modeled this kind of humility toward you? What is one way you hope to be more like that person? Is there one practical way you might move in that direction? 
  • If it’s true that the pride we hate in others may reflect something about ourselves, think of a very prideful person you know. Describe what bothers you the most; is any of that pride true of you as well?  Anything about that you want to ask God to help you overcome?    
  • For a creative spiritual practice, every day for the next week—when in conversation with another—do NOT say something you want to say. Resist adding something that is not necessary but makes you look good (or thoughtful, or well-read, or generous, or “humble”…)   
  • For further reflection on humility, read about Mother Teresa. What is most attractive about her to you?
  • Meditate upon and/or memorize one of the following verses of Scripture:

Ephesians 4:2, Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love

Philippians 2:3-4, Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

James 4:6, But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

Just for fun:

One Tuesday afternoon in the church sanctuary, a senior pastor and his associate pastor were collecting the leftover bulletins from the previous Sunday. Light was streaming into the church through beautiful stained-glass windows and playing upon the large, rough, wooden cross hanging on the wall.

Looking up and suddenly overcome by the majesty of God, the senior pastor abruptly sat down in a pew proclaiming, “Lord, I am nothing!” 

Not to be bested, the associate pastor also knelt down and exclaimed, “Lord, I am nothing!” 

The church’s handyman, working in the back of the sanctuary, joined the holy fervor. He fell onto the floor crying, “Lord, I am nothing!” Whereupon the senior pastor nudged his associate and whispered, “Look who thinks he’s nothing!”

On Fasting

Mike writes this week’s entry about the historic practice of Lent: fasting. Dave adds some notes he’s gathered over the years about the Bible on Fasting and some contemporary responses to its practice. Like all “spiritual disciplines,” its main purpose is to make space for God in our lives.

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. (Joel 2:12-13) 

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.   (Jesus, in Matthew 6:16-18)

Fasting—not exactly the most popular of the spiritual disciplines. Yet, Jesus did not say, “If you fast.” He actually said, “When you fast.” Most of the earth’s Christians for most of the church’s history have fasted regularly—for spiritual reasons—not to cleanse their bodies of unwanted toxins or in order to lose weight. 

Thinking about fasting takes me back to when I was a young boy growing up in the Greek Orthodox Church. Orthodox Christians are supposed to fast every Wednesday and Friday from meat, fish, dairy, and eggs unless it is a special no-fasting time. My family didn’t do that, but we did fast on Fridays along with the Catholics, Anglicans, and some of the Methodists. My father’s tavern (Sares Bar) had a Fish Fry every Friday evening—so we tailored the Friday fast to suit our economic reality. I still enjoy fish and chips.

We did get serious about fasting a couple times a year, and the forty days before Easter was one of those times. Sunday school was the venue for making sure we big-eyed, dark-haired, olive-skinned Greek kids made the commitment. I remember the papers being handed out during class. There was a picture of the Orthodox Cross on one side (that made it official) and all these lines for writing on the other. When I listed the food items I would be giving up during Lent, I did it out of obligation thinking somehow I would become a better person and that God would be pleased with my sacrifice. I could be very specific about what to abstain from: chewing gum but not licorice; chocolate but not hard candy; my brothers but not my sister. (That’s a joke, but you get the idea.)

Sometimes I don’t think I have progressed much beyond that. During my times of fasting as an adult, there are times I will long for a piece of pizza—not so much because I’m hungry, but for the sheer pleasure of taste. At those times, I wish I had been more specific at the outset (for example: fast from all Italian food except pizza). So, God uses fasting as an adult to re-inform me of how hedonistic I really am. 

Until I fasted, I never noticed how good the stuff on other peoples’ plates looked when at the dinner table or at a restaurant. I’d never noticed how often food is advertised in the newspaper, on television, at the movies, or on billboards. One gets the paranoid feeling that the world is out to sabotage one’s fast. Perhaps the devil is not pleased when we seek Heavenly Bread and wants to divert our attention as often as possible. It reminds me of Satan’s encounter with Jesus where he suggested that Jesus turn stones into bread. Our Lord’s answer is amazing: “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)  To be sure, fasting is a form of spiritual warfare with our culture and with spiritually dark forces. It is a doorway to understanding our dependence upon Jesus Christ.

I usually begin fasting now with noble goals of toppling my own “idols” and of drawing closer to God; but in the middle of the fast the temptation is toward performance and results. Sometimes it becomes more about the weight I can lose than about the relationship with God I can gain. God can be lost in the details of the very thing meant to find him. It becomes more about what I can do by means of this religious exercise as opposed to what God can do in me. What began because I was not strong enough in some area of my life—and looking for God’s help—ends up becoming a type of self-help process by which I prove I don’t need the grace of God. Ironic! Once again I am that young Greek Orthodox boy proving to God that I can be a good Christian. 

If there is one thing that Jesus proved during his temptation, it was that He depended upon the Father totally. He did nothing in his own power. If you are fasting during this time of Lent (and even if you are not) you, too, will be tempted but not just with food. You will be tempted to live life on your own power—even life with God. So, stay close to Jesus. Monitor your motives. Confess your mental slip-ups to a trusted friend. Forgive yourself when you accidentally (or willfully) break your fast. Keep your eyes on Jesus more than on yourself. By His grace, you will lean less upon food, less upon yourself, and learn to lean more upon the Everlasting Arms of Christ.

Why Fast?
– Mourning (sometimes this occurs naturally as a grieving response)
– Repentance
– Need (for Strength, Mercy, Help, Direction, a Word from God) 
– Preparation for ministry
– Worship 

Why NOT to fast
– In order to appear spiritual
– So that we can manipulate God
– In order to lose weight

When NOT to fast:
– When our deeds are evil (repent first)

How to Fast
– Abstain from certain foods
– Abstain from certain meals 
– Abstain from food for a specified period of time (like Lent) or certain days of the week
– Abstain from media and/or comforts 
– Abstain from certain habits
– Observe the Church Calendar (also known as the Liturgical Year)  
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster (HarperCollins)
The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard (HarperCollins) 
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adelle Ahlberg Calhoun (IVP)


The Bible on FASTING                                                                                                 
It was not Christ’s intention to reject or despise fasting. It was His intention to restore proper fasting.”  
~ Martin Luther.  

A. Throughout Scripture, fasting refers to abstaining from food for spiritual purposes
Daniel (Dan 10) gave up all “delicacies”, no meat or wine (nor bathing) for three weeks
Esther (Esther 4) instructed Mordecai to ask all Jews to neither eat nor drink for three days.
Paul (Acts 9) engaged a three-day absolute fast following his Damascus road experience. 
Moses (Deut 9), Elijah (1 Kings 19:8) and Jesus did a “supernatural” absolute fast for 40 days. 

B. The People of God and Fasting
The only public fast required in the Mosaic Law was on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27)
Group fasts were called in times of emergency (Joel 2:15; 2 Chron 20:1-4; Ezra 8:21-23)
Regular fasts developed.  Zechariah mentions four regular fasts (Zechariah 8:19)
A Pharisee boasted that he fasted twice a week (Luke 8:12)
The Didache (1st century) prescribes two fast days a week on Wednesday and Friday.  
There are no biblical laws for New Testament believers that command regular fasting.  

C. Jesus’ teaching of fasting
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6) Jesus assumes fasting was part of the practices of His earliest followers and suggests that fasting is tied in with giving and praying. His first words about fasting dealt with the question of motive.  Fasting must center on God. 
Like the prophetess Anna, we need to be “worshipping God fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37). 
The church at Antioch received a word from God “while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting” (Acts 13:2-3) and set apart Paul and Barnabas as missionaries. 
Yet, Jesus’ followers were also accused of not fasting, unlike the disciples of John the Baptist.  (Matthew 9:14-15) 

“Jesus made it clear that he expected his disciples to fast after he was gone… that the children of the kingdom of God would fast.  For the person longing for a more intimate walk with God, these Statement of Jesus are drawing words.” 
~ Richard Foster 

D. “Secondary” purposes of fasting, by Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline
Fasting reveals the things that controls us. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. 
Fasting reminds us that we are sustained “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4). Therefore, in experiences of fasting we are not so much abstaining from good as we are feasting on the word of God.  Fasting is feasting!” (John 4:32-34)
Fasting helps us keep our balance in life.  How easily we begin to allow non essentials to take precedence in our lives.  How quickly we crave things we do not need.” (1 Cor. 9:27). 
David fasted for his enemies to keep himself from vengeance (Psalm 35:11-14) 

E. Recommendations for a traditional food fast (Foster)
A progression should be observed, as with all the Disciplines. If the setting allows, debate the time you would normally use eating to prayer. 
Follow Jesus’ counsel to refrain from calling attention to what you are doing. Learn from others before you attempt a longer fast. 
Learn the process your body goes through in the course of a longer fast.

The Seven Deadly Virtues: A Lenten Guide

Dave Meserve and I have written a half dozen Advent Guides together and wanted to try our hand at a Lenten Guide.  A printed form (like our Advent Guides) did not make sense this year, so we have decided to offer it digitally. This week’s introduction is written by Dave.

Welcome to Lent. 

Lent is a gift the ancient church has given us that often remains unopened.  For some it is too antiquated or intimidating.  For many it is simply a mystery that holds intrigue but lacks direction.   This Lent guide is an attempt to provide some gracious direction for those who may want a fresh take—or even a first take—on an ancient season.  And so…

     •  If you know Lent in your bones and hope for a fresh experience of the season…

     •  If you grew up seeing it from afar (likely, across the street at the Orthodox or Catholic Church) and are ready to explore it for yourselves…   

     •  If your default position remains a safe distant from organized religion and yet, you still long for a true, spiritual experience…  

May this guide play a small part in helping you find what your heart truly seeks.

The Season of Lent

We begin our journey with a few helpful ways to approach Lent:

Lent is a season.  Originally a time of preparation for Easter baptisms, Lent expanded to 40 days and included the whole congregation.  Its length is intentional. In the church world, we look at 10% as a “tithe” number — one tenth of your income set aside for holy use.   As Lent is roughly 10% of a year, it can be viewed as a time to intentionally set apart a portion to be especially mindful regarding our spiritual life.   

Lent is a messy season.  The name itself comes from a German word meaning “lengthen.” As the days get longer, it coincides with the coming of spring and the ending of winter.  We call it “mud time” where the melted snow reveals all the debris underneath, a helpful metaphor for our spiritual lives.  It is while we address the messiness of the season we notice the buds of new growth beginning to sprout.  

Lent is an intentional season.  To pursue spiritual growth through Lent requires a level of focus and this focus must happen within a  frantic culture where reflection and resolve have never been more elusive.  We know that, without intention, growth rarely occurs. This makes the very act of committing to practice Lent counter-cultural.  

Lent is to be practiced.   We don’t “practice church,” we practice Lent.  Even the most irreligious recognize the active part of the season: “What are you giving up for Lent?”  While we often dumb-down Lent to some form of self-improvement program, we understand that Lent is not a passive endeavor.  As well, embedded in the idea of practice is that we practice to get better.  We don’t have to be very good at it—and that is strangely comforting.  

In all, Lent is an intentional, messy season where we practice that which helps us grow into the kind of people were were designed to be, the kind of people who look more and more like Jesus.  This is the gift of the ancient Church and now is the time to open it anew. 

Our Theme: The Deadly Virtues

To help focus our Lent, we have chosen a theme to center our thoughts and hopes and practices: “The 7 Deadly Virtues,” a twist on the ancient list of vices. 

Before Gregory the Great (circa 600 A.D) was honing the list of vices to avoid, others were writing about the virtues to engage.  One such writer coined the term, “Contrary Virtues,” an attempt to combat the sinful seven.  In modern vernacular, he understood that “a good offense is the best defense”.  We think he was right. 

We borrowed “deadly” as our adjective for the same reason it was attached to “sins”.   Certain sins were considered “deadly”, not in the sense that they are beyond pardon but rather in the sense that they are “root” sins — they lead to other sins.  Similarly, “deadly” virtues are “root” virtues: their presence and practice leads to the formation of other virtues. 

Our use of “deadly” is also a nod to the seriousness of the subject.  These virtues are not tame niceties that we put on to be impressive but divinely directed strategies in the battle for our souls.  These particular virtues and vices cannot coexist; we are moving toward one or the other.  Lent is an intentional time to move toward the “deadly,” virtuous life of Christ.

Using This Guide

Each week we will introduce one deadly virtue through a short writing and a response section.  

The writing will tease out the nature of each virtue—often in light of the corresponding vice.  The Christian Scriptures will be our primary backdrop but, we will resource other sources of wisdom as well. 

The response section will offer ideas and direction regarding how to nurture a particular virtue.  It will include some stories to research, resources to explore and practices to try on, if only for the week.   All this is in hopes of forming the right kind of virtuous habits. 

As with any adventure, participating within a community of any size heightens the effectiveness and, likely, the pleasure of the pursuit.  We hope you find some friends to make this Lenten journey with you. 

Overall, we hope GRACE covers all of your efforts along with all your inner thoughts during this season of Lent.  The last thing most of us need is another spiritual program where we fall short.  That is not the heart of this guide and certainly not the heart of Lent. 

May you have compassion toward yourself, 

love others through imperfections 

and be generous with your heart.  

May you practice temperance with joy, 

diligence with affection, 

and humility with accomplishment.  

And may you find yourselves at peace with God.  

Your companions on the journey, 

– Mike & Dave.

Trying To Be Good

Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? The one whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous … Psalm 15:1-2

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. Romans 3:22

It is easy to begin trying hard to be good. The very act of trying makes us feel better about ourselves. When we try hard to be good, sometimes even other people feel better about us. And we imagine that God is pleased as we trudge up “His Holy Hill,” foot by excruciating foot. We usually don’t get far, however.

It is more difficult to acknowledge our depravity and our inability to want to be good. When we get honest, we realize that what we really want oftentimes is to be bad. It is then we call out to God, “I can’t live on your holy hill! I’m not righteous at all!”  Then, upside-down reality breaks in—because of our faith in what Jesus did on the cross, God brings us up to the top of that hill to live with Him, day by day. It is there that He gives us strength to live the life we read of in Psalm 15.  (And strength is required!)

To put it succinctly: Living the righteous life through faith in Christ is easier than living righteously on your own. Try hard to be good and you will succeed for a while. If you can keep it up, you’ll become proud about your ability to be good—which makes you bad (remember Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in the Gospels). The truth is that it is impossible to be good for a lifetime without Jesus making it happen in you, as we read in Romans 3.

How to “Cash-in” on God’s Amazing Offer for 2020

Isaiah 55:1-2  “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

The Old Testament prophet is appealing to those who are thirsty and have no money, to those who are hungry and work hard for stuff that doesn’t satisfy them. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor,” (Luke 6:20) and we think He was being nice to the people of the world who don’t have much materially. He was doing much more than being nice. He was stating the same truth found in Isaiah—part of which is that people who have no money are candidates for spiritual riches. There is a relationship between being poor monetarily and rich spiritually. It can be seen throughout the Scriptures. The opposite is also true—those who have a lot of money are often spiritually bankrupt in the Bible.

So where does that leave most of us?  We, as Americans, are among the richest people in the history of the planet (we have more stuff, better healthcare, more leisure time, and greater conveniences than the kings in the Bible). And yet we still long for more. But here’s the deal: if you are thirsty for the things money can’t buy, then you are poor enough to “cash in” on God’s amazing offer. The seller, God, is giving away that which fills us up the best—that which truly delights, that which satisfies the cravings of our souls (which are immortal) as opposed to our bodies (which are not). Money can’t buy you love; God is love. You do the math.

It’s the start of a new year and a new decade. Let’s resolve to approach Jesus as poor beggars who will never have the means to acquire what we truly long for: LOVE—love of God, love of self, love for others. He’s giving it away for free. “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love…” (2 Thessalonians 3:5)

Considering the Problem of Evil In a Few Paragraphs

Tolkien (20th Century Fox)

Mary & I recently went to the movies and saw “Tolkien,” the biopic about the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. We liked it. It’s about J.R.R. Tolkien’s early life—from boyhood to when he began teaching at Oxford University. There’s nothing about him leading C.S. Lewis to faith, or about his association with the Inklings (there’s not a lot about his faith in Christ at all, actually)There’s quite a bit about the events that shaped him and became themes in his novels. If you read Tolkien, you realize that the fight against evil is a dominant motif. The problem of evil is one that we Christians must address at times with those who have a different view of the world. Here’s an attempt to give you some talking points for that discussion.

For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalm 100:5) 

As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them. (Ecclesiastes 9:12) 

The Biblical view of this world is one of spoiled goodness. Evil is the warping of the good. God did not create evil, but He did create both invisible and visible beings with power over a physical world who have the ability to choose His good or to reject it. Thus, good is primary and evil requires good to exist. We know God does not override the will of angels nor humans in their choices (to do so would take away their free will) but the Bible states that God can make good come from evil choices— for He is both merciful and full of grace. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)  

A truly good God would only create the best of all possible worlds. The problem is that this world is obviously not the best possible world—but it is on the way to the best possible world. God will create a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more pain or death; but in the meantime, He is about making goodness appear in the bleakest of situations. Consider heroism, which is the kind of good that can only grow in the face of evil. Consider patience, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, sacrifice—all of which require an evil against which to react.  The Book of James acknowledges this when James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:1-4) 

The Bible reveals that God only permits as much evil as is necessary (in a universe with beings who have free will) to provide for the potential of their increased goodness. As evil as these times are, God recognizes our ability to choose but allows only what He must to accomplish His ends. It was even so with Jesus—as the writer of Hebrews says, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)

Open Up Your Church to Future Generations

If your church is turning gray (and especially if it has been that way for several years) there are things you can do to make sure you have younger Christians to whom you can pass on the faith and the church. Having pastored a congregation that is 20-30 years younger for the past two decades, here’s a bit of what I’ve learned.

Pray—This is crucial, because if God doesn’t do something, all these steps are meaningless. It’s not perfunctory prayer. Survival as a church is at stake.

Spend Time With Young People—This is a call to the older members of the congregation. It includes your own adult kids and your kids’ friends. It’s the young neighbors on your street. Befriend them. Invite them over. Go into their worlds. Be the only “old friends” they have, if necessary. This takes courage.

Look for Key People—Whom is the Holy Spirit pointing out to you? Who, among the young people you meet, introduces you to their inner circle? Who’s the “pied piper” of the group? Luke 10:5-6 talks about the person who opens up the possibility of sharing the Gospel in a certain locale. Key people open the culture of the younger generation to us.

Let Them Work Alongside You—This means training young people to do the things in and around the church community that you do.

Give Them Authority & Responsibility—This is somewhat scary. The Boomer Generation has a death-grip on the leadership of the church and must begin to let go. This means allowing them to make mistakes—and then cleaning up the mess without grumbling.

Sacrifice—You will take some “hits” during this process. Young people will distrust you, say hurtful things, and make stupid moves. You can handle it without blowing up or quitting the process. As an added benefit, you’ll learn to be a bit more like Jesus during this part of the procedure. 😉

Go Away Sometimes—Give up control totally for a while and let them run things without you there. It’s like taking the training wheels off of a bicycle. They won’t fully learn if you don’t vacate the premises.

Pass the Torch, the Baton, the Pulpit—Just do it. Have a party to celebrate the transition.

They Will Need You Again—Your ministry in the church is far from done! Young people need old people—always have, always will. It’s like going from being a parent to a grandparent. Enjoy them without having to change their spiritual diapers. The new, young leaders will do that job.

Nine Years Ago, I Was Killed.

I was attending the National Pastors Conference in 2009. Shane Claiborne was one of the speakers. This all happened.

Shane Claiborne pulled me up onto the stage, sawed me in half and then laughed as if it were the most natural thing in the world. He must like what he’s doing.

He started off with a simple magic trick. He slightly burned and then tore up a real $100 bill with the help of an assistant from the crowd of pastors. Of course, after he “restored” the $100, he just gave it (for real) to the assistant. I knew he would. He’s Shane Claiborne, after all.

He then proceeded to do a presto-chango from magician to become St. Francis of Assisi. By the middle of the talk he had morphed again into Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Of course, it’s all in what he says. He starts quoting Jesus, “Let him who has two give to him who has none.” As Shane talks about his life, the real magic happens. He turns into Jesus right before our eyes (at least, momentarily). And a small percentage don’t like it. They start to leave. You begin to realize how difficult it must have been to be around Jesus because it’s so convicting.

It’s the impact of a life poured out, gone to the extreme. It makes you question if you could go to that extreme yourself. And THERE is where it gets really scary; because you know you have the ability to go there, but not the desire.

And then, to prove his point, Shane brings out a bag full of $1 bills, which total all of the money he is being paid by the National Pastors Conference to speak here. He starts tossing wads of the greenbacks into the no-man’s land between the stage and the first row of seats, just like I knew he would. He challenges each person in attendance to come forward, reach down and take one as a reminder to do what Jesus said to do with our money and our stuff. It’s what Mother Teresa did. It’s what St. Francis did. It’s what Shane is doing right now.

I decide that I can’t go up for a couple reasons. One: this is way too convicting. Two: I have already been given one thousand $1 bills by Shane Claiborne. About a year-and-a-half after we started Scum of the Earth Church, we received a $1000 check from something called “The Simple Way.” I may have found that out much later, as I do not remember if there was a name on the check. Even so, I had no idea what the Simple Way was. There were no strings attached to the gift. It came at a very good time. We needed it.

Sitting here with all these pastors, I feel Jesus pulling me toward Himself like we are in some kind of tug-o-war. I’m destined to lose, and I know it. So, I am one of the last people to go up and grab a $1 bill from the floor. There were still plenty left. As I stand there looking down at them, it is obvious that they have all been defaced. Each one has the word, “love.” written on it with magic-marker.


Christmas Memory

This was written for a holiday variety show where I was on stage as the “visiting Protestant minister.” I appeared along with a Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest. No joke.

“I am a Protestant pastor, but I grew up in the Greek Orthodox church. It was a great spiritual foundation. You need to know that Greek Orthodoxy is kind of like Catholicism before they modernized under the Vatican II Council. By the way, my family is very Greek. All four grandparents were immigrants and they spoke Greek at home. I went to Greek school (with all the other kids from church) every Tuesday and Thursday after American school was over.

My mom died the summer when I was twelve years old. That first Christmas without her was weird. We sat around the Christmas dinner table like there was an empty seat … or like we were a holiday jig-saw puzzle with a piece missing.

Then, a few years later, my dad married an American woman. I say that because, as far as the Greeks were concerned, it was a mixed marriage. But Christmases became a lot better.

My new mom wasn’t just American—she was blue-eyed, blonde, and Protestant—and we started going to a Presbyterian Church every other week. I didn’t mind it. Not only could I easily read the prayers along with everyone else during the service, the service itself was a lot shorter. We were out-of-there in under an hour. Truthfully, I had never heard a church service performed in English before that. And perhaps what impressed my adolescent boy’s mind the most was that the girls at a Protestant Church didn’t all look like my sister. (Um, just so you know, my sister is beautiful … but … well, um … you know what I mean.)

Christmastime was different at the Greek Orthodox Church. The priest and the cantor would sing something in Greek, sounding more like Middle-Eastern street performers than like Bing Crosby and Perry Como. If the Byzantine choir sang anything, it was always in a minor key. Anything Christmas-y happened during Sunday School in the separate building next door to the church. Truly, it’s not even officially Christmas until around the 7th of January in Orthodoxy.

I will never forget our first Christmas at the Protestant Church. We didn’t have to get as dressed up as we did when we went to the Orthodox Church We went on the night before Christmas. The stars were out in that cold, clear, black sky. The church windows glowed as we approached. And the Americans had decorated their building—oh, how it was decorated—with holly wreaths and mistletoe, with green garlands and gold bows, with red candles and twinkling white lights. A handbell choir rang out, Away in the Manger. The pastor spoke about the significance of Jesus’ birth in language even I could understand. We got to sing Christmas carols inside the church—songs like, O Come All Ye Faithful, O Little Town of Bethlehem, and Silent Night.

There was even a tall Christmas tree in the front of the sanctuary, all lit-up with colored lights and ornaments, over a Nativity set. In my teenage imagination we were like the shepherds, all around, who had come to see the Christ-child. I could almost hear the lamb and cattle sounds. And I nearly caught a glimpse of angels making their rounds.”