Category: Ethics


Lk 2:15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

“And he was called Jesus”- It doesn’t seem like a very dramatic conclusion to the nativity story. After all the angels and long journeys and wise men and shepherds, you might even say it seems downright anticlimactic.

Naming a child, after all, is for us at best a kind of release. For example, many children are named after a recently deceased relative; it can provide some closure as families work through grieving while honoring the relative. Or, like was the case for my son Kylen, a child might not have a name for hours, days, or even longer after being born and it is a release just to be able to finally settle on something that fits. But throughout the Bible, names and naming have a far greater significance than this.

We find a major clue in the word for the action itself: to call. Just as in English, the word call means both “to name someone or something” and “to beckon, request, or require something from someone.” When people are named in the Bible, “very often, the emphasis is… less on the fact that names are such and such, than on the fact that the bearers of the name actually are what the name  says about them” [kaleo, BDAG]. When your parents named you, they may have tried to find something with a positive meaning that they hoped you would live up to; but when God names you, when he calls you, the naming itself is effective in accomplishing it.

Counselors, colleges, even reemployment programs all like to talk about callings, taking the other meaning, as those things we do outside our homes to earn money to provide for family and maybe serve society. That is true in one sense; I am called as a student, a researcher, a writer, a teacher, a father, and husband. And god undoubtedly calls us to all those places. But our new name in baptism, the one we so often ignore is Christian- little Christ-. God calls us into that identity through baptism, not just in the hope that we will become Christians but in the same way he spoke “light” in the beginning and there was light.

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  There are probably as many ideas as to what it means that mankind was created in the image of God as there are people who believe that we were. Nonetheless, I offer one, courtesy of the following section of a Max Weber essay on objectivity in social science and policy:

“The transcendental presupposition of every cultural science lies not in our finding a certain culture or any “culture” in general to be valuable but rather in the fact that we are cultural beings, endowed with the capacity and the will to take a deliberate attitude towards the world and to lend it significance.” (Methodology of Social Sciences [2011] p. 81)

As opposed to the rest of creation, we have the co-creative capacity to lend the world significance through our value judgments and our actions. By the way, Weber was a polymath who is claimed by sociologists and economists, among others, but he was never to my knowledge considered a theologian. Think about it. That is all.

Solomon, meet Paul

Apostle Paul-MonrealeKing Solomon

In my current Bible reading plan, I am reading through the Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms each daily for a year (or a little more, after some missed days). Today, I happened to come to the (ostensibly very different) conclusions of two books.

Here are some quotes from the NET text in the key verses:

Gal 6:15 “the only thing that matters is new creation”

Ecc 12:13 “Fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole duty of man.”

The way I see it, one of two (slightly wild) things is going on here. I don’t have a final answer, but you can probably judge by the rest of the post which one I’m leaning toward. Continue reading

Union Gospel Mission Seattle

First, listen to the song On a Corner in Memphis by Todd Agnew and let yourself take the words in a couple of times. I’m working on about time 83.

Now think back to the last time you saw a panhandler on the off-ramp, and consider how you reacted. Did you give her money? I’m guessing most of you did not. And one key reason is that you don’t want to be an enabler of drugs, alcohol, or whatever else that person’s pet sin might be, right?

Besides, somewhere along the way, someone probably said something like “You know, if you gave someone a fish, they’ll eat for a day, but if you teach them how to fish they can eat forever.” Maybe you even listened to the Arrested Development song and are willing to admit it.

In this case, both approaches might be wrong. I want to propose a third way, one that eschews condescension toward our neighbor in favor of love, real understanding, and empowerment. Continue reading

I am amazed at the depth and breadth of ministry discussion that happens among Christian leaders online. A recent discussion was initiated by a friend with the status “How does your church define active membership?”* If you’re in a hurry to see what I mean, click this link to the see the entire transcript of the 64 responses on Google Docs. A little discussion of my thoughts on the opening question and some of the other conundrums follows in the rest of this post.

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Here is a fascinating article (thanks to the Duke Call & Response Blog) on how one organization is changing the way nonprofits think about money. It’s purpose is to provide capital and support to move nonprofits to sustainable growth, and the results are impressive. For example, VolunteerMatch increased the value of volunteer hours they enabled, increased their budget by over 50%, and relied around 70% less on outside funding.

Churches have the same sickness as nonprofits at times: we assume that because we do good things, people should give us money to accomplish them and keep giving us that money. The more we are willing to thoughtfully approach the idea of growing our ministries and our incomes at the same time, the more effective congregations can be at ministry and the more our money can be multiplied in God’s service.

This already happens sometimes. Lutheran World Relief has offered fair trade coffee, tea, food, and crafts for congregations to sell for a number of years. Our congregation started doing this and was able to fund coffee for our fellowship hour entirely, not a small feat for Lutherans, and Seattle area Lutherans no less. At the same time, we enabled the livelihood of people in a variety of countries that produced the crafts and food, and began to better live out our rhetoric by using fair trade ourselves.

The trick is applying this kind of philosophy on a larger scale without prostituting the Church, because the Church’s mission is not able to be so concisely defined in a way that is coexistent with making money. Instead, the church exists to proclaim and love. But, organically self-supporting ministries are, I believe, a serious growth opportunity for our reach. Redeemer in Minneapolis, Minnesota offers apartments for rent specifically to high-risk tenants that other places turn down. They have gotten burned before, but because they have high (yet realistic) expectations of their tenants, they have had a positive impact both on the stability of family situations and on the long-term personal development of their tenants without taking up an undue portion of the budget.

In the same way, Church of the Beloved in Edmonds, WA is a 3-year-old church with 40-60 average attendance but is in the process of purchasing the 200-year-old mansion where we worship. The rest of the mansion houses an intentional Christian community of young adults seeking truth, each of whom pays only $300 a month in rent. But together, that rent will basically pay our mortgage, leaving the rest of the offerings for other ministry, while still offering the powerful ministry of community to those young people.

What are your stories of financially sustainable ministry? And do you have a broader vision of how a congregation might be able to comprehensively integrate their ministry to become more self-sustaining without becoming focused on money or prosperity? Please share in the comments.

The Nonprofit Financial Model Never Worked; Here’s a New Model That Does | Fast Company.

So I was listening to Metallica on my way home tonight. They are one of my favorite rock bands because:

  1. So much of their music was about something that mattered
  2. They’re bloody good at what they do and
  3. You can actually understand what they’re saying most of the time

This third characteristic caused me to stop (not literally, I was driving) and do a mental double take. I thought they were suddenly channeling Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Let me explain.

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