“First Things First”

first-things-first“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” —1 Corinthians 3:11

My secular friends sometimes ask me, “Why the church?”

I hear myself come up with different answers at different times. “Because of the community.” They say, “Couldn’t you just join a book group?”

“Because of the morality and ethics, and the passion for justice.” They say, “There are lots of decent, ethical, moral people outside the church.”

They are quite right. There are many groups that do many of the things the church does, and some of them do it better. I think Twelve-Step programs often foster better community and personal transformation than the church does.

I think many organizations working for peace and justice, and for protecting the environment, are better organized and more efficient than the church in doing this vital work.

And I admit that the church can be a maddening place, slow-footed for needed change, too often liberal on matters that should be conserved, and conservative about things that should be shaken up. My love for the church is not blind.

But my best answer to the question, “Why the church?” is simply, “Jesus Christ.” He is the one unique, distinctive thing that the church has that nobody else does. I find that after a lifetime in the church the compelling figure of Jesus Christ in all his complexity and incomprehensibility still engages me deeply.

Paul knew this when he employed a building metaphor to say that Christ is the only foundation on which the church can rest. Without Christ the church risks becoming a religious voluntary association with a big list of good causes. The truth is that Christ is the “why” for those causes.

“Why the church?” Jesus Christ is the “why!”

Prayer: Always keep your church, O God, on the solid foundation that you have laid for us in your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotional for February 19, 2017. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here.)

“Childlike not Childish!”

astonish-us“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the realm of God as a little child will never enter it.”—Luke 18:17

Have you ever noticed that the adjectives “childish” and “childlike,” which have pretty much the same definition, carry very different connotations? Continue reading

“Displaced Persons” A Sermon on Jeremiah 29: 1-14

jeremiah“Home Sweet Home.” “Home is where the heart is.” “There’s no place like home.” But what if you must leave your home? What if you find yourself far from home?  I want to explore the theme of “home and exile.”

 We will look at an important letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the exiles in Babylon. It is a letter of hope and comfort to people who have lost their homes, whose lives have been turned upside down. They are dislocated, displaced persons. I think the letter has things to say to us in our time. Continue reading

“From Generation to Generation”

14947950_10153991262146787_2996963739551176385_n“One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” —Psalm 145:4

I treasure my faith in God, but faith hasn’t always been easy for me and I don’t take it for granted. It never stops being something of a mystery to me.

But one thing I do know about faith is that you don’t come to it alone. And by faith I don’t mean just belief in a set of doctrines, but deep trust that God is real and good and loving. Continue reading

“The Time of Trial” A Daily Devotional on Luke 22:39-40

and-still-he-loved-them“Jesus came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’” —Luke 22:39-40

Since I was a child I have prayed the line from the Lord’s Prayer “lead us not into temptation.” Too often my “temptations” have been of the trivial sort, such as whether to eat that second cupcake. My mother liked to quote New Yorker writer Alexander Woollcott, “All the things I really like to do are either illegal, immoral, or fattening.”

But the newer translation of this line is “save us from the time of trial,” which echoes Jesus’s words here to the disciples. Continue reading

“Turning the World Upside Down”

“When the mob could not find Paul and Silas, they dragged some believers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.’” Acts 17:6

WorldPaul and Silas got in big trouble in Thessalonica. Paul preached for several days, explaining that Jesus was the Messiah and that he had to suffer and die. Many listeners were convinced and followed them.

But there was backlash. Luke writes, “They formed a mob and set the city in an uproar.” They said, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.”

They didn’t mean it as a compliment, but “turning the world upside down” is exactly what the Good News about Jesus did that day. Continue reading

“Rich in Things and Poor in Soul” A Sermon on Luke 12:13-21

self storageI don’t know about you, but I have too much stuff. Eleven years ago we moved from a sixteen-room house (a big old parsonage) to an eight-room house. Before we moved we had a huge yard sale. Still, it was a good two years before we could put both our cars into the two-car garage. This may sound like what my daughter calls a “first world-problem,” and it is!

We Americans have too much stuff, and it is not good for our souls. I grew up in a middle-class American family of five. We had a one-level ranch house with three bedrooms, two of them very small, with small closets. My brother and I shared a bunk bed. We had a one-car garage. Our house was built on a concrete slab, so there was no basement. We had an attic, just a crawl space, and my Dad had to climb up there every year to get the Christmas tree stand. Not much room to store stuff.

How things have changed! Look at the four square feet around you. That is the per-capita share of the American self-storage industry, according to the Self-Storage Association, a trade group. They say that “the country now possesses some 1.875 billion square feet of personal storage. All this space is contained in nearly 40,000 facilities owned and operated by more than 2,000 entrepreneurs, including a handful of publicly traded giants like Public Storage, Storage USA, and Shurgard.” (From Slate, “Self-Storage Nation” by Tom Vanderbilt) Continue reading