Pastoral Theology revisited

Here is the version of my concept I presented to my class. The language has been cleaned up a little bit, based on some suggestions from you and my own editing. It was well received by the class (all four of us) and the only sticking point which I need to continue to refine is the amount of theological reflection in the process, and the idea of introducing theological thoughts and reflections to the community. For some reason both of the other students in the class had difficulty understanding why this was necessary in a pastoral theological setting. To me, it was common sense that good theology was never done in a vacuum and that ideas, experiences, thoughts and reflections needed to be discussed in a communal setting in order for theology to be real and have a real impact.

Thanks for all of the comments, suggestions and frustrations. It seems like the biggest frustration was that it wasn't practical. Rather than having teeth it theorized about the biting motion, and that was its intention. I was asked to define something that I had practically done for three years. That meant stepping back from the practical work of theology and asking: what, how, and why?

The most frustrating aspect of this assignment for me was its brevity. When using images, it is important to fully conceptualize the picture so that the description can be fully understood, this was difficult to do in a half page. As I continue my studies, I am sure there will be opportunities to flesh out the practical dimensions of this model, as well as, its continued academic applications. It is a theoretical definition, and one that I will continue to work with during my time here.

I believe Pastoral Theology is better conceptualized than defined, allowing for a fluid and open approach to theology that has roots in the experiences within and outside its distinct boundaries. Therefore, I offer an image of Pastoral Theology to be played with rather than a definition that might constrict. The image I offer is the helical or coil spring. This type of spring is usually circular, spiraling into three-dimensions with distinct vertical and horizontal components. Furthermore, helical springs generally have gaps between strands of coiled wire giving the sense of both occupied space and openness. Finally, helical springs offer a diverse number of usages and functions.

A visual inspection of Pastoral Theology reveals a vertical, God-human dimension, and an equally important, horizontal, human-human dimension. These two relationships are bound to the image of the spring, by the rising circular coils. Along this spiral I see the work of Pastoral Theology as containing four points of reference: experience, reflection, introduction to the community, and re-interpretation. The gaps between wire strands signify openness to other sources of knowledge and inspiration. Thus, a helical spring model of Pastoral Theology embodies enduring relationships, an ability to incorporate new dimensions into its thought and praxis, and relating its distinctive theological ideas through a process of experience, reflection, introduction, and re-interpretation.

Moreover, helical springs have three mechanical functions: compression, tension, and torsion. The compression function is generally supportive. The tension function flexibly holds independent pieces together. The torsion function operates by coiling and uncoiling to release stored energy. These mechanical functions help us to understand the under-girding functions of Pastoral Theology. Support, intentional binding of distinct disciplines, and the release and retention of knowledge and experiences are the functions from which the work of Pastoral Theology rises.

grace and peace

Pastoral Theology

My first assignment in my first doctoral seminar is to define Pastoral Theology. A relatively new discipline, Pastoral Theology is unique in that it incorporates a number of other theological, as well as, social science disciplines in its conception. The whole subject is about 50 years old and is still in its infancy. So after four hours of class, I am required to say what I believe something is, without knowing a whole hell of a lot about it.

It is supposed to be a half a page, but I am a little over (surprise, surprise). I won't turn it in until Tuesday, so if you have any comments let me know. If it makes no sense let me know. I am new to this whole create your own definition thing...

I believe that Pastoral Theology is something that is better conceptualized than defined. This allows for a fluid and open approach to a theology that has roots in the experiences contained within and outside of its distinct boundaries. Therefore, I offer an image of Pastoral Theology meant to be played with rather than a definition that might constrict.

The image I offer is the helical spring. A visual examination reveals this type of spring as circular, spiraling into three-dimensions with distinct vertical and horizontal components. Furthermore, helical springs generally have gaps between strands of coiled wire giving the sense of both occupied space and openness.

Rather than a simple circular pattern, the spiral offers points of movement whether progressive or digressive. Likewise, Pastoral Theology contains both the vertical, God-human dimension, and the equally important human-human dimension. These two relationships are held within the bounds of the spring, but open and part of the things that affect it. Along this spiral I see the work of Pastoral Theology as containing four points of reference: experience, reflection, introduction to the community, and re-interpretation.

Thus, a helical spring model of Pastoral Theology embodies enduring relationships with marked boundaries, an ability to incorporate new dimensions into its thought and praxis, and relate its distinctive theological ideas through a process of experience, reflection, introduction, and re-interpretation.

Moreover, helical springs have three mechanical functions: compression, tension, and torsion. These also function for our concept. The compression function is generally supportive. The tension function flexibly holds independent pieces together. The torsion function operates by coiling and uncoiling to release stored energy. These mechanical functions help us to understand the under-girding functions of Pastoral Theology. Support, intentional binding of distinct disciplines, and the release and retraction of knowledge and experiences are the pieces from which the work of Pastoral Theology rises.

Here is Seward Hiltner's definition of Pastoral Theology. Hiltner is credited with being the "father" of Pastoral Theology and one of its earliest and more prolific theologians. I include his definition for comparison's sake.

Pastoral Theology is... that branch or field of theological knowledge and inquiry that brings the shepherding (defined as healing, sustaining, and guiding) perspective to bear upon all the operations and functions (defined as communicating the gospel and organizing the people) of the church and the minister and then draws conclusions of a theological order from reflection on these observations.

The quote is direct, with a few parenthetic additions for clarification, from his book Preface to Pastoral Theology written in 1958, published by Abingdon Press. It is out of print but you can find copies for five bucks on the internet, it is worth it if you are interested in Pastoral Theology.

grace and peace

good things

From the inside it is easy to see where we get it wrong— the politics, the wrangling for position or power or favor, the petty struggles over tradition, the longing for when things were better (often in some distant memory long since scrubbed of any dirt or darkness). The church can be a difficult place to find a home, especially when you are charged with its care. Ministers can be a lonely bunch and ministry can be a lonely lifestyle depending on the congregations we choose to serve. However, there are churches and programs and people that do get it.

Many people found within the walls of churches have large wonderful cavernous hearts. They are lights on the hill that could never be hidden no matter how hard you try. They are volunteers who show up time after time, not out of a sense of duty, but because they hear the call just as surely as any trained minister would. These are people who lead classes, sing in choirs, serve on sessions or boards or committees. They are the ones who make sure that communion is set up and the candles are lit and the heat works on Sunday mornings. They are the reason the church still works and will continue working.

There are churches whose mission is to reach out to people. I am not talking about evangelism; in fact evangelism is one of the things wrong with the church today. I am talking about churches that care for their communities regardless of how the community is categorized. There are churches who advocate, who offer helping hands, who give of the very soul that lives within the community. These churches don’t offer services with the stipulation that someone “come to Jesus.” They offer services because that is what Jesus told them to do regardless of who the person is or what they might believe.

There are churches who faithfully stretch the limits of worship, ushering in new forms of praise and penance and preaching. They stretch their arms wide and cast a net of many voices, giving way to art and dance and song and laughter, all the while focusing their eyes on the God that dwells above, among and within them. These churches think through what they do, not only trying to communicate with the culture around them, but doing so in a way that does not rape the tradition from which they come.

There are churches that excel at reaching out to one another, creating lasting bonds that embrace, envelope, and encourage all who happen to wander within the walls. These are the comfortable communities that don’t allow you to be complacent. They are the places where people come to grow and doubt and stretch their faith. Here people find a safe place to look at the faith of the faithful and laugh, cry, and hope.

There are churches who don’t take themselves too seriously. These churches know the Bible and know its limitations. These churches know their traditions and know the need for change. They hear the voice in the wilderness and run to meet it with joy and thanksgiving. The people of these churches always start their prayers with thanks and end with hope, for they know that the love of God knows no bounds.

There are good people, good churches doing good things. Maybe the best things about these houses of holy is that they are horrible at marketing, they find no use for clever postcards or combat witnessing, they stink at building campaigns because they waste their money on helping those in need, and they are horrible at bullet-point theology. To find these places that soothe the soul and comfort our afflictions, places that hug and hope and hold, that pray and worship and serve we must look hard. Sometimes they are found in large congregations, and sometimes small congregations hold the keys to the kingdom.

We know it when we find it though, something just feels real, maybe almost too real. The question is: are we willing to risk reality for the sake of the relationship offered to us? Are we willing to wade through our own darkness to embrace the light that surrounds us? Can we chance that we don’t know all of the answers, we may never know all of the answers, and that is good enough for our lives?

grace and peace

Maybe I am uptight...

My response to the comments of my last post became long enough to be a post themselves, so here it is.

I want to thank everyone for their words. There are times when I wonder if I am a bit uptight about worship. But then I remember how many times I have laughed ay my own mistakes and enjoyed the play that occurs between myself and the congregation.

So, I don't think I am uptight about worship, but I am a bit frustrated with those who don't take care with the language they use and the worship they create. That is as much of an abuse as anything good that could occur. I may be picking on small things during this service, but if they aren't teaching about the small things, then what about the big things?

The most frustrating part is the ignorance of those who are supposed to know better. Tod has experienced me as a worship leader before and knows that I make mistakes but I am not sure if he would call me uptight or not, Tod?

Therefore, I will become a great deal less frustrated when people think through the things they are asking others to be a part of. Too many people try to copy the hottest worship model in order to increase the size of their church, without simply asking the appropriate questions.

How shall we label each part of worship?

Why do we use only masculine pronouns when referring to God?

Why do we choose a praise band over organ music?

What do the songs we sing say about what we believe?

What effect will our decisions have on the overall experience of worship?

How can we include more people in a service of God?

and so on...

There are many questions that need to be asked before creating a liturgy for a congregation. So, I might quit being uptight when people quit being ignorant, especially those people who are in charge of the worship life of the multitude.

Read a book (Marva J. Dawn's is excellent, Ron Byars has some good words as well (he was my preaching and worship prof.), Gordon Lathrop has some excellent stuff on the history of worship). Learn about denominational history and traditions. Find ways to know why worship is structured a certain way and then make changes. Without the history and connection to people of all times and places (thanks Erin) worship is meaningless and obsolete.

In my denomination worship comes out of scripture, and on top of that there are several hundred years of tradition and trial and error. There is so much rich material out there that one just needs to look and find out how to best communicate it to a congregation. This congregation's worship looked like it was put together piece-meal, as if they just wanted to thumb their nose at history for the sake of being popular.

On a side note, my best friend (a Baptist minister) and I were sitting in an ecumenical service one time when another minister got up to pray. He and I often joke that for our various heresies we have permanent seats on the bus ride to hell, he gets to control the radio, I get to navigate.

Any way, we were sitting at this service and about a third of the way through the prayers of the people, the minister starts with the "Jesus wejus". From that day forward we decided that sitting together in worship may not be the best thing. Between the elbows and convulsive (though silent) laughter both of us were practically in tears by the end of the prayer. This may seem sacreligious to some but we had a great time, and I really don't think God minded so much.

Worship is a vertical and horizontal experience. It is a focused time where we communicate with God and with the community that surrounds us. That doesn't mean that we cannot laugh and enjoy ourselves and play in the space that has been created. However, a safe place of worship must be created before anything else meaningful can happen. Safe places are created when the community can feel as though each member has equal part in the experience rather than showing up to be entertained. Safe places are places of trust and growth where we can lay our faults and imperfections before the community and have our wounds tended by God and then by one another.

Good worship, in a safe place, is about God, never about us...

... and thanks to all those who respond here. Your comments and thoughts are meaningful and give me pause to think and clarify what it is I believe and what it is I hope to share with others. Every comment is important because it also lets me know a little bit more about who you are as well, and that can only be a good thing...

grace and peace

A problem or two with worship...

So, what is worship? What is it about gathering together in prayer and song and sermon that ignites the spirit and soothes the soul? Worship is the ritual of liturgy and history and tradition and experience all rolled into the present moment looking towards a future time. However, worship sometimes becomes nothing more than flattering or sucking up to God, and it is then my brothers and sisters that trouble begins.

Last Sunday I found a place where worship did not feel anything like worship to me; but before we get to some thoughts about that particular service, let me comment on a couple things.

Proportionally there was a greater number of people my age or younger at this service than in any other one I have experienced. Something must be working for them. Second, the pastor seemed very pastoral. She knew the names and children and stories of the members of her congregation. My guess is that she is a wonderful minister who serves joyfully and faithfully.

I am proud and happy to know that the congregation is cared for by the minister. I am ashamed of the education and discernment of the congregation concerning liturgy and worship.

First things first, I am a traditionalist when it comes to liturgy. I believe there is an order to worship and that each part and movement should be designed to allow people the freedom to find God in the moment. I believe that hymns should be sung, prayers prayed, scripture read, sermons preached, and sacraments performed. I believe worship, as Calvin would say, should be decent and in order.

I also believe that all worship is contemporary. The lines drawn today are arbitrary and obnoxious. Just because you have a guitar and a drum set down front doesn’t mean that your worship is more contemporary than one that sings hymns from a hymnal and plays an organ. If the worship doesn’t feel real, then it isn’t worship; it is a trip down memory lane or some glorified form of God flattery. Music is not worship, but a component of worship that enables people to feel the presence of God through other means than scripture and prayer. Worship is the experience not the pieces assembled to provide the experience.

I like alternative instruments in worship; I like liturgical dance, responsive prayers, and mixing things up. However, ritual and liturgy should be familiar to a congregation. The order of worship should be comfortable, but not restrictive. In the PC(USA) this is established in five parts (with scripture playing a central role in each part): gathering, proclaiming, responding, enacting, and bearing. If you want to know more about this mention something in the comments and I will write a little more.

Let’s return to our service last Sunday. First, the worship leader wrote a welcoming/statement of faith for the congregation to read. The Presbyterian Church is a creedal church and it is proud of its rich history in stating what it believes through creeds and confessions. I guess the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed wasn’t good enough, nor the more recent Brief Statement of Faith. If I wanted to hear someone’s personal testimony about God, I would gather around a campfire, sing kumbayah, and wait for the Spirit to move. This is corporate worship and the worship leader forgot the most important thing, namely that it is not about him.

Second, when it came time to sing hymns, these were noted in the bulletin as “opening worship, worship, and closing worship.” Music, in and of itself, is not worship when it is merely a part of the service. What about scripture readings, the baptism, the sermon, and the prayers, are they not worship as well? What is it about people of my generation and the theologically abhorrent music they pass off as “praise hymns?” I can get a better dose of music, lyrics and theology from Linkin Park, John Lennon, Wilco, Dave Matthews Band, and Ben Folds Five. At least they are honest about their experience of life and the struggles that ensue rather than the sugar-coated rotten theology of today’s contemporary worship music.

There are good modern hymn writers who are theologically sound and musically creative. Take the time to find them rather than buying the TIME-LIFE Worship songs of the millennium collection, learning a couple of chords and then trotting them out as real hymns. Additionally, music should complement the scripture of the day, and not detract or become an entirely separate thing from the rest of worship. We are talking about building an experience, not doing the latest and greatest thing.

Third, I bear no ill will against praise bands, but leave the lead singers at home. The pair that led the music basically drowned out any sound the congregation made, and these times of “worship” became the Biff and Buffy show. The intention of hymns in worship is a creative way of encountering God through musical prayer. This is not about singing well or being the loudest or being in front of the crowd. That is what Karaoke is for on Saturday night.

My worship professor put it this way, the entertainment of the congregation is not the purpose of worship, in fact the congregation isn’t even the audience in worship; the congregation is the performer and the audience is God. The pastor is just there to help facilitate the experience through the liturgy of the day. If you want to be entertained go to a movie. If you want to entertain then be a comedian. If you want to help facilitate the growth of the body of Christ through liturgy and preaching so that they might find themselves drawing nearer to the Divine through communal worship then be a minister.

Fourth, longer does not mean better. Just because you plan worship for an hour and fifteen minutes doesn’t mean you have to use it all. The sermon preached that Sunday could have been tightened up to about five minutes from the rambling forty that it lasted. Sometimes, simpler is better and there is no need to carry on just filling time.

My sense is that this has more to do with the expectations of the congregation rather than the needs of the preacher (though sometimes that is assumption is wrong). I hear all the time that preaching is supposed to be engaging, funny, hopeful, inspiring and generally agreeable. Scripture is rarely any of those things. At times, it is tedious, sorrowful, challenging, uncomfortable, with glimmers of hope thrown in just to keep us reading. The sole responsibility of the preacher is to encounter, engage, and wrestle with the text. My personal way of handling the time is to preach until I am done. Sometimes this lasts fifteen minutes, sometimes it lasts twenty-five. When the text is done with me, then I can say no more.

Fifth, I understand the need for spontaneity in prayer. However, if you are planning on leading one for the people, do me a favor and practice. I am tired of the “Jesus weejus” and “Lord Ijus” type prayers. You know what I am talking about. Whenever people find themselves at a loss for words or just want to start a new part of the prayer they say “Jesus weejus thank you for everything” or “Lord, Ijus wanna thank you Father God for the beautiful day…” These statements are the equivalent of “ummm… and uhhh” in secular speeches. They serve little purpose other than to fill gaps where thoughts have escaped. If this happens to you, say nothing. Silence is often more poignant than anything we can usually come up with anyway.

Finally, take down the projector screen and put the cross back on the wall. Don’t be afraid of the organ or guitar or drums or flute or trumpet, they are all beautiful instruments. Mostly, remember that worship is not about you, it is not about me (whether I am leading or part of the congregation). Worship is about an encounter with the Holy that transcends the individual parts of the liturgy. It is about drawing nearer to the presence of God in a community bound together by prayer and laughter and love and hope and struggles. No one person is greater than any other when we enter a sanctuary. Some facilitate, some follow but all of us have the responsibility to perform for God and then take what we learn into the world around us…

grace and peace


What am I doing here? This question haunts my thoughts at the moment. I am not thinking metaphorically, I wonder about the present. What am I doing here in Denver, in school again, in a doctoral program?

Orientation was Friday, and I was not blown away. There were no epiphanies, save my ability to speak to my advisor rapidly about my interests and what I wanted to study. Most of my time was spent listening to people tell me how hard it was and wondering why any school still operates on the quarter system.

Classes begin on Thursday if I can find my immunization records, make sure I have health insurance, and get approval for an independent study on pastoral formation. Of course this needs to be done by Tuesday if I actually want to take classes. Why can’t programs send you the necessary forms beforehand? Instead, my day was filled with “oh yeah, one more thing…” What a pain in the ass.

Therefore, I wonder why I am here. I know the obvious answer. God called you here; God has a plan for your time here. Let’s be truthful, I may have felt pulled but it was my call, and sometimes I regret it. To be called halfway across the country, to a land where I know no one sucks.

Why couldn’t I just finish my engineering degree and draw pretty lines for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t be near so poor; I wouldn’t put this tremendous pressure on myself to succeed; and I would be living a hell of a lot closer to home. It is just so frustrating at the moment. My wife, despite all of her qualifications and her desire to work, can’t find meaningful employment. Her migraines are wreaking havoc on her head. It has been a long weekend, and then we decided to go to church…

I will have write about my first experience in an evangelical church. To say the least I was under-whelmed, unimpressed, and if this is what my generation has to offer to worship, I want to renegotiate my birthdate and find someone who is doing something truly great…

grace and peace

all that glitters...

The gray clouds swept over the mountains and continued through the city. Their transit time was less than an hour and the relief they brought was minimal. It was just enough to coat the leaves of nearby trees the damp air clinging to my lungs. My wife and I sat on our front porch and munched on left-over pizza. As I washed down a bite with a cold beer, the wind began its invisible movements over the earth. I could see small clouds in the distance glowing red as the sun began to set. Then the show began. A tree living in yard not far from us began to twinkle in the twilight. Between the wind, the fresh coat of rain, and the sunset I was privy to the creation of a golden masterpiece. It looked like strands of natural Christmas lights, like a flock of Tinkerbells, like a shower of stars and I was fortunate enough not to miss a single burst of golden light…

I like to flip during commercials. Sometimes between just a few channels; at other times I attempt a marathon through every channel. One time I happened to catch the local “Jesus channel” which featured a show from Robert Tilton. I guess it was a show, though truth be told it sounded more like an infomercial. Robert, dressed in an expensive suit, hair coiffed, face freshly tanned, stood on a harbor in front of numerous boats and yachts. He was earnest and I could tell he believed what he was sharing. Tonight, he wanted you to call and buy his book, “How to Be Rich and Get Anything You Want”. I watched him for about five minutes as he told me I could get rich and he had the scripture to prove it.

I know a little bit about Robert’s past fall from grace and the theological atrocities that he has committed over the years. However, here he was again, touting his wares on “Jesus TV” and it made me wonder how many people were ordering at that moment. He wouldn’t do it if people didn’t buy it. He couldn’t do it if people didn’t want to take the easy road out. The thoughts that ran through my mind were grizzly. He believed what he was sharing because it worked. People who are desperate; who need contact and care send him money because he tells them it will help them. I am pretty damn sure that it doesn’t…

I know Robert Tilton is a nothing, a nobody who earns millions raping the bank accounts of the poor and the infirm. I am really not all that mad at him. I save my ire for the programmers and people who own the stations that allow this abuse to occur. Those who fill the time slots with whoever will pay, regardless of the message.

There are many more like Robert, some have been caught in their lies, others are more sneaky and insidious. They would rather peddle a pitiful gospel in the hopes of warming your hearts and greasing the gold in your wallets. What I don’t understand are the people who buy into this theology. I realize that theology is a finite pursuit by a finite species. It is an imperfect craft that can both serve and destroy humanity depending on which parts you choose to highlight.

Regardless, however you twist the words, prooftext the source, or hone your charisma the message of Christianity is service and suffering punctuated by moments of beauty, healing and wholeness. I don’t understand how some “preachers” come to any other conclusion, especially those who espouse a theology of prosperity. Christianity is the ultimate existential enterprise culminating in death and the hope of eternity.

There are beautiful things about life in the body of Christ, but it is infotainment, ill-conceived righteouness, and abuse that is all too often seen by others. Today, much of the public face of Christianity stands on the precipice between relevance and huge joke. Whether it is intelligent design, faith-oriented politics, the theology of prosperity, the “smiling preacher,” or some purpose-driven self-help drivel Christianity will not be taken seriously as a way of life that can change this world while abuses continue. Even worse, we risk becoming irrelevant.

Until we recover the beauty of the relationship between God and ourselves, God and EVERY one else (regardless of race, gender, religion, lifestyle, sexuality, whatever other label you want to ascribe to others), and God and this world we live in, we will be a joke and not a very good one at that.

I don’t want a revolution. I don't want a new style of worship or fancy gimmicks and light shows. I don’t want a public figure speaking for my faith and what I need. I don’t want faith based initiatives, prayer in schools, intelligent design or the Ten Commandments posted anywhere.

I want us to go outside and see the sunset. I want us to wave to our neighbors instead of hunkering down in the air conditioning. I want us look beyond theology and find God once again. I want us to understand sin, and better yet understand grace. I want us to live responsibly and conserve our resources so that, should I ever have children, that their grandchildren can see the beauty of this world. It is not enough to get all I can while I am alive. All that glitters may be gold, but I will happily take the gold of my sunset over what some of Christianity is peddling at this moment…

grace and peace

texts: Matt. 18:15-20, Rom. 13:8-14 title: together

I once had a black Labrador retriever named Buck. I say once because he now lives with my parents, as he has for the last seven years, in the mountains of North Georgia. Buck is a gentle, playful, loving dog without a mean bone in his body. And at 85 pounds, I believe he is one of the largest lap dogs known to humanity. However, Buck is also deathly afraid of lightening and thunder.

He wasn’t always this way. About three or four years ago, Buck was riding in a kennel in the back of my parents’ pickup truck when the truck was hit on the side by another car that recklessly pulled into traffic. He wasn’t physically hurt by the crash. However, from that day forward he has been mentally afraid of riding in the car, and of the noise and violence of thunderstorms.

Buck physically shakes when storm clouds produce their symphonies and light shows. His body trembles with fear; and I can only imagine the memories that these strange noises call up for him. One of the only comforts for Buck during these times is being near and physically touching my mom or dad. There is something about being in the presence of someone else that helps to calm his nerves and settle him down.

It is our ability to be present, as best we can, to one another that sustains us through violent and fearful times. When Katrina hit the Gulf shores of Mississippi and Louisiana last week, no one could have imagined the devastation and destruction.

Thousands upon thousands have been displaced, have lost friends and family members, have lost everything they worked for, lived with and some have even lost the people and things they loved.

Storms like Katrina bring up some of the most difficult questions in the lives of the faithful. Why do these disasters happen? Why would God allow this? What does it mean? They are good questions, all of them, but they are unanswerable unless you wish to play god.

As I thought about this disaster, I thought of three primary ways we could respond to disaster like this: we could respond with cynicism; we could respond out of fear; or we could respond with love. Either way, we are called to respond directly to the things that happen in our lifetimes. That is the crux of our Matthew passage.

We aren’t called to sit complacently and judge or gripe about what is happening around us. Whether personally or globally we aren’t to go behind people’s backs and speak ill of them.

No, we are held to a higher standard of direct love for God, ourselves, and one another. Out of our love for one another, we are to speak and act in a manner that directly deals with the person and action.

We see this example over and over again in the ministry of Christ, a caring confrontation with an offending person that dealt directly with a behavior or situation. Or let’s put it another way, if Jesus saw that something was amiss in your life, he would tell you about it, and he would tell you in a way that showed how much he cared and loved you. This is not a boot camp type confrontation, though he did shake things up a bit, but one that sought healing and wholeness in the process. Paul echoes this in his letter to the Romans as well. He believes the only thing we are to owe one another is love.

So, no doubt you have seen the devastation, the destruction, the loss of life and livelihood. We cannot go anywhere without being reminded of what has happened. While disasters like these are unexplainable, the response of the Body of Christ should not be.

There is to be no fear among us, there is to be no cynicism either. Our only way to respond to any event in our lives is to directly love and be present to those who are before us.

Whether it is care for a frightened dog, whether it is being present to someone who has lost a loved one, a livelihood or is just lost, whether it is responding to a disaster financially or through volunteering our time and talents. We can be sure that there is no better way, no better hope for humanity, no better life for God’s children than to directly love one another as best we can in every circumstance.

In a few moments we will partake of the Lord’s Supper, a time where all of the faithful from generations past and generations to come will sit at the table and share a meal together. I would ask that when you partake of the bread and cup, that you would remember your brothers and sisters all over the world who, for whatever reason, cannot do what you do today.

Remember, pray, and be present to how God calls you to respond this day to the grace and love that you have been given. Then, when the time is right, do what God asks, and go out and love.

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