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Violence had a banner year in 2015. Terrorists lived up to their name when attacks in Paris and San Bernardino forced us to realize that such incidents are not limited to Nigeria, Pakistan, Jerusalem, and Iraq. Beyond terrorism, Dylann Roof used a church meeting in South Carolina as his venue for racism. Children died by the dozens in their own homes and while in foster care. Short of a major war, can you imagine more anger, suffering, sorrow and fear than what occurred this year?
With Christmas arriving tonight, the mood of the year calls into question the promise of God, delivered through angels, to shepherds on a Judean hillside in the first century. Where is the peace that God promised? We Christians can ignore the subject or offer cliché’s and hope that questioners will accept our simple answers. Or we can look deeper.
God is not naïve about violence. The first century did not make a quiet setting for a Thomas Kinkade painting. As a harsh master, Rome built its empire by impressing defeated enemies into slavery and military service. The Peace of Rome was not a holiday. We have ancient reports of rebels crucified by the hundreds in the century before the birth of Christ. Not long after the angels sang the promise of peace Herod unleashed his barbaric response to the birth of Jesus in a military raid which we now call “the slaughter of the innocents.”
The Light of the World was born into a dark time. God knew the world in which the angels made their announcement of the Savior’s birth. It was not a better year than ours, nor were the people better than we are. Still, God made the promise of peace on earth.
Where is the fulfillment of this promise, you ask. The question reminds me of a story about a woman who dreamed she died and went to heaven. Heaven was like a giant fruit stand, filled with beautiful produce. An angel was there to take her order and she began to ask for item after item. The angel stopped her and said, “You’ve misunderstood what kind of store we run. We don’t sell fruit. We only sell seeds.”
God provides the seeds of reconciliation for our world, not the fruit. We have everything we need to produce a bumper crop of peace, if we would only plant the seeds of forgiveness, justice, mercy and love.
God’s promise is as good today as it was on that first Christmas Eve. God’s peace is real. Each person that plants the teachings of Christ can reap the harvest. And the promise is not limited to individuals alone. Remember the abolition of slavery began from Christian convictions about justice, as did the Civil Rights movement a century later. Archbishop TuTu’s Peace and Reconciliation Commission used the biblical principles of confession and forgiveness on a national scale as Apartheid ended in South Africa. Critics say the way of Jesus is impractical, yet it has worked.
The seeds of peace are here, just waiting to be planted. The promise is offered, waiting for us to recognize what can be true.
This post also appears as a column in the December 24 Edition of the Rome News Tribune.
I believe the only financial advice anyone needs can be summed up in five words: spend less than you make. The earlier you learn that lesson the better off you will be.
Motley Fool contributor, Morgan Housel, offers financial advice to his new son. His points 3, 8, and 10 relate directly to my conviction about spending less.
I disavow his jibe at commissioned sales people as some have served me well.
It’s a simple read and worth the time for young parents.
As I’ve been working on Sunday’s sermon about gratitude and generosity, I came across this video.
I’ve had multiple requests for the prayer from last Sunday, which was for elected officials at all levels of government.
O, God, we pray today for those who lead us in our community, in our nation, and in our world. Give to each one renewed energy for their lives and for their tasks of leadership. On this day may they find their bodies rested and their spirits restored. Give to each a new understanding of their position. May they see new possibilities for policy making and new possibilities of good for the people they serve. Reveal to all elected officials a common purpose that benefits all.
We pray that Christ’s heart would be expressed in both the way they do their jobs and in the outcome of their efforts. Banish pride from each life and remove vanity from all hearts so that their only desire is to serve the citizens they represent. Lead them even to sacrifice if necessary in order that they might perform their duties without regard for themselves or reelection. Banish personal ambition from each life and remove vanity from all hearts so that their only desire is to serve the citizens they represent.
And make us citizens that are worthy of our Constitution, worthy of our Bill of Rights, worthy of our liberty, and worthy of great leaders. For we know that if you grant our petitons, then we shall have the nation we desire.
In the name of Christ, our Lord, Amen.
Be sure to see A Prayer for Christian Citizenship
The week I preached on this sin I conducted anecdotal research to see how many people thought they were prone to greed. Few people did. They admitted to anger, envy, and gluttony, but no one confessed a problem with greed. A few attributed greed to others, but not to themselves.
These isolated responses backed up my assumption: the face of greed has changed and few of us see it as a spiritual problem affecting us. The old image of greed is a character like Ebenezer Scrooge, sitting in a cold room, counting gold coins while earing fingerless gloves. Occasonal news stories back up our image when we hear of a woman in Detroit who was found frozen to death in an unheated house. Later authorities discover she had hundred’s of thousands of dollars in her bank account.
Or, we visualize Michael Douglas in the nearly 30-year old movie, Wall Street, saying “Greed is good.” Greed is something that afflicts hermits who count their money, or Wall Street “fat cats,” none of whom we identify with. Therefore, greed is someone else’s problem, not ours. Anyone teaching or preaching on greed today must overcome the listeners’ rationalizations of why they are not greedy. We need images of greed that fit our generation.
One modern portrayal of greed is shopping. People joke about it all the time: with number stickers such as “shop until you drop,” shopaholic,” or simply “gone shopping.” Our greed is not counted in gold coins, but in pairs of shoes or tech items. We don’t keep the objects of our greed in bank accounts but in rental storage units because there is no longer any room in our homes. We find sweaters or shirts in the bottom of a drawer that we forgot we had purchased. Older relatives die and we find item after item in the house – unused and with the price tags still affixed. We can’t stop shopping or spending on ourselves. We must possess – and that impulse is greed.
The second way the greed of our generation expresses itself: the more we have the less we give. We convince ourselves we will be more generous when we have more, but statistics show that as we have more, we give away a decreasing percentage of what is ours. Does spending more on ourselves imply generosity or greed?
Greed is a product of fear, often the fear of not having enough. The financial industry preys on this fear all the time: you won’t have enough to retire, or to send children to college, etc.
Or fear may express itself as the anxiety of missing out on what everyone else has. Consider how many times we hear the word “deserve” in advertising. We deserve what others have, so we must spend on ourselves.
What a terrible way to live. The anxious life of greed reveals its toxic nature. It is a “deadly” sin because it murders joy.
Consider a better way:
Matthew 6: 25-34 (ESV)
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Trusting God is the antidote for greed.
Perhaps both are one and the same: the greed with which we cling to what we should let go, and the fear of letting go. Fear tells us that things might take a turn for the worse. A sparrow in one’s hand is better than a pigeon on the rooftop. I am sure of what I possess, but I am not so sure of what I shall receive upon letting go what I have. Emil Brunner in Sowing and Reaping, p. 31
I’ve had multiple requests for this prayer, which I’ve taken the liberty to edit.
Lord, when you said “I was a stranger and you took me in,” we had no idea how many of you there would be. We had no idea that you would fill cars and trains. We had no idea you would appear as people at the borders looking for admission, hoping for help. We expected you to look like us, not that you would practice a different religion. We had no idea that you would bear the name refugee.
We pray today for refugees around the world who are strangers. Those who have come to a place where they don’t know the language, don’t know the customs, don’t know a way in, and have no network of help. We pray that you would use your people to welcome you as the stranger. May each refugee who knocks at the door find hospitality, opening to welcome them. May each find that a reception so gracious that recognize the gospel and hope. We pray that each one would come to know Jesus.
Remind us that the hope of the world is Jesus and remind us that His kingdom will never end and that His purposes will never be thwarted. Remind us that no enemy shall ever thwart what he wants done and no sheep of His fold will be lost. We place not our confidence in ourselves or in our abilities or in our wealth, but solely in your power. May the things we have, the things that we care about, the things we do, find themselves a part of what you are doing in the world today. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.
Green is the color of spring. Plants send out new shoots, dormant grasses revive, and trees bud into new life. Green is the color of plant life and those who grow flowers or vegetation well are said to have a green thumb. Green represents life among plants.
So why is the deadly sin of envy associated with the color green? Because in ancient cultures, a shade of green, different from plant life, is connected to death. Look no further than John’s Revelation: “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth” (6:8). The word John uses for “pale” is cloros, the root for chlorine. Pour some bleach (Clorox gets it’s name here) into a clear glass and see what color it is. This color is associated with death because after life leaves the body, the corpse turns pale green as red blood cells break down. Before embalming was a common practice, people saw the dead as this color during the decomposition process. Pale green was also associated with various illnesses, particularly those which affected the liver. Pale green is not a color we wish to be. Consequently, Ovid, Chaucer, and Shakespeare all refer to envy as green. Dryden calls jealousy (often associated with envy) the jaundice of the soul. Envy is a deadly, sickening sin.
Angus Wilson points out the irony of envy, the only deadly sin which promises nothing except heartache: “All the seven deadly sins are self destroying, morbid appetites, but in their early stages at least, lust and gluttony, averice and sloth know some gratification, while anger and pride have power, even though that power eventually destroys itself. Envy is impotent, numbed with fear, never ceasing in its appetite, and it knows no gratification, but endless self torment. It has the ugliness of a trapped rat, which gnaws its own foot in an effort to escape” (Seven Deadly Sins, p. 11).
Wilson is correct. Sloth seems to offer rest, greed wealth, lust pleasure, gluttony fullness – but envy promises absolutely nothing except sorrow. It is a moral boomerang that, when thrown at another, returns to us. I cannot find the quotation but remember another say it is like poisoning our enemy’s food, then eating it ourselves. Envy takes the heart out of praise we feel obliged to give a professional colleague. It keeps us silent when we hear a rival unfairly criticized. It makes us quietly glad when that rival fails. It is not a psychological problem which therapy will eliminate; rather, it is a sin for which we need to repent each time it rears it’s toxic head within our hearts.
Here are some additional helps for anyone leading a Bible study or preaching on the sin of envy.
Envy is the root of many familiar biblical stories: Cain and Able, Joseph and his brothers, Saul and David, the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
“His eye was forever fixed on what he didn’t have.” Hugh Howey in The Sand Omnibus (Kindle Locations 2407-2408). .
“Envy is the religion of the mediocre. It comforts them, it soothes their worries, and finally it rots their souls, allowing them to justify their meanness and their greed until they believe these to be virtues. Such people are convinced that the doors of heaven will be opened only to poor wretches like themselves who go through life without leaving any trace but their threadbare attempts to belittle others and to exclude—and destroy if possible—those who, by the simple fact of their existence, show up their own poorness of spirit, mind, and guts.” Denise Mina, in Still Midnight, p. 101 .
Anger. Of course it is a deadly sin. News stories about road rage and disgruntled workers shooting former coworkers remind us of the deep anger which permeates society. Envy has destroyed many relationships and on a national level can lead to war. Surely it is a deadly sin. But Sloth? Really? Are our neighbors sinning because they enjoy extra time in the Jacuzzi? Are our children sinning when they procrastinate? Am I sinning by mindlessly decompressing in front of my iPad? Is sloth that bad?
In fact, as a type A personality, I envy (oops, a deadly sin). people who can relax and not worry Maybe the productive people in our society could use a dose of sloth in order to chill out. Few educated, productive individuals see sloth as a personal problem affecting them, and calling it a sin? Forget about it. No one asks a pastor, “I need help. Can you recommend a good book on sloth?”
In our society we see sloth applying to a class of people: the chronically unemployed, the stereotyped deadbeat welfare recipient, the mythical people we hear about who are on disability when they could work. But those of us who work, those of us with calendars filled with obligations – well, there is no way that sloth is an issue in our lives, and it is certainly not a sin we commit.
Not so fast. A problem in our understanding of sloth is one of translation. What we call sloth was called acedia (in Latin) and connoted much more than laziness. A full recipe for acedia includes 1/2 a cup of laziness, but also contains an equal part of apathy. A-pathos – without emotion – it means we don’t care. Thus, when we mix apathy with laziness, it means we don’t care that we don’t care. The acedia problem becomes more difficult to root out. An individual suffering from acedia finds herself in an unfulfilling job in a job, but doesn’t care enough to look for another. A married couple with acedia finds their relationship barren, but continues to go through the motions because change is too much effort.
But apathy and laziness are only part of the complete recipe. We must also add a stick of boredom and stir thoroughly. Here is James Gleick’s portrayal of boredom:
You are bored doing nothing, so you go for a drive. You are bored, just driving, so you turn on the radio. You are bored just driving and listening to the radio, so you make a call on the cellular phone. You realize that you are now driving, listening to the radio, and talking on the phone, and you are still bored. Then you reflect that it would be nice if you had time, occasionally, just to do nothing. Perhaps you have a kind of sense organ that can adjust to the slowness, after being blinded by the speed. The void is not so dark after all. With the phone not ringing, the television switched off, the computer rebooting, the newspaper out of reach, even the window shade down, you are alone with yourself. The neurons don’t stop firing. Your thoughts come through like distant radio signals finding a hole in the static. (James Gleick, in Faster, p. 268)
Now for the final ingredient in the mixing bowl of acedia: two cups of distraction. At this time of year, our primary distraction is football. We pretend it matters so much because it really matters so little. But it does distract us from real life, meaningful relationships, or involvement in causes that could make a difference. Did you know the word “sport” comes from the Latin disport, which means to distract? The latest mass shooting pales in importance next to Tom Brady’s availability for a fantasy football league. God bless you, Tom Brady. Thanks to deflategate, I don’t have to think about those victims. Or my soul. But sports is only one distraction.
Even our crammed schedules are distractions: 5:00 am – Crossfit; 7:30 am – take kids to school; 7:45 am -work, where I multitask all day; 4:30 pm – take kids to French and fencing lessons, while on a conference call in the car; 5:00 pm – gourmet cooking class; 6:30 pm – drive through Chik-fil-a while on the way to scouts….. And so it goes.
The distracted life is a wasted life and not only do we not care, but we are glad. Secretly, we love our busy-ness because it distracts us from the need to look for God working in the world or to think about how we might invest in the work of the Kingdom.
In the end we have the perfect recipe for purposeless, unfulfilling, unredeeming “life.” We waste our lives on things that don’t matter. We ignore the greater calling of life, lest it demand something of us. Yet, we are bored with it all and not care. As ancient Christians pointed out: we despair of it, but we don’t care enough to repent of it.
Such a life is acedia and such a life is sin, precisely because of its waste and because it is self centered and ignores God. Sloth is not just a sin of an imagined lazy member of of the welfare class; rather it is the sin of all who waste their lives on loves that are too small and causes that are not worthy of our devotion, but serve to protect us from having to respond to the impulse of the Spirit to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, and with all our might. The fact we don’t care enough to do anything about it is just a further indictment that the sins ours.
Here are a few quotes that related to acedia:
The word “boredom” does not exist in any ancient language. It first appears in the 17th century. No one knows its origin.
Peter Kreft in Christianity for Modern Pagans, p. 187
The Church name the sixth Deadly Sin as Sloth. It is the sin which believes nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, and only remains alive because there is nothing it would die for.
Dorothy Sayers in Creed or Chaos?, p. 108
The religion that costs nothing, that demands no hard sacrifices of other things, that does not lift the life out of low-level motives, is worth little and makes little difference to the life. The type of religion on the other hand, which costs the all, which makes the cross the central fact that dominates the life as its one driving power, becomes an incalculable force and turns many to salvation.
Rufus Jones in The World Within, p. 43
From The Seven Deadly Sins, Wilson Angus, editor:
The malice of sloth lies not merely in the neglect of duty, but in the refusal of joy. It is allied to despair. p. 58.
Fiction and non-fiction alike are full of characters who fail to do what they should because of the effort involved. p. 19
Sloth is the background radiation of the day. It is the easy listening station of the culture. It is everywhere and no longer noticed. p. 20
Above: Ed Hine crests the summit of the Beartooth Highway at 11,000 feet.
These last two days were what we trained for: The Chief Joseph Scenic Highway and Beartooth Pass. The Chief Joseph represented a spectacular climb, coming out of Cody. Ed, Tom and I made a strategic decision to ride in the van to the top of the climb, with hopes of finishing the day from there. The climb was so challenging that we were apprehensive that we might use all our energy for the climb.
As it turned out the day was difficult enough that we didn’t finish anyway. The descent from the top of the main climb was full of hairpins and the surface was bad “chip seal,” demanding extra care on the way down. Almost as soon as we bottomed out, we hit more ascents, one with a 10% grade for close to half-mile. The altitude and the headwind made me resort to weaving my way up the hill. After lunch, what should have been downhill still required much effort as the wind kicked up even more. We finally gave up the effort and rode the van at the end of the day as we had at the beginning. We were slightly mollified as only two riders finished the day on bikes. Altitude, wind, and grade are tough opponents.
The final few miles into Cooke City gave us a preview of the last day, as we would backtrack the final miles of Thursday to begin Friday’s attack on the Beartooth. As a result, all but two riders decided to take bump in the van Friday morning in order to start at a point that included some downhill in order to get warmed up before the remaining 24 miles of climbing.
Ed, Tom, and I took different bumps in the van, resulting in me riding for almost two hours by myself without a rider in sight. A few cars passed and one camper rode beside me so that a woman could lean out the window and take my picture, but the two hours were grueling.
Eventually I made the aid station and bumped past most of the group to where Ed had progressed with a combination of riding and bumps in the van. The last 4-5 miles was nothing but progressive switchbacks as we climbed toward 10,900+ feet. I actual found this stretch easier than many we had ridden. We ate lunch at the top and I decided to begin my recovery there, declining to ride the remaining miles of the day.
I’ve not added exact miles, but I rode more than 250, many at higher elevations than I’d ever ridden before. I was pleased with the accomplishment.
It was a great week with friends – those from Rome – Ed Hine, Tom Watters, and Dan Greason; and friends made on previous Lizardhead trips – the Texans, the Pratt’s, and Tony. As always there were new friends as well. Cycling includes great people. I wish Floyd County’s elected officials could catch that vision.
Thanks to the Lizardhead guides, DeAnne and Emily. They are truly amazing young women with tremendous abilities that could be used in many professions. They provide great food, great support, and loads of encouragement and fun. And thanks to owner John Humphries. Though you weren’t with us on this trip, we felt your presence on every challenging climb. You make us old guys stretch the limits. There’s still life in these legs.