Happy Birthday Dr. Barth

Today is the birthday of Dr. Karl Barth, the brilliant Swiss Theologian. He would have been 131 years old today. I would encourage you to to read or listen to something Barthian today. You can read the Barmen Confession here (statement from evangelical churches in German against the Nazi control church of the state in 1934), any of a number of his works can be found to read for free at Tyndale seminary’s Karl Barth reading room (a public domain version of The Humanity of God can be found there and it is wonderful), and you can listen to the 1962 Warfield Lectures at Princeton (I love the question and answer section primarily because it reminds me that seminarians have apparently always been kiss ups).

To quote Dr. Barth:

Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.

I personally am joyful for how Dr. Barth has helped me to connected with the God Who desires to be known.

Kicking To the Middle

I really enjoy reading and listening to Malcolm Gladwell. “Insight porn” is the name I have heard used regarding his genre of writing, since the thrill of similar books seems to be the “aha” moments that happen through such books. Gladwell references in several of his works a study1 studying what area of the goal a penalty kick is most effective and where most soccer or football players will kick a penalty kick or which area goalkeepers will dive to attempt the block. This study indicates that the most likely chance of success for a penalty kick is kicking the ball to the middle of the goal rather than to either one of the sides. Want to guess where most players kick the ball or guess where the goalkeepers usually go for the block? If you said “not the middle” then you are correct and you win the prize((sorry to tell you that there is no prize)).  Gladwell speculates that the cost of looking like you aren’t trying as hard or looking foolish is greater to the players than the reward of the increased likelihood of a goal. Therefore the players kick to the sides rather than the middle where they are more likely to score and thus do a better job.

I bring this up because I struggle with the same thing every now and then.  Sometimes I am more concerned with looking like I am working hard than actually working hard. The current specific instance occurs within one of the companies that I chaplain for, but I could also list pastoring and other situations if I felt the urge.

The best and most meaningful conversations I have in one of my companies consistently happen in the break room. I’m not sure what it is about the physical structure of the building, the culture of the company, or my own behavior but every time I take a book and sit in the break room really meaningful conversations about serious needs happens. I joked with the head of the company that I should just announce my presence and go straight to the break room instead of doing my rounds. So why don’t I do this?

Well because of my own fear of looking like I’m not doing anything. I know that I am a more effective chaplain when I sit in the break room, but I believe I look like a more effective chaplain when I am walking around the company. If I were in a signalling mindset at the moment I would say that I was more concerned with signalling that I am an busy than I was actually being effective. That’s why I am posting this here and I have discussed this with the head of the company. I am trying to be more concerned with being effective than I am with looking effective. The plan is set. All I need to do now is pick a book and go to the break room. I am going to be more concerned with being effective, than looking effective.


  1. This study is from Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame – you can hear the Freakonmics episode on this study here

Shibboleth

The messages I deliver during Tapestry’s Sunday morning gatherings are usually structured around one book of the Bible at a time. We don’t usually go topical, but it does happen every now and then. This morning I thought it was important to address acting like a follower of Christ in the midst of the results of Friday’s executive order affecting immigration/refugee. Loving our neighbor is supposed to be a shibboleth of the Christian church.

The audio from the introduction to this morning’s gathering is below. Please forgive two things: 1) the audio quality is poor because it is from the room mic, not my mic, and 2) I realized while I was reading from Judges 12:4-6 that I initially mispronounced “shibboleth” as “sibboleth” and decided on the fly that it would cause confusion with two words that sound very similar if I stopped and corrected myself mid-reading. Therefore, I continued the passage swapping “shibboleth” with “sibboleth” and vice versa.

Threads“, several of you asked “what can we do?” The answer is we’re working on that and we need your creativity. At present we are contacting UWSP to see about extending love to the international students and faculty at the university. You will hear more concerning this. We are also trying to contact some international communities in our area to also spread love. For now I encourage you to do two things: 1) Do as  Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us and be a good and loving neighbor – that’s why He ends it with saying “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37), and 2) contact your senators and representative to let them know your thoughts as a follower of Christ concerning how we treat the foreigner. Your senators and rep if you live in the Point area are:

Senator Tammy Baldwin, 717 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510, (202) 224-5653, Online Contact twitter

Senator Ron Johnson, 328 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510 (202) 224-5323, Online Contact twitter

Representative Ron Kind, 1502 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515 (202) 225-5506 Online Contact twitter

No matter your politics, whether you are conservative, liberal, libertarian, or, like me, a mutt please get involved and let vales of followers of Christ be heard concerning the “strangers” in our midst and at our doors.

Karate Chop The Fear That Keeps Us From Helping Refugees

Yesterday I posted about a list of what you should do every day that I am presently really digging. Johnny Karate’s 5 Karate Moves to Success. Today I’m going to write about one of the things that I believe those of us who claim to follow Christ should karate chop.

Before I begin let me say something that I say at Tapestry pretty frequently. I don’t talk about politicians at Tapestry but I do often talk about politics. Politics are about the policies that our government supports or avoids. My friend, Clint, would say that basically “everything that happens in life is politics”. I would say everything is theological but I understand the similarity and Clint is a really smart guy so I’ll support him on this statement. Policies are issues that the church should be involved in because they involve how we act and operate as a citizenry and country. They reflect our values as a people. It is my opinion that talking about politicians at church, or as a chaplain, diverts me from the mission I have been called to work toward, but talking about policies (i.e. politics) helps to promote that mission. I believe this leads to followers of Christ being a “thorn in the flesh” of politicians because we will become more concerned with getting certain things done than we are with which of the various parties gets credit for the completed actions.

So let’s talk about Christians allowing their fear to determine how we treat refugees and for that matter immigrants also. If you are a follower of Christ you have given up your right to allow fear (other than the fear/awe of God, but that’s a different thing) to determine your actions. You gave up that right when you declared Jesus as Lord. To declare that Jesus is Lord means that He has the right to determine how we lead our lives and we have agreed to follow His directives. If you don’t recognize Him as Lord that’s another matter, but if we declare Him to be Lord then we have no right to allow fear to keep us from doing what He wants. That’s why so often his messengers (the meaning of the word aggelos, ἄγγελος, angel) begin their messages from Him with the phrase “do not be afraid”1 .

And the thing is we know how He wants us to respond to those in need and the foreigners in our midst. Scripture makes this very clear. There are too many references to list here2 but I think Deuteronomy 10:19 does a good job of summarizing the intent of them. It states, “and you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” Love! That is the command we have been given by our Lord. We are to love the foreigner and there is no debate about it. As the wonderful contemporary theologians DC Talk reminded us “love is a verb” and therefore we need to be active in our love toward the weak.

Jesus continues the thought of the Old Testament in His parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. I have mentioned this parable on the blog before and I am pretty sure that I reference in conversations around Tapestry about once a month. Basically Jesus says in the parable that we better be on the look out for Him in the personages of those in need. The way we respond to these “least of these” is our response to Jesus ((Matthew 25:40)) .

Please noticed that I haven’t spoken about any of the political parties in this post. Neither of the two primary, dominant, political parties has done that great of job with refugees and immigrants. My friend, fellow pastor, and immigration lawyer, Scott Hicks recently posted an article referring to former President Obama as the Deporter-in-Chief on the same day that he advised immigrants to avoid Butler County, Ohio because of President Trump’s executive order concerning immigrants. Those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ should demand more from all our politicians rather than thinking our party is doing a good job with refugees and immigrants. We should be concerned with treating those who are different from us in a Christ like manner, not just concerned about whether our party is in power or not. Like I said earlier we should be a “thorn in the flesh” of politicians and we can’t do that if we allow our fears to keep us from doing what we have been commanded to do by our Lord.

As I was just reminded by the excellent religious commentary “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events3 the Hebrew word miṣwāh means both “command” and “blessing”. For those who claim to be disciples of the messiah doing what God has commanded is not just obeying our Lord but is also the giving and receiving of a blessing. Jesus described this by stating “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”4 To do the will of God is a blessing, as we can’t let our fear overcome us and keep us from the blessing of the command of God.

We can and should have serious debate about how best to care for refugees and immigrants, but if you are a follower of Christ you cannot allow your fear to keep you from jumping in to help the weak. We need to karate chop our fear.


  1. Luke 1:30 is just one example 

  2. Relevant Magazine has a good online article describing what the Bible says about how we are to treat refugees. 

  3. Yep Pam and I are watching the first episode as I type this post 

  4. Luke 11:28 

The Apostle’s Creed

This past Sunday I asked all the “threads” to consider praying the Apostle’s Creed during the day. Just in case you didn’t know where to look for it I thought I would post it here.

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the church universal,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Amen.

Gloriously Noisy

I am sitting in our den watching “The Dirty Dozen” (such a good movie) while Pam is doing some work for tomorrow and I am thinking about what a wonderful Sunday it was. A few weeks ago Erc G asked what I thought about one Sunday setting up various percussion instruments for the kids to play during the music at Tapestry. I told him that I thought it was a wonderful idea. So today he made sure there were various percussion instruments setup in the back of the room for our little ones to play as a part of our gathering today.

To quote Pam it wasn’t “‘children’s church’ or a special kids Sunday. Just letting little ones participate fully in the regular service with bongos, maracas, djembe, and cajon.” Yeah the beat was sometimes interesting. Yep it got a little noisy sometimes. There were more smiles during the singing than I have ever seen at a Tapestry gathering and that is saying something because smiles are VERY common at Tapestry gatherings. Our kids did a great job of helping us to declare the worth of our God. They weren’t a distraction. They were joy leaders.

It was a really good Sunday. I am very thankful for Eric and our smallest “threads”.

SIDE NOTE – 7 years ago today Jürgen and I became BFFs.

jurgenandme

N.T. Wright on Philemon

For some reason I have mentioned and briefly discusses Paul’s letter to Philemon. This is probably because I have been leading Tapestry on Sunday’s the Paul’s letters to Timothy and therefore I have been thinking a good bit about Paul. Anyhow, it is a short and great book that is full of social justice. In this case, how the gospel of the kingdom of God was going to lead to the abolition of slavery eventually – they path was set and it was a matter of time and followers of Christ recognizing the direction of God.

Anyhow, today N.T. Wright a writer and thinker that I respect a great deal announced that he is offering an online course on the letter to Philemon for free. Here’s the link. I’ve signed up for it and would love to hear what others who sign up also think about what we learn.

Patrick’s Breastplate

St. Patrick's Breastplate ISt. Patrick's Breastplate II CAY on white
Here is a shortened version of Patrick’s Breastplate, the prayer that I mentioned today during the message. Yes “shortened” means there is a longer version.
 
I arise today through
 
God’s strength to pilot me, God’s might to uphold me,
 
God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to see before me,
 
God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me,
 
God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to lie before me,
 
God’s shield to protect me, God’s host to secure me –
 
against snares of devils,
 
against temptations and vices,
 
against inclinations of nature,
 
against everyone who shall wish me
 
ill, afar and anear,
 
alone and in a crowd…
 
Christ, be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
 
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
 
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit,
 
Christ where I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
 
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
 
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
 
Salvation is of the Lord.
 
Salvation is of the Lord.
 
Salvation is of the Christ.
 
May your salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

Would Your Political Enemies Say You Are A Follower of Christ?

At church I regularly talk politics without talking politicians. What I mean is that I don’t talk about specific politicians, while I do talk about how the kingdom of God should direct how we live as aliens in this world, ambassadors of the kingdom who live in this country, and a royal priesthood who get to vote for those who represent us in this republic. You see I am positive that a person’s faith in Christ should affect the way they act and live as a citizen. Therefore, as a part of church I talk about issues that often butt up against what our current politicians are at the very least talking about (which doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing anything). But in church, or on this blog, I don’t talk about who I am voting for.1

Presently though I am saddened to see how some who claim to be followers of Christ are responding to those with whom they disagree. I understand that people feel strongly about the election. I feel strongly about it too. I will freely admit that while I am not thrilled with either of the major party candidates, there is one that I am truly scared of, and I hope and have been praying that this candidate loses.2 Of course, I also have a decent amount of faith in the system to work even if we elect the unthinkable. I just really hope the American people don’t decide in such a way that I have to find out if I am right or wrong about the American system being able to handle the unthinkable.

Still I know people are heated over this election and I have seen some people say things about their political opponent and the people that support that opponent that are, frankly, repulsive. Mean, hateful, ungodly things about the people on the other side. People who have been created in the Image of God who because they hold a different political ideology are treated as the other – intrinsically different, non-bearers of the Imago Dei. I understand that they may be your “political enemies” but Christ said the following concerning how we should treat our enemies.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-38

Pretty straight forward in my opinion. Just in case it isn’t that straight forward here is a quote from Justin Martyr describing Christians in the second century living this out in the following manner:

We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.

This is in the 2nd century, the 100s, people. They understood what it meant to have enemies back then. Want another source, well the Didache, possibly the earliest non-scripture teaching of the church, says the following concerning how we are to live out loving our enemies.

“Bless those who curse you,” and “pray for your enemies.” Moreover, fast “for those who persecute you.” For “what credit is it to you if you love those who love you? Is that not the way the heathen act?” But “you must love those who hate you,” and then you will make no enemies.

Again they knew what enemies were back then and they understood Jesus to say “love your enemies”, and therefore they tried to do it. But some who claim to follow Christ seem to have forgotten this in regard to political candidates that they have never met and even worse people whom they claim to love who are voting for a different candidate than they are. It isn’t just in this election, I’ve seen it happen many times before, but it does seem to have amp’d up a good bit during this election. If we say we are followers of Christ then we need to do what He says.

I wonder if when we see Jesus face to face if He isn’t going to ask us if we really loved Him, because our actions towards Hillary, Donald, and those that support them didn’t seem to reflect that love. The problem with Jesus is that He really meant it when He said things like “love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” If we are going to claim to be children of the Most High then we should try to live out what He says. So stop treating your political opponents so badly. Love them, or at least be honest and admit you aren’t following Christ right now.


  1. I don’t mind discussing who I am voting for and why I will vote for them if you ask me in private, just not during the message. 

  2. Again, I won’t say who on my blog ,which is on the church website, and you don’t know if I am talking about your candidate or not. 

Alton Sterling & the Imago Dei

So in the midst of a busy day I have been reading the thoughts of some of my friends from a city that I love and praying for Baton Rouge throughout the afternoon. I am just confused by the whole thing and I don’t have any answers. I would say that I know the One Who is the answer and I believe I do, but the problem is saying that just sounds trite and usually seems to shut down thoughts and actions that might lead to working towards justice for all, rather than doing what I believe Jesus actually does, which is be with us in the midst of our pain and push us to look for the actions that reflect the kingdom of God (Thy will be done on earth as in heaven).

So instead I sit here thinking what would I be doing right now if we still lived in Baton Rouge. Would my family and I be doing something gloriously stupid that might cost me the position I had at a overwhelmingly white church? Would I be asking my black friends how I could assist them in using the moment to push for greater justice for them and a society where African-American males don’t have to walk in fear just because of the color of their skin? Because, I fear for my friends who are young black men and what they often have to face. Would I be encouraging the BR police force to consider its actions and attitudes while also listening to the police men and women that I knew and hearing their fears? Because I fear for my friends who are peace officers and what they have to face. Would I be helping my friends and neighbors work toward a better society? Because need to continually be forming our country into a more perfect union.

I hope so but the reality is that I am just a transplanted Southern living in Wisconsin. I’m no longer down there so I don’t really know what I would be doing.

I do hope that I would be encouraging myself, my family and friends, and everyone else to purposefully be looking for the image of Christ in the people we would be talking and interacting with over the next weeks and months. Encouraging both sides to look with eyes hoping to discern the face of God in the others around us. Seeing Christ in someone changes the way I act. Noticing His image (the Imago Dei or Imago Christi) in someone else tends to shake me out of just living my own agenda and reminds me to act out the upside down kingdom of God –  a kingdom where the weak are strong and leaders serve instead of lording their power over people. My problem is that I often forget to remind myself to look for the Imago Christi in the people that I am having trouble or the people I am scared of. When I don’t see that image I tend to do really stupid things in the way I treat people.

I guess if I were in Baton Rouge I would be constantly reminding people at the church I served of the 25th chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew. I’ll paraphrase it how I believe the passage fits in the current situation.

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His glorious throne. All the peoples will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was different from you and you treated Me fairly and didn’t let your fear control you, I was scared and you didn’t see My fear as a threat to you, I was a stranger and you invited Me in rather than wanting Me out of your area, I needed protection and your protected Me, I was culturally sick and you helped Me see past what the cultural was telling Me, I was imprisoned in a system that was destroying Me and you fought to break through that system and help Me be free.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see You different and treat You fairly, or scared and not see Your fear as a threat? When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or needing protection and protect You? When did we see You culturally sick or imprisoned in a system and be a part of Your healing and escape?

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me.”

Then He will say to those on his left, “Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was different from you and you took advantage of Me because you saw My difference as a threat to you, I was scared and you saw My fear as a threat and sought to hurt Me, I was a stranger and chased Me away, I needed protection and you turned your back on Me, I was culturally sick and you thought you were better than Me, I was imprisoned in a system that was destroying Me and you just said it was all My own fault and doing.”

They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you different or scared or a stranger or needing protect or culturally sick or imprisoned, and did not help you?”

He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.”

I hope that if I was still in Baton Rouge I would be helping people to act like sheep to one another because of seeing the Imago Christi rather than not seeing it and acting like goats. I hope I am doing this now in Wisconsin. It is the only answer I have right now.