Lord, I thank you that I’m not like those people who thank God they’re not like other people

phariseeandprodigalOur senior pastor Larry Buxton, who’s a baseball nut, says that parables are supposed to be stories that have a “late-breaking curveball.” He threw a curveball this past weekend with his sermon on the familiar parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. The Pharisee says, “I thank you God that I’m not like other people,” and the tax collector says, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Pastor Larry shared that too often, we come away from this parable thinking that the moral of the story is to be more conspicuously self-deprecating in our prayer life. So we become people who say, “I thank you God that I’m a humble sinner, unlike those Pharisees who thank you that they’re not like other people.”

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“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”

The gospel reading at my Monday mass was Luke 7:1-10, the story of the centurion whose servant is healed by Jesus without setting foot in his house. A line that the centurion says has become a key part of the weekly Eucharistic liturgy: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” There is something essential about that posture of humility for us to be able to encounter Christ authentically and receive the transformation that He wants to instill in us. I worry sometimes that Christians like me define ourselves so much against the overemphasis on human wickedness in fundamentalist Christianity that we end up having a blithe presumptuousness about Jesus’ grace in our lives which turns our prayer and worship life into a farce.

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A Call to Humility and Repentance

My buddy Derek wrote a post yesterday about how it’s not inappopriate for Christians to either mourn or celebrate in response to a presidential election. I agree with what Derek had to say; it was a legitimate reminder to be gracious in responding to the emotions of our friends. I do also think that all Christians regardless of our political views need to be called to humility and repentance. We have just been through a very acrimonious campaign season in which we have all sinned by saying hurtful and unfair things about blanket categories of people who are either “immoral and lazy” or “greedy and dishonest.” It is now time to examine ourselves and ask God to heal us from the spiritual damage of our sin. Most of my thoughts here are inspired by a recent sermon “Gratuitous Grace, Unfair Grace” from my favorite preacher Jonathan Martin of Renovatus Church in Charlotte, NC, which you should listen to on his podcast. Continue reading

“Not many of you should become bloggers.” [James 3]

James 3 opens with a statement that often makes me squirm: “Not many of you should become teachers.” Often this passage is used to say that Christians shouldn’t teach until their theological opinions are without error (“Your questions are welcome at our church, but if you want to become a leader, you need to have [our] answers instead of [your] questions”). I’ve had people question whether I should be teaching. I’ve been criticized for sharing my raw ideas on this blog before they are fully developed. My nomination for a ministry leadership role in college was challenged because I didn’t interpret Genesis literally. I’ve had people tell me I’m not preaching the gospel because I didn’t reduce it to Bill Bright’s Four Spiritual Laws. What’s really interesting though regarding James 3 is it actually doesn’t say anything about theological correctness. Not that obedience to the truth is unimportant, but James is exhorting his readers in this context not to be Christian teachers unless they can stop badmouthing other people. And that is tremendously hard to do in our social media world where meme-spinning is so addictive and nothing is more tempting to a blogger trying to get hits and build a platform than to write a blistering, controversial hit job that can “set a great forest on fire” (James 3:5). Continue reading

On preaching for the self-righteous bogeyman

It’s very easy to write a mediocre sermon about forgiveness. I’m already halfway down the road of doing it. The scripture text for this week seemed an obvious choice for “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It’s the parable of the unmerciful servant from Matthew 18:21-35. It’s about a servant who owes his master thousands of dollars but has his debt forgiven only to go and throw a fellow servant in debtor’s prison for owing him a few bucks. The master finds out and rips the first servant to shreds for not forgiving when he was forgiven. Following the logic of the parable, we are infinitely indebted to God for our sins against Him, so it ought to be inconceivable that we would be unwilling to forgive other people. Continue reading

“I am not the messiah!”

So how many of you know something about John the Baptist? If you had to describe him in one word, what would it be? What about humble? Well it’s not the first word that comes to my mind either. Some of you know that Pastor Larry and I try to preach on the same passage each week. So when Pastor Larry told me the topic for this week was humility and the model for humility was John the Baptist, I was perplexed. John the Baptist was loud and rude and judgmental. He was a fire and brimstone sidewalk preacher. Continue reading

Whose side does Jesus take?

I have a problem that perhaps you can relate to. I’m very good at taking sides according to the lines that the world draws for me rather than taking Jesus’ side. Right now, we are living in the midst of a struggle for Christian identity at least in the self-important Christian blogosphere between those who might be called Teavangelicals and “social justice” Christians. It’s the latest configuration of the century-old debate between the social gospel and fundamentalism in American Christianity (there really was a time before this was how Christians understood their “left” and “right”). Both sides define themselves in reaction to each other and put together combinations of Bible verses and logic that support their ideology and trash the other side’s. Jesus did take sides, sometimes very strongly so, but absolutely not according to our terms. He consistently opposed the proud and gave grace to the humble. Two important examples can be found in the stories of how Jesus came to the defense of women who violated social taboos in order to express their love for Him. Continue reading

May the Arrogant Be Put to Shame: Monster-Psalm Meditation #10

Psalm 119:73-80

  Your hands made me and formed me;
   give me understanding to learn your commands.
 May those who fear you rejoice when they see me,
   for I have put my hope in your word.
 I know, LORD, that your laws are righteous,
   and that in faithfulness you have humbled me. Continue reading

It was good for me to be afflicted: Monster-Psalm Meditation #9

Psalm 119:65-72

65 Do good to your servant
   according to your word, LORD.
66 Teach me knowledge and good judgment,
   for I trust your commands.
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
   but now I obey your word. Continue reading