Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Choosing a Master

But I am among you as one who serves.
                                                                                                Luke 22:27

The humility of Jesus should stop us in our tracks. In all he did, he served. His healing, his teaching, his living, even in his admonishing of the Jewish leaders, he acted with love and humility. He was always a servant of God.

Those last two words—of God—remind me of the right orientation of our service. When faced with a decision of which master to serve, there is really only one choice, and to serve God faithfully will not always appease other masters whose ways and values take us away from God’s love and mission. We who live economically and socially comfortable lives can easily be distracted from serving God. We like our power, our possessions, our comfortable morality and our freedom of choice. We are deluded into thinking we are serving God by being “nice.” Yet our very conformity to the culture within which we live tells us that our master is not God.

 Those of us who have power within churches can lose sight of who we serve when we wield our power out of fear or arrogance, when we capitulate to the temptation to be “relevant” rather than relational, when we push certain people to the margins because of lack of attractiveness, community prestige, age, ability, or economic power and elevate those who can make a “big splash.”

Jesus did not hang around the pretty and powerful. He chose those who were at the margins, who were diseased, poor and lacked influence. He identified with the oppressed and powerless, the ones we might cast aside even in our churches today.

To be like Jesus, to be one who serves when serving brings abuse, rejection and false accusation, is not easy. To choose the popular way of our culture, exercising power and might fueled by pride and greed, is much easier, because it keeps us within the status quo and keeps us in control. We have to be careful in our choice of master to serve.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Being Emptied

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
Though he was in the form of God,
        he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
 But he emptied himself
        by taking the form of a slave
        and by becoming like human beings.
                                                                                                Philippians 2:5-7

Precedent exists for the expression, “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It seems that power is like an infection. Just a small exposure is often enough to set the disease on its voracious course.

It is an infection that does not discriminate. Power is as abused in churches as in commerce and government. Power unleashes pride and the two join together with deadly force. Combatting the corruption of power is a mammoth task because there are always folks around to feed the pride of the powerful and it is hard not to be sucked into the flattery and attention that power attracts.

Reading the passage above should remind us that following Jesus is so completely counter-cultural that if we actually follow, we will certainly be criticized, misunderstood and rejected by many. It will not make us popular. It will not feed pride.

Those who empty themselves, who do not seek to meet aggression with aggression, may seem to be defeated right out of the gate. The peace and presence of God in them makes them stronger than the prideful powerful.

Jesus emptied himself. He had all the power in the world but chose not to wield it. He came to us a weak, helpless infant, grew into an adult in an out of the way village whose only possessions were the clothes he wore.

Imagine how much difference we could make if we chose to empty ourselves of power and pride instead of using them to advance our agendas, even when we believe our agenda is God’s agenda. This passage in Philippians reminds us that emptiness, humility and sacrifice are the way of Christ. May it be so for us so that we may be kingdom builders instead of power brokers.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


This week I am sharing a piece I wrote in 2014 for the newsletter of my former church:

Assets matter in our culture. Power, prestige and possessions measure our success and achievement. Our lifestyles testify that we believe the one who dies with the most toys wins.

When I graduated from college, I wanted to be the best CPA in Macon. I threw myself into passing the CPA exam, working long hours, community involvement, and eventually, building an accounting practice that received both local and state awards. I was involved at Mulberry, holding positions of leadership within the church. From the outside looking in, one might think I had achieved success.

Richard Rohr says that we only begin to glimpse our True Self through experiences of great love or great loss or failure. In most cases, it is loss or failure that causes a shift in priorities, but even in loss many people never relinquish our culture’s priorities. They measure their worth in terms of assets.

These things were my assets, but I wrote them off as a loss for the sake of Christ. But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ and be found in him. (Philippians 3:8-9a)

Through a series of losses and failures, God began changing my priorities. I began to see my assets as hollow and meaningless. They distracted me from knowing I was supremely loved by God, not because I achieved anything or served on church committees or even raised my children in the church. God loved me through all my hypocrisy, pride and arrogance. God loved me when I was addicted to busyness, status, and the approval of others. When I realized that I didn’t have to meet expectations, say the right words or do the right things to gain God’s love, I could rest, knowing I am beloved by God.

Writing this brings tears, tears of contrition for my utter ugliness and tears of joy for God’s unending grace and love toward me. Luke tells of a woman who came to Jesus while Jesus was eating at a Pharisee’s home. The woman, crying, wet Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured perfumed oil on them. When the Pharisees criticized Jesus for allowing the woman to touch him, Jesus said “her many sins have been forgiven; so she has shown great love. The one who is forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47)

Love this great holds nothing back. Jesus held nothing back, giving himself that we may know with certainty that we are God’s beloved. With overwhelming joy and gratitude, I want to hold nothing back from my Beloved.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.         Joshua 5:12

During all the time the Israelites were in the wilderness, God fed them. Though they disobeyed, grumbled, made a golden calf and generally were an unpleasant and distrustful lot, God fed them.

I wonder if the miracle is not that God made manna fall from the sky for their daily food, but that God persisted in faithfulness to them when they weren’t likable travelers, which was most of the time!

When they needed food, God rained it down on them. And when they arrived in a place where manna was no longer needed, it stopped. The simple verse above reminds me that God pays attention to us, knows our needs, and cares for us in the way that is most beneficial to us. It may not be the way we think it should happen. It may not be as unusual as manna; it may be produce that grows in the usual way. But are crops that grow from the soil any less miraculous than manna dropping from the sky?

A favorite quote of mine is one I read in The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. Claiborne is actually relating a response he received from one of his college Bible teachers when he asked the instructor if he still believed in miracles. The instructor said “we have insulated ourselves from miracles. We no longer live with such reckless faith that we need them. There is rarely room for the transcendent in our lives. If we get sick, we go to a doctor. If we need food, we go to a store and buy it. We have eliminated the need for miracles. If we had enough faith to depend on God like the lilies and the sparrows do, we would see miracles. For is it not a miracle that the birds find enough worms each day?”

If we really stop to think about it, what we may think of as ordinary is miraculous. Today I enjoyed a beautiful late winter day. It was a good day to be in the car, and as I sat at a traffic signal, I was mesmerized by the clouds drifting across the sky. What could be more beautiful? How do they do that?

And yesterday, I was thinking about a recent joyous occasion in my life, and the web of events that led to this occasion. Some didn’t even involve me. Some occurred over five years ago. Some seemed so insignificant at the time they occurred that I would not have given them a second thought had I not been reflecting on this joyous occasion. Yet had any single one of these events not happened, I might not have had this significant occasion to celebrate. The web of life is intricate, interconnected and miraculous!

To see the world with eyes of wonder, to make room for the transcendent, the miraculous, is to make all of life sacramental—the apple, the cloud, the soil, the meal shared with a friend. There is no place where God is not.