What Clement says to We Modern Followers of the Way of Jesus

In preparation for Sunday’s message, which will be from Philippians 4:1-9, I have been reading some of the writings of the early Church Father Clement of Rome. He may or may not be mentioned in Sundays text (Philippians 4:3 mentions a Clement but we don’t know if it was Clement of Rome or not. Some tradition says it was him while other tradition says it was a different Clement). During some of my reading I was particularly struck by his First Letter to the Church in Corinth.

Clement writes this letter to the church that is a minority within their culture and are often persecuted socially and sometimes officially. There are some who describe the modern church in the West as living in a similar situation, though I would disagree with them – we are not a minority in the culture (at least yet) and we definitely are not persecuted. Still if you view the current situation as similar or even heading in the direction of the culture in which the 1st century church existed (1st Clement was probably written 70-96AD) you should want to listen to how the early church was told to respond to the culture. I believe it is good instruction for any follower of the way of Jesus regardless of the culture you are facing.

And how did Clement instruct the church to respond to the culture?


Humility: Clement emphasizes humility as a core virtue. In a world that often exalts pride and self-interest, he reminds us to follow the example of Jesus—the Humble One. Humility involves recognizing our dependence on God and treating others with kindness and respect.

Hospitality: Hospitality, too, emerges as a vital theme. It’s more than inviting friends over for dinner; it’s about caring for strangers, foreigners, and those in need. When we put others’ needs before our own, we embody the way of Jesus. Yes, it’s risky, but it’s also transformative.

    Read the letter. It is all over it.

    Clement’s instructions to the church came during the reign of the Emperor Domitian, probably the most ruthless persecutor of the church during the Roman Empire. This is instruction that we followers of the way of Jesus always need. We have to be constantly reminded that we follow the Humble One and therefore are called to be humble ourselves.

    I believe hospitality comes out of that same humility. It is taking care of other people’s needs. Thinking of other first. It is inviting the stranger in. It is taking care of the needs of the foreigner. It is putting others before yourself.

    Such actions involve uncertainty and often some chance, but they are the way of Jesus.

    Follow the way.

    No Disassemble!

    In my view, many of the most profound insights during our weekly gatherings at Tapestry arise from the responses of our community members to the message. Often, someone adds depth to the discussion initiated by our speaker (who is usually me) with a question or comment, resulting in impactful moments for our congregation. These interactions can occur during the message itself, when I invite contributions at the message’s conclusion, or even after the formal segment of the gathering has concluded.

    Today, one such moment occurred after the “official” part of our gathering had ended.

    During the message, I discussed the transformation of Abram and Sarai by God, who reshaped them into new beings, reflected in their name changes from Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah. God made them anew. They didn’t change themselves. They just believed that God could. They lived in that trust. Similarly, encountering Jesus often entails shedding our old selves to embrace the new creation within us. As the saying goes, “You cannot see God and live” (Exodus 33:20).

    While we were packing up—given that we are a nomadic church without a permanent building, setup and teardown occur weekly—Katie D approached me with a poignant illustration of our struggle against shedding our old selves and embracing the new. She referenced a scene from the 1980s movie “Short Circuit.” Here’s the scene:

    In this scene, Number 5 perceives disassembly as death. For believers, resurrection signifies that death is not the end. We need not fear “disassembly” because it is not the conclusion but rather the process by which Jesus finalizes the new creation within us. While we may, like Number 5, panic at the prospect of “disassembly,” Jesus disassembles us to conform us to His image. He destroys the strongholds in out lives. He changes the values from which we operate. He changes the way we see and interact with the entire world. Although it may cause disruption, this process is ultimately for our benefit.

    The Nativity as Critique

    This past Sunday at Tapestry I walked our kids, and adults, through a Jesse Tree, discussing how the stories of the Old Testament (and News Testament too) pointed to an understanding of life that led to Jesus and stand as a criticism of the life around us. We put ornaments on the tree and briefly walked through the story the ornament represents and how it tells us about the biblical understanding of the purpose and meaning of our daily experience.

    Our stories, traditions, and rituals remind us of the values that we believe are truly important and thereby comment, and sometimes judge, the world in which we live and how we live in it.

    Far too often instead of understanding the gospel as good news of the Kingdom of Jesus that sets us free and also establishes a plumb line that shows a better way and sometimes judges, we turn faith into sentimentality, which produces warm feelings but changes nothing.

    Nativities and the Christmas story as prime examples of this. When we take the story seriously it makes us question the world around us. How do we respond to God choosing to come as a weak and needy baby? What changes in us and our society when we realize that there was no room for the Holy Family? What should be different in our society when it was the weak and foreigners who recognized and worshipped the Christ Child? How do we respond when we see in the Christmas story that new life was sacrificed in an attempt for the powerful to maintain their kingdom?

    But instead, we often just see a sweet, bucolic display of a family as we drink hot chocolate by the glow of the Christmas tree. Our nativities should shake us to our core because when we display them, we are exhibiting a scene that sets a different standard.

    This year there is a great example of this in Manger Square in Bethlehem. Most of the festivities of Christmas in Bethlehem have been cancelled this year because of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. By the merry making may have been canceled the religious aspect of the celebration has not – in fact, many churches in Bethlehem have experienced significantly higher attendance than normal. In the midst of Manger Square is just one display this year and it is a Nativity that critiques the current situation. It shows the Holy Family in the midst of rubble. It says that the current situation is not the way of Jesus, another way is possible because of what actually began when the Holy Family could find no room and our Savior was born and placed in a trough.

    i placed a video at the top of this post a video of the creche in Manger Square.

    Holy Post Episode with Matthew Desmond

    Over the past few years, I have learned to really love The Holy Post podcast. I not only am challenged by the guests that they bring on but I also really enjoy the hosts’ interactions with each other. In this week’s episode, they interview Dr. Matthew Demond, whose book “Evicted” I found very influential in the way I view poverty and housing. He was interviewed to discuss poverty based on his new book “Poverty in America.” I found the interview very enlightening and particularly liked the 5 specific actions he ended with. These are actions we all can take. He explains them in the interview so I am just listing them below.

    • First, you can flex your influence wherever you are.
    • Second, we can vote with our wallet, we can shop a bit differently,
    • Third, let’s talk about taxes differently.
    • Fourth, let’s play our role in ending segregation.
    • Fifth, join the anti-poverty movement.

    I definitely don’t have the answer to poverty but personally, I would rather make a mistake doing something rather than make the mistake of doing nothing. I like Desmond’s five suggestions because they are actions that anyone can do and they also recognize that our actions while probably a part of the problem can also be a part of the solution.

    What is Lent

    You may have heard about the season of Lent before, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday. But what exactly is Lent all about?

    Lent is a period of 40 days (excluding Sundays) that commemorates the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert before beginning his ministry. It is a time for reflection, repentance, and renewal, as we prepare ourselves for Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

    During Lent, many Christians choose to fast or give up something as a form of sacrifice and self-discipline. This could be anything from food to social media to certain habits. The goal is to detach ourselves from worldly pleasures, focus on our relationship with God, and realize that even when we try to life within our own discipline, we still stand in desperate need of God’s grace and strength. Thus even if, or when, we fail in whatever we give up and/or take up for the Lenten season this too is a reminder of our need for Jesus’s grace and mercy. In some ways failure is a part of Lent because during it we recognize that we have all fallen short of the glory of God and need Jesus’s mercy.

    In addition to fasting, Lent is also a time for increased prayer, almsgiving (a fancy religious word for giving to those in need) and acts of service to others. Through these practices, we often called to repentance, find our faith deepened, and are drawn closer to God.

    Overall, the season of Lent and its call for repentance reminds us of our sin, the death that results from our sin, and, most importantly, that Jesus is the God of grace Who loves and goes after lost sheep, searches for and rejoices over lost coins, and runs out to prodigal sons and daughters, just like you and me.

    So what are specific disciplines to consider for the Lenten season?

    Things you might want to give up for Lent (we call these fasts):

    • Social Media (this is what I am doing)
    • Caffeine, soda, alcohol, chocolate, or other small treats
    • Fast food or eating out.
    • Your phone or just phones at certain times (no phones at the dinner table).
    • Give up various forms of media – tv shows, movies, reading, podcast, music.
    • Give up sleeping in.
    • Spending money on something that you regularly buy but don’t need.

    You don’t have to give up anything but if you do choose to give up something try two things:

    • Give up something that will be difficult – the whole point is to remind us that even in repentance we stand in need of Jesus’s grace. Our self-discipline isn’t enough. Let the struggle remind you of your neediness not your strength.
    • When/If you fail let that failure remind you of your need of Jesus and start again. In some ways, our failure is an integral part of Lent

    Things you might want to take up for Lent:

    • Take up a new spiritual discipline – prayer, Bible reading, meditation, fasting, giving, etc.
    • Read, watch, or listen to media focused on the life of the follower of Jesus (this is what I am doing)
    • Perhaps begins each day with this prayer from Psalm 139Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
    • Maybe read a psalm each day and consider how it relates to your day.
    • Journaling
    • Give the money that you don’t spend because of your fast to an organization that helps others.
    • Go to church – I know a great one if you are looking for one – more often or join a small group if you already regularly attend church.
    • Do something nice or buy a treat for someone each day.

    Similar to the things that we give up you don’t have to take up anything, but if you do try to continue to let it remind you of your neediness and Jesus’s grace. Lent is not about our strength, but about our weakness and His goodness.

    Finally treat the Sunday’s as feast days. Each Sunday during the Lenten season (actually throughout the year) is a mini-Easter. It is a day to celebrate the grace of our God rather than leaning into the struggle. So celebrate. Enjoy the things you have given up during the week. Eat a little more extravagantly. Take naps! Tet make sure that you do it not in celebration of your discipline but to honor the great Lord that we have Who showers His grace on His people. Lent reminds us that we need to repent and that Jesus runs to us with His grace, which is definitely worth celebrating.

    Valentine’s Day, Singleness, and the Family of God

    A friend of mine retweeted the following tweet today in regard to Valentine’s Day, singleness, and the church. ht Steve B.

    I think it is an excellent point and I would add that the same is true for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and those who don’t have children.

    I believe the reason this happens is because churches tend to make an idol of the nuclear family. Thus, I’ve heard Christians say that when they finally follow Jesus properly, when He is their “all in all,” then He will obviously provide them with a spouse, because certainly the plan is for them to have a spouse. In this idolatry the will of God always involves a nuclear family and thus the church is shaped around the nuclear family. In this idolatry you simply ignore all the singleness that is found in the New Testament.

    In my opinion the idolatry of the family is also why so many churches do so many activities to focus on families and forget others. In some ways the family often becomes what the church is all about, rather than Jesus. My family and I experienced this when we moved to Wisconsin and tried to visit every church in our area to get a feel for what was going on in the community of faith. As a 40 year old couple with a middle schooler and elementary school aged child you better believe we were a hot commodity. People would literally chase us down into the parking lot to make sure we got information concerning the programs they had for our family. I can’t speak to whether the same was done for my single, and childless brothers and sisters in Christ, but I know that personally I often did not receive the same receptions when I visited churches on my own. Very often I could walk in and walk out unnoticed.

    Don’t get me wrong, the family is a great thing. The family of God is a central part of the kingdom of heaven, but the family of God isn’t the same thing as the nuclear family of modern, Western society. The nuclear family is parents and 1.13 kids (stats here) in a single family dwelling. The family of God has significantly more diversity within it. Couples, Singles, Parents, Grandparents, Childless, Children, etc., etc. living as the family of God so that there are no longer any “widows and orphans” because no one is left out in the cold.

    To all my single and childless brothers and sisters in Christ. You are important parts of the family of God. We need you and what you bring to the family. You aren’t third or fifth wheels. You are another aspect of the image of God and you help all of us to understand our Lord better and live out His grace. Thank you for who you are and I ask your forgiveness for when I haven’t seen you or acknowledged you.

    Jurgen “Clive”

    This past Sunday we had to put Clive down. He had been having problems with extreme lethargy (to the point that we thought one night he was going to die by morning) due to internal blood loss. Monday of last week we found out that he had what appeared to be multiple tumors on his spline and liver that were bleeding into his abdomen. By the weekend you could see his belly bloating from the blood loss. Sunday morning, he basically could no longer move so we knew it was time.

    He was a very good boy.

    It has only been a couple of days but I believe I can already tell that losing Clive is going to be harder for me than any of the other pet losses we have had. I always feel weird when someone says that their pet was their best friend. Truthfully it kind of makes me sad. Clive wasn’t my best friend. We didn’t have long talks about the meaning of life because, well, he spoke dog and I speak English. At the end of the day a dog is another species and I’m not sure that real friendship happens between species. However, I am convinced companionship does happen.

    Clive wanted to be with me and I wanted him to be with me. It didn’t matter what I was doing Clive wanted to be near me. This led to me experiencing things with him and sometimes through him. That’s what happens with companions. You experience things together. Your experiences may be different, Clive was much more concerned with smells than I ever was, but even when different they experienced together. That’s what our pets do for us. We aren’t alone because we have companions.

    Clive was a very good boy and I miss him.

    Mé Féiner

    I became fascinated with personal finance sometime ago (years if not decades ago). It probably started with listening to Clark Howard (the OG of personal finance audio). However it started, I now read and listen to more sources of personal finance information and related topics than I care to elaborate. Sometimes this leads to tangents that while pertaining to personal finance also relate to much broader subjects. An article I read this weekend hit upon one such a theme and it related to a derogatory Gaelic term.

    The term is is “Mé Féiner“.

    Here’s the article in which the term was mentioned. It describes a situation where three coworkers regularly drive to lunch together, often driving distances to explore the restaurants in their community. They decide to share carpooling duties only for one of their number to decide they don’t want to drive nor do they volunteer to contribute to the cost of the journey, thus leaving it for others to pay. The author brings up the term mé féiner to describe the apparent behavior of the one party in the story.

    I don’t speak Gaelic but from what I have found online the term basically means “myself” but with a more sinister edge to it. It is used for the type of person who is always focused on how an event affects them with no concern for others. You probably know this type of person, maybe you have some of them in your life. They always put themselves first. They are always at the center of the photo, they eat more than their fair portion, or more of the best parts, of a shared meal with no regard for the others in the group, they make sure that they financially come out better in every situation, while others come out worse as a result of their choices, any emotional drama that takes place is shaped to help them first and foremost, etc., etc. The world revolves around them and thus they should benefit from pretty much every action.

    Are any people coming to mind?

    There are a few that have been a part of my life that seem to ring the bell when I think of this Gaelic term.

    I don’t have the training or education to go into the pathology of why this happens with some people who may have it as the result of personality disorders but I do believe for many non-personality disordering suffering people it comes from being overtaken by two mindsets: 1st a mindset of fear, and 2nd a mindset of scarcity. I fear that I won’t be taken care of because there are limited resources. So if you get your needs met that very well may mean that my needs will go unmet as a result. Therefore, I operate in a “me against the world” mindset and look out for myself first. Love says “we’re in this together” and lifts others up. Fear says it is a “dog eat dog” world and one of us has to lose so it might as well be you.

    The Jesus described in the New Testament is unlike the mé féiner. He is the one Who lays His life down for others rather than just thinking of himself. He is the One Who continues to take care of others’ needs even when He is exhausted and just trying to avoid the crowd (Mark 6:32-34). Paul describes Jesus, and how we should be like Him, in the following song from the early church quoted in his Letter to the Church in Phillipi.

    Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

    In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

    Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
    rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
    And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
    even death on a cross!

    Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
    that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

    Philippians 2:1-11

    The cross-shaped life informed by Jesus is the opposite of the mé féiner life. I am convinced it is also the better life. The message of the world may be “get yours” or “make sure you are looking out for number one”, but I am convinced that those messages are not only hurtful to those around us but also to our very own selves. That message tears us down and keeps us from the joy of living the cross-shaped life. The self-giving message of the gospel teaches us that when we lose our life that is actually when we find it. Which is why I believe that when we lift others up and operate out of love instead of fear, we usually find that we have been lifted up too. Love cast out fear and when there is no longer any fear there is no longer any “need” to grab yours before others receive theirs.

    Thoughts & Prayers

    One of the things I love about the church that I am honored to pastor is that we have a mix of people from various political backgrounds on various issues. Some of us are progressive, some of us are conservative, and most of us vary depending upon the issue. I am more progressive than many I know concerning guns because I believe there are things we can do and need to do relating to better gun control, and I am more conservative than many I know because I own guns, and enjoy hunting and “plinking” with them.

    So when there are mass shootings (it haunts me that I so easily type “when there are mass shootings”) I am surrounded by people I love and respect who are on various ends of the gun debate spectrum. But there is one thing that definitely gets me and that is when people casually say they are offering up their “thoughts and prayers”.

    To pray to the God I know as revealed in the person and life of Jesus almost always leads to a call from Him for action on our part. It is not something done lightly or flippantly. There is power in the name of Jesus, and often that power calls on us to act when we pray in His name.

    In the Christian faith, the Lord that you pray to, through, and by when you offer up thoughts and prayers is the same One that taught us to pray that His kingdom would come and His will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” Our prayers are offered up to the loving Father Who leaves the ninety-nine to find the lost one, done through the power of the Spirit that perfects strength through weakness, and the mediation of the Son Who prays for those who are nailing Him to a cross. Praying for another’s comfort and protection through this triune God very may, and often does, lead to us hear the Crucified one say “I literally put you here ‘for such a time as this‘, I will work through you to provide comfort and protection. So go!”

    Two quotes comes to mind when I think of this. The first is from C.S. Lewis

    It is quite useless knocking at the door of heaven for earthly comfort; it’s not the sort of comfort they supply there.”

    ⏤ C.S. Lewis, Letters of C.S. Lewis (Dec. 3, 1959)

    The second is from Søren Kierkegaard.

    The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.

    ⏤ Søren Kierkegaard, An Occasional Discourse: On the Occasion of a Confession: Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing

    The Father has a nasty habit of changing us and directing our attention to things we weren’t asking to do when we earnestly turn to Him in prayer. Earthly comfort often focuses on “God please do this so I don’t have to do anything, change, or get involved in their messy grief and hurt.” The prayer for heavenly comfort calls those who seek it to desperately long for and try to live in the kingdom of Heaven that is already but not yet fully, here.

    After all, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” The living God doesn’t answer our prayer based on our agendas, He constantly shapes those who earnestly pray to Him to His agenda.

    I can’t say what His Spirit will lead us each to do. I’m just saying when we lift up our “thoughts and prayers” on behalf of those who are hurting we need to be prepared for the great Comforter to call us to be the ones to comfort the hurting and change the possibility of others being hurt … and … maybe change our political agendas.

    SBC I’m Watching

    This week Russell Moore wrote the following article (This Is the Southern Baptist Apocalypse) for Christianity Today regarding the external report on sexual abuse and the SBC Executive Committee. In addition, David French wrote another fantastic article on the same subject for The Atlantic, The Southern Baptist Horror. Both articles describe horrific and evil actions of not protecting those that are in need and actually sheltering those who did the harm.

    I have just enough Reformed thought in me to believe that we live in a fallen world so I am not surprised that evil took place inside various churches by the leaders of those churches. While I don’t expect evil to take place, I am not surprised when it does because of the fallen nature of the world. Of course, this isn’t just in the church. Look at any institution and you will find evil that has happened or is happening within it. Yet the church is supposed to be a place where we know that we have sinned and we come in repentance, which means admitting to and confronting with the power of the Holy Spirit the evil of which we have been participants. Like a spiritual Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, we enter the church by admitting our fallen nature. Hi, I’m Robert and I am a sinner – much like the wonderful Jesus prayer from my Orthodox spiritual family members – Jesus, have mercy on me the sinner. When we admit our sin there is no need to try and hide it to save face. Light drives away darkness.

    But the report that came out this week shows that the SBC Executive Committee didn’t do that. Instead of repenting of evil and helping the victims, the SBC EC fought to protect itself, some of the members of the EC, and at least in its own mind, the SBC from reputational harm and possible legal liability. The church is supposed to be the place that leans towards the oppressed and yet the report shows that the EC leaned toward the values of power and cared more for organizational security than for the needs of those who have been victimized. It was very unChristlike behavior and evil.

    What does this mean for me?

    After all, I am the pastor of a Southern Baptist Church. I recognize that I owe a good bit to the SBC. While I wasn’t raised in church when I came to faith as a teen it was through an SBC church. The spiritual formation that still shapes me the most came from my college minister, Mike Nuss, who was funded by the SBC. My first step into church ministry was paid for by the SBC when I served over a Summer at Temple of Faith Baptist Church in Detroit. I have two different degrees from SBC seminaries where at least half my tuition was paid for by the SBC. Finally, Tapestry‘s initial funds came from the SBC. I recognize that I have a large debt to the support that came through the cooperation of many SBC churches.

    But I never want to turn my back on victims out of some sense of indebtedness.

    Matthew 25 is one of the passages of scripture that most shapes my faith in Jesus. In that passage, Jesus describes the sheep and the goats being separated and the determiner of that separation is how each has treated “the least of these.” Did they give something to eat, something to drink, invite them in, clothe them, or visit them? The sheep did and the goats didn’t. Jesus reveals that whatever they did or didn’t do for “the least of these” was done, or not done, to Jesus.

    SBC Executive Committee the One you turned your back on, “gaslighted”, and exposed to potential harm by hiding predators was Jesus and your fruit is being shown for what it is. I didn’t participate in any of that but now that it is known I will be judged on my response to it. So what do I do?

    Honestly, I don’t know yet.

    I’m not one to care much about denominational business, and I don’t like “hot takes” and quick responses, but I will be watching the convention VERY closely this year to see the response to the report. The actions that happen at the 2022 SBC Convention in Anaheim June 12-15 will shape much of my response. If the SBC responds to the report in true repentance, not just with an apology but actually declaring evil as evil and taking steps to correct that evil and repair, as much as possible, the harm, that will shape how I respond. If the SBC moves to really begin listening to the victims, that will shape how I respond. If the SBC moves to be more concerned with biblical justice than when protection of the powerful in our midst and our perceived reputation, that will shape how I respond.

    And if it doesn’t … that will shape how I respond.

    I am sure that the SBC won’t really care how I respond because I am the pastor of a small church in Wisconsin. Someone who doesn’t have a name in the SBC, doesn’t have a desire to have any power in the denomination, and a church that doesn’t hold any sway in the SBC. So it won’t hurt the SBC if I say “I can’t be a part of this anymore” because there aren’t any “real” numbers of people or money involved. Therefore few will probably care. Yet I know the One who does care and He is watching to see how I respond when the people who are supposed to be His bride respond to Him in His most distressing disguises by turning their backs on Him.

    I know many like to use the word “sheep” as a derogatory statement by saying people are “sheeple”, but Jesus likes sheep and I want Him to see how I respond and call me a sheep.

    SBC I am watching how we respond on June 12-15. I pray that response is the response of sheep and not goats.

    SIDE NOTE – Russell Moore has an informative podcast episode with Rachel Denhollander concerning the SBC Executive Committee report that is very insightful and well worth the listen. It is located HERE.