Favorite Commandment?

ten_commandmentDo you have a favorite Commandment?  I am thinking of the Ten Commandments, but you might choose from the two greatest that Jesus and “the legal expert” both cite as summing up all the rest.  Or you may choose from among the 613 Commandments of the Torah.

You may, perhaps, even cite some other authoritative source for the purposes of this post.

This thought arises after having heard, again, adults suggest to children that the “most important one for you” is to obey your mother and father.

Huh.  Now, I’m not going to disagree on this in front of a roomful of children.  But sometimes I wonder if we have told children THIS commandment often enough that we begin to think it is for them.

I don’t think there is any credible biblical scholar who would support the idea that the other 9 are for everyone, but that one is for children.

Another possibility of your (or my) favorite commandment would be the one that we have the least likelihood of offending.  Kill?  No, that’s really not me, so I’ll jump on that one as the most important.  I’ll engage in discussions (actually debates) about how this commandment is the most important and work tirelessly to get other people to stop breaking it.

Least favorite? Well, that’s easy.  It would be the one over which we stumble most.  That whole covet thing gets me daily.  Did Moses have any idea how materialistic our culture would be?  Don’t covet anything?  How about nothing over $100?

What do I mean by favorite?  Favorite one to toss at others?  Favorite one to celebrate?  Favorite to stand awestruck at God’s goodness?

Your choice.  After all, it’s YOUR favorite.


Idol or Offering?

In the same week that I was engaged in a discussion about online worship, I came across this:Image

I was struck at the cultural contrast in this image. The altar setting appears very traditional to me, the LCD television sitting upon it the opposite.

The first thought I had, honestly, was that this symbolized our present-day worship of electronic imagery.  Is the television itself a “graven image,” or are the multiplicity of images we look for on it “graven images”?

Or could it be that an altar is exactly where Jesus Followers ought to place their televisions.  What we put on the altar, after all, is what we give to God.  Dare we give our use of the screen to God?

ALL of our use of the screen? EVERY screen?

If indeed our employment of screens is given over to God, what might this mean about our openness to worship, fellowship, other experiences we have that involve screens?

You don’t know… You CAN’T know…

Bill Cosby, in the interest of helping men understand the agony of giving birth, likened it to “taking your lower lip, and pulling it up over your head.”  I’m not sure how close a match that would be, but I know it is closer than  this:

Rachel was in the hospital the day after giving birth to our son Liam.  I had gone down to the first floor for something and got onto the elevator to return to the Labor and Delivery section.  I rode with a man and a woman, who I quickly identified as a father and grandmother of a newborn.

The man mentioned that his back was hurting. He had not slept well on the pseudo-bed the hospital provided for partners of those giving birth.  Then he said this, “my back hurts so much I know how my wife must feel.”  (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP)

No, sir, you don’t.  You can’t

My own wife had, the day before, gone through a rather brief labor.  She delivered Liam without any pain medication, in less than 3 hours.  I think I would rather pull my lower lip over my head.

His wife, he explained, had endured 36 hours of labor and then had a C-section.  I don’t care what kind of mattress he slept or tossed-and-turned on; it didn’t match what the mother of his child had just done.

I know we are wired to make comparisons.  Sometimes, when motivated by empathy and compassion, such comparisons may be helpful.

I don’t think this man’s was.

There are things men don’t know, and can’t know, about being a woman – including giving birth.  Even if you (or a comedian) offers us an analogy, we will not and cannot really grasp it.

There are also things women don’t know, and can’t know, about being a man.

Categories are now flooding my mind of all the possibilities of limits on comparison here.  We are all humans, but not a single one of us is *just* a human.  Every one of us is identified in multiple other ways, too, that limit the ability of some to really grasp everything about us.

And vice-versa.

However many hyphens this adds to your self-description, I believe it is incredibly helpful for us to humbly acknowledge not only what we *all* have in common, but how very much we don’t.


Fear of Neither Future nor Past

Someone shared this with me in an email titled: Church Services of the Future. (It can also be found at places other than FreeRepublic.com.  Slide1I believe the idea behind the email (I was among a  good number of recipients) was to engender discussion of the ways technology is, or seems to be, or threatens to be, infringing on worship.

My first thought was that this was posted by a traditionalist, strongly opposed to any technology in worship.

Of, by that I mean (or the traditionalist means) opposition to any recent technology in worship.  I assume, anyway, that there is not widespread opposition to the use of electricity – whether it be in the lights or sound system.

(I don’t know if distribution of cassette tapes of sermons is more acceptable than downloading digital copies.  Find a traditionalist and ask.)

FYI, I am not, at least in the technological sense, a traditionalist.

Neither am I one who insists that proper, relevant worship of God must be on the cutting edge of technology.

So here is my response to the email discussion of this alleged “Church Service of the Future”: I do not believe worship (at least Christian worship) should be about technology.  By this I mean Christian worship is about Christ and not, specifically and clear NOT about either

  • the use of the latest technology


  • the avoidance of technology.

God has no more (and no less) issue with your being distracted from worship by your smart phone than by worrying what that other person is looking at on her smartphone.

When I was a youth, we sometimes passed notes to one another during the sermon. Offering envelopes served well for this.  When caught, we were admonished that we should be paying attention.

I don’t remember whether or not the notes were ever related to what the preacher was saying or not.

I know people who taking notes on their phones or tablet computers during sermons.

Is writing notes on by hand more worshipful than writing them electronically?  Not a chance.

Worship is about worship – worship of God. It is not about technology – whether that means for technology, or against it.

What does your sign say?

Several leaders of my church and I attended a Stewardship Seminar this weekend led by Dr. Clif Christopher of Horizons Stewardship.  It was a very helpful, informative event; and a trip well worth taking for the group I went with.

One of Dr. Christopher’s points that I particularly enjoyed was that a cross, a sign by which most every church represents itself, advertises changed lives.  In this context, he told a story of stopping for food on a long drive.  Hungry for chicken, he found a KFC sign and pulled in. He ordered Extra Crispy and was told they were out.  He asked, then, for original recipe, and was told they were out.3089365994_e562bf09c0_o

This KFC (stands for Kentucky Fried Chicken) had no chicken.

The implication was clear: churches that have a cross anywhere in their signage that do not offer changed lives are as nonsensical as a KFC with no chicken.

I love his point!  Churches are about following Jesus, and Jesus is about changed lives.  What could be simpler?

Oh, yeah, then there’s this: unchristian and the Rise of the Nones (Pew Research Center Study) rather conclusively show that the cross does not mean changed lives to everyone who sees it.

Just like words out of our mouths, the intended message is not always the one that is received.  Is it entirely the responsibility of the speaker, or the one (church) with the sign to  perfectly articulate in ways that cannot be misunderstood?  Hardly.

On the other hand, the first step towards returning the message of the cross to the understanding we Christians intend it to have is to be in the process of having our own lives changed.

Let’s try this for a while and see how it works!


There go we all?

He: I was stupid.4444216550_6f4c1399aa_b

She: we’ve all been there.

The discussion was this simple, this straightforward, this honest. He was looking for someplace to get some community service hours for a pending legal issue.  She represented one of those potential “someplaces;” in this case, a church.

I have been serving in churches for nearly a quarter century now.  I have lost several colleagues to sexual impropriety.  Some of these colleagues have also been good friends.

(About none of them do I know the whole story.  In general, it is none of my business. In reality, a “community” that covers up and sanitizes its challenges is no community at all.)

I do not like losing good friends, ministry colleagues! I do not feel at all good about people going from being in ministry one day to persona non grata the next. As often as not, such persons are perceived to be doing effective ministry, right up to the fall.

Here’s where I take us back to the little dialogue that opened this post.

We have all been there.

Ok; maybe you have not been across the line that divides legal from illegal, moral from immoral.  At least not to the extent that you are required to do community service, or prison time, or even, overnight becoming unwelcome in a place you once lead.

But you have been close enough to see that line, haven’t you?

I know I have.  Sometimes that I have gotten close to that line I was “scared straight.’  The times that most concern me, though, are the times that I felt so good, cocky, and full of myself that I just knew I could toe the line, perhaps even cross it, and it would make no difference.

I have been there, and you have too.  If you tell me, or yourself that you haven’t, that you couldn’t, you might just be closer to that line right now than you ought to be.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray,one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

-Luke 18:9-14 (Common English Bible)

Which side am I on?

wisdomI found myself in an awkward place a few weeks ago in a discussion with some of our youth.

There are many words that are used broadly within concern for shared meaning, and I think wisdom is one of them. So I decided to ask what “wisdom” was.

I don’t remember the definitions given, but everyone was on the same page, or at least adjacent pages. Until, that is, I asked how one acquires or attains (I think I actually used the word “gets”) wisdom.

Everyone in the conversation except me expressed some version of this: wisdom comes with age.

Full disclosure: I fully believe that I am wiser now than I was when I was younger.  But I am observant enough also to claim that not everyone my age (or older) is necessarily wise.  Let’s face it, adults: we are not wise just because we have lived to the age we now are.  We still react out of selfishness, pride, greed, insecurity, etc. from time to time.

The real point I hoped to make with those young people, though, was NOT that older people are not wise by virtue of being older.  No; the real point I wanted them to grasp (at least a little) was that they, as young people, had access to wisdom as much as anyone.

Christian Youth love to cite 1 Timothy 4:12 which says “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but be an example….”

In that conversation, it was the Christian youth who were looking down on themselves.

Young people:  we need the wisdom that you have to offer.

We are, I believe, all in this together.