Lessons In The Leaves


I spent this afternoon engaged in a typical fall activity – raking, mulching, bagging leaves.  I did it all. While doing so I thought of a couple of “Lessons in the Leaves.” 

The first lesson was “Gratitude.”  Gratitude has never been my response to the chore of “leaf maintenance.”  I’ve been grateful for the brilliant red leaves falling from our maple trees creating a soft carpet on our ground – until it was time to bag those leaves.  Then my gratitude quickly turned to complaining.

But not this year.  For some reason, each sweep of the rake brought with it a breath of thanks…

Thanks for the beauty of the leaves.

Thanks that I’m still able to rake and bag. 

Thanks for the change of seasons…

How’d I make a switch from griping to gratitude?  I wish I had a simple recipe to share. I think it’s just about being present.  “What is there right now that shows me the beauty of love?  The beauty of God?”  

Which made me think of the second lesson: Change.

Things change.  Seasons change.  I change.  You change. Methods change.  Theology changes.  I may have lost you with that last one…

It’s a common understanding of conservative Christianity that theology never changes.  Progressive Christianity understands that theology is fluid, never static.  

I guess that makes Martin Luther a progressive.  We celebrated last week on October 31, not just Halloween, but the beginning of the Protestant Reformation – the day Martin Luther nailed or mailed his 95 thesis to the church in Wittenberg Germany.  

Martin Luther and the other reformers – re-formed – the church’s theology.  

They changed it.  Drastically.  

Yes, theology has changed.  Is changing.   Will change.

That fact scares some people.  I get that. I mean, where do you stop changing? It’s the slippery slope argument.  Change is hard because the things we are asked to let go of have been important to us.  It was hard for Peter to let go of the Scripture’s prohibition against eating certain foods.  Yet, who can deny that God changed?  At least God changed his word (Acts 10:9-16).

There are things I believe today I didn’t believe a few years ago.  And there are some things I believed a few years ago that I don’t believe today.  How about you?  I wonder if a lack of change reflects a lack of thought?  That was true for me.  

One thing hasn’t changed:  Love.  

I wonder if the way to tell if one’s theology is “right or wrong” is to observe if it leads or doesn’t lead to being more loving?  Paul is talking theology in Galatians 5 – the theology of circumcision.  For centuries the theology on circumcision was set – Any true follower of God had to be circumcised.  Period.  

But Paul’s theology changed. And he challenges others to change, to allow love to shape their theology:   “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love” (Galatians 5:6).

If my theology doesn’t make me more loving, maybe I need to change it.  Maybe I need to change me.  

Changing leaves.  Changing theologies.  Changing people.  

A Call to Love in a Culture of Hate


I went to bed Saturday night after having read the news of the shooting in El Paso, Texas.  I awoke Sunday morning to news about another shooting in Dayton, Ohio. As a pastor, I felt a responsibility and an urge to talk with the Sunday morning congregation about the events. It wasn’t planned.  It wasn’t part of the “order of service” that had already been set and sent out to the team.  


But neither had we planned on these shootings.


So, before I arrived at Sunday Morning Venues, I wrote these thoughts and then shared them during our services:   


Today we mourn over our country that has once again witnessed the evil of hate. 

We grieve over the state of our land. 

We humbly open ourselves to the real possibility that we have ignited  the flames of hate. As James writes, “It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire.  A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell”  (James 3:5-6).

We confess our sin. 

We long for the day seen by the prophet Isaiah and fulfilled in the Christ we see in Jesus, when, “Violence will disappear from your land; the desolation and destruction of war will end. Salvation will surround you like city walls, and praise will be on the lips of all who enter there (Isaiah 60:18).

We express our hope.

As children of God we accept the call to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).

We renounce every expression of violence.  

Violence of the tongue.  Violence of the gun.  

Violence in the heart.  Violence with the hand.  

Violence with a post.  Violence with a text.  

Instead, today, our mouths will speak blessings not cursings;  love not hate. (James 3:9-10).  

Today, …our feet will move to spread the good news of peace (Isaiah 52:7). 

Happy MLK JR Day


I so appreciate what  Martin Luther King Jr. did…

… and the way in which he did it – through “enemy love.”

In June 1956 (the month and year of my birth), a federal district court ruled bus segregation unconstitutional; the Supreme Court affirmed the ruling in November 1956.  It just blows my mind that it took our court system to right such a wrong as racial segregation.

The Montgomery Improvement Association sent the following letter outlining how people should conduct themselves on the newly integrated city bus system.


Sound familiar?  Have you ever read or heard anything like that?  Go back and read it again.

Quite the contrast to what we see and hear today.

Let’s continue the work.
Let’s continue in the spirit in which the work was done.


“Fear Will Be Your Ememy”


We tend to do that. To hate what we don’t understand.

It starts with fear.

We fear what we don’t understand. So…

We criticize it.

Or we dismiss it.

Sometimes, we smash it.

We see it in history:

After the last Amtrak accident, people may be a bit skittish about riding a train, but it’s nothing compared to how people felt in the 1820s with the invention of the steam locomotive. Anti-train propaganda warned that the human body would disintegrate under the stress of traveling at the unfathomable speed of 20mph. It was feared that men would asphyxiate, and women would suffer a more violent death due to their more fragile assembly.   Stay away!

We see it literature:

In Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Jem, Scout, and Dill don’t know Arthur Radley (Boo). They only know what people say about him. They believe what they hear and in their minds, they make it reality.  A scary reality.

“Inside the house lived a malevolent phantom. People said he existed, but Jem and I had never seen him.” Page 10

“People said he went out at night when the moon was down, and peeped in windows.” Page 10

“Boo was about six-and-a –half feet tall, judging from his tracks, he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were blood stained.” Page 16

By the end of the story, Boo is no longer a man to fear, but a man who is a friend.

We see it in TV:

Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” aired “The Gift” April 27, 1962. In the story, a space alien, who calls himself Williams, crash lands his rocket in Mexico. He has come to earth to give humanity the formula for a cancer-curing vaccine. He should be getting the red carpet! Right?

But before presenting his gift, he’s killed by some local soldiers. Led by fear and hate, they not only kill the visitor but also burn the document that contains the cancer curing formula.

The closing line from the episode: “We’ve not just killed a man. We killed a dream.”

Rod Serling, in that bewitching voice, offers this epilogue:

“The subject: fear. The cure: a little more faith.”

What is the cure for our fear of the unknown?

For Rod Serling, the cure is faith.

For Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only woman to win the award in two different fields (physics and chemistry), the cure is understanding: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

For Roman historian, Livy, the cure is knowledge: “We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them.”

From John the Apostle, not the Beatle, the cure is love: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear for fear, because fear has to do with punishment.”

The chief troll had it right when he told Elsa, in the movie “Frozen”, “Fear will be your enemy.” The fear that froze Elsa and everyone around her was thawed by the sacrificial love of her sister, Anna.

Do you think the sacrificial love of Jesus will do the same for our fears and us?

Where is the Love?


When I hear the above question, I automatically start singing the song by Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack recorded in 1972 –

Where is the love

You said you’d give to me

Soon as you were free

Will it ever be?


Nice love song.

I also go in my mind to The Black-Eyed Peas version from 2001.

Bit if you only have love for your own race

Then you only leave space to discriminate

And to discriminate only generates hate

And when you hate then you’re bound to get irate, yeah

Where is the love, the love, the love?

Powerful song.

Non-Christians were asked for a one-word description of Jesus.

And the survey says, “LOVE!”


They’re right!   Jesus told his followers that God’s will for all humanity is summed up in two commands: Love God and Love your neighbor. Jesus went on to say that our neighbor is anyone who needs our help. Then Jesus takes this love thing to a crazy level when he says that we are not just to love our neighbor but we are to love our ENEMIES!

When Jesus tells us the one thing that identifies us as His followers…

That one thing is Love.

Not doctrine.

Not a belief.

Not dogma.

Convicting words.

Non-Christians were asked for a one-word description of Christians.

And the survey says, “Judgmental!”


Are they right?

Barna’s research seems to say so… Check out this article – 87% of 16-29 year olds say Christians are judgmental.

Ok, so Christians have an image problem. We’re viewed as way judgmental.

But is it an image problem or a real problem?

In another Barna studyDavid Kinnamon, said it’s real:   “Many Christians are more concerned with what they call unrighteousness than they are with self-righteousness. It’s a lot easier to point fingers at how the culture is immoral than it is to confront Christians in their comfortable spiritual patterns.”


Jesus’ approach was just the opposite. Check out his story in the 4 Gospel accounts. You’ll notice that Jesus never got angry with prostitutes, adulterers, or people guilty of the “typical” sins. The only people Jesus judged and got ticked with were the religious folks for their judgmentalism, self-righteousness and failure to love.

The weird thing is this: the people who claimed to know and follow God better than anyone else ultimately killed him when he showed up.

The above Barna study revealed that 51% of American Christians polled have attitudes and actions that are more like the religious folks (the Pharisees) than they are like Christ. Based on the Barna research, here is what today’s Pharisees say:

  • “I tell others the most important thing in my life is following God’s rules.”
  • “I don’t talk about my sins or struggles. That’s between me and God.”
  • “I try to avoid spending time with people who are openly gay or lesbian.”
  • “I try to point out those who do not have the right theology or doctrine.”
  • “I prefer to serve people who attend my church rather than those outside the church.”
  • “I find it hard to be friends with people who seem to constantly do the wrong thing.”
  • “It’s not my responsibility to help people who won’t help themselves.”
  • “I feel grateful to be a Christian when I see other people’s failures and flaws.”
  • “I believe we should stand against those who are opposed to Christian values.”
  • “People who follow God’s rules are better than those who do not.”

What’s missing from the list? Love. Where is the love? In Jesus.

To sum it up, let’s do what we hear in the last verse from The Black Eyed Peas:

Now, you gotta have love just to set it straight

Take control of your mind and meditate

Let your soul gravitate to the love, y’all, y’all

Let’s Not Miss What Matters



I just finished Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, by Charles Marsh. I’ve always been a fan of Bonhoeffer – everyone in the evangelical world is, right? He’s a hero, our go-to guy.  “Would you like to know what a committed Christian looks like? Go to Bonhoeffer. Would you like to know what it’s like to follow Christ no matter the cost? Go to Bonhoeffer.


Theologian, poet, pastor, professor, a guy who dressed like he just jumped off the pages of GQ – oh, and dissident, spy, and martyr, who was executed for his role in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. See? A hero!


Maybe you’ve read his classic, The Cost of Discipleship. If you haven’t read the book but you have attended an evangelical church sometime since 1980, you’ve more than likely heard it quoted by a pastor of said church.


For as long as I can remember anything about Christian authors, Bonhoeffer has been at the top of the evangelical heap – portrayed as the voice of evangelical values. Such was the position in another popular biography of Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. In an interview for his book, Metaxas said this about Bonhoeffer, “I have to say, with unbounded joy, I discovered him (Bonhoeffer) to be the most straight-up, theologically orthodox believer I have ever encountered. He is as theologically orthodox as St. Paul and Isaiah!”


Not so fast. Experts on Bonhoeffer came out of the woodwork to contradict Metaxas’ perspective. Even a fan of the book, Tim Challies, admits that these experts “may well be right in suggesting that Metaxas got in over his head and they may be right in suggesting that the true Bonhoeffer was simply too unorthodox to appeal to the likes of me…”


What does the “true Bonhoeffer” believe that doesn’t fit with the “likes” of some? Here’s a sample:


*In a lecture in 1928 Bonhoeffer stated that the Bible is filled with material that is historically unreliable.


*In discussing the first three chapters of Genesis in Creation and Fall (1933) Bonhoeffer criticized the idea of verbal inspiration and stated that the biblical author was restricted by the state of knowledge when it was written.


*In the summer of 1933, Bonhoeffer presented a series of lectures on “Christology.” Later, his good friend Eberhard Bethge published the notes under the title Christ the Center. In that writing, Bonhoeffer said this, “It is through the Bible, with all its flaws, that the risen one encounters us.”


What do we make of these views? What do we make of Bonhoeffer in light of his views?

Do these beliefs knock him down a notch or two?

Do these beliefs negate his role as a “go-to” guy?

Do these beliefs change his love for Jesus and people; his passion to follow Him fully?


Tylor Standley, in a blog post carried by Relevant Magazine, asks these questions:

What does it mean to be evangelical?
What must you believe?
What must you reject?
He then lists other “heroes” of the faith who like Bonhoeffer may be cut from the evangelical team because of their theological views and positions.


You’ll recognize some of them – Martin Luther, C.S. Lewis, even Billy Graham.  Maybe you’ll be surprised by the views of some of them.

Maybe we all will realize how easy it is to miss the essence of Christianity – to miss what really matters.


It was Christmas, 1934. a 28 year old Bonhoeffer preached a series of sermons on  1 Corinthians 13 -the Love chapter.   Speaking of doctrine and the churches of Germany, he asked, “Is it not obvious? They have not made people who love. It does nobody any good professing to believe in Christ without first being reconciled with his brother or sister – including the nonbeliever, his brethren of another race, the marginalized, or outcast … In the end everything must become love…perfection’s name is love.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer got it.  I hope I do too.

What About the Law?


Over the last few weeks I have followed the discussion in the blogosphere concerning the role of the Old Testament law.  The question centers on a variation of Moses’ statement made in the above “Speed Bump” cartoon: “What part of the law is meant for us?”

People answer that question in one of three ways:
1. All of it.  2. Some of it.  3. None of it.

Let’s look a bit more closely at the three options:

1. Think hard about this before you say, “Of course all of it is meant for us! God said it so I’ll do it!”  Placing yourself in that group means that you’ve cleaned all of the cotton-polyester     clothes out of your closet – Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:11; that you order your     steak “well-done,”  Leviticus 19:26; that you never cut your hair, Leviticus 19:27 (If only I would have used that verse during the great hair-debates of the 60s); and other behaviors that just don’t make much sense to us today.

2. The “some of it” group is huge.  This view breaks the law into three categories:
a. The moral law – declares how man should live.
b. The civil law – describes the legal structures for the ancient nation of Israel.
c. The ceremonial law – declares how Israel was to worship.

The “some of it” group says that only the moral law is “meant for us.”  The ceremonial     and civil laws were meant only for ancient Israel.   So, “Don’t murder” still applies but not the “no haircut” rule. This view is the one held by most Christians today.

3.   The “none of it” answer is the one that I believe is the right one.  To explain why will take a lot longer than one post! Let’s jump in.

*The Bible gives no hint of different “kinds” of law.  It’s all one.  Joshua speaks of the Law as one unit when he writes in Joshua 1:8, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; mediate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

It sounds like Paul does the same thing in Galatians 5:3, “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.”

No division by either Joshua or Paul.

*How do you pick and choose?  It gets confusing.  “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) is followed in the very next verse by the law “do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”  Should verse 18 be seen as “meant for us” while verse 19 is dismissed as nonapplicable?   The text gives no indication that any kind of hermeneutical shift has taken place between the two verses.

One of the clearest examples of the confusion in picking which law to keep and which to dismiss is the 4th commandment out of the Big 10 – Exodus 31:14-15 – the one about keeping the Sabbath.  The “some of it” group says that the 10 Commandments are part of the Moral Law, and thus, meant for us today. Wouldn’t most people believe that we are to keep the 10 Commandments?  Yes, but do we really keep the Sabbath?

“Sure. I go to church on Sunday.”

That’s great.  But that’s not keeping the Sabbath.  If we’re going to keep the law, we can’t alter it or adjust it.  The Sabbath is the seventh day which is Saturday.  Keeping the Sabbath didn’t have anything to do with going to church.  It was having a day of total rest.  No work, no chores, no cooking, no traveling.

“But aren’t there passages that say we don’t need to observe the Sabbath anymore?” Yep.  Take a look at Romans 14:5, “In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike.  You should be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable.”  Want another?  “So, don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths.  For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come.  And Christ himself is that reality.” Colossians 2:16-17

So are we required to keep the Sabbath?  It doesn’t sound like it.  So I guess that means we are to obey the Nine Commandments…right?  Confusing.

Paul may clear it up a bit.
“Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.  The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator.”  Galatians 3:19

So, Phillip, what do we do with the 10 Commandments?  We follow many of these same commands like “no adultery”, “no murder”, etc.  But we don’t follow them because they are the 10 Commandments.  We follow them because we follow the way of love – the way of Christ who is the Seed who has come.

“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’… But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”  Galatians 5:14,18

Love, as experienced and expressed in Jesus is what is meant for us.