Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Whose Kid Are You?

Jesus was the master story teller. His stories were typically simple, familiar, memorable, relevant, practical, pointed, thought-provoking, and sometimes open-ended or even shocking. His story of the unjust manager in Luke 16 is all of the above with the added element of being a bit perplexing. Did Jesus really suggest that lying, stealing, and cheating to benefit oneself is a good thing to be emulated? The contrast Jesus suggested in His description of the “people of this world” and the “people of the light” is instructive. His followers are the children of the light -- literally “sons of,” that is, descendants of, regardless of gender. They belong to the light, are students of the light, are being formed by and becoming like the light, and thus bear resemblance to the light. Assuming that “the Light” refers to Jesus, the “Light of the world,” the implications are legion and call us to meditation and introspection. Jesus’ followers are not children of this age – shaped by the transient and passing culture in which we are all immersed. This suggests the appropriateness of asking, “What is transforming my life and character day by day? Do I bear more resemblance to Jesus or to the world around me? What would those around me say?” The focus of Jesus’ contrast is one’s attitude toward and use of money and material things and how they relate to “true riches” which retain their value after this age when worldly wealth has vanished and one arrives at their “eternal dwelling” in the age to come. Jesus’ point is that the former (worldly wealth) can be transformed into the latter (true and eternal riches) by investing them to “gain friends” who will welcome them into their eternal home. Jesus leaves us to consider how one’s resources can be so used. At risk of doing what Jesus did not choose to do, I would suggest that one way may be investing in the spread of the Gospel in one’s community and around the world. Jesus’ description of the future division of sheep and goats in Matthew 25 suggests another: using one’s resources to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, house the homeless, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and tend to the imprisoned. Identifying Jesus’ authentic followers is not as simple as checking church attendance. Rather two distinguishing characteristics are whether one is becoming more like the counter-cultural Jesus and how one invests their resources to gain eternal friends. Whose kid are you?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


In Jesus' familiar parable of the lost sheep, the shepherd obviously believes that sheep lives matter. He left his comfort zone to pursue the one-out-of-a-hundred which was missing -- launching out into the dark night rather than bedding down with his flock for a good sleep under the stars. There were 100 sheep -- all their lives mattered -- but there was one whose circumstances called for prioritization. He was lost. The parable gives no information as to why or how he became lost. We tend to jump to the conclusion that it was his fault. He had special needs the 99 did not. They were comfortable, well-fed, and safe. Well it must be that he had been rebellious or foolish. He decided to wander off. Right? It is the nature of sheep after all (Isaiah 53:6). But we don't know that it was his fault. It wouldn't be hard to imagine reasons he became separated from the flock which were not his fault or the result of poor decisions he made, or that his own laziness in not following got him in trouble. Perhaps he was sick or injured and no one noticed that he couldn't keep up. Perhaps a bully-sheep chased him off and he was unable or afraid to catch up and face more abuse. Or perhaps . . . you fill in the blank with other possibilities. Frankly, even if it was his fault, it didn't seem to matter to the shepherd. The fact was that the lost sheep needed special attention -- more than the other 99 -- and so the shepherd dropped everything to pursue him. Jesus' story didn't address blame, only need. Jesus always seemed to prioritize those who were marginalized, oppressed, or in need -- widows, orphans, women, children, the homeless, those in poverty, the hungry, those with inadequate resources, the sick, the incarcerated, those trapped in sin (think for example of James 1:27; Matthew 25:31ff; Luke 15:1f; John 8:1ff). "Wait a minute," I hear someone responding, don't "ALL LIVES MATTER?" Of course they do. But not all lives need prioritization like the lost sheep, the widow and orphan, the hungry and homeless, the oppressed, etc. Perhaps there are lessons here for churches. There is a natural tendency to turn INWARD -- to prioritize the needs of the already saved. The budget,the staff, the programming, the attention -- all seem to prioritize the "found," while little time and few resources are focused on "the lost." Perhaps there are some cultural lessons too -- for example, "Black lives matter." What would Jesus say?

Monday, September 19, 2016


Last week after 32 years at Calvary Church (48 in vocational ministry) I retired from the pastoral staff. It was the culmination of many years of thinking and working on transitions and a year of very intentional preparation along with the elder team and staff. The church provided the most amazing retirement party imaginable for Gloria and I! As the retirement day approached I reflected frequently on the idea that retirement is a little like death. It is a time of endings and new beginnings. More specifically, knowing the time of your approaching retirement is, I suspect, a little like knowing the time (approximately) of your approaching death -- as when your doctor says, "six to eight months is my best guess." Thankfully, I can only speak from experience about retirement. This knowledge can bring joy and gratitude as you recall great memories from the past; trigger deep regrets for your failures and unrealized dreams and goals; bring into sharper focus what is important or trivial; and motivate you to getting important things done that might help and influence others in a positive way. There is an awareness that your ability and opportunity to influence others is going to dramatically change (not end). This clarity can increase productivity much like the big push to get things done just before you leave on vacation. Among many other things, I preached a final sermon series entitled, "Before I Go." The exercise of planning what topics and Scriptures I felt were most important to share in those last dozen sermons was challenging -- kind of like creating a very serious "Top Ten" list. What did I want our dear church to remember most from the LAST sermon? Along with numerous meetings with individuals and groups, I prepared two documents to share with key leadership groups in the church: "Parting thoughts for Calvary's elders and staff," and "Missionary strategy suggestions for Calvary Church." Reflecting on all this, I wish there were a way to secretly "pretend" you had an approaching retirement date so as to bring about the kind of clarity and urgency all this produced. There is a big part of me that wishes I had perceived and acted on many of these things more strategically and emphatically years ago. Perhaps that's why as part of my retirement I would like to be involved in "Encouraging Churches & Pastors" (a possible logo for my post-retirement ministry) -- pulpit supply, writing, interim ministry (maybe), Seminary teaching, consulting, coaching, mentoring, etc. Pastor friends, think about secretly scheduling your premature and pretend "retirement" date. If you can fool yourself, you may be very pleased by the clarity and urgency it empowers. Oh yes, there's another way that retirement is a little like death -- because of Jesus, there is wonderful new life beyond death (and retirement) with exciting new possibilities and opportunities. Let the journey (retirement) begin!