Institutional Ailments

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Near the end of last year, Pope Francis listed “15 Ailments of the Curia,” the sins and short-comings of the administrative bureaucracy of the Vatican State. While the Bishop of Rome was aiming his critique at the institution he leads, they are applicable to any church, ministry or religious organization – simply replace “curia” with “Board-Elders-Deacons-Trustees-Council” or the appropriate ecclesiastical term:

1) Feeling immortal, immune or indispensable. “A Curia that doesn’t criticize itself, that doesn’t update itself, that doesn’t seek to improve itself is a sick body.”

2) Working too hard. “Rest for those who have done their work is necessary, good and should be taken seriously.”

3) Becoming spiritually and mentally hardened. “It’s dangerous to lose that human sensibility that lets you cry with those who are crying, and celebrate those who are joyful.”

4) Planning too much. “Preparing things well is necessary, but don’t fall into the temptation of trying to close or direct the freedom of the Holy Spirit, which is bigger and more generous than any human plan.”

5) Working without coordination, like an orchestra that produces noise. “When the foot tells the hand, ‘I don’t need you’ or the hand tells the head ‘I’m in charge.’”

6) Having “spiritual Alzheimer’s”. “We see it in the people who have forgotten their encounter with the Lord … in those who depend completely on their here and now, on their passions, whims and manias, in those who build walls around themselves and become enslaved to the idols that they have built with their own hands.”

7) Being rivals or boastful. “When one’s appearance, the color of one’s vestments or honorific titles become the primary objective of life.”

8) Suffering from “existential schizophrenia”. “It’s the sickness of those who live a double life, fruit of hypocrisy that is typical of mediocre and progressive spiritual emptiness that academic degrees cannot fill. It’s a sickness that often affects those who, abandoning pastoral service, limit themselves to bureaucratic work, losing contact with reality and concrete people.”

9) Committing the “terrorism of gossip – It’s the sickness of cowardly people who, not having the courage to speak directly, talk behind people’s backs.”

10) Glorifying one’s bosses. “It’s the sickness of those who court their superiors, hoping for their benevolence. They are victims of careerism and opportunism, they honor people who aren’t God.”

11) Being indifferent to others. “When, out of jealousy or cunning, one finds joy in seeing another fall rather than helping him up and encouraging him.”

12) Having a “funereal face”. “In reality, theatrical severity and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity. The apostle must be polite, serene, enthusiastic and happy and transmit joy wherever he goes.”

13) Wanting more. “When the apostle tries to fill an existential emptiness in his heart by accumulating material goods, not because he needs them but because he’ll feel more secure.”

14) Forming closed circles that seek to be stronger than the whole. “This sickness always starts with good intentions but as time goes by, it enslaves its members by becoming a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body and causes so much bad scandals especially to our younger brothers.”

15) Seeking worldly profit and showing off. “It’s the sickness of those who insatiably try to multiply their powers and to do so are capable of calumny, defamation and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally to show themselves as being more capable than others.”

 What to do? Repentance & reform is hard for individuals, it’s even tougher for organizations. Institutional structure and power over time become entrenched, inflexible and reactive. Mission drift, decline and death are typically the end result. Change requires the seeking of forgiveness and the power of the Spirit to switch course and the determination to follow after Jesus, no matter what the cost. That is a rare but necessary trait for leadership.

Who Has to Die for Your Belief?

Who Has to Die for Your Belief?

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Some 65 million died for Chairman Mao’s “Great Leap Forward;”

At least 50 million perished in Joseph Stalin’s Soviet system;

6 million Jews died because of Adolf Hitler’s Final Solution as well at least 5 million “undesirables” in the name of racial and social purity;

At least 5,500 have died because of ISIS, 7,000 by Boko Haram and unknown thousands by Islamic terrorists such as the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden in the name of Allah.

The body count could go on.

Even Dick Cheney & the CIA have their share in the name of “national security.”

Add to that the civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq & Syria and countless other casualties of war, revolutions and regimes.

     I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in the one who said he “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). I don’t have to kill or wage jihad. I don’t have to avenge the defamation of his name or life by murder or acts of terror even though he is regularly ridiculed and vilified.

Jesus calls his followers to be witnesses (based on the Greek word “martyr”) of his life, death and resurrection, to “take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Mt. 16:24-25). No one need die for my belief – except (somewhat paradoxically), as Bonhoeffer wrote (The Cost of Discipleship), “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” – die to self, die to sin, die to destructive desires of the fallen nature, die to hatred, revenge and retaliation – die, in order to live.

How much better is a faith not worth killing for but worth living for.

Top Eleven Predictions for the New Year

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OK, so they’re not exactly predictions – but they are promises from God’s Word and worth pondering for 2015 & a whole lot better than the usual prognostications for the future. These are also not original but a combination of lists from hither and yon.

1 – God’s love is everlasting
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” Jer. 31:3
2 – Christ’s blood cleanses from sin
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”   1 Jn. 1:9

3 – We are Blessed in Christ
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Eph. 1:3

4 –God will provide
“I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.” – Psalm 37:25

5 – God is at work

“…in him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”  Eph. 1:11

6- God is faithful
“God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”
1 Cor. 1:9

7 – His promises are true
“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.”    2 Cor. 1:21-22

8 – His Love does not fail

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lam. 3:22-23

9- God’s grace is immeasurably rich! Eph 2:7

10 – Our God reigns
For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise. God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne. Ps. 4:7-8

11 – God surprises those who wait for him (Lk. 2:25)

God’s Gospel

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“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”                                                      Luke 2: 8-14

Most people long for a better world. I know I do. A world without terrorists, without torture, without brutality, without tragedy, without heartbreak, without catastrophe, a world without disease, a world without suffering, a world without death.  Such a world will come one day. This is not another a utopian view of the future, another project by the human race to save itself. Such a world only comes through the one born in Bethlehem to reign in heaven and on earth. To those who believe in him and recive him is promised a new earth and a new heaven. This is why the incarnation and birth is the gospel – God’s good news.  The joy for us is to believe & to worship in wonder

Closer to Heaven…down stairs?

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So after much thought & deliberation, I have decided that what the world really needs is a book I’m planning to produce. It will be like one of those glossy coffee table volumes of European wonders or natural beauty. Mine will be entitled “Church Basements I Have Known – A Guided Tour”

The space down below, usually damp, cold, and crowded with folding chairs and tables and old carpet or tile has always had an important function – Funeral dinners, pot-lucks, business meetings, game night, Sunday School, AA meetings, choir practice, the list goes on.

Which is your most memorable church basement moment?

Would it Happen Today?

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A NATIONAL THANKSGIVING

“Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me ‘to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:’

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the Beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplication to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our national government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best. Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, AD 1789″

George Washington

“…and the Wall came a tumblin’ down”

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In 1971, my family visited what was then known as West Berlin. I remember my father, my sister and I standing on an observation post looking over the Berlin Wall into East Berlin. The colorful West was a dramatic contrast with the drab grey of the Communist side. My father told me to make a certain “gesture” with my middle finger to the East German guard on the other side of the barbed wire, tank barriers and no-man’s land. I didn’t – never thought it was smart to insult a man with a gun! Millions died in the name of Marx, Lenin and Stalin in the 20th century. Its been 25 years since the Wall  came down. New ideologies have emerged. New walls have been built. The body count grows. But freedom comes – with a cost and in surprising ways. Many gave their lives for the Wall to fall. The other day I met a veteran from “Operation Iraqi Freedom” who fought and was wounded in combat. His wounds are more than physical though and he’s yet to find the way to rebuild his life. I pray for him and the many others this Veteran’s Day who served and still pay the cost.

No matter who controls the Senate…

“Those Christians and other religious believers who resist the spirit of the age will be persecuted – not by being thrown to lions in the Coliseum, but by judicial, administrative, and legal marginalization. They will lose many of the institutions that they built to help the poor, the marginalized, the weak, and the disinherited. But finding themselves in the new imperium will call out new forms of living the Christian witness. They will live in the favelas, providing care for body and soul that cannot not be provided by either the state or the market. Like the early Church, they will live in a distinct way from the way of the empire, and their way of life will draw those who perhaps didn’t realize that this was what Christianity was, all along. When the liberal ideology collapses – as it will – the Church will remain, the gates of Hell not prevailing against it.”

Patrick Deneen