Month: September 2010

Sermon: Wall Street and the Apostle Paul

Here’s the sermon I ‘m preaching tomorrow from 1 Timothy 6:6-19, titled “Wall Street and the Apostle Paul.”

Wall Street and The Apostle Paul

1 Timothy 6:6-19 NIV

6But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

11But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

17Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Wall Street Meets The Apostle Paul

We’re in Paul’s first letter to young Timothy again today.  Remember last week we talked about Paul’s instruction to Timothy’s church in this letter; and his encouragement for Timothy and his church to pray for everybody when they gathered, and everybody included the emperor and all who were in positions of governmental leadership.

Well, today we have another timely topic straight from this letter of Paul to Timothy.  The entire letter of 1 Timothy is, as we noted last week, instruction to Timothy on how to handle various situations in his church.  Today we come to the topic of money.  And we find out that human nature hasn’t changed that much.

In a kind of Wall-Street-meets-Saint-Paul mashup, Paul speaks not only to first century concerns about how Christians should deal with money, but also 21st century concerns.  I’m picking on Wall Street today a little because I was horrified when the chairman of Goldman-Sachs said that his investment bank was “doing God’s work.” And, amazingly he said that in the midst of the world’s financial crisis, right before his firm paid millions of dollars in bonuses to some of the same people that helped create the crisis.  But, my point is that Goldman-Sachs illustrates the very thing Paul is telling Timothy to avoid — the love of, and misuse, of money.

But, we really can’t pick on Wall Street too much today because Paul is writing about Christians, not Roman citizens in general.  Paul could no more control the greed of first century Rome than we can control the greed of those who deal in millions each day on the world’s financial markets.  Interestingly, some of the richest people of Paul’s day were politicians, so things haven’t changed.  But back to this business of Christians and money.

Of course, Jesus said a lot about money and possessions to his followers.  Jesus said things like “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” and “don’t worry about what you’re going to wear or eat because God clothes the grass of the field and feeds the birds of the air.”

And, Jesus indicated that we are to be good stewards — “give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.”  Of course, everything is God’s which was Jesus’ point that day, I believe.

But here we come to some really practical advice for how a young pastor is to deal with money and with people who have money, people who are rich.  So, let’s take a look at Paul’s advice to a young pastor on the subject of money.

The Gospel Isn’t A Get-Rich-Quick Scheme

We have to go back and pick up a couple of verses that precede what we read in today’s lectionary reading for this to make as much sense as it should.  Here’s what Paul has said before verse 6 —

“If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” – 1 Timothy 6:3-5 NIV

The first thing Paul wants Timothy to know is that the Gospel isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme.  Apparently there were those who were teaching and preaching false doctrine, and thought that because they were preachers, they deserved to get rich.

And, we have the same problem today.  I recently watched a YouTube video of a Baptist pastor explaining to his megachurch congregation that their church didn’t really own its own private jet, as the local TV station had reported.  “No,” he said, “we just lease it.”  And of course, from time to time they had to charter other private jets to fly the pastor various places in the world.

Then there was the incident when the head of a major missions agency was flown to London for the premiere of a movie.  The tickets cost about $12,000.  Of course, the movie had a Christian theme, but it still boggles the mind.

Rich preachers and ministries have even attracted the attention of the United States Congress.  Conservative Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, in 2007, announced an investigation into the finances of six major TV evangelists — Bennie Hinn, Paula White, Eddie Long, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, and Kenneth Copeland.  Only 3 of the 6 replied, and the others cited constitutional arguments against complying with the Senate Finance Committee’s request.  It is the same Eddie Long who is now in the news accused of inappropriate physical relationships with young men in his congregation, traveling on worldwide trips where they stayed in luxury hotels.

Creflo Dollar, appropriately named, preaches a gospel of prosperity, and drives a Rolls-Royce.  He said, according to Bloomberg BusinessNews,

“But when your church congregation — 20,000 at that time — come to you and say, “Pastor, we want you to drive the best,” I’m not going to turn that down. It would be a dishonor to the people that gave it to me.”

And even mainline churches are not exempt.  The famous Riverside Church in New York, where Harry Emerson Fosdick preached, the church founded by John D. Rockefeller, lost their pastor last year because some members of the congregation didn’t think he should make over $600,000 per year.

So, this isn’t just a first century problem.  It’s a human nature problem.

The Real Source of Contentment

Paul says that the real source of contentment is “godliness.”  That’s the great gain that Timothy needs to look for, not an increase in his 401K.  Paul goes on to say that if we have food on the table and clothes on our backs, then that’s enough.  Of course, it isn’t in today’s world, but Paul is talking about the necessities of life, the basics.  Which sounds very much like Jesus’ reminder that God clothes the lilies of the field and feeds the birds.  Again, food and clothes, and we’re content.

And why should we be content with food and clothes?  Two reasons:  1) we didn’t bring anything into the world; and, 2) we aren’t taking anything out.  And in verse 17, Paul says,

“17Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

Again, echoing the words of Jesus, “Put your hope in God,” Paul says, “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

Who Are These Rich People Paul Is Talking About?

But we need to pay close attention here, because there is something we must not miss.  We must not miss the people Paul is talking about.  Paul says, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant or put their hope in wealth…”

Remember that Paul is telling young Timothy how to manage the church, how to deal with church folks.  Paul is talking about rich church members in Timothy’s church.

And guess who that includes?  Us.  All of us.  Me, you, your neighbor sitting beside you today, the choir, everybody here.  We’re all rich.

Of course, we may not feel that rich.  But compared to the first century, we are extremely rich.  And compared to the rest of the world, we are absolutely rich.  And that’s what Americans are known for — being rich.

When I was working in China a lot, the factory in Nantong that I was working with sent their chief electronics engineer to the United States for a 3-week trip.  It was my job to pick him up at the airport, and then spend the next three weeks traveling with him in the U.S. to visit our customers.

I remember picking him up when he arrived at Chicago’s Midway airport.  I had flown from Nashville to meet him there, and I had hired a car to take us to our hotel.  That’s pretty standard practice out of Midway, and you usually get a Lincoln Towncar.  But that night we got a stretch limo for the same price.

When Mr. Gu got in the limo, he looked at me and said, “America, number one!” And then he asked me to take his picture sitting in the back of this luxurious car.

So, that’s what we’re known for around the world.  When I was in Hong Kong, I ate at a restaurant called Dan Ryan’s.  Dan Ryan’s was a Chicago-style restaurant that served good ole American food.  After a couple of weeks in China I was ready for something familiar, and Dan Ryan’s was famous for barbecued ribs.

But as a disclaimer to their Hong Kong patrons, the restaurant had this warning printed on its menu — “We serve American portions.”  Which meant, “sit back because you’re about to get a lot of food!”

So, we’re the rich church members Paul is talking about and talking to.  What should we do with our comparative wealth?

Rich in Good Deeds, Generous, Willing To Share

Here’s what Paul says to Timothy about his rich church members:

18Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

We’re to do good with what God has given us.  Now that sounds pretty simple, but let me tell you a story to put a human face on how hard this might be.

Chris Heuertz and his wife are the International Directors of Word Made Flesh, a Christian organization that ministers with the poor in 11 developing countries.  On a visit to India, Chris and his wife were in the home of an Indian family.  Sujana, one of the daughters in the family,  noticed Chris’s red-checked shirt.  She said that she had stitched a shirt just like that in the factory where she worked.

She asked Chris if she could see the label.  Sure enough, it said, “Made in India.”  With some pride, Sujana explained that her factory made his shirt.  Then she asked Chris how much the shirt cost in the United States.  It was a shirt Chris bought at The Gap.

Embarrassed, he told her it cost $40.  Forty dollars was more than Sujana made in an entire month.  She earned less than $1 a day, working 10-hours a day, 6-days a week.  And it took her income combined with her brothers and sisters, and her mother and father to eke out a meager livelihood in their village.

Chris said he recalled the words from Isaiah, “The plunder of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?”  Those words from Isaiah 3:14 convicted Chris of his misuse of money.

Chris decided that he would buy stock in The Gap, hoping it would go up, so he could give the profits to Sujana and her family.  Unfortunately, the stock went down, and Chris lost money.

But then he decided that he would impose on himself a Personal Retail Equality Tax — he called it a PRET tax — everytime he bought clothes from a store that he knew Sujana’s factory supplied. So, he added 12% to the purchase price of each item, then banked the money.  At the end of each year, Chris sends the money to Sujana’s family.  This has enabled them to move into a home with indoor plumbing and to send some of their children for further education.*

My point in telling that story is this — how we handle what we have, our wealth, demonstrates our contentment with godliness, or our attachment to our stuff.

I like Paul’s advice to Timothy — “tell people to be rich in good deeds, generous, willing to share.”  That’s good advice to us rich Christians.

* This story is from Friendship at the Margins by Chris Heuertz and Christine Pohl.

10 Books That Changed My Life and Ministry

A fellow pastor emailed me with some kind words, and a suggestion — blog about the 10 books that changed my life and ministry.  What a great idea, and here goes, Clay!  Of course, the Bible goes without saying, but I said it anyway to avoid unnecessary comments on its absence from this list.  And, I’m not including books that influenced me as a kid, like Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Captains Courageous, and Call of the Wild.  These are all post-MDiv discoveries which provided fundamental transformation in aspects of my theology and ministry practice.  Okay, here’s my list in no particular order —

1.  The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George Hunter.  This book changed how I look at the whole process of evangelization.  The memorable phrase in Hunter’s book for me was that Celtic Christians encouraged people to belong before they believed.  In other words, they incorporated strangers into the community with hospitality and many gradually came to accept the Gospel.  Hunter’s book piqued my interest in reading more about Celtic Christianity, but there is no doubt this book changed my ministry.

2. Jesus Christ For Today’s World by Jurgen Moltmann.  This was the first book I read by Jurgen Moltmann, and tears came to my eyes reading this phrase: “The Bible is the book of remembered hopes.”  What a wonderful description and Moltmann moved me then, and still does several volumes later.  One of his latest books, Son of Righteousness, ARISE, is spectacular.  Moltmann’s conversion story captures the hope of the Gospel, and his theology of hope is the result.

3. The World’s Religions by Huston Smith.  This is one of those classic texts that should be in every library, minister or not.  Smith’s reputation and sympathetic treatment of the world’s great religions is unsurpassed.  I have new appreciations for other faith expressions.  When read along with Veli-Matti Karkkainen’s An Introduction to the Theology of Religions, one can appreciate how Christian theologians through the ages have dealt with the issue of world religions.  Get the illustrated edition of Smith’s book if you can because the graphics add much to the telling of these ancient stories.

4. Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh.  If you have not read Thich Nhat Hanh, please do so.  Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, a Zen master, a peace activist nominated by Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize, and a gentle soul.  His books are short, often repetitive, but his writing has a calm and reassuring affect.  Nhat Hanh also talks a great deal about practice, primarily the practice of mindfulness.  I have used his breathing technique many times to “calm body and mind” as he teaches.  One of the renown Buddhist scholars and teachers today, Thich Nhat Hanh is perhaps second only to the Dalai Lama in worldwide influence.

5. Dissident Discipleship by David Augsburger.  I read this book for a class I took from David Augsburger, but I was captivated by his Mennonite witness and his multi-faceted approach to discipleship.  Augsburger writes about “tripolar spirituality” which includes God, self, and others as foundational to following Jesus.  If you don’t know David Augsburger, this is the book to start with.

6. Night by Elie Wiesel.  The Holocaust is an inexplicable horror and Wiesel writes his first-person account of his experience in Nazi concentration camps.  The tone is understated for the tragedy speaks for itself.  Wiesel presents the question of evil and suffering in graphic detail and comes away with no answers, only memories.  A classic that should be read by anyone concerned with evil, suffering, and the presence of God in its midst.

7. Covenant of Peace by Willard Swartley.  Swartley’s subtitle for this book is “The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics.”  His contention is that peace has been neglected, and that God’s shalom is the heart of our theology.  Written from a Mennonite appreciation for peace as a practice, this book convinced me that peace with God, man, and creation is what God is ultimately up to.  Swartley makes his case compellingly, and he changed my perspective on peace.  If you like John Howard Yoder, you’ll love Swartley.

8. ______________ by N. T. Wright.  Okay, I’m cheating here, but N. T. Wright has been a tremendous influence on me.  His books on Jesus, Paul, the Bible, and eschatology (Surprised by Hope) are amazing. Wright gave me a new perspective on the “new perspectives” on Jesus and Paul, and with it a firm connection to the contexts in which Jesus and Paul ministered.  I believe Wright calls his approach “biblical realism” or “historical realism” or something like that which I have not taken the time to look up and footnote.  Whether you agree with Wright or not (John Piper does not), Wright is a force to be reckoned with in theological insight.

9.  Gandhi: An Autobiography by M. K. Gandhi.  I have a Buddhist, so why not a Hindu on my list?  Of course, Gandhi transcends categories, both cultural and religious.  Martin Luther King took his nonviolent approach to civil rights from Gandhi.  Gandhi changed the British empire, liberated his people, and left his mark on the world by demonstrating that nonviolent resistance in love is an irresistible force.  See the movie, read the book, Gandhi’s life is one you must know.

10. The Friends of God by Meister Eckhart and company.  Of course, this is not a real book, but I have been more influenced by Meister Eckhart and the gottes freunde in the 14th century than I can attribute to one book.  I’m reading Dorothee Soelle’s book, The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, and she quotes extensively from Eckhart.  Of course, Eckhart and the friends of God were mystics in that German sort of way that gets your head spinning when you read their stuff.  But they were, and continue to be, a tremendous influence in the arena of the immediate experience of God.

I also could have added Thomas Merton, the Dalai Lama, Taitetsu Unno (Buddhist), Marcus Borg (no, I do not agree with everything Borg says), Stanley Hauerwas, William Willimon, and Leonardo Boff.  Plus, Thomas More, Richard Foster, Piero Ferruci (The Power of Kindness) and Cynthia Bourgeault.  Plus, I am sure, many others whose books have affected my life and ministry by providing new information, insight, inspiration, and challenge.

What are the top 10 books that have changed your life and ministry?

God’s Timing Is Important Even For Programs

God’s timing is important.  It’s so important that the writers of the New Testament distinguished between chronological time, chronos;  and, the right time, kairos.  Of course, there is much more to it than that, but you get the point.  The biblical writers knew the difference between the time of day, and the opportune time.

At our small church we’re experiencing a Kairos Moment.  Not a Kodak moment, but an it’s-the-right-time moment.  For over 3 years we’ve been trying to get something going for children’s ministry.  We tried several approaches, special events, and none of it worked.  Attendance was poor, enthusiasm was in short supply, and it just didn’t happen.

But this month we’ve seen a sudden resurgence in our children’s ministry.  Last fall we created a Family Ministry Team composed of young adults who were all new members of our church.  Some have children, some don’t, but all of them are interested in enhancing our outreach and ministry to families.

Their recommendations were presented to, and adopted by our church this summer.  This month the first of those recommendations began to take shape.  They recommended a change in our Sunday School curriculum, and the addition of a younger children’s teaching time during the worship service.  And on Wednesday nights, we now have children’s missions groups for all ages from preschool through elementary school.

Our Sunday School class, which we started 3 years ago for younger adults has also grown.  Sunday we had a new family with three children attend both Sunday School and worship.  At our annual church picnic yesterday, most of these newer members and their kids were present.  They enjoyed fishing, playing with each other, riding the 4-wheelers around the farm, and just being outdoors on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

On the way back to the church on the church bus, a couple of us commented that “this is God’s timing” because all of our efforts to get children’s ministry cranking had failed previously.  Our plan is to “grow up” our own teen group by starting with the children we have who in a few years will themselves be teenagers.  It’s a long-term plan, but one that I can see taking shape now.

My point in all of this is that God’s timing is important.  Too often we see God’s timing only in big events.  But even a program like Sunday School and children’s church, or children’s mission groups, is in the Father’s hands, too.  At the right time, the right people will come forward, the children will appear, and God’s providence will prove infallible again.

If you’re struggling to get a program going, don’t despair.  Keep praying, keep hoping, keep dreaming of the day that God will raise up the right leaders, and things will begin to take shape.  Have you had that experience?  If so, share something in the comments to encourage others.  Thanks.

What I like about ebooks and these ebook readers

From l-r: iPod Touch, Android HTC, Kindle 3, MacBook as readers.

I’m hooked on books, and now I’m really hooked on ebooks.  Here’s what I like about ebooks over print:

  • Instant delivery. I see a book, and in seconds I’m reading it.  I find this amazing.  I recently found the only book on reverence on Amazon in ebook format on a Saturday night, and had it instantly.  Yes, I should plan ahead, but ebooks do make it easier when you don’t!
  • Cheaper price. Ebooks are usually cheaper, although there is a vast old-guard publishing conspiracy to change this.
  • Greener than print. I know ebook servers use electricity and it is not a pollution-free format.  However, ebooks have to be greener than print because you eliminate cutting trees, making paper, running presses, buying and fueling delivery trucks, etc.
  • Portability. I can carry my entire digital library with me.  This I like because in any format, I like my books and I like to have them with me.  (I realize this is a little OCD, but it is a fairly harmless case.)
  • Searchability. This is really big for me.  I often remember a quote or illustration, but not where I read it.  Searching an ebook, or an entire library, is a preacher’s salvation (not literally, of course) during sermon prep.
  • Storage. My bookshelves are running over.  With ebooks, my library is limited by my device’s memory.  Kindle is up to 3500 titles on one device, which is about twice what I have in print books.
  • Access and preservation. You can’t lose an ebook.  I guess you can lose your reader.  However, if you do, you just download all your titles again.  No more damaged books, lost books, loaned books that don’t return, and no more books lost on the shelf (which has happened more than once to me).
  • Technology. Everything in print is going digital, and everything digital is going mobile.

Okay, at this point I have to disclose that I have accounts with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KOBO (Borders), Sony, and the Adobe reader platform which can take Google books.  However, I now use mostly Amazon’s Kindle format.  I’ve found it the easiest, least cumbersome, and most consistent of all the formats.  I realize that Amazon has a proprietary platform, but so does Apple with iTunes, which I also use.  But Amazon did wireless ebook readers first, and I think they do them best, with some caveats.

I have four devices that function as e-readers:

  • A 13″ MacBook which has the Kindle for Mac on it.
  • An iPod Touch with Kindle for iPhone/iPod app.
  • An Android phone (HTC Hero, which I don’t like but it’s a long story) with the Android Kindle app.
  • A wifi Kindle 3, which I just got this week.

I do use all four devices as e-readers, depending upon where I am mostly.  So, let’s take a quick run-down of each one with its pros and cons:

  • Kindle 3. I bought the Kindle 3 even though I have other devices because the Kindle has capabilities Amazon has not made functional on other platforms.  The pros of the Kindle 3 are:  You can search a book or your entire Kindle library for a keyword or phrase; plus, you can print your notes and highlights.  These two functions are worth the price ($139/wifi) because I am using the device as a research tool.  Another plus is that it’s a decent reader, but frankly I prefer the backlit screens of my iPod, mac, and phone.  On the con side, the Kindle is frustrating slow and clumsy when navigating with the directional key, or accessing menus.  Once you’re used to a touch device (iPod, Android phone), the Kindle seems outdated.
  • MacBook. The MacBook Amazon app is limited, but useful for reading when your lappy is all you’ve got.  Pros:  Bigger screen (all the Amazon apps and devices allow you to adjust the print size), so I can sit back in my desk chair and read with the mac on my desk.  I probably use this the least, but I do use it.  Cons:  You cannot underline, make notes, or do anything other than bookmark a page.  However, the mac app will display previous bookmarks, notes, and highlights.
  • Android HTC Hero. I had to get this phone because AT&T is taking over Alltel (my current carrier) and my Blackberry died.  I will eventually replace with an iPhone, but for now I get to try out an Android phone, although it is not the best available.  Pros:  The Kindle app works, and as a reader I like the Android screen size, although I like the iPod size more because it is slightly larger.  Cons:  Same as with the mac app, you can’t highlight, make notes, or do any annotation other than bookmarking a page.
  • iPod Touch. I bought the iPod Touch in February because I wanted an e-reader I could carry in my pocket.  The iPod Touch fills that bill nicely, and is the best device of the 4 I have for reading.  Pros:  You can highlight (although the touch is dodgy sometimes), make notes, and bookmark.  The highlights and notes made on the iPod (this also applies to the iPhone) show up on the mac.  Initially I also loaded the B&N app, but it kept crashing while the Amazon app just worked.  (B&N has now fixed that issue, but their ebooks tend to be more expensive, and their selection less extensive than Amazon).  Cons:  the touch highlighting is sometimes jiggy, but I have almost mastered the technique, I think.

I do not have an iPad as a reader for two reasons:  1) we don’t have AT&T yet, so I could not get the broadband version; 2) price.  Actually, there is a 3rd reason:  I think the iPad is too heavy to use as an e-reader for very long.  But that’s just my opinion.

If I were limited to only one e-reading device, I would stay with my first choice, the iPod Touch.  (As soon as I can get an iPhone, I’ll retire my iPod Touch for backup or home use).

What are you doing in the digital book and reader world?  Do you find it useful in ministry, and if so, why and how.

A Small Church Causing Big Problems

Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center, leads a congregation of 50 people in Gainesville, Florida.  Normally, churches with 50 members are not featured on CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, the NY Times, Washington Post, and every other media outlet in existence.  But, Terry and his flock, like Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, have thrust themselves onto the world stage.  All because Pastor Terry, who wears a .40 caliber handgun on his hip, decided to burn Korans on September 11.

But, according to Der Spiegel, a popular German magazine and website, Pastor Terry was tossed out of his Cologne, Germany congregation a couple of years ago because of the atmosphere of “fear and terror.”  Also, he was accused of allegedly misappropriating funds, and failing to abide by German wage laws.  Terry Jones apparently made church members perform hours of free labor to benefit the church’s bottom-line.  We haven’t seen this trick since Tony Alamo made rhinestone denim jackets famous in Nashville where he sold them to country music stars for a fortune, but failed to pay his workers adequately, if at all.

But back to Terry Jones.  Jones embodies the very fundamentalism he seeks to destroy.  Except, of course, he thinks he’s right and Muslims are wrong (actually, Jones said they were more than wrong, they were of the devil).  In Terry Jones’ very small universe, of which he is the center, he is the arbiter and protector of truth, justice and the American way.  And, he insists he is going to burn Korans on Saturday.

What do we do with abusers of religion like Jones, who masquerade as Christians while saying “it’s time to hit back?”  (I think Jesus took “hitting back” off the list of things we as his followers get to do, but Jones seems to have skipped over the Sermon on the Mount in the race to his 15-minutes of fame.)  We speak out against him, and Fred Phelps, and Tony Alamo, and all of the other charlatans, megalomaniacs, and delusional leaders who gather a handful of people and call them a church.

Jones is not exemplifying Christian values, and is certainly not the model of Christian ministry.  And don’t bother to take me to task for “judging a brother.”  Two reasons:  1) he is not my brother in the faith but an impostor who gives us all a bad name; and, 2) I am not judging him because his actions are self-evident.  It takes no discernment, which is implied in judging,  to see through his ego-centered antics.  If you think I’m too harsh, re-read the New Testament letters of Paul when he talks about charlatans like Jones.  The tragedy is that he will put at-risk Americans and American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and all the Middle East, and he will further inflame the animosity between religions by his actions.

On a more positive note, has an excellent resource for starting a Christian-Muslim discussion.  The DVD is titled Different Books, Common Word, and the film tells the story of how Christians and Muslims in America work together for the common good.  This film was shown on ABC affiliates last year, and is a high-quality, helpful resource in focusing the conversation about religious pluralism on positive examples.

Normally, I write about small churches that are solving big problems.  Sadly today we have the example of a small church that is creating big problems.  Speak out against this abuse, and then be an example of peace to others, even others of different faiths.