Pop Quiz: Bible Math

This is a serious Pop Quiz.  Remember, JUDGMENT is riding, not so much on how you answer, but on how you live out the right answer.  So if you are having trouble coming up with the correct answer, now would be a good time to brush up on your Bible math.


1.    Revelation 3:20 + Matthew 25:31-46 =

2.     Hebrews 13:2 + Luke 24:28-32 =

3.     Matthew 25:31-46 + Hebrews 13:2 =


And the correct answer is…






….. drum roll please….






Open The Door!  That stranger knocking is Jesus!


(If you answered “Matthew 22:37-40” … that response will be accepted!)


Now… let’s get out a red marker and grade the quiz.  Everyone pass your quiz to the person behind you, and you in the back, pass yours to the front!

Come on.  Hurry up.  Judgment is coming!

The When-Helping-Hurts Father

N.T. Wright once wrote that the parable we call “The Prodigal Son” could have just as easily (and perhaps more meaningfully) been called “The Running Father.”  Wright points out that in the culture in which Jesus tells that story, older men, such as the Father in this parable, typically guard their dignity in various symbolic ways, one of which is to NEVER be seen running.  Not even walking too fast.  Thus part of the shock of that story is how this heartsick Father watching the horizon everyday, hoping against hope to see his boy, at the moment when he finally does, throws caution and dignity to the wind and goes RUNNING to greet the boy upon his return.

The parable of The Prodigal Son is one of the most famous passages in the Bible, known to believers and nonbelievers alike, and rightly so.  It is a powerful depiction of the self-sacrificial LOVE of God.  In fact it captures in a snapshot the character of God and his LOVE for his lost children.  A remarkable image and story for anybody.  How much more for those of us who adhere our lives to this Father and seek to order his world with his LOVE?


I can’t help but think how the story of The Prodigal Son would change if that Father had read Corbett and Fikkert’s best selling Christian book When Helping Hurts.

The Father would still love the wayward son, of course, but he would do so wisely and “effectively” instead of recklessly and in ways that “enable” and do harm to the boy he wants to “help.”

That boy comes to his senses while still in a far off land.  He thinks to himself that his lot in life will improve if he returns to his Father, not with the sense of entitlement of a son, but rather hoping just to be put to work earning his keep among the hired help!  This is exactly the seedbed for a rehabilitative work program.  THIS is how you teach your kid the value of a dollar!  Let him get a job!  Talk about Will-Work-For-Food?  The boy has practically scrawled such a message on a cardboard placard and carried it back to the street corner near his Father’s house.  But the Father of Luke-15 ain’t havin’ it.


But don’t let the small, insignificant, tiny/little fact that symbolically this Father represents God in all his LOVE and WISDOM get in the way here.

No.  If this Father had read Corbett and Fikkert, he would see just how sensible it is when this boy comes to his senses in all that desperation of that foreign land!  This is how the boy will, given enough time, learn responsibility and stewardship so that maybe, maybe, maybe he will finally one day be fit for life in God’s Kingdom Come!

So, the When-Helping-Hurts Father drives by the corner and sees the bum who used to be his own son holding a placard which says “Will Work For Food” and has compassion on the boy, pulls over and offers the boy a job!  The boy can start off at the bottom and work his way up.  After all, in this life, there ain’t no free rides!  In fact, since the boy is probably hungry, he will need to eat, but the Father will set up a tab which the boy will be required to pay back at interest which will ensure that the boy learns the value of hard work and which when, once paid off, he will be self sufficient, independent, and have the dignity that comes with such things!  (Never mind passages of Scripture such as Exod. 22:25-27; Lev. 25:35-37 or Deut. 23:19-20.)

Lord knows, if the boy gets too much help with this stuff, it will do harm to him!  He will never learn!!  He will never have the dignity of independence and self sufficiency!!!  He will never be fit to live in God’s Kingdom Rule!!!!

Thus the When-Helping-Hurts Father would never run to his son and discard his own dignity to celebrate the return of his lost son!

No.  Instead, he will walk very slowly to the boy and do the very minimum things to help so as not to put any of this very “effective” charity in any jeopardy.

See there?

Corbett and Fikkert actually improve God!

(I wouldn’t stand too close to such blasphemy, personally speaking.  Maybe if you have a copy of When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert, you should burn it.  Just sayin’.)

When Helping REALLY Hurts

There is a theory that giving money to homeless people is a waste of money and damaging to those who are given it.  The bum will just use the money for booze or drugs, which is not helpful for needs of food or shelter at all, thus is wasteful and the practice “enables” such poor decisions thus entrenching addicts deeper into despair.

This is not actually a new theory.  My grandparents espoused exactly this concern forty years ago, but there is now a best selling Christian book (several actually) which outlines this process and seeks to address it through various methods of “Christian” ministry.  The book I most often have in mind in this regard is When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert.

I will not deny that there is good evidence for the theory outlined above and championed by Corbett and Fikkert.  If you give money to a bum, odds are very good that they will use it on booze or drugs!

However, that is not the part that is the most damaging.  In this post, I want to very briefly challenge that theory, that book, and the presumptions that accompany them.

WHEN HELPING REALLY HURTS is when you stop giving to the needy out of a worry that you might hurt them.

Let me list just a few of the unintended consequences which inhibiting the almsgiving will have or which arise when you “stop meeting needs” in order to “seek shalom” by giving your money to a charity organization instead of offering the ministry yourself (or as a church).


  •  You (and your church) fail to obey Jesus’s commands, which is a huge problem for anyone seeking shalom! (See Luke 6:30 or Mark 10:21 for instance.)


  •  You create a needless bureaucracy which then siphons off part of the contribution for overhead expenses and sometimes even fraud.


  •  Now instead of “enabling” the bum to buy booze or drugs, you “enable” fraud as the charity executives channel that money to their own use of booze or drugs or anything they desire.  Thus you are complicit with THEFT.  (Don’t think for a minute that this never happens!  Google it and see all the reputable organizations which have made headlines with this issue.)


  •  You “enable” Christians to feel good about their almsgiving without engaging in the ministry (you keep the poor at arm’s length, and not in personal contact with the church – the body of Christ).


  •  You pass judgment on needy people as unworthy of your alms or any free gift while creating a smokescreen of self deceit suggesting that your newfound methods are “effective”.


  •  (If you are in anyway successful with your “effective” charity methods), you create independent people who no longer need you or the love of Christ your church is intended to bring to bear on the world as part of the Gospel mission!  (Independence is not a godly goal!).


Think about it.  There is at least as much damage done trying to avoid doing damage with almsgiving as not.  In fact, far more.  And that concern that a bum will use the money for drugs or alcohol making you complicit in their sin???  Well, go look up Proverbs 31:6-7, and rest easy.  It’s not a problem for the Holy Spirit who inspired every inerrant word of your Bible.  Why should it be for you???


The New Priesthood: Financial Planners

I was born in the late 1960s, right during the most turbulent social upheaval in our nation’s history since the Civil War 100 years before that.  While much, not all, of what I have to say in this post is rather subjective observation, it is, nonetheless, the reflection of an old man who has given quite a lot of sober thought to lifetime of Spiritual formation and church involvement.

The United States emerged from WWII as a world “super power” with all the pride of a world dominating empire.  Those boys who fought that war filtered off the farm to answer their country’s call in unprecedented numbers.  Other neighborhoods too, but those farm boys, in a LOT of cases, had never ventured past the county line of their home farm before answering the call of Uncle Sam and shipping out to the far reaches of the world.

I would ask you to consider the humility inherent in THAT generation, especially going in, that is hard to fathom for those of us born after the Nuclear Age began.  These were church-going people with a strong sense of modesty and humility.  Young people who respected their elders, lived lives of strict discipline, and had survived the utterly humbling experience of the Great Depression personally.

Suddenly those boys returned home men.  And not just men, but world conquering warriors who walked softly and carried a big stick.  Still holding to all the values of their childhood, they now commanded a world forever changed; these people had now seen the world and conquered it earning them the right to say, with Julius Caesar, “We came; we saw; we conquered!”

A strange mix of pride and humility which would give way ever more to pride in the decades to come.

Then they set out to rebuild the world with democratic, Christian, and technological values unprecedented in history.  (Oh, and they made lots of babies too!).

The society that emerged was not nearly so much a farmer’s society anymore, though that earlier generation carried a strong sense of innocence with their sense of freedom and power.  Instead, it became a society of super highways, fast cars, and parades featuring American pride and power.  A society addicted to speed (both metaphorical and narcotic), to mobility and anonymity – a society of Marlboro Men and Stranger(s) With No Name(s).  Rootless yet proud.

I really don’t want to chase those overarching bunnies too far.  Others have pointed these things out before and have done a better job of it that I will.  But I want to say something about the state of “church” which emerged in this new world order too – some things mostly from my own observation.

The church was already splintered long before Gramm and Gramps left the farm in the 1940s, and I presume there was a fair bit of allegiance to each and any given sect offered by the individuals who grew up in them.  Couple that with a much more staunch sense of discipline and respect for authority in those farm kids now grown, and this might seem a bit ironic, but a new brotherhood had emerged too, one that quietly encroached on the allegiances of those protestant splinter groups: A brotherhood in arms.

Flag and apple pie became the new priesthood of the church.

My generation looked back at the tragedy of Viet Nam and the horrors of that war, but there was ever bit as much bloodshed and sacrifice in the World War which preceded it.  Those boys, of the former, came home with a new bond of brotherhood forged in blood, battle, and victory, as opposed to the splintering of the soldier’s psyche and the splintering of our society at the loss of the latter.  It’s my thought that holding this stark difference in contrast at this point helps us to see that the WWII generation’s new found brotherhood which blossomed in so much pride rather than shame very subtly subverted the allegiances to one’s individual religious sect – of one’s individual sense of allegiance to Lord Jesus.  The allegiance one held to their church embodied a sense of history, heritage, and religious authority, all of which still carried weight with that generation, but the allegiance to flag, apple pie and the new found brotherhood in arms was not “other worldly” in nature, rather it was profoundly world ordering for the Nuclear Age.  One had palpable power, the other symbolic.  Thus subversion.

I grew up in the shadow of both generations.  My understanding of the feeling, the vibe, the mentality of church life in the 1950s is characterized with “legalism” that sought to give strength and power to this symbolic shell of authority and power.  Looking back now, I wonder if it didn’t have as much to do with a desperate attempt legitimate a failing system of allegiance and world order as it did with a sense of heritage or morality.  The world was changing, and Jesus was not so much Lord over the Nuclear Age as the Bomb, not in any societal and functional sense.  Power was found in bombs, v-8 engines, and this other, new found brotherhood celebrated in patriotism.  Additionally, fear was found in communism, not in eternal damnation.  And it’s my opinion that running right along such fault lines, Jesus came to hold less and less real lordship over the lives of people in our society.

You could quote Super Man saying “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” and presume that the Bible concurred with it.

The “legalism,” a term I personally find distracting to the faith, and a term used by pop-theologians to denounce the phenom I think I am describing, yet finding biblical underpinnings for it personified in the Pharisees, was more an effort for churches to lay claim to the waning authority of God without calling the bluff on the new found brotherhood which was undermining it.

Pride is like that.

And it goes before the fall.

I will call that period of time where “legalism” reigned a time when lawyers were the new priesthood.  The church was weak, but with this new priesthood at the helm, we could live in denial of that fact.

So, by the time I became a conscious person, a child in grade school, the struggle between “legalism” and grace for the soul of the church was becoming quite prevalent.  It was the church’s sad attempt to be relevant, I think, in an age which found it less and less respectable all the time.  I see this happening in the 1970s.  Eventually the battle was won, in my view (but not with any decisive victory and not without sacrificing too much), by those preaching grace against “legalism.”  And with pockets of resistance remaining, not too ironically (I might add), especially among rural churches (where farm life still prevailed), this state of things gave way to the 1980s when the phrase “Greed is good” came to be a one-liner of note from a hit movie.

The contrast between Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan could hardly be more stark.  Carter, a devout Christian man and husband of one wife who was noted as a farmer in fact, was, and is to this day, a very humble man.  Likewise, his presidency was humble.  However, Ronald Reagan brought to the White House with him a sense that humility itself is actually un-American.  Reagan brought to the surface a sensibility about pride which had been seething beneath the surface for two generations, but which now emerged whole-heartedly and unashamedly.

Under Reagan’s presidency, the stock market took off setting new and unheard of records every year.  Wealth was openly sought after, celebrated, and indulged unapologetically.  Our nation was now pretty much off the farm!  In fact, in the 1980’s the family farm almost became extinct and certainly did suffer massive foreclosures by the banks and became bought up and replaced with corporate farming.  Meanwhile, all the loose morals of the popular culture which exploded on the stage in the 1960’s became more and more normalized, institutionalized, and generally accepted – even increasingly laying claims of entitlement.

Think about that paradox a moment.  Just when the church is being more grace oriented toward moral failings in the larger culture, the family farm is dying, pride and greed are becoming virtues, suddenly leading figures from the Evangelical Movement became politically radicalized.  People who previously had been humble church and farm types suddenly began scrambling toward political partisanship as a means of relevance and power, which otherwise the church seemed to be losing at ever increasing rates.  Ironically, this largely put the church in the pride camp rather than humble.  And the claims of a “Silent Majority” and a “Moral Majority” became the church’s power plays on the national stage.

I find it curious that as so often is the case, the church (at least in America) seems to be one or two steps behind the larger culture – following rather than leading, despite it’s overt efforts to the contrary.  Let me suggest that just when the politics seemed so promising, meanwhile the stock market was broiling as the real power beneath the surface which would emerge soon enough.  Today, the federal government answers to Wall Street, rather than the other way round.  And so does the church.

Nevertheless, I think of this political power grab period of church history is characterized by politicians as the new priesthood.

I think that also, at the same time, especially with all the carnage of Viet Nam, of drugs and war protests, and even addictions to fast cars and raw power which characterized the life of pride the baby boomers and their children engage in, that simultaneously, psychologists and mental therapists also became a new priesthood of the church.  So much of what previously was called sin became disease needing medical and mental health treatment, and so much other things which were previously problematic for a life of faith became virtue instead.  It seemed the way of grace.

The last 30 years have demonstrated the church’s complicity in political power plays.  Even to this day, there is a very palpable sense, certainly in my part of the nation, that the real brotherhood of Christians has little to do with the old demarcations of Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, or even Catholic as much as it does with Republican/conservative politics.  You don’t have to be a Christian to be Republican or conservative, but you are truly an anomaly if you claim to be Christian and are not also Republican and conservative.  And Republican conservatives are in a long running political battle against Democrat/liberals, meaning the church’s allegiance has less to do with Jesus along this line and more to do with political party.

Even more, since the morality of the Republican party has waned with it’s embrace of divorced and remarried leaders, gay and lesbian leaders, even in some enclaves its embrace of abortion rights, so also the church by-n-large has leaned ever more heavily on it’s grace vs. “legalism” past to roll with the larger culture on all fronts as long as they support a conservatism which more and more champions fiscal conservatism and less and less social conservatism.  Again, the church follows the culture rather than subverts or leads it.

And it is this sense of fiscal conservatism which seems to be the true north for the Republicans, the conservatives, and thus the church in our current day and time – or so it appears to me.  Thus, the financial planners are the new priesthood of the church.

For me, this has come home to roost now that the soul of the church deals with those in poverty, looks at the Bible and church history and world history for guidance into the church’s response, but finds that though such authoritative resources all plainly point to our own humility and utterly complicate the embrace of partisan politics we have given our allegiance to elsewhere, that now we are turning to “economic developers” such as Lupton, Corbett, and Fikkert for their expertise in doing the Lord’s bidding rather than to Jesus’s own words.

Yes, the financial planners are the new priesthood of the church, I think, and if my analysis is anywhere near correct, we have much to consider.

Agape Hurts

(Warning: Long post, probably not worth your time.  Nothing to see here folx, just keep on moving….)

I posted recently “Love Hurts” and referenced the song by that title.  I then spent a good deal of that post distinguishing the sentiment of the song from the LOVE of Jesus.  But I endorsed the notion that love does really hurt, though.  The song got that part right, and we need not avoid suffering as we set out in ministry – that would be unloving.  Yet, no doubt the “love” featured in the song is a very selfish parody of the LOVE of Christ.  As for the song, it deals with a romantic kind in particular.

(That really says something.  Don’t you think?  Our culture has totally hijacked the word and thus the meaning of “love,” of which we only have one in the English language.  And while other languages (Greek for instance) use various words for various kinds of “love,” they all are meant to depict  personal care expressed for another, whereas in English the idea that it is a wonderful FEELING fraught with self interest overshadows DARKLY nearly every use of the word.)

So let’s just use that Bible term for the kind of LOVE Jesus offers.  And let’s talk about it again, only now we can move on from the song and maybe dive a little deeper into the LOVE of God.  The question I ask myself going into such a post is this: Can I say something new about Christian LOVE?  Something that hasn’t been said a million times before??  Something more than just a “reminder” for God’s people???

(I don’t want to overly disparage the notion of “good reminders” from God’s Word, for sometimes we need them, but I find the phrase “good reminders” to be a handy cliché Christians use (and overuse) so as to be nice to a presenter while going on to ignore the presentation, and that is kind of a pet peeve, if ever I had one.)

So when I claim that God’s LOVE, the Agape he offers us and calls us to, is self-sacrificial and not so much a FEELING (though that might sometimes be involved) as it is a commitment to act selflessly in the interest of others, I don’t think I am saying anything you haven’t heard before.  And when I get into the very common examination of phileo and eros by way of contrast, I figure I am really saying more of the same thing you heard last time you studied Agape.  And if you really NEED the reminder, well… I don’t want to deprive you, but I am betting you probably need a wake up call instead.

The Bible is not exactly a rule book, though it has rules in it, nor is it merely a reference book, though even the Bible refers to itself frequently, and rather than ironing out all these matters, I will presume you can think your way through them sufficiently on your own, but I expect my acknowledgment of such things will help you trust that I am aware of such matters too.  Hopefully you can trust that the things I actually do offer are offered with sensitivities to such complexities.

So what does the Bible actually teach about Agape?  Where in the Bible and how might we engage those teachings?

At this point, for the purposes of a single blog post, I must be selective.  I could right a series of very long posts on this topic and still not exhaust it.  And so I will be frank at this point about the fact that I will make my offerings all oriented toward the church vis-à-vis the poor and needy.  This blog is already geared that way, and so I will select a handful of biblical teachings which I believe help us with this one particular slice of the overall subject.  Thus I make no claim to be exhaustive or to cover every contingency.  I won’t even try to be unbiased.  But with these things in mind, let us look through the Fat Beggars School of Prophets lens at Agape and the hurt we find in it.

I hope by focusing here in this way to say something new (not new as opposed to never heard before, but new as opposed to more of the same old thing).

No doubt the premier expression of the Agape of God is found in Jesus Christ – in his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.  Jesus is the LAST Adam (some people mistakenly call him the “second Adam,” however that is not actually what St. Paul calls him) and as the LAST Adam, he answers completely all the questions and problems posed by the FIRST.  Both Adams receive dominion and rule and a wife, both Adams are naked and unashamed, both Adams encounter a Tree of Life, both Adams experience a deep sleep and divine rib surgery, both Adams inaugurate and rule over new creations.  But whereas the FIRST Adam rebels against God in self interest, the LAST Adam rules in completely selfless Agape.  And these Adams bookend/frame all the Adams that come in between whether Noah, Abraham, or any other Adams (men) of God.

EVERYTHING we learn from the Bible points us to Jesus, and EVERYTHING we learn from Jesus points us to his coronation and subsequent Kingdom rule.  Nothing in the Bible contradicts this, and if it seems to on the surface, that is evidence we haven’t understood that bit which seems out of place.

All through every word of what I have offered so far, yet without coming out and saying it bluntly, is the idea of SUFFERING.  Jesus SUFFERS his rule over creation, the FIRST Adam does not.  The FIRST Adam doesn’t SUFFER one blooming thing when he sins, but he perceives that he might be SUFFERING lack of glory for his own name, for himself.  It was not true, but he perceived it.  Such is the devil’s lie.  And in perceiving it, he grasped at deity, to contrast St. Paul’s description of Jesus, and then actually did SUFFER the very thing he should have feared.  Jesus, on the other hand, emptied himself and embraced massive, soul-crushing SUFFERING, not in some masochistic fetish, but in LOVE and thus attained the name above all names AND launched a New Creation characterized by selfless Agape.


By saying anything more, I might (as I hope) fill out a much more meaningful, robust, and applicable lesson on Agape, one that impacts the church’s relationship with the poor, but I also, and at GREAT RISK, really might just do damage to the perfection already explored thus far.  I will tread carefully as I can from here on, but I will also suggest to any readers that…

This is a good point to stop reading this.  IF you are reading only half heartedly anyway, skimming and thinking this is getting needlessly long, THEN


No real need to read any further, and the risk outweighs the benefit.

I know you said I can scream at the top of my voice, that you are not listening to me.  You actually used those words with me.  I am fully aware that you have dug in your heels, turned the cold shoulder to me, and you have circled the wagons in an effort to keep me out, to keep me unheard.  But I keep thinking that somewhere in that life God gave you is a heart of flesh instead of stone and that sooner or later you will find enough conviction to listen, really listen, and I HOPE that when that time comes I offered to you some reasonable thoughts that will help you find your way out of the spiritual cul de sac you find yourself stuck in with your wagons all circled and everything. (Yes, you know who you are.)

God help us.

Agape is a SELFLESS LOVE.  A self-sacrificial care and interest in an OTHER.  A care which holds the interests of the OTHER above our own, whether personally and individually or systemically.  This goes for me/you and us/them.  The first and greatest command is to Agapao God, and the second is to Agapao our neighbor.  It starts with God and quickly moves to OTHERS.  In a nutshell, this is the battle cry of Kingdom Come: Love God and Love Others – with self-sacrificial Agape LOVE.  NOTHING in God’s Word contradicts this.

And all through Scripture, the poor and needy are featured as those of highest concern for God.  In fact, from very early on, God’s own chosen people fall headlong into this category in various ways depending on just which generation we are talking about, but the most premier expression of this comes fulling into focus in Egypt where God’s people are enslaved for over 400 years and killed in a systematic genocide.

It appears, when you stand back and look at the forest and not so much the trees, that God fixes his people THERE, situates them THERE, so that when he saves them the impact he makes on them and on their culture, the empowerment of the prolonged death they experienced there, will be everlasting and POWERFUL with hope like we find in no other people.  And one of the key things God says to them after saving them is, “Remember when you were [needy]…” (Deut. 15:15; 24:18-20).

We might say God has a “good reminder” for us in our Bible study: Remember when you were a no-good bum.  Remember when you were needy.  Remember when I emptied you of all deity, meaning, and life itself, and then imprinted My image on you and tented My Spirit among you….  (or something like that).

This “good reminder” becomes a regular starting place for any study of how we deal with the poor.

I will contrast this with the experiences I have found over the last decade in the church.  The work I was involved in at Vandelia Church almost 15 years ago now was groping our way deeper into the lives of the poor neighborhood around us, getting us deeper and deeper into self-sacrifice, and starting to feel rather overwhelming.  Perhaps we should have studied a series of lessons on “Remember when you were bums in need” as a good starting point for how to forward.  That would have been more appropriately biblical, but instead we began pointing out that we keep seeing the same faces in the ministry office every week and every month, that they never seem to get any better. that these poor people just continue to be a drain on our good graces, on our precious resources, and that we might be doing more harm than good.  We started talking about helping “these people” rather than “enabling” them so that they can become “independent” and … and … and what?  Go away???  All independent and everything???  Was that biblical???

Where did these notions come from?

Where in the Bible do we find God saying, “Do this right, and the poor you will no longer have with you”???

Where in the Bible do we find God saying, “Give a ‘hand up’ rather than a ‘hand out'” or “empower instead of enable” or “the goal is to make ‘these people’ become ‘independent’ and self reliant”???

Got a verse???

Even in the few places where I have found passages which COULD, given they are lifted out of the biblical context, LEND weight to some of that kind of thinking, I find that they are still overwhelmed by the more weightier passages that describe God’s Kingdom Rule with Agape LOVE that is characterized with self sacrifice.  And those passages are all over the place!  Not just a few obscure passages, but powerful passages everywhere I look and all pointing to Jesus on a cross!!!

Good Sam

As we said above, the Kingdom Come can be summed up in the commands to LOVE God and LOVE your neighbor.  One of the most famous passages of Scripture comes into view on that very idea, AND takes center stage when the lawyer asks Jesus that deadly question meant to “test” him:  “And who is my neighbor?”

And Jesus then sets out a story, a parable, intended to convict your heart and to indict God’s people who covertly smuggle their self interests into the Kingdom Come.  And in the midst of it, we get SOME idea of what that Agape LOVE for the poor and needy looks like.  I don’t claim it is a one-size-fits-all, point-for-point, how-to formula, but since it falls in the middle of a scene taking center stage right at the point where Jesus talks about the summary commands of Kingdom Come, we should consider carefully ANY variation we might want to take.

The priest and the Levite both find self interest (smoke-screened as God’s interest) more important than that of this needy brother.  They are on their way to “church,” we might say.  But the “good Samaritan,” as we like to call him, demonstrates Agape LOVE characteristic of God’s Kingdom Come in all the risk and expense he SUFFERS and pours out on this needy fellow man.  He will not see that money again, and there is no guarantee that all this money, time, and effort will have any kind of ROI to speak of.  And in so doing, so many norms, values, mores, social boundaries, and taboos are shattered and pulverized that to take Jesus seriously with this story is to be stunned.  This is NOT how our world operates.  We are not USED to this.  And that is putting it mildly.

The question was about who the neighbor is, and the answer is revealed in the Agape described.  The neighbor was the one who showed Agape, not the one who was most like us nor the ones who were too busy going to church to stop and help.  And the Agape shown was, as is very characteristic all through the Bible, shown to a NEEDY person.

Remember when you were NEEDY, says God to the Hebrews.  It’s a “good reminder” for us today too.

Feel me yet???

The Parable of the Wasted Cash that only “Enabled”

The other famous and most central story in the Bible we need to look at is the Prodigal Son.  Again, we have a NEEDY person, only in this case it’s a NEEDY person who in no way deserves ANY kindness or Agape.  This is a person who is given good, hard-earned money, and then goes off and spends it on booze!

To be completely accurate, we don’t know all the nasty stuff this son spends the money on, but booze, women, and loose livin’ appear to pretty well sum it up.  The main difference here is that this boy spends his father’s money, his whole inheritance!  It’s a tragic waste of a LOT more than the five dollars you had to spare in your pocket, a LOT more than the hundred dollars to keep his lights and heat on, and in fact a LOT more that paying off his gambling debt.  This was a colossal wast of precious, hard-earned resources, AND, to top it off, the request the boy makes is an utter insult to his father – effectively telling the old man to go drop dead!  Not one ounce of gratitude.

But this boy is the object of his father’s suffering LOVE, and in this story, the father very much represents God himself!  There is no speech, not moralizing, no verifying, and no concern about where the money will be spent or whether this grace will “enable” the boy to live an unproductive lifestyle.  That’s a foregone conclusion; it does!

And when the boy comes back expecting that IF his father is really, really gracious with him, he just MIGHT allow him to WORK for his charity.  A rehabilitative work program???

But the father ain’t havin’ it.

The father wants, more than anyting, to LOVE this boy and to demonstrate it with a party!  Meanwhile, both the boy and the father suffer so much loss just to get this LOVE shown.  So much loss SUFFERED that it becomes a problem for the older brother!  The one who does not waste his inheritance but rather works for it honestly every day.  And in THIS narrative, he is the one out of kilter with God’s Agape!

Though to my knowledge it is no where mentioned in connection to this parable, it nevertheless would SEEM that this father heeds the good reminder God gives his people in Deuteronomy 15 and 24.  I have no doubt the God who this father represents remembers when his people were slaves and needy!  He remembers when his son could only crawl and not walk, and remembering this vulnerability, he has deep compassion and Agape for the NEEDY boy.

If you are going to bring God’s Agape to bear in his hurting creation, then you must accept that it involves SUFFERING.  Agape hurts.  And these two most famous of parables don’t hold a candle to the self sacrificial LOVE of God we see in his crucifixion, which colors EVERYTHING else we believe and say.

So, let us put away every cumbersome economic development strategy, every psycho-babble concern for “enabling,” and every avoidance of SUFFERING so that we can embrace, receive, and administer the Agape of God.


I Repent

My story needs to remain confidential.  And even though I strongly doubt anyone in the know would read it here, I will take care to tell my story in such a way as to skew a few of the facts (not the pertinent ones though) and obscure the identities of all involved (except God, assuming he is involved).

Several years ago, I was invited by a church to join a leadership team which was going to pray carefully and seek God’s guidance for the future of our little congregation.  It was truly a great honor to be invited to participate, and this church was an exciting and dynamic group to be involved with already.  So I was absolutely thrilled to join it.

In some respects, this was a highlight of my career.  Soon I found my own input rising up as some of the more influential parts our group worked with.  I will not describe the details of it here, but I will say that I have rarely had such impactful influence with church leaders as I did in that group at that time.  And this was a very official, well developed group which had been prayed into existence many months before I was even invited to join it.  And I believe the work we did set the agenda for that church for at least the following decade.

I have to presume that last bit, actually, since I moved away a year later.  But as I recall it, our team of leaders were very spiritual, biblical, careful and eager to seek God’s plans.  We were right at the nub of the most important work and decisions church leadership ever makes.  Only two of us were paid staff, but the rest of the group were all either studying Bible at the local university or had just graduated, and so we were a young group which submitted to the oversight and blessing of the elders at a much more mature church across town.

Have I made clear just how exciting this was?  Just how special it was?  Just how important it was?

But it was in “invitation only” group.

To my knowledge, it was two or three of the founding members of this church that spent months (maybe a year) praying about even forming this group and about who would be invited to join.  I do not recall now the number of individuals who actually formed it when it was finally complete, but I figure it was close to a dozen.  However, I recall that the invitation initially asked us candidates to pray about whether God really wanted us to accept the invitation too.  So we each spent, oh, I don’t recall exactly, but maybe a week or a month praying about whether we should join the team.  The founders wanted us to verify if God had called us to join.

Once the team was established, our first meeting we was a pizza party to celebrate our inauguration as a leadership team.  Everything was perfect, it seemed at first, except one thing.

As I stated above, our church was mostly very young.  Almost no one was yet 30 years old.  I was among the oldest in the church, though we had maybe five individuals quite a bit older than me.

There was this one couple in the late-middle age range who had joined our church a year or so prior and had proved to be very eager to participate and serve in multiple capacities.  The husband, it seemed, might have had some experience in ministry.  However, whether he did or not, he was a life long student of Bible and knew it well.  Yet there was no sense of scholarship about him.  He had the personality of a farmer, and a colloquial wit to match.

The man’s wife was full-bore country-bumpkin.  I don’t want to say she was a simpleton, but that would likely be your first impression.

Both people were dedicated to the cause, and had proven it time and again long before this leadership team was formed.  Backbone of the church kind of people.  People we all leaned on a little.  People who got things done, first to arrive/last to leave, all with a smile on their face and eager to do more.  People who, well the man at least, could lead a prayer, teach a class, and not afraid to speak up, but there was no sense of suave about them.

What can I say?

The husband was invited and accepted the invitation, but the wife was not invited, and no one expected her to participate.

It just so happens that my wife was also not invited.  However, my wife would have turned it down if she had been.  Yet in the case of the other couple, this lack of invitation was seen as hurtful.

We were an exclusive group, as I was learning on the spot.

Our inaugural meeting and party was deeply damaged by the hurt feelings this woman expressed when she showed up with her husband expecting us to just let her participate too.  Her mere presence alone, but especially her expression of hurt feelings, rained on our parade!

In fact, as I recall it, quite a stink was raised by this couple when she was asked to leave.  Voices were raised and trembled.  Feelings were hurt.  The policy by which this group was called into existence was recited repeatedly… even desperately I would say.  For certainly the lack of sophistication this couple demonstrated, especially the wife, was NOT cited as a reason, not even mentioned, but I kept feeling in my guts that was the REAL reason she was not invited too.  I mean, there were women on the team, but every last one of them was young, educated, and pretty (which didn’t hurt).  This woman was a full member of the church in good standing, but there were all THESE ways she did not fit with the new leadership team.

In fact, even though in the heat of the moment (in the heat of the whole month this remained an ongoing controversy) I couldn’t see clearly enough to put my finger on it, but I myself figured that at root her lack of schmoose was not only the real and unspoken reason, but maybe even a good one!

Our church had a leadership made up of budding professionals, but the majority of the body of our church was constituted by children from the “other side of the tracks” and drug addicts, ex-cons, and people trying to recover from such lifestyles with a fair number of interested and like-minded college kids.  We were not exactly a PROUD bunch, except for us erudite university students and recent grads.  Honestly, the lady fit in with the rest of the body quite nicely!  I figure now that I am older and wiser and this far removed that really might have been a big reason that couple felt drawn to our church to begin with.

But here we had this little leadership team, a brand new team, and it was going to be exclusive and powerful among our membership, and this lady wanted in on it, but she was rejected instead, and the only reason I can figure is that either God just really didn’t want her (thus the invitation so “bathed in prayer” was not extended to her) or she just didn’t fit with the social vibe of the insiders.  Her husband was barely a fit, and perhaps in all that praying that this group originated from, his invitation was really a bone thrown to that dog in hopes to keep sleeping dogs lying down.

(Would God answer the prayers that way???)

At any rate, she was rejected.  It caused a lot of hard feelings.  And those of us on the team that managed to emerge from the scandal and go on wound up spending time with the elders from our sponsor church praying even more about it.  I think we all felt deeply shook by the scandal.  We needed reassurance, and I recall the older shepherd giving it out to us like candy to kids trick-or-treating.  We all bemoaned the loss of this couple, but they had not been “God’s answer” to the prayer.  Wonderful people, of course, but then their reaction to it kinda showed, in the ultimate reality, why they weren’t called – at least why the woman wasn’t.  She was not actually mature leadership material.


That thought really felt good to absorb.  It really relieved a lot of anxiety about the rejection she suffered at our hands.

And through it all, no one ever smeared her, called her dumb, hayseed, dimwit or anything of the sort.  She just couldn’t handle the level of responsibility we were all called to deal with, and it showed, but we didn’t need to belittle her for it.  We just needed to LET HER GO… assuming she would take the rejection to heart and really just GO AWAY.  And her husband with her, which, as I recall it, they did.

Whew!  Now we could get on with God’s work!!  Yay!!!

So we got off to this rocky start, but with that ugliness behind us, we could get down to business leading the Lord’s church.  We went on to do great things for God.

And I do not in anyway mean to disparage any of the work we produced after that.  It was some of the finest work I personally ever professionally produced and shared it with some of the finest church leaders I ever had the pleasure of working with too.  It is the kind of thing that looks really good on my resume, the kind of thing future employers could look into and get some very positive feedback about me!

In time, none of us talked about the scandal anymore.  And in fact in the decades now since that time, I have never discussed this incident again with anyone.

But I want to say now, after all the growth and experience I have developed in over time, I know what it is like to be the kook church leaders think is beneath their contempt while in no way acknowledging that as a problem.  I am the hayseed, the dimwit, the curmudgeon, … the prophet.

And I don’t see, come to think of it, what would have been so damaging by accepting that lady’s input.  I am mindful that everyone was encouraged to offer their best in that group.  In fact, we viewed it as a sign from God that the fact that a team member was even on the team meant that God wanted them to share their expertise, their insight, their utmost for his highest.  AND I am remembering that lots of good thinking and ideas were expressed by lots of very qualified people which wound up on the editing room floor, so to speak.  Much of my own input rose to the top of the heap and was put into practice!  I excelled where that lady was rejected!

And if I had it to do again, I would not reject her.  I would advocate for keeping her.  I would even give up my seat at the table and let her have it.

I am sorry.  I am sorry I did not do that.

I repent.

“I’ll Have What She’s Having!”

I am not a big fan of “chick flicks” generally.  Romantic comedy is not my USUAL genre of movie enjoyment.  (And I like movies!)  But there is one HUGE exception, in my list of favorite movies: 1989’s When Harry Met Sally.

This is all the more an anomaly since the movie is such an overt exploration of casual sex, which I do not advocate in the slightest.  The plot, the language, the worldview portrayed, not to mention the genre, all make a perfect recipe for me to leave it alone.  But the acting is good, and the zingers and one-liners are brilliant… and… and then there is that most perfect comedic scene where Meg Ryan, sitting opposite Billy Crystal in a restaurant surrounded by the anonymous, restaurant-eating public enjoying a fine meal, fakes an orgasm and draws the attention of everyone in the place, then suddenly stops and goes back to eating as if this were normal conversation.  And then the lady at the next table tells the waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having!

I’m sorry for this guilty pleasure, but that is absolutely hilarious, comic genius, and Rob Reiner casts his own mom in the role of the lady delivering this line for the cinematic ages!

The whole scene is just so daring, so jarring, so funny!  It’s like nothing else.  A moment of cinematic history in a class all by itself!

What starts off looking to all the world like a simple meal shared by two anonymous faces in a crowded restaurant among other faces sharing other meals all among themselves suddenly turns into the MEAL of all meals!  The motherload of comedy and laughter, of delight and thrill.  And the other diners can’t help but notice.  In fact the thrill of THIS meal interrupts their meals, and the lady at the next table daringly expresses her jealousy for THIS meal!

This meal shows up all the others!  All these anonymous faces choosing items off the same menu and indulging in the glorified calories for daily sustenance which they pay for and leave a tip for, suddenly realize that over at THAT TABLE, that lady is having a PARTY, a very intimate and glorious PARTY!  She is practically naked and unashamed about it.  Her meal is getting her SOUL’s NEED MET!!!  And the lady at the next table wants in on that!

Does any of this sound like another meal you PARTAKE in?

Or NOT???

What about the meal Jesus gives us?

Does he not share it with his Bride?  Is not THIS marriage the TRUTH against which all others are pretenders at best???  Does THIS intimate party not cast all the casual sex in the world in the light and show it to be a fools parody of TRUE LOVE?

So why is it that the church reduces this meal to a pinch of cracker, a thimble of grape juice, and a somber moment of quiet reflection?  Is that REALLY the meal we eat with the Bridegroom???

Or is something wrong with this picture?

And why, if THIS MEAL is so good, are there not people at the next table, suddenly feeling jealous of us?  And why are we not sharing it with THEM?

Think about it.

I don’t know about you, but “I’ll have what she’s having!”

Somebody preach THAT!


Compassion without a charge

It is so very refreshing to find people willing to speak up for the voiceless – even when those addressed by it are God’s people. Thanx for posting this!

Church of Lilith


These are words that many people who claim to be followers of Jesus like to use to describe their faith. These are beautiful words but rarely do they accurately reflect the modern Christians actions in this world. When the average christian is presented with a person who has less in a financial capacity, such as a homeless person begging for change does that christian look the beggar in the eye, acknowledge a sense of kinship with their fellow human and give what they have or do they ignore the human within this need, shrouding the individual in terms like addict, dirty, jailbird, or lazy? Why is it that those who claim Christ as their Lord and Savior assume a superiority over the homeless? The Biblical character Jesus didn’t have a fixed address or income and he did not look down on those who had even less than…

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The Prodigal Son Kidnapped In LUBBOCK, TEXAS

I went to church Sunday, the same church that has so thoroughly shunned me.  The church in which the small group that used to meet in my home organized against me to disappear like a fart in the wind.  (No.  Really!  Just when I was expecting people to show up for the regular meeting, no one did, and despite the fact that my name had long been included in the email circular, I was not notified but apparently every last one of that group was except me, because NO ONE showed up at my place even by mistake.)  The church where the shepherd told me that I can “scream at the top of my voice” yet they “will not listen to me.”

Yeah.  That one.  I went there Sunday for worship.

And though my attention was quite divided between the sermon and my unruly children, I managed to catch a fair bit of it.  The topic?  The Prodigal Son.  It was part of a series “we call ‘Belong'” in which on this particular Sunday, the flunky preacher gave the homily since the senior preaching minister was out of town (I think).

Now, I gotta say:

The preaching where I go to church is generally really good.  The flunkies are the weakest link in our preaching program usually, and still they do a pretty good job of it, in my estimation.  I will divulge that even though I did not major in homiletics, I have coursework at both the undergrad and grad level under my belt, so I have read and practiced the discipline some.  Thus I have somewhat of a trained ear in such matters, and I can be, and usually am, a bit critical of what I hear.

This is not to be confused with the hill-billy-ish critique I grew up with when I was young and would hear my grandpa and my older cousin listen to preachers on TV and then critique how doctrinally sound (or rather unsound) those presentations were.  No.  I was trained by our senior preaching minister too.  I know SOME of what he teaches, and have the critical ear to hear whether a presenter is adhering to those teachings or not.

There is no doubt that Sunday’s presenter handled both the text and the sermon in ways I would not.  In fact some of his subpoints and illustrations I could almost object to outright.  But his overall point was really good, even if he failed to support it skillfully – point being, I could be nit-picky with the guy, but I am jumping past that with my main gripe here today.  Instead of looking at the homiletical missteps our preacher made, I want to look at the BIG PICTURE a moment.


The series is about BELONGING.  Many good statements were made about belonging to this assembly.  Gracious statements which depict the LOVE of God for each one of us, no matter how much we may struggle with even believing that God would want us.

Got sin?  You belong here!

Struggling with doubt??  You BELONG HERE!!

Feel beat up by the world or by life???  YOU BELONG HERE!!!

These are not exact quotes, but I trust they represent accurately (maybe even better than originally spoken) the sentiment and invitation the speaker wanted us to hear, AND I whole heartedly concur with the notion!

And then he launched into his homiletical analysis of The Prodigal Son, a boy who so deeply and utterly did not deserve to belong with his family in his father’s house, but who, based on no merit of his own, was welcomed back home and to a PARTY of celebration so completely by the father who LOVEs his son anyway.

Good stuff!


I thought so.

Just one problem.

Despite the fact that a huge push was made at the opening of the sermon to make each and everyone one of us in attendance feel, sense, KNOW that we BELONG HERE, I kept thinking: yeah… everyone except me!  I am the one shunned, scolded, and abandoned by the leadership of this assembly!

And why?

Was it on account of my asking my father for my inheritance even before he is dead?

Was it on account of the way I spent the money??

Was it because of all the loose living???

I mean, The Prodigal Son openly betrayed his father, lassoed him into supporting his own betrayal, AND lived an utterly immoral life unworthy of his father’s name!  But he was welcomed back with open arms! (and a party!).

What did I do that was so bad???

I confronted this assembly and the leaders there about teaching the church NOT to give to the poor and went on to insist that we actually OPEN OUR DOORS to those beggars, bums, and prophets on the streets of Lubbock who did exactly the kind of thing The Prodigal Son did.  And I even said it is appropriate to throw them a PARTY!!!

But my suggestion that we throw them a party was ridiculed.

And in THAT BIG PICTURE I have some REAL GRIPES with the sermon.

Here’s the thing (and it’s a phenom I am discovering is fairly common across the Christian world):  We preach good sermons.  In fact usually the sermons are a LOT better than this one last Sunday.  And they frequently portray God’s endless LOVE for the poor, the needy, the downtrodden and even support the idea that we as a Body of Christ are intended to be open armed to such lost souls!

But the moment we step back from the worship hour and break up into our small groups and Bible classes, or even just go our separate ways to our individual homes, we totally discount every ounce of that message which was so skillfully and beautifully preached.

I think the church has kidnapped the Prodigal Son.

Wonder if there is a ransom note.

Theological HOSPITALITY (Quoting Arthur Sutherland)

It was almost a year ago when a reader on this blog left a comment suggesting I read Arthur Sutherland’s small book called I Was A Stranger: A Christian Theology of Hospitality.  That book sparked a very important effort at research into biblical hospitality on my part.

Personally, in my view, Sutherland’s book is not the most important work I found, but it does offer a different kind of framework for thinking about Christian hospitality and it’s role in the church and in God’s mission for saving the world and especially all of these things with regard to the poor and needy from any I found in church or Bible class.  That alone is invaluable, I think, but then there are the powerful nuggets of insight he offers along the way. (The book does have some of those too!)

I want to quote the last two paragraphs off the last two pages from Sutherland here.  The way he sums up his book is heartfelt, deep, and meaningful to say the least.  Let’s give him a listen:

It is convicting to me that the Gospel writers used the rare word splagchnizomai to describe what Jesus felt when he encountered those on the margins (Matthew 20:34; Mark 1:41; 8:2; Luke 7:13).  Greek speakers understood the word to mean “to be moved as to one’s bowels.”  We would speak of “a feeling in the gut,” but it is difficult to give an adequate translation of the word.  Jesus uses it once in speaking about forgiveness (the parable of the unforgiving servant, Matthew 18:21) and, significantly, twice in parables associated with hospitality (the good Samaritan and the prodigal son).  More broadly, the Gospel writers want us to see that Jesus took into himself the pain and “dis-ease” of those on the borders of life.  In this age where feeling another’s pain is either a tagline of the trite or mimicry of the mightless, we cannot let compassion become casual.

I once saw a picture of a young hitchhiker as she stood on the island of a busy street.  Tall and gaunt, she bore the weary expression that we so often see carried by those who feel themselves on the margins of life.  Clumped beside her feet were her bound possessions that appeared as rumpled as what she wore.  All of this was, unfortunately, rather ordinary.  Folk of her band are as common as the cars that passed her by.  What made the picture compelling was the sign she held.  Written on a piece of cardboard was a single word Anywhere.  She asked not for Los Angeles, New York, or Miami.  She asked not for home or to be taken away from home.  All of this was a road to far.  She simply asked, dare I say begged, to be taken not away, but in.  If this is the case, that she wanted to be taken in and not just away, then she represents those who Jesus calls us to see.  Hospitality is the practice by which the church stands or falls.


Arthur Sutherland

I Was A Stranger: A Christian Theology of Hospitality

Abingdon Press


pages 82-83