They’re Kicking Jesus Out of the Church … Well at Least the Senior Adult Version of Him

I think probably everyone who will read my post knows this but I am going to say it anyhow just in case. I pastor a small church that is primarily made up of younger people. There are a few of us older people there but not a ton. I say this because I think it is important to be upfront about the congregation I am honored to lead before I write what I am about to write.

There is a church in Minnesota that has basically asked its senior adults to stop attending and that is awful.

I’ll admit I’ve oversimplified the situation but I believe it is the practical implication. I don’t know this church or the people in it, and there may be more to this story, but from the initial reports the church leadership’s action have, for all intents and purposes, asked the senior adults, that primarily made up the attendance of this church, to stop attending for the next two years. The Grove United Methodist Church in Minnesota is trying to restart one of its campuses and has asked the 25 present members, most of whom are senior adults, to go somewhere else for the next couple of years, and then to reapply to come back in. To quote the article.

The church wants to attract more young families. The present members, most of them over 60 years old, will be invited to worship somewhere else. A memo recommends that they stay away for two years, then consult the pastor about reapplying.

You can read the full article HERE.

I get it to some degree. It is hard to revive a church. Sometimes the established culture can make it all the more difficult. Also young churches often seem fun and attractive. But I don’t think such realities justify these actions, and I fear the message the actions may convey is the opposite of the gospel.

The Church Is The Household of God

I am convinced that we need all age groups in our churches and those age groups need to purposefully mingle with one another. The church is the family of God (Ephesians 2:19-20). A household, specifically a household in the Ancient Near East, is made of up different age groups. Grandparents and grand kids would have been regularly involved in each other’s lives. Our modern Western concept of the nuclear family didn’t exist. Multiple generations lived in a household and they each offer and received from the other generations. They were their own mutual aide society. Thus why scripture again and again speaks of the church taking care of two of the most at risk groups in the Ancient Near East. Widows and orphans.

Widows and orphans were in great danger because they didn’t have a family structure to depend upon and to offer their own help to. Unlike the rest of the world in the church there were no longer any widows and orphans because those who had been widows and orphans suddenly found that they had lots of family within the church that they could depend upon and also to whom they could offer their own support. Thus James writes (James 1:27) “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. ” Family takes care of family (or at least it is supposed to do so).

Our “widows and orphans” may be different now, but our need for family isn’t. There are still things in our lives that far too easily drop through the cracks without family. Couples struggling with marriage, individuals worrying about money, coupled parents and single parents worried about how to raise their kids, kids struggling with their home life, etc. etc. etc. We may enjoy hanging out with people that are the same as us in age and other demographics, but we need family who are in different situations than we are. They are the ones who can say “I’ve been there, I know it is rough”, or “Don’t worry I have enough energy to rake that yard.” It takes a village and when the church operates in the manner that I believe Jesus wants His bride to operate the “village” is helped by and helps all the various groups that make her up, because, as I wrote earlier, family takes care of family.

Paul wrote, ” Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Not to take care of your own family is to have “denied the faith”! The church is full of brothers, sisters, older aunts & uncles, and young nieces and nephews … or at least it should be. To chase our spiritual grandparents out because they don’t convey the youthful image that will attract new people very well might deny the faith the church is supposedly trying to live.

Denying the Faith

It is not just that this church may have thrown their “widows” into the cold, but that by doing so they may be restarting the church in a manner that actually denies the faith. It isn’t even just this church. So many churches have followed the same model and setup up a service to meet the need that will attract, rather than establishing a household that will take care of one another. Even churches that try to meet the needs of all ages often segregate every age. Our kids don’t know any senior adults in our churches because they never see them. The church is supposed to be the household of God.

A community to take care of the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40, 45) and be taken care of by those same “least of these”. Thus our children, a group utterly without resources, become our examples of faith, and the need of the widow in the Ancient Near East our reminder of our actual status before God. The church needs to not only take care of its elders but also to learn from them, just as the elders in the church need to learn from our “youngn’s”. I’ll use an example from our small group (which I love and have written about HERE).

We have a wide age group that make up our small group – from elementary school students to retirees. A while back Pam overheard a conversation between one of our elementary students and one of our retirees. The retiree was telling the elementary student how much she had appreciated the recommendation to listen to some of Vivaldi’s music. Yeah our elementary students are pretty amazing (I mean I wasn’t listening to Vivaldi in elementary school … or maybe even now), but so are our retirees. How many adults do you know that allow kids to teach them? The young need the old and the old need the young. This happens in the church … at least it should.

One of my proudest moments as a pastor was when one of our senior adults heard that my parents wouldn’t be able to make Noah’s high school graduation because my dad was dying with Glioblastoma Multiforme and therefore he wouldn’t have a grandparent at his graduation. Her response was “I’ll be your honorary grandparent” and she came and sat through his graduation just to cheer him on. Do you know how boring graduations are? This was a sacrifice. This was love. We should all have tons of grand parents, grand kids, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews in our churches.

Your kids should have lots of “grand parents” in your church who love and are proud of them, and we older adults should know and love younger people because we are involved in each other’s lives through the community of our church. When this happens we are a prophetic community.

We’re Supposed to be a Prophetic Voice

We live in a society that worships at the altar of youth. Our media is full of advertising that swears that whatever product it is hawking will allow us to defy age and stay young for at least a little while longer, till another product will take over. Why? Well, because youth is of the ultimate value in a culture that fears death. Our television and movie stars literally have their bodies cut and reshaped in an attempt to pretend to be young, and we very often follow in their wake. Want to compliment someone, other than an adolescent, tell them they look younger than there actually are. Want to express that you are tired? Say that you feel old. But the church is supposed to be different. We’re supposed to represent another the world where death has been defeated, and thus there is no fear of age.

We talk about the church being ambassadors of that other world (2 Corinthians 5:20), our very presence saying that something else is possible, and yet so often the culture within our walls also proclaims that youth is what is of ultimate value. Our leaders stand on our stages desperately trying to look younger than they are because that is far too often what we demand of them. The Instagram account PreachersNSneakers is full of examples of this behavior. We don’t want to be reminded of age even in the world that says it doesn’t fear death. We are supposed to be a prophetic voice of God’s kingdom, but too often we are priests of a kingdom which values youth out of an extreme fear of death.

So I guess what I am saying is that I am amazingly thankful for the few seniors adults we have in Tapestry, right now, and we will gladly take more. Our “youngn’s” need all the great things that come with age, just as our senior adults need all the great things that come with youth. The prophetic voice of the church speaks best when it speaks of its Lord in a harmony of high pitched pre-pubescent cracking voices, deep, rustling aged voices, and everything in between. I hope this church in Minnesota learns this lesson before it is too late, that the senior adults that feel disaffected by the church find a community that cherishes them, and that all of us together can proclaim to a world that is clinging to youth, because it is terrified of death, that there is a God values the beauty of every age because in Him is life.


1st, ARGH curse the 49ers! I guess I’ll be pulling for Kansas City now in the Super Bowl.

Not really about pastors but I think it is probably the same.

2nd, Pam and I have a code for something that we don’t want to go to but we know we will be thankful for going to after the fact. The code is “handbells”. It comes from Pam’s personal experience when she played handbells. She would often not look forward to going to handbell practice but she would almost always come back from handbell practice grateful that she had gone.

You may have some experiences like this. You don’t want to do it or go to it at the moment, but you know that if you just start then you will realize that you are glad you did. This was church for me this morning. I really didn’t want to go this morning. Usually I love going to setup for church on Sunday mornings. In fact, setup is often my favorite part of church. Today, however, my bed was calling out to me. Its voice isn’t usually that compelling on Sunday mornings, but it was today. I blame Yoga with Adreine.

Still by the end of tearing down everything we setup each week I was so thankful that I had been there. I love and appreciate all the “threads” that make up Tapestry. Y’all are so wonderful and I was very thankful to have worshiped our Lord with you and pleased Him with our friendship today.

SIDE NOTE – here’s an interesting article from Christianity Today “Want To Pastor A Church You Love? Love The Church You’re Pastoring“. Unfortunately I have known more pastors than I should who loved pastoring but did not necessarily love their present church. They often had no friends within the church (sometimes justifying that by saying it was best not to have friends in your present church – which I am certain is wrong thinking), and often had no love for the place/community in which they ministered. I really like this quote form the author:

Most of the time, pastoral relocation is not because churches want them to leave, but because the pastor is looking for something better – and better is always defined as bigger.

3rd, Pam and I saw Jojo Rabbit Saturday and it was a amazing. I enjoy a super hero movie and sequels as much as the next guy but I wish there were more original stories in film . Jojo Rabbit was truly original. It was funny, emotionally compelling, and just plain excellent.

Online Savings Accounts & Smaller Churches

While I have never in my life desired to be an accountant I do have a strange fascination with filing taxes. I organize for it pretty much all year long and I file as soon as I possibly can (except for the rare occasions where we have owed the government – in which case, I wait as long as I can – and don’t get me started on getting a return equaling giving an interest free loan to the government, I know that is the case, but there are other reasons that we try to make sure we get a return). Then once I have finished our returns I look to see if the boys or mom need/want/will allow me to help them. I’m not looking for any others because I fear it will turn the process from enjoyable to burdensome, so don’t view this post as an open invitation for me to do your taxes. 🙂 I should probably add here that I am not a tax professional and nothing in this post should be construed as actual professional advice – if you want tax advice you should go to a professional rather than me.

Anyhow, this wonderful time of the year has begun and tax forms are beginning to head our way. One of these coming forms is what I am now going to write about because the 1099-INT points to a subject that I would like to discuss. Since we were married twenty-nine years ago Pam and I have tried (sometimes more successfully than others) to maintain a savings account that contains an emergency fund. The purpose of this account is to quickly be available for when we face financial emergencies, not so much to actually increase in value. It is good that the purpose was about preparation rather than a substantial increase in valuation because, as you probably know, the annual percentage yields on most savings accounts have been so low that you really didn’t make any real money on them. For us this has meant that since the IRS changed the rule concerning the amount of interest at which the bank has to send you a 1099-INT (if you earn less than $10 interest in a year they don’t have to send you one) we have not receive a 1099-INT from our main bank (though you are still supposed to report your earned interest on your tax forms). In fact, I already know we won’t receive one this year either because we earned a grand total of $4.03 in interest this year on the largest of our emergency accounts. The the annual percentage yield on our banks savings accounts is a whopping 0.03%.

We also are members of a credit union that pays significantly more at 0.25% APY, which is significantly more than our bank but still not enough for them to need to send to us a 1099-INT.

Then along came the online banks and FinTech companies. This past year we started savings accounts with three online banks/FinTechs. These companies pay much higher rates of interest since they don’t have branches. Here’s what we are receiving rate-wise.

  • online bank #1 – 2.02%
  • online bank #2 – 1.75%
  • FinTech company – 1.80%

The reason I am writing about all this is because of the disruption that these online banks and FinTechs are making in the financial services industry. You see in the first month of being a part of online bank #1 Pam and I earned more interest, on less money, than we had in the previous four years total at our traditional bank. This wasn’t a huge amount (about $20), but still it was 48 times more than my traditional bank had paid me each month. I am pretty sure by the end of 2020 we will have earn more interest in our online bank #1 account than we have cumulatively in our traditional banks’ savings accounts for all of 29 years of our marital life.

Every now and then you need some disruption. We’ve seen it in other industries – 10 years ago who would have thought that you would have jumped into a stranger’s car instead of hailing a taxi (Uber and Lyft), or that I would randomly stay at a stranger’s house instead of a hotel or motel (AirBnB and VRBO) – and it is happening now in the financial services industry. This is why you are beginning to see the big banks do some of this too. For example, Capital One now offers 1.70% APY on their 360 savings accounts, and Goldman Sachs and American Express are doing the same thing. Smaller banks and credit unions have done this for awhile but you know when the big banks change is coming – they don’t do something unless they have to do so to stay competitive.

It is a reminder to me that just because I have always done something a certain way doesn’t mean that is the best way for it to be done any longer, or ever. This isn’t just true for savings account, transportation, lodging, and the other industries that have been disrupted in the past 10 years, and it isn’t always something big happening. Sometimes the disruption is a move to something smaller. Read about the phenomenon over the past few years of local, independent bookstores reviving – here’s a quick search of related articles. These independent bookstores offer something that people want and isn’t being offered by the big book stores and Amazon don’t/won’t/can’t offer. It is also why some small coffee roasters are producing coffee that is widely recognized as amazing (I’m looking at you Ruby).

I wouldn’t be surprised if small churches aren’t this disruption in modern Christian faith in the near future. For the longest time in American Christianity (specifically, but not exclusively, Evangelical Christianity) the mega-church model has been the goal for so many churches. I’ve heard the saying “if you aren’t growing, you’re dying” or “healthy things grow” in various church conferences and events more times than I can remember. I’ve discussed before some of my struggles with such a mindset (HERE), but it can basically be summed in the mindset that healthy things mature, rather than necessarily grow. There are a lot things about big churches that can offer a great deal to help people mature as disciples of Jesus Christ, but there is also much that smaller churches can offer that larger churches don’t/won’t/can’t. Being a small church may be an advantage that Christianity in America needs right now. So many of the voices that I admire in Christian writing and thinking right now, voices that I believe are speaking prophetically, producing maturity, and calling disciples to deep faith, are involved in small communities of faith. This could just be me connecting to people from smaller churches, BUT it might be something about smaller churches that is more conductive to producing this type of mature faith. Just because the big church has been the model of success in the church for the past 60 years doesn’t mean that it should be the model now, and that model may be being disrupted during our present age.

As I have written before small churches are wonderful things.

The Center of the Crucifixion Story is God Asking Where God Is

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” ).

Matthew 27:46

It amazes me that at the center of Christian faith, the death of Christ, is God the Son crying out that God isn’t there with Him. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

He didn’t respond in some super “manly” manner. He isn’t like Mel Gibson’s William Wallace crying with his last breathe “FREEDOM!” Or Russell Crowe’s Maximus in the moving Gladiator saying that he will have his vengeance in this life or the next. No “give me liberty or give me death” from the Son of Man. No, instead of dramatic heroism by Jesus, we see the God of Christianity hanging on a shameful cross pleading “God why aren’t you here?” By Jesus being there to ask that question Jesus has placed God in the middle of our suffering and our questions of God’s presence.

“Where was God when this happened?” It’s a phrase that runs true with so much of life. I am sure you have heard it before. I think most of us have asked it.

C.S. Lewis wrote:

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

“The Problem of Pain”, p. 90

I think He is “rous[ing] a deaf world” to the fact that He is in the pain with us. We just often don’t know He is there already. Maybe it is because we are hoping for movie heroics rather than the God Who defeats evil by bearing the pain of its best shots. Maybe it is because we are so overwhelmed by the suffering that we can’t tell the face of the One Who freely chose to enter the suffering with us. I don’t know why I often can’t tell He is there in the midst of the pain. I just trust that He is there, and from what I have experienced in the passed I have every reason for that trust in Him being with me. Ebeneezer, thus far has the Lord brought us. He is Emmanuel, God with us, even when we suffer, hurt, and even when we shout “where are you?” The God Who has gone deep into the pain and evil in the world to say “where are you God,” has made it where He is with us when we asked that same question.

The Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel put it very well in his classic memoir “Night“:

Behind me, I heard the same man asking:

For God’s sake, where is God?

And from within me, I heard a voice answer:

Where is He?  This is where – hanging here from this gallows…

Night“, p. 86

Where are you God? I believe He is even in that question.

We Don’t Read Other People’s Emotions As Well As We Think We Do

First, the post basically has nothing to do with the NCAA Championship football game last night. Congrats LSU. I am very happy for all my LSU football loving friends and family that y’all won last night. I will be even happier when things go back to normal and y’all lose to Bama again during the next college football season. This mild disturbance in the force will not last.

I love the snark of this sign. “Nike Saban Puts Kale in His Gumbo” is one of the best ever.

Second, last night one of the two greatest coaches in college football history trended on social media even though his team, the greatest university in college football history, wasn’t playing. In my opinion, Nick Saban trended on social media because, 1) some people were convinced they could read the agony on his face, and 2) because snarkiness is one of the more fun aspects of college football. I love the second reason. College football snark is awesome. I laugh every time Bama gets a sack and the Million Dollar Band starts playing “Look Down” from Les Mis, or Mississippi State trolling Ole Miss by playing “Baby Shark“. Those are great moments. College football sass is awesome.

I do however have problems with the implications of the first reason, that “some people were convinced they could read the agony on his face.” Not really because of it picking on Nick Saban. He’s a grown man who has put himself in the public. Part of his job is dealing with such shenanigans. Go after Saban all you want, he gets paid over 8 million dollars to deal with such things and he is probably going to smash your team in the mouth next year anyhow (I’m a fan and Bama is the best – at least until South, Alabama, my B.S. alma mater, can play with the big boys – Go Jaguars!).

My problem is with the fact that as a chaplain I deal with many people who are convinced that they can tell what someone is thinking or what another person’s motives are based off of that person’s facial expressions and this incident with Nick Saban demonstrates this in a joking manner.

Here’s one of the images that have been used demonstrate that Saban hated Corso picking LSU.

Some people think that they can read Saban’s pain in the above photos. Maybe you can, and maybe you can’t. I don’t know. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was in a little emotional pain because he wanted to be the one coaching in rather than commenting on the game. But I couldn’t figure that out for certainty based on his face.

Unfortunately in real life many people I deal with make really bad, quick decisions based on being convinced they can read the feelings and motivations of another person. As a society we seem to have become convinced that we are all experts at reading other people’s emotions from their facial expressions. I think a great deal of “reality TV” is based on this fallacy. If it just stayed in the fake world of “reality TV” that would be fine, but when real people instantly respond to such wrong thinking lots of people get hurt – both the person responding and the ones they are responding to/on.

“I know they meant to do that because I could see them smile.” Maybe you could, maybe you couldn’t. “I could read on their face that they were truly sorry.” Maybe you could, maybe you couldn’t. Some of the research coming out on the effectiveness of judges determining sentences versus risk-based sentencing would seem to indicate that we as humans are no where near as good as we think we are on guessing the actual emotions that are going on inside another person.

So people become convinced they know the real motivations of another person without talking to that person and often respond in hurtful or destructive manners to their very possibly wrong guesses of the other’s emotions and motives. This often makes things worse, and rarely seems to make them better.

I tend to think our guesses of another person’s emotional life say more about our own emotional life. We often see our own faults and fears in the person we are accusing. Those accusations are our own judgement against us. I’ll use Saban again as an example here. The people posting about Saban being in torment in this situation are probably just revealing that they want him to be in torment. I think Saban is probably doing just fine.

Thinking that you know what another person is feeling and is motivated by without talking to them doesn’t really cost anything when it involves a college football coach – in fact, it can lead to some fun snarkatude. However, when it involves real people in your life it is an entirely different story. Then such belief can lead to dangerously destructive and hurtful actions. When I am emotionally hurt by someone I try to assume that I don’t know what is really going on in that person’s inner life until I have illegitimate reasons to know, and even then hopefully I approach my conclusion with doubt and humility. I believe this helps life to go better.

As for Saban, pick on him all you want – he’s keeping a list of names and will get you back. 🙂

Increasing Generosity (At Least Financially)

The book I was reading this past week (“Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness” by Richard H. Thaler) and the wonderful Stacking Benjamins podcast that I regularly listen to have both had interesting suggestions concerning how to up your giving that I thought I would share. I believe giving is important, especially if you a follower of Jesus. If you are a follower of Jesus then I basically see giving as spiritual training. Every time I give I am essentially saying “this is not my god” and it helps me to trust that I depend on the Lord of Hosts rather than on my own resources. Specifically, I believe that for Christians generosity is important for two reasons:

  1. It is a spiritual act of proclaiming Who we trust. Giving is the equivalent of saying “this money is not my god.” We give to remember that at the end of the day we trust in the Lord of Host, not our own resources.
  2. It is an acknowledgement that we are recipients of gifts form God. We don’t create our resources. Instead we receive them from God. Therefore, if the Creator wants us to give the gifts He has given us, we should do so. ” Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:8b)

Please notice that the two reasons I listed didn’t involve “YOU HAVE TO GIVE”. Christians are free. You don’t HAVE to give, we GET to give. We’re free to give extravagantly because we know our money is not our god and we have received gifts from the Lord of Hosts.

Wisconsin, the great state that I love living in, is rated on the lower side of giving in our nation. Here’s the bottom 10 giving states (percent of income) from a 2015 study.

I personally believe that most residents of the United States of America, and people of faith in particular (who generally give more than non-religious people- study here and here), desire to be generous.

So I thought I would list some of the suggestions in the article on Marriage, Kids, and Money while also commenting on their suggestions.

Here goes:

1. Ladder Up Your Giving

This is just like “laddering” your savings rate. You start with what you can give and then give a little more later as you have gotten used to giving what you started with or as your income increases through raises or bonuses. In his book “Nudge” Thaler refers to this as “Give More Later”. You start small and teach yourself, and your spending, to begin giving. Generosity is just like almost everything else, you can train yourself to do what doesn’t come naturally.

2. Encourage Your Kids to Give

Start ’em early and it will be easier later. I believe most of us want to raise generous kids. Pam and I used the 3 jar system with the boys – one jar for the money you can spend, another jar for the money you are saving, and a third jar for the money you get to give to help. It is a simple little system that I believe worked very well for us. Personal favorite story from this was when Noah wanted to give more than he had saved and decided to sell lemonade in front of the Ring, our church’s college ministry at the time, and now one of my favorite churches, Living Hope Fellowship. Those college students bought a lot of lemonade and he used all that money to increase the giving he personally cared about.

3. Make Giving Automatic

There is an old saying that, “budgets don’t matter, we adjust to what we have.” While I believe budgets do matter I get the point of the saying. We adjust to the resources we have. Therefore, if you want to give or increase you giving make it automatic and you’ll find that as long as you are giving close to your present means you will adjust your spending behavior to the less money you now have. Then you can adjust your automatic giving, give more, and watch yourself adjust again. You may already be doing this with you retirement (i.e. taking it out before you see it in your bank account), this is just using the same behavior for giving. I like to do this at the beginning of the first paycheck so that I am adjusting to it throughout the month.

4. Find Charities That Move You (I would add get involved in that charity – all the better if it is a local one)

It is easier to give to what you care about. We tend to care more about the organizations that we are actually involved in. You want to become a giving person? Why not begin by giving to an organization that supports a cause you care about or that you are already involved in? If there is something you care about I would bet money (Ha, see what I did there) that there is a non-profit that works on that subject you care about. Support them as they do the work and you suddenly are a part of that work. What I believe you will find is that you will begin to feel good about supporting that organization and may want to therefore start supporting more organizations that do work you believe in. If you are a part of a religious community I would encourage you to support that organization – when you do you will usually be supporting many other organizations that do good work too. 

Here are a few that the Terrell family believes in and support:

This is our list of regulars. I promise you that you can find your own regulars easily. If you care about something there is an organization doing good work on that thing you care about that you can support. Even if it is weaving cardigans for hairless dogs

5. Random Acts of Kindness

I love Random Acts of Kindness. I think they are all the better when they are a part of a purposeful desire to be more generous. The reason I stress this is because I think almost every one enjoys during a random act of kindness every now and then, but being generous isn’t about doing it every now and then. Instead, within generosity random acts of kindness happen because the person is becoming a giving person. So giving it what they naturally do. For believers I believe this fits within the two reasons I mentioned at the beginning of the post: 1) “This isn’t my god so I’ll just give it away,: and 2) “This was given to me and I trust that the God Who owns the “cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10) will continue to take care of me. so I can gift it to someone else.” Random Acts of Kindness are a great way to expand generosity throughout our entire day.

There is lots of other advice out there. The key is starting to take regular steps. Give what you can to make the world a better place now, do so regularly. and you will eventually be surprised at how much good you have supported.

The Shepherd of Hermas & Texas

I hate it when I work out a blog post in my mind while I am in the haze of sleep and then forget it after I go back to sleep. I usually have a pad and pen on my nightstand for writing down things that relate to Tapestry’s messages, but I didn’t do it with this idea and now I can’t remember what I was thinking. I do remember that at the time I thought “oh, I like the way that works together” and that it was dealing with Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s announcement that Texas will no longer accept resettlement of new refugees. I can’t remember what it was but let’s just assume that it was one of the more brilliant things that I have ever written or said, and leave it at that.

Since I can’t remember what I was going to write about the Texas governor’s response to more refugees I’ll post a section from the Shepherd of Hermas dealing with helping the poor.

You may have never heard of the Shepherd of Hermas. It is devotional writing from the 1st century, very early in the history of the church. It isn’t scripture but it is Christians figuring out how to live out their transformation from the Lord and what we are taught in scripture. It is some of the best devotional writing that the church has ever produced. The writing in the Shepherd has continued to guide people in the church in how to walk as followers of Christ because it has consistently given insight into what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

This portion is the second similitude of the third book of the Shepherd:

“As I was walking in the field, and observing an elm and vine, and determining in my own mind respecting them and their fruits, the Shepherd appears to me, and says, What is it that you are thinking about the elm and vine? I am considering, I reply, that they become each other exceedingly well. These two trees, he continues, are intended as an example for the servants of God. I would like to know, said I, the example which these trees you say, are intended to teach. Do you see, he says, the elm and the vine? I see them sir, I replied. This vine, he continued, produces fruit, and the elm is an unfruitful tree; but unless the vine be trained upon the elm, it cannot bear much fruit when extended at length upon the ground; and the fruit which it does bear is rotten, because the plant is not suspended upon the elm. When, therefore, the vine is cast upon the elm, it yields fruit both from itself and from the elm. You see, moreover, that the elm also produces much fruit, not less than the vine, but even more; because, he continued, the vine, when suspended upon the elm, yields much fruit, and good; but when thrown upon the ground, what it produces is small and rotten. This similitude, therefore, is for the servants of God — for the poor man and for the rich. How so, sir? said I; explain the matter to me. Listen, he said: The rich man has much wealth, but is poor in matters relating to the Lord, because he is distracted about his riches; and he offers very few confessions and intercessions to the Lord, and those which he does offer are small and weak, and have no power above. But when the rich man refreshes the poor, and assists him in his necessities, believing that what he does to the poor man will be able to find its reward with God — because the poor man is rich in intercession and confession, and his intercession has great power with God — then the rich man helps the poor in all things without hesitation; and the poor man, being helped by the rich, intercedes for him, giving thanks to God for him who bestows gifts upon him. And he still continues to interest himself zealously for the poor man, that his wants may be constantly supplied. For he knows that the intercession of the poor man is acceptable and influential with God. Both, accordingly, accomplish their work. The poor man makes intercession; a work in which he is rich, which he received from the Lord, and with which he recompenses the master who helps him. And the rich man, in like manner, unhesitatingly bestows upon the poor man the riches which he received from the Lord. And this is a great work, and acceptable before God, because he understands the object of his wealth, and has given to the poor of the gifts of the Lord, and rightly discharged his service to Him. Among men, however, the elm appears not to produce fruit, and they do not know nor understand that if a drought come, the elm, which contains water, nourishes the vine; and the vine, having an unfailing supply of water, yields double fruit both for itself and for the elm. So also poor men interceding with the Lord on behalf of the rich, increase their riches; and the rich, again, aiding the poor in their necessities, satisfy their souls. Both, therefore, are partners in the righteous work. He who does these things shall not be deserted by God, but shall be enrolled in the books of the living. Blessed are they who have riches, and who understand that they are from the Lord. [For they who are of that mind will be able to do some good. ] “

The reason I quote this text is because I believe far too often we who are followers of Christ (I’m not speaking for those here who aren’t) view people who are struggling as burdens that interrupt our lives rather than opportunities for us to extend and to personally experience the grace of God through these individuals. I believe this is why the author of the letter to the Hebrews (13:2) records, “to [not forget to] show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

If you were raised in a tradition that holds to sacramental theology then you were a part of a tradition with the belief that there are certain events and elements are means of God extending/communicating His grace (yes sacramental friends I know it is more than that). I have some serious problems with sacramental theology (right Conor😁) but if I did believe scripture taught that there were visible means of extending grace of His invisible act of grace (outside of the crucifixion and resurrection) it would be through those in need, the weak, and poor. When we help our brothers and sisters in need we minister tp the hidden Christ and there we find Him in grace.

The refugees who are coming to us out of fear of what will happen to them in their home countries (because that is what is happening here – refugees aren’t people trying to steal jobs, but people fleeing their homeland to protect themselves and their families) are opportunities for us to show and experience the grace of God. Instead we often respond with “I can’t help anymore” (which often just means “I don’t want to”) and turn our back on grace.

Knowing that it could be Jesus standing at our door should guide a Christian’s response to not only this situation but every situation. The Lord stands at the door and is knocking. He is hungry and needs safety. Do we open the door or say “we’ve done more than our fair share Lord”?

Grace stands at our doors. What will we do? What will I do?

The Mis-Value of Doing

Recently I have been thinking a lot about how much we are defined by our production or doing. We have numbers all around us telling us whether we are doing a good job of accomplishing our own or other people’s goals for us. I have to admit I like many of these numbers. I enjoy recording on goodreads that I have finished another book and seeing my number of books for the year go up. I like that the Bible app I often use for reading my Bible records how many days I have read scripture in a row. I have a goal for the number of steps I walk/run each day, I have a goal for how much money I save throughout the year, I record what I do for work, etc., etc., etc.

These aren’t bad things – in fact, sometimes they help motivate me to be who I believe I have been called to be.

But being who I have been called to be is the key.

We aren’t what we produce. I am not the numbers that I can record. Instead the numbers I record should help me to live out who I am. The opposite is so often the way we are viewed and, even worse, how we view ourselves. We accept the lie that we are what we produce and that our value comes from the value of what we accomplish/produce. Thus our companies, decades ago, moved from departments of personnel, concerned with the people who the company employed, to departments of human resources, concerned with making sure that the humans who are resources to the company are most effectively used just as the materials department is concerned that the company’s material resources are best used for the company’s goal. You are not just a resource to be used.

I think determining our value by our production is also why we usually first ask a person what they do for work when we are introducing ourselves. “What is your production value?” “Well I am retired now, BUT I used to produce this and it was of high value.” Or we ask our spouse and kids at the end of day “so what did you do today”, as if what was done is the most important part of a day. You and I are not just the value of what we do.

Our value comes from the One who loves us and created us, not for the numbers we produce. Still our choices do help us to live out who He proclaims us to be. I am a father, my choices help me to live out being a good or a bad father. I am a son, my choices help me to live out being a son. I am a friend, my choices determine what type of friend I am. I am a child of God, my choices shape what type of child I am.

I like something that the Danish Philosopher and believer Søren Kierkegaard wrote on the subject. He wrote,

“Now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.”

Søren Kierkegaard, Papers and Journals, Page 295

I like the quote because it acknowledges that we can’t make free choices without God’s help (scripture says we are slaves to sin) but that the goal of His help is to enable us to make choices that are consistent with who we are and who we are becoming. We aren’t just our production, but what we produce should be consistent with who we are (or as I understand it, who we have been proclaimed to be by a gracious and loving God). The numbers in our lives aren’t bad, but they can become so when we think those numbers are who we are. You are so much more than those numbers. You are claimed by God. I am the brother to the Lord.

I believe one of the saddest things of this whole situation is that using our production to determine our value actually robs us of the joy and pride that we should be able feel when we accomplish something. Instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment, we immediately feel the need to do more. Rather than being able to recognize that we just accomplished some good work, we see the faults that are present and believe we must still improve on our work. When your production determines your value then your production has to be of ultimate value … and that is something that nothing we can produce can ever give us. Ultimate value being placed on things that were never meant to provide ultimate value destroys not only our joy, but also the portion of joy that those things used to be able to provide us.

One of the parenting things that Pam and I did when the boys where significantly younger was to teach them that advertisements would often promise things or make claims that the product could never deliver on because the promise was for a need that the product wasn’t design to meet. For example, if you buy this truck you will suddenly be the type of person who does work requiring a truck. If you buy North Face gear then you will become someone who spends lots of time outdoors. If you buy this product the your family will begin to love spending time together. So much advertising uses values that are way beyond the product, to try and sell the product to us. This product will bring you community, hope, meaning, etc., etc.

Nope, it won’t

So we taught the boys to shout out at the TV “That’s a lie!” when they saw a commercial that was obviously saying it could deliver something that was beyond’s its scope. I hope it helped them learn that many things make promises that they could never fulfill. I know their tiny voices screaming at the television helped me learn that lesson.

This Adam Sandler SNL skit is along a similar vein.

So maybe when we begin to feel the need to define ourselves based off what we produce we need to remind ourselves that our production can’t determine our value. Therefore, our work is not who we are, our hobbies don’t have to be productive, we don’t have to be using every second effectively, we did a good job (not a perfect job) and that is okay. You and I are so much more than what we produce and do. So be comfortable with just being, rather than always doing.

As the old cliché goes, “You are a human BEING, not a human DOING.” It is clichéd, but it is also true.