Blame Game

Why are we so quick to place blame?

We blame without even thinking about it.

Last week, I made a quick stop at a fast-food place.  It doesn’t matter which one; all that matters is that it was a fast-food restaurant with multiple drive-through lines.

I placed my order, listened as it was read back to me, got my total, and pulled up.

My total was $11.13.

When I got to the window, I was asked for $6.52.

“My order was $11.13,” I said.

The attendant looked at the monitor for a few seconds. Completely understandable. My order was found, then she turned to me and said, “Oh, you got out of order.”

I got out of order?

I pulled through when I was directed to pull through.  I didn’t gun it to cut the car in the other line off.  In fact, that car wasn’t moving.

But, anyway: does it matter if I got out of order?  Does it matter what happened?

I think all that really mattered is that each customer get their own order and pay their own price.

This is more about language than customer service. It seems we learn to form sentences in ways to pass the blame off to someone else whether we mean to or not.

I didn’t feel like the attendant expected an apology; only that she had figured out the problem. And that it was my fault.

Why does someone have to be at fault?

Because we play the blame game.  We even play it unconsciously, which I think is what was happening here.

When merely identifying or naming something that has happened, does your choice of words usually affix blame somewhere?  If so, is blaming really necessary?

I have to admit, I am being a little touchy here.  But I share this not so much for you to stop blaming me, but ti invite you to do as I’ve begun doing; learn to check the words you say for how they might be heard.

For a start, let’s all work on not starting a statement with the word “You.”  Describing an event or making a statement can easily be done without starting the sentence with “You.”

Come on, now.

You can do this!

Blame Game

Wasted on Jesus

In Matthew 26:6-13, a woman interrupted Jesus’ visit to Simon’s home by anointing him with oil.  She took an alabaster jar ‘f “Very expensive oil” and poured it on him while he was sitting at dinner.anointing Jesus

The disciples, Jesus’ closest and dearest, most committed followers, take offense. “Why this waste?” they asked.

Wasted on Jesus.

The perfume could have been sold, they continued, and the proceeds given to the poor.

Jesus’ disciples, his closest and most committed followers, felt that this extravagant gift had been wasted on Jesus.

The disciples were all about efficiency.  They weren’t a wealthy lot, and the had quickly picked up on Jesus passion for the poor.  They couldn’t stand that this expensive perfume had been wasted. On Jesus.

Yet Jesus, rather than applauding their penny-pinching, corrects them: “Why do you make trouble for this woman? She’s done a good thing for me.”

Now, I don’t know about you or your church, but we don’t have a lot of extra money lying around here.  We have a lot of generous people here willing to give to help the less fortunate.

Like most these days, we want the money we give to be used to the best, most-efficient purposes.  Some won’t give to general budget because they want every dime of their money to go to the cause; the efficient, don’t-pay-for-the-red-tape feet-on-the-ground need.Some of us want to see the financial reports that prove we aren’t wasting money.

But what if we are wasting it on Jesus?

I think it is significant that this passage appears in the chapter after Jesus teaches that giving to the poor is giving to him:

‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’ – Matthew 25:40

So, I believe, in giving to the poor we are giving to Jesus. But what, then, is the point of this story in Matthew 26?

Like  so much of our lives, and our issues, I believe it comes down to control.

The disciples, in the interest of efficiency, overlook the moment and the passion of the woman anointing Jesus.  They don’t grasp what is happening, or what it might mean to Jesus. And they think they can manage the moment and the gift better than the woman who is doing the giving.

Besides this being about the disciples’ concern over what someone else does, it is about their interest to control and direct resources. In this case, not even their own resources, but someone else’s.

They correctly caught that Jesus cared for the poor. But they misdiagnosed his care.  Jesus didn’t care for the poor as merely a matter of redistribution of resources.

Jesus cared for the poor out of a generous, sharing, giving heart.

Jesus knew, the Bible teaches, and modern research has proven, the power of generosity.

The woman anointing Jesus is not careful with her gift. She is lavish, extravagant, generous. Jesus is pleased and gracious in receiving her gift.

May you and I learn to model generosity more than concern for waste.

Wasted on Jesus

4 Fingers Pointing

Jesus’s disciples were his closest followers.

If anyone got it, they did. Sometimes they did, but sometimes they obviously didn’t.

Like in Matthew 26:8-9.  (Part of today’s reading in Euless First United Methodist Church’s GPS – Grow-Pray-Study guide)

Now when the disciples saw it they were angry and said, “Why this waste? This perfume could have been sold for a lot of money and given to the poor.”

What had happened to anger Jesus’ followers? A woman came to Jesus while he was sitting at dinner and poured an alabaster jar of “very expensive perfume” on his head.

Jesus’ followers can be masters of cost and efficiency, especially when they are looking at, and looking to criticize or condemn others.

You and I run the risk of being exactly the same way, whether or not we consider ourselves followers of Jesus. It is easy for us to criticize, even condemn the actions of others.

But Jesus didn’t accept the criticism.  Jesus didn’t agree that this woman was wasteful; he accepted her gift with grace and gratitude.

My parents taught me a long time ago that the danger of pointing a finger at someone else is that it leaves you with 4 fingers pointing back at yourself.

Reading this passage, I wonder if the disciples parents had taught them the same lesson.

It is so easy to point at others. Focus on their actions, deflect focus from yourself, from your own choices, failures, weaknesses, etc.

Jesus’ disciples would have been better off focusing on their own behavior rather than condemning someone else’s.

Jesus’ disciples are still better off focusing on our own behavior rather than condemning someone else.

Next time you catch yourself wanting to point out someone else’s behavior to Jesus, consider this lesson from Matthew 26:6-13.

4 Fingers Pointing

I “Like” the Bible!

I really like the Bible! Not just “like” as in I click on a thing is social media to share with the world, or at least those witch whom I am connected. No, I really actually like the Bible.


Except the parts that I don’t like.

Ok, well, this is a bit oversimplified.

I was reading Romans 10 earlier today, and, wow!  Roman’s 10 has some incredibly powerful stuff.  Salve for what hurts, you know?

Like this

There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord is Lord of all, who gives richly to all who call on him. -Romans 10:12

But then I get to thinking about all the parts of the Bible that aren’t quite so clear and encouraging as that. Like this

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. -Matthew 5:22

Ok, well, that’s perfectly clear, but not nearly so encouraging.

I suppose one could pick-and-choose which parts of the Bible are more important, or more valuable.  Some people (ahem) cut and paste – keeping the verses they like and cutting out – either literally or practically – the ones they don’t. Some have simply walked away from the Bible because it is hard to make it all jive together.

I learned in seminary that “scripture interprets scripture.” This means, without going deeply theological on you, that, since we (Christians) claim the entire book as authoritative and inspired, we wrestle with the more difficult parts in light of the less difficult parts.

I used the word “wrestle” intentionally.  Figuring out what God says to us in and through the Bible is a wrestling match.

And wrestling with God is in the Bible, too!

It is tempting to turn to the Bible as a mere instructional manual.  Some only want it for the stories.  I’m thinking they haven’t read many of those stories very closely, but that’s another post.

Whatever your relationship with the Bible, believe this:  God give richly to all who call on him. And this God who gives richly would rather wrestle with you over the meaning than have you walk away.

I “Like” the Bible!

Rob God?

Today’s reading is Malachi 3.  While this chapter is overflowing with substance for discussion and thought provocation, the part that always captures my attention is

Will anyone rob God?

In context, this question is about robbing God by denying the tithe. We rob God when we decline to participate in God’s ordained pattern of support for ministry and aid in fighting selfishness and materialism.

But is this the only way we rob God?

I was pondering this on the way to work this morning.  Stopped at a red light, I checked my mirror and reminded myself to be patient while waiting for the light to change.  The man driving the car behind me appeared similarly patient.

Pulling up next to me, in the left turn lane, were 2 young women, I believe heading to high school.  My mind wandered back to making those morning treks myself. As I began to think about all the different places people at this same red light might be going, I checked my mirror again, and heard a voice gently encourage me to pray for the man behind me.

I have no idea his destination or his story, but I know he is a man created in God’s image, and into whom God has breathed life.  I know God’s will for him, like for me and for everyone, is to bless him, and draw him into a good, healthy, and hopeful relationship with his creator.

So I prayed for these things for this man.

Then, as I prayed, Malachi 3 returned to me.

Do we rob God when we forget that others are created in God’s image as we are? Do we rob God when we fail to treat others as beloved of God, as people whom God wants to bless?

not robbing God

Rob God?

A Quiet Verse

About a month ago we started offering a GPS in our weekly worship guide.  GPS stands for “Grow, Pray, Study.”

Today’s scripture reading is Philippians 2.  I preached on a passage from this chapter yesterday, but today, reading the entire chapter, it got real for me as a reader and student of the bible, not just as a preacher.

This is what really caught me this morning: Philippians 2:13 says

God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes.

I am stuck on this verse because at the moment it seems to me to unlock the very future of the church in the US!

Ask any pastor, and he or she will likely tell you that one of the greatest frustrations for pastors is the general cultural attitude most succinctly represented by this bumper sticker

The frustration is NOT that this doesn’t convey some truth about God’s grace. The frustration is that so many use this as a cop-out to miss out on the transformative power of God that is available with and by grace!

Sure, Christians aren’t perfect. Fine.  No argument.  But if you find yourself using this line as an excuse to refuse to change your behavior, that’s a problem.

If you claim the “Christians aren’t perfect” bit to fight learning to forgive others, that’s a problem.

If you throw down “Christians aren’t perfect” to justify the fact that you are no better a person, no more like Jesus, than you were a decade ago, that’s a problem.

This change God offers – God promises – is not on you!  It is on God, and God is stepping up to the plate.

And God will deliver. God will enable you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes!

Yes, you will have to make some changes, but God provides the lead and the power, the direction, and the ability.

And the God who offers this, provides this, is the God who made you and who breathed life into you.

Let this singular, quiet verse soak in for a while today, and see what God can do with it!

A Quiet Verse

If Grace Then…

The is the second sermon in our “If … Then” series for the month of September.


She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name
It’s a name for a girl
It’s also a thought that
Changed the world

And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness
In everything

We ended last week with the invitation to respond to grace – to God’s grace – to God’s good will towards us.

How’d that go for you?

Did you respond to God’s grace this past week?

Because here’s the deal:  IF we are people of grace, then we must become people of grace!

IF we have received grace, then we will give grace away

Grace finds goodness in everything.

It seems like we are better and finding badness in everything.  Got a favorite political candidate?  I bet they’ve done something wrong sometime in their life….  I know: you are very familiar with what OTHER candidate’s wrongs and failures.  But yours is not perfect either.

But I’m not lamenting that all politicians are evil and suggesting we all throw up our hands and give up.

I am suggesting we learn to live by grace.

To put it in the simplest terms possible: IF we are people of grace, THEN we give grace away.

I know I have told you the story of the Dead Sea, but I’m going to tell it again.  Do you know why the Dead Sea is dead?  The Dead Sea is not dead because there is no water flowing into it. The Dead Sea is dead because nothing flows out of it.

We love grace. We sing about grace: amazing grace! “The wonderful grace of Jesus”!

But do we have grace flowing out of us?

If we have indeed experienced grace, then we have grace flowing out of us!

If we do not have grace flowing out of us, perhaps we ought to look into what is stopping it.

Some of us don’t actually let grace in in the first place

Some of us hold onto grace, saving it for ourselves, as though there is a limited quantity of grace available.

Some of us begin to think that God has charged us with choosing when, where, to whom, and how much grace to distribute.

I want to answer each of these 3, and I answer all three with this: If we have indeed experienced grace, then we have grace flowing out of us!

Some of us have been in church all our lives.  I actually didn’t grow up going to church every Sunday, but began doing so in high school and have never looked back. Some of you have even longer stories of being part of church than that.

Some of us are relatively new to this religion thing. Some found this church because they happened to be driving by noticed the building or the sign.  Some found this church through a friend.

Some found this church from the bottom of a hole, from the knot at the end of a rope they’d been clutching and were about to let go.

We might all say we have found grace, or grace has found us, but some of us mean it more than others.

Some of us have let grace in, some of us haven’t. If we let grace in, then grace begins its work in us.  Grace is wilder than a flood; it cannot be tamed.  If we let grace in, grace begins its work in us.

Jesus’ light metaphors are really helpful here: Besides saying that he is the light of the world (in John’s gospel, he tells his followers they are the light of the world), he says this in Luke 8

16 “No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand so that those who enter can see the light. 17  Nothing is hidden that won’t be exposed. Nor is anything concealed that won’t be made known and brought to the light. 18  Therefore, listen carefully. Those who have will receive more, but as for those who don’t have, even what they seem to have will be taken away from them.” (Luke 8:16-18)

Most of us, as good consumers, assume that when Jesus says something like “those who have will receive more,” he is talking about stuff. Things. Material possessions.

He is talking about grace. And mercy. And forgiveness. And hope.

Will you let grace in?  Will you open your life to the light of God’s grace, that it might begin the healing process in you? Remember: Grace finds goodness in everything.

Some of us hold onto grace, saving it for ourselves, as though there is a limited quantity of grace available. (grace wouldn’t be very amazing if there were only a limited amount, would it?)

This is where, I think, Peter’s question comes in.  How many times do I have to forgive? 7 times? Was Peter asking for a friend? Peter was asking for us.

Now,7 is a pretty generous offer. If you’ve ever forgiven anyone, you know.  But biblically, I mean, 7 is a generous offer.  Not only is it the biblical number signifying perfection or completion, but Peter is also referring to Amos chapters 1 and 2, where Amos writes: For three crimes of …[various nation/people], and for four, I won’t hold back the punishment,

Peter offers to forgive twice as much – twice 3 plus 1, even!  Surely to forgive someone seven times is generous, right?

If one hasn’t experienced grace, then, yes, indeed, seven sounds really generous.

If one has experienced grace, then one has stopped counting.  Because grace finds goodness in everything.  Because by grace

>As far as east is from west—
   that’s how far God has removed our sin from us. (Psalm 103:12)
>in the words of Micah: Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity,
           overlooking the sin of the few remaining for his inheritance?
     He doesn’t hold on to his anger forever;
           he delights in faithful love.
    He will once again have compassion on us;
           he will tread down our iniquities.
You will hurl all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)
>and Paul in Ephesians 2: You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

I can assure you that God’s grace is not a limited resource.  No matter how much grace you have received, God will not run out!

Some of us begin to think that God has charged us with choosing when, where, to whom, and how much grace to distribute.

This is where Jesus’ response to Peter’s question comes in. The forgiven servant, who, I might add, has been forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents, goes and refuses to forgive a fellow servant’s debt of 100 coins.  Here’s the quick math on that: 6,000 pence or denari or coins equaled 1 talent.

So the debt he is forgiven is 600,000 times the debt he refuses to forgive.

Who died and made him God?

Well, actually, no one.

Again, if one has received grace, if one has opened oneself to the magnificence of God’s grace, then one responds by offering grace to others. In other words: If we have experienced grace, then we have grace flowing out of us!

The harshest part of the story – in fact, the only harsh part, is the end, when Jesus says,

“When his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply offended. They came and told their master all that happened. 32 His master called the first servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. 33 Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt.

35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:31-35)

I noticed for the first time ever, in preparing this sermon, the weight of verse 31. The unforgiving servant was turned in, tattled on, snitched on, by his fellow servants.

I wonder how much snitching is going on about us?

I wonder how much of the world around us looks at the church and thinks we look a lot like that unforgiving servant.

I wonder if any of us really believe God has charged us with metering out God’s grace.

If we do, then this message seems clear: “His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

God’s grace is not ours to measure out and distribute or withhold as we think appropriate!  God’s grace is not a limited, scarce resource that we have to or could possibly control.

Grace is wilder than a flood; it cannot be tamed.  If we let grace in, grace begins its work in us.

The poem I quoted to open this message, for those who didn’t recognize it, is a song by U2 titled, “Grace.” I didn’t share the line I find most powerful: Grace “travels outside of karma.”

Karma: you know it: you get what you deserve?  You reap what you sow? What goes around comes around?

That’s the way the world seems to work. Sometimes that’s the way we say we want the world to work.

But Grace travels outside of karma.  The God who loves you because of God’s own character and decision, not your own, also offers grace, shares grace, showers you with grace.

Grace, I want you to know, is the most basic identifier of Wesleyan or Methodist theology and practice.  Wesley identified grace by the variety of ways it worked, and the fullness of it available to ALL.

I think Wesley would love the closing lines of the song I shared to open, which I share now to close:

Grace finds beauty in everything
What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things
Grace makes beauty out of ugly things
Have you got ugly things that you would like grace to work on?

Anything you are willing to open up to the light of God’s grace, grace will find beauty, will make beauty of it.

If you feel you have been withholding grace from others, it is very likely you have not let yourself experience the depth of grace that God offers.

I believe that as we let God’s grace really get hold of us, it changes us.  It finds beauty in us, it takes what is ugly and makes it beautiful.

IF we have received grace, then we will give grace away

If Grace Then…