Sinners’ Prayer??

My wife Barbie is a hospice chaplain and being careful to keep the HIPAA confidentiality rules, I enjoy hearing her share some of her stories. Last week she was visiting an elderly gentleman whose wife was desperate for him to pray the sinners’ prayer before he died and she voiced that in front of her husband and Barbie. The dying man turned to Barbie and said something to the effect “so am I a sinner and in need of praying?”. Barbie replied “well, I’m a sinner and I pray all the time”. Her answer seemed to lower his defenses and they were able to have a conversation that went deeper than his pain or comfort level.

I think this encounter illustrates well one of the biggest barriers to the church being able to reach the un-churched. The un-churched get the feeling that sin has been distilled down to simply not being a Christian or not going to church. And frankly, I tend to agree with their assessment. Once “saved” and in the church, we all too often become spectators not really engaged in the daily battle against sin. We may not murder, but I suggest sin is just about as rampant in the church as it is just outside its doors.

Galatians 5: 19-21, 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

In the verses above we have numerous things from sex outside of marriage to envy as disqualifiers to be heirs of the kingdom of God. And a similar list in Romans 1:26-32 list everything from male and female homosexuality along with gossips and those being disobedient to their parents in a list of wickedness and identifying those who participate in them as worthy of death. And these are just a couple of similar list given throughout the New Testament.

I suggest our attitude towards the un-church should be much more like the person stuck in the mud (who has some experience getting out) and he ask the person next to him if he/she would like to work together to get out of the “miry clay”. Yes the un-church must realize, as we hopefully have, that they are stuck in the mud, but they are much more likely to consider that truth from a fellow muddy person rather than from someone who has simply “put on” some really clean “looking” clothes.

Barbie’s answer to that dying man has challenged me, a sinner, to pray more.

Are you on fie yuh?

After reading an article recently of another Tibetan monk setting himself on fire in protest against the Chinese government I was reminded me of Alicia Keys’ song for Barak Obama on inauguration night.

I have to admit, Alicia’s amazing voice mitigated the full absurdity of this song when you actually consider some of the lyrics (not counting the 11 times she says Obama’s “on fie yuh”). Barak is also “walking on fire”, “hotter than a fantasy”,” got his feet on the ground” but “his head in the clouds”??,” lighting up the night” and perhaps most notably “ruling the world” (along with his wife Michele).

I will resist the temptation to suggest a connection between that last line and prophecies concerning the end times, but I will ask the question of we Christians: how much spark, flame or warmth is coming from you as it relates to the gospel of Christ. We often use fire metaphors to describe the Christian life. Tongues of fire, the fire of the Spirit, being purified by fire or being on fire for God. I have often heard that we should spread the Love of Christ around the world and if necessary use words and I think these fire metaphors fall in line with that thinking to some degree. I more often think of fire as something I feel, smell or see rather than hear and I believe we would do well to embrace that concept in our measure of how effective our lives are in declaring the Good News. Is my light brightly reflecting the sacrificial gift of Christ? Do people feel the warm Love of God coming from me? These are uncomfortable questions for me to ask myself and I suspect they might be for you as well. But these are questions that nevertheless must be asked as we are called to be ambassadors for Christ to this cold and dying world. We are not to measure ourselves by ourselves (that would be too easy). Rather we are to measure our lives by the word of God and Christ Himself. Am I placing myself on the altar of daily sacrifice to become a pleasant odor, guiding light or loving warmth to the un-churched? That is my intent, but more often than I care to admit the good intentions is where I stop, not following through with that daily laying down of my will in deference to Christ.

When people get near me do they risk getting “burned” (in a good way)?

Tipping God?

I suspect some of you were as outraged as I was this week when it was reported that a pastor from the St. Louis area denied a waitress what I can only imagine was a well-earned tip. Because this pastor was with a large group in excess of 8, who’s total tab came to over $200, the SOP of Applebee’s along with most restaurants is to automatically add a suggested 18% tip. They cannot force you to pay it, but they do this because when a waiter or waitress has a large table it can often demand most of his/hers efforts during the short lunch or dinner rush. If they are waiting on 4 or 5 different tables, the potential generosity of patrons gets spread out over several opportunities. But with a large group, if there is little or no tip, the wait staff can often come away with less (and sometimes much less) than minimum wage. In fact when the common practice of tip sharing comes into play, it can even put them into negative territory.

I tend to be especially sensitive to these kinds of situations as 4 of my 6 kids have worked as servers. Their stories of which ethnic, gender or social groups tip the best and worst only confirmed what can be read in so many articles or other rants in the public press and blogosphere. The pastor in the story above came from two of the worst offending groups but I will only deal with the obvious fact that this person was a Christian (being a pastor and all).

First of all, this pastor needs to get on the biblical side of theology. Everything already belongs to God and if anybody is tipping anybody, it is God being abundantly generous with us by “tipping” us the 90% in our service of Him (although I’m quite sure we rarely deserve it). To put the 10% tithe into the category of a tip for God hurts my heart on a level that is hard to describe (there are tears in my eyes as I try and write this through the knowledge that the pain of the cross for Jesus is a constant reminder when Christian do stupid things like this). It is we who are serving Christ, not the other way around. And this pastor has apparently fallen into the rampant entitlement mentality towards God which is so prevalent in our secular society today. However, this pastor was even more blatant in their manner by drawing God into the situation since He is the opposite of stingy. What they penned was arrogant beyond measure in its presentation to be tantamount to saying “here’s your 10% tip God, next time could you be a little more responsive to my water glass or ….(fill in the blank)”. As if God were our waiter – really.

To top that, the pastor in the story above doubled down on their selfish and arrogant attitude by actually calling the Applebee’s demanding that everyone involved from servers to managers be fired. They did this despite the fact the server never identified the pastor in her post on the Reddit thread. Compounding the sadness of this story, Applebee’s did in fact fire the waitress instead of backing her. I do not know the eternal status of this pastor, but what was done in this story was not Christian (Greek – Christ like) when considering the unmatched generosity of Christ and our call to be like Him.

God has been so very generous to us by his commitment to care for us, making a place for us in heaven, healing our hurts and most of all His sacrifice of life on the cross for us. Christians should be the most generous tippers on the planet and yet get with a group of servers and the insults and sarcasm towards goody two shoe Christians will flow freely. How can this be? How can it be that those of us who have been given so much and come to realize how much has be done in sacrificial service for our salvation and eternal security would be stereotyped as some of the most stingy people on the planet. And yet this reputation is unfortunately well deserved as I know Christians who see it as being good stewards to not be generous in their tips? Some, as also mentioned in the article, go so far as to often leave a fake 10 dollar bill that when opened is an invitation to get to know Christ who is “worth more than money”. This is bad form, bad theology, not the heart of God and perhaps most sad is the fact that people who do this are clueless to the fact that it has the opposite effect on the lost and un-churched as any appeal for Christ.

Here’s my tip, since we can never out “tip” God, as Christian let’s do our part to fully appreciate becoming the servant of all and start experiencing the joy that comes from being a hilarious 20%+ tipper. And if you are tempted to leave one of those fake money tracts, here’s another “tip” leave it folded inside a couple of real 10’s, 20’s or whatever amount of monetary tip you could imagine Jesus’ leaving.

Although there are many, many verses encouraging generosity, I will leave just one as properly served “food” for you to “chew” on.

Proverbs 11:24
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.