Tag Archives: Church

Split or Splinter?

Split or Splinter

By Nathan Decker


“I don’t care what they say as long as they talk about me.”

-Tallula Bankhead, Film Actress


No news travels like bad news except when the bad news is only partially true.  Recently The New York Times and other news outlets announced that the United Methodist Church had reached an agreement to split.  Nope. Not yet. This is just a preview. Only a half-truth. The only body that can speak for the UMC is the General Conference which will meet in May.  A small unofficial group did meet and create a plan for blessing differences and parting ways, and even they are one among many.

In fact, I’ve seen at least 4 plans submitted, and some folks have even suggested there are over 26 plans for how to separate.  Yes, we Methodists have a method to the madness. Because of the inclusion of so many perspectives and diversity of regions represented at the table, the recently released plan will most likely be the plan adopted by General Conference to allow those who no longer desire to be a part of the connection to part with a blessing.  If we accomplish this, we will be the first denomination in history to split while trying to be civil to each other.

Except it won’t be a split.  When I was a kid, I split logs.  We had wood heat which required summers filled with cutting down trees and splitting the wood in halves or thirds to fit into the hungry furnace fire during the winter.  Split makes it sound like we are going to cut the current church into neat even halves or thirds of perspectives on human sexuality using the terms traditional, centrist, and progressive.  But we aren’t.

Folks in churches resist changing what pew they sit in and what songs they have in the hymnal.  They aren’t going to bail on a denomination that easily. UMC Leaders like Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter have said as few as 6% and at most 20% of churches will leave.  And not all of them are going to be of the traditional perspective. Many progressive churches may choose to leave as well. More a splintering than a split. A lot depends on the current pastor and how she or he leads the local discussion about the dividing issue, homosexuality.  

Except human sexuality isn’t really the issue.  The issue is really about power; power over interpretation and ordination.  This was true with the Southern Baptist church in her splintering over interpretation of the Bible and ordination of women.  It is true of the United Methodist Church today. Both sides have an interpretation which leads to differences on who can and can’t be ordained or serve in leadership in the church.  Let’s be clear, this is about power.

Except we aren’t supposed to be in power.  When the Apostle Paul faced his ‘thorn in the flesh,’ he prayed to God three times to remove it only to hear our Lord say to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Throughout history, the church has often been seduced by those in power.  Christ shows us that humbly following the path of sacrifice and compassion is the way forward.  

Our focus should not be on how we win political battles or forcibly reshape society to be more just.  God has placed our focus on Christ. In Christ we encounter the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And we are given the Good News of redemption, salvation, and the Kingdom of God to share.  So, I ask you, share the Good News instead of worrying about splinters and splits. After all, it’s what Jesus would do.


“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

-Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:11-12

Baptism of our Lord Sunday 2018

God calls us to the Waters.

to find our place in the body of the Church

to do the work of God’s salvation of creation

to be given new birth, new heart, new vision.

All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.

Free but not Cheap.

A Gift to be Shared.

God calls us to the Waters.

Remember you baptism and be thankful.

I want to see God from Colossians 1:11-20

I was sitting in the dentist chair when I found him.  I don’t really like going to the Dentist.  I have a fear of anything that spins or twists going into my mouth.  The high pitched mechanical sound makes me want to bolt out of the chair and run to the ice cream shoppe.  Even the fancy toothbrush makes me squirm in my seat, foaming at the mouth as the dental hygienist stops to ask, “Mr. Decker are you ok?”

“No, I’m not ok!  Yes, my fears are not rational.  I don’t like getting my teeth cleaned.”

This last time I went to the Dentist the hygienist pointed out that they had posters on the ceiling to help me focus on something other than the “pain” or “even though you’re not really in pain but you feel like you’re in pain, pay attention to the posters please so I can do my job.”

So, I tried it.  The first poster was this beautiful beach scene.   Surf.  Sand.  Sun.  The whining mechanical high speed tooth brush that sounds like a drill coming at my incisors.  Images of my gums bleeding as she flosses my teeth.  Focus, come on now, look at the other poster.

The other one actually got me going. It was obviously for children.  It was a poster of “Where’s Waldo.”  Waldo – glasses, stocking cap, trademark red and white shirt – I was going to find that bugger.

Where’s Waldo?  Is he there in the car? No, that’s just a sweater on a dog.  Is he over there in the bushes, no, that’s the oddest colors for a mushroom I’ve ever seen.  Maybe over there by the ice cream truck?   Those have to be the weirdest flavors of ice cream I’ve ever seen.

When I finally did find him, it was as if a bell had gone off and I had awoken from some surreal pseudo sleep in the dentist chair.  “There, Mr. Decker, all done. That wasn’t so bad was it?”  I wanted to say yes, but something dawned on me.  With all of my concentration focused on looking for Waldo, I didn’t realize the peace he had given me while I was seeking him out.  With all our concentration focused on looking for God, we don’t realize the peace he has given us while we are seeking him out.

 Our world often asks where is God in all of this?  He can’t stand the fighting any more. He goes to his room and shuts the door, cause somewhere a father and a mother talk about divorce again.  She’s been missing since last May. She would have turned thirteen today.  And somewhere a father prays for his missing little girl.  Why doesn’t God do something about the pain and the hurt?  Why isn’t God at work in the world?  Doesn’t God care?

Maybe God’s at church?

Recently a Marketing Expert was hired by a church to find out why their attendance, participation, and offering where consistently going down each year.  He came to their church worship services.  He got involved in their Bible Studies and mission programs.  He studied their figures from years and years of stewardship campaigns and budgets.  He did surveys in the community asking about the church, asking about the reputation, asking about what the community knew about the church ministries.  He came back to the pastor and the church with some bad news.

“You all have really got it going on. You have the best show in town.  You offer education and volunteer opportunities better than anyone else.  You even have done your research on non-profits and how to best present giving and offering plans.  But you are guilty of false advertisement. Your sign says you are a church, a house of God, a place where folks can experience God.   I’ve been with you all month, and I haven’t seen God show up at all.”

Paul, writing to the Church at Colossae must have had the same marketing expert show up.  Here was a group of people who have great hope.  They worship God.  They study about God.  They volunteer for God.  They give of themselves.  And they ask, “Where are you, God?”

As Christians, it is important for us to experience Christ as what Paul calls the “image of the invisible God.”  Chrisitanity isn’t the study of God; it is the relational experience with God.  In Worship, we are called to experience God’s Word and Love.  It’s not enough to come to church, we have to be church.  In Study, we should experience God’s grace and guidance deeper.  It’s not enough to know about God, we have to know God.  In missions, we should feel the power of God working and flowing through us.  It’s not enough to be good people helping others, we are called to be God’s hands and feet in action.  In giving, we should feel the joy of self-sacrifice, joining Christ in becoming a part of something larger than we will ever catch a glimpse.  It’s not our sacrifice but Christ’s giving though us.

Where’s Waldo?  Where’s Jesus?  Christ is in you.  God is at work in our world through you.  We are the Body of Christ.  On social media recently I saw a “Coffee with Jesus” Comic.  In the comic, humanity asks, “Jesus, why do you allow all this injustice, hurt, and suffering go on and on?”

Jesus answers, “It’s great that you bring that up, I was going to ask you the same question.”

When we seek the extraordinary in the ordinary…

When we look for the supernatural among the natural…

When we find the Spirit among the Flesh…

That’s where God is – the image of the invisible God – Jesus Christ.

  • When God’s people gather for prayer – God is here.
  • When God’s people gather for study – God is here.
  • When we feed the hungry,
  • When we provide hugs and a kind heart listening to those in despair,
  • When we reach out to those that everyone else has given up on,
  • God is here.

God gives us a choice in life.  We can see the negative or the positive. 

Fred Craddock tells a story from his home town.  “There was this kid in my hometown who would believe anything.  Tell him the school burned down. “Really, no school tomorrow!  Awesome!”  Tell him they were handing out free watermelon downtown. Off he would run.  Tell him the President of the US was coming to give a speech. “Really!  Whoopee!”  Funny thing is that one summer an evangelist came to town. He told that kid, “God loves you and cares for you and comes to you in Jesus Christ.”  And do you know what, that kid believed.  He actually believes it.”

We are called to believe and because of our belief, to be Christians.  Christ is the image of the “invisible God” according to Colossians.  We are the image of the invisible God.  We are the helpers.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

 – Fred Rogers

 We can see God in and through what we see in Christ.  When we do, the journey of seeking Christ makes the rest of life come into clearer focus. By looking for God, we find ourselves – our true selves.  With all of our essence focused on looking for God, we realize the peace Jesus has given us while we were seeking him out.  

 Where have we seen God lately?

Growing in Unusual Places

Christians should disagree.  Churches should have conflict.  Being of one Spirit does not mean we are called to all think, act, give, vote, and look the same when we gather to worship our Lord.  Because of who God is and who the Lord created, we shouldn’t be surprised about this.  But we are.

I’m not used to being surprised when I do yard work.  Recently, I was clearing out some overgrown brush and trimming some trees.  As I was working on one tree, a startling revelation occurred.  It wasn’t one tree.  Sure the roots were one, and even the base was one.  But four distinct trunks were growing out of the base.  The pairs were different in bark, leaf, and density (remember I was cutting some of them).  Somehow, long before I lived here, two trees grew out of the same spot and self-grafted into one another.

The spectacle caused me to share it with my neighbor who was also doing yard work.  We talked about the struggle that these trees must have endured together.  We marveled at how nature finds a way for life to survive in even the most unusual places.  At first we talked about cutting one tree away from the other, but determining which was the original tree was now impossible.  So I trimmed back the dead branches, pruned back the ones that were not going to grow, and left the two trees growing together.

Christianity is a faith that calls us to grow in unusual places.  Faith should surprise us even when we’re not used to it doing so anymore.  In a world that seeks to have manicured monoculture lawns, nature reminds us that diversity is the norm with dandelions and crab grass.  Romans 11:17 gives us the image of a wild olive shoot being grafted into the stump of Jesse.  Paul is using this image to support the reality of his day; Christianity was spreading to Jews and Gentiles ~ to those who expected to be included and those who didn’t even get an invite.

The spectacle of the early church was not how uniform it was but how utterly diverse they were.  Rich and poor broke bread together.  The ethnic backgrounds represented three continents.  People of power were washing their slaves feet.  Former prostitutes were sitting with the wives of Senators.  They struggled and endured together.  At first there was talk of trying to cut them away from one another, but in the end the various branches grew together as community.  No wonder the neighbors gawked.

Christians should disagree – on lifestyles, on politics, on economic development, and even on theology.  Churches should have conflict.  Living things are always in flux and chemically unbalanced.  They do, however, reach a point when all is at homeostasis and there is no more conflict: it’s when they die.  The Living Spirit calls us not to be of one opinion or one vote.  Our faith is a faith of multiple branches growing from the same stump.  Sure, there are times when we’d like to cut away from one another, but our job isn’t to cut or to prune.  We’re supposed to leave that to the Master.  Sure there are easy places to grow, but that’s not where we were planted.  Our calling is to grow together in mutual love and respect for one another’s differences in belief, background, and practice.   After all, it’s what Jesus would do.


Originally published in the Tidewater News, August 2016.

Love is Particular


Jesus never said “Love everybody.”  I’ve checked.  It’s not in the Bible.  Now before you begin writing letters to the editor or perhaps to my Bishop, hear me out.  I’m glad Jesus never told me I had to love everybody.  I can’t.  It’s not humanly possible.  Loving the whole world is something divine, and even God struggled to do it on the cross.  Instead of commanding us to love everyone, Jesus commanded us to “love God,” “love your neighbor,” and “love one another.”  I’m glad he said it this way.  Loving our neighbor is much more particular and scandalous than loving everyone.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus describes our neighbor by telling the story of the “Good Samaritan.”  Neighbors are not simply the people who sleep in houses in close proximity to our homes.  Jesus defined neighbors as the people we encounter on the way.  At first this may seem like an easy command, but what if we loved each person we interact with along the way?  Sure, family and friends are pretty much assumed, but what about the others?  The cashier at the store who was slower than grandma’s two step shuffle?  The coworker that tells the annoying overused joke for the thousandth insult?  That loud-mouth who disagrees with us about politics?

And what about the people we interact with through our purchasing power?  We are a global economy.  Each swipe of our plastic is impacting someone’s life.  The child sweating in the factory putting buttons on our shirts?  The underpaid and overworked woman sewing brand names into our tagless underwear?  And let’s not forget closer to home – migrant workers picking vegetables amid the fog of carcinogenic insecticide.  God, this is difficult!

Loving everyone actually might be simpler.  Why not reword the command into the golden rule?  Instead of “Love thy neighbor” let’s use “Love everyone the same way you want to be loved”?  Some people don’t have self-love, self-respect, etc.  Using the golden rule, I could mistreat and disrespect everyone equally in the same manner I expected to be mistreated and disrespected.  God is smart.  Even the Lord ‘chose’ a people to be particularly loved among all humanity through whom the rest of the world would encounter the divine love.  This is the scandal of the particular in the universal.

God doesn’t simply love everyone; God loves you.  All of the you’s who there are out there in the cosmos.  You are a unique human who has very particular needs; your experience of God’s universal love will be particular.  I think this is why the Bible uses Father as a metaphor for God and God’s love.  I love my two children.  I do not love them equally.  They know it, too.  They’ve asked.  I’ve told them each and every time that they ask the same answer.  I love them as much as they need me to love them.  I love them equitably.  I love them particularly.  The Lord’s love is enough.  God doesn’t love one more or less than the other.  God loves us as much as we need to be loved.

Jesus taught us to love like he loved.  When we encounter one another in any way we become neighbors.  We’re called to love our neighbors in the same way that God loves us.  Love is particular.  Don’t try to love everybody.  You’ll fail.  Instead of going global, go local.  Love your neighbor.  After all, it’s what Jesus would do.


Originally published in the Tidewater News, July 2016.

Prayer for the 75th Anniversary of Alexandria District (2015)

O God, our help in ages past:

We gather in time to celebrate your ripening Kingdom.

Thank you for your steadfast love

Upon, within, without, and through our ministry as the people called United Methodist around Alexandria District.*

Thank you for dancing here with us who lived here first,

who planted not only corn but also roots of a deep spirituality.

Thank you for your abiding with us on the long journey across the ocean;

Both Settler and Slave found new beginnings and freedom on this soil.

Thank you for guiding us to grow more diverse

So that we truly reflect the many hues of your love.

You are our Hope for Years to Come:

Our hope when the Nation was born and Circuit Riders spread the Good News.

Our hope when the Nation was torn and Church spires helped point the way to Heaven.

Our hope when rural pastures became suburbs and the Body of Christ became our family and

home away from home.

Our hope in the coming days when revitalization and resurrection reign!

O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come

Be our Guide, our Shepherd, our New Beginning and our Eternal Home.  Amen.


By Nathan Decker, adapted from Isaac Watts

Special thanks to Keiko Foster for inviting me to write for this event.  *Please feel free to edit the underlined portion to use for you own celebration of ministry.  


“Let Nothing Go to Waste” from John 6:1-15

Preached at High Street UMC in Franklin, Virginia on July 26, 2015

John 6:1-15

After this Jesus went across the Galilee Sea (that is, the Tiberias Sea). A large crowd followed him, because they had seen the miraculous signs he had done among the sick. Jesus went up a mountain and sat there with his disciples. It was nearly time for Passover, the Jewish festival.

Jesus looked up and saw the large crowd coming toward him. He asked Philip,“Where will we buy food to feed these people?” Jesus said this to test him, for he already knew what he was going to do.

Philip replied, “More than a half year’s salary[a] worth of food wouldn’t be enough for each person to have even a little bit.”

One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, “A youth here has five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that for a crowd like this?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass there. They sat down, about five thousand of them. 11 Then Jesus took the bread. When he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, each getting as much as they wanted. 12 When they had plenty to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather up the leftover pieces, so that nothing will be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves that had been left over by those who had eaten.

14 When the people saw that he had done a miraculous sign, they said, “This is truly the prophet who is coming into the world.” 15 Jesus understood that they were about to come and force him to be their king, so he took refuge again, alone on a mountain.


He walked into the pastor’s office with his lunch box.  What had began as a conversation about paying a light bill had changed into a conversation about freedom.  His lunch box was full.  It was filled to the top with bills, collection letters, records, debt.  He had a payday loan.  He was paying the minimum.  The minimum payment was his maximum payment.  Most credit cards today will show you in a box on the bill: if you pay the minimum payment it will take you 32 years to pay off this debt.  When the pastor and the banker he had called in to the office figured it out, the man would be paying the minimum payment for 300 years unless something changed.  Realizing his drowning situation, the man wept.  He put his head in his hands and wept, unsure of how to get free from these chains.

“We’re not going to pay your light bill.”  The Pastor said.

When Christ came into the world, he did so to bring salvation.  Salvation from death to eternal life, Salvation from sin to a resurrection life, salvation from all those things that hold us back from being who God intended us to be.  Salvation from self-pity, self-doubt, and anything that holds us back from being fully human, our true selves within the deliverance of Christ.

Debt is a sin.  Debt holds us back from generosity.  Debt holds us back from giving ourselves fully to God.  Where debt causes death, Jesus saves.

They were in a desert place the Bible tells us.  We all know what it is like to be in the wastelands of life.  Whether we have walked in them or by them, we’ve seen the hurts that society has left along the byways, highways, and sidewalks.  Often, we ignore the poor.  Our apathy is our defense against becoming too involved, crossing boundaries, being infected.

When I was in college, we took a trip to NYC.  One of the young women named Sarah had never left the small town in which she grew up.  We were partnered up two by two and sent out to offer PB and J sandwiches to the homeless, sit down, listen to their stories.  It was a dramatic experience for all of us.  When we got back, all of us were sharing how we had encountered God in the homeless.  Everyone except Sarah.  “I didn’t see any homeless.”  Her partner quickly quipped, “That’s because you were too busy looking up at the buildings.”

So often we are busy looking at the grandness of our society without seeing who it has hurt.

God has a way of pointing out the needs that are right in front of us.  Jesus says, “Where will WE buy bread to feed these people?”  You can debate whether the government or corporations should be involved with helping people, but when it comes to us, the church:  Jesus says it’s our job.  It’s our job to feed the hungry.  It’s our job to give salvation to those starving for real living.  As disciples of Jesus Christ, we’re called to help the least of these.

Sometimes we’re overwhelmed by poverty.  We, like Phillip, want to point out that there is just too many, too much.  “Half a year’s salary couldn’t dent this debt.”  Five thousand people doesn’t sound like a lot.  Let’s use global figures.  According to the UN, last night 10,000 people died of hunger.  Tonight 10,000 more will die.  Yet, God doesn’t call us to end world hunger.  We could do it.  Statistically, the US alone could feed the whole world for three years without planting another crop.  We produce and waste that much food.  God doesn’t call us to end world hunger; God calls us to end our neighbor’s hunger.  

Neighbors include the people we live among.  Neighbors include the folks on our street, the child in Bangladesh that works in the sweatshop to sew our Sunday best, the migrant worker in Mexico who picked the watermelon we’ll eat for dessert tonight.  Neighbors are everyone we interact with in this life.  Neighbors is a big call.  But don’t get overwhelmed.

Globalization isn’t the answer in ministry.  Get Global isn’t our call.  When Jesus walked the earth, people died of hunger.  People will dangerous diseases died while Jesus walked the earth.  He didn’t heal everyone.  He healed those he was among.  Get local.  God calls our ministry to be local.  Get local.  God calls us to see people not hunger.  God calls us to see the person not the problem.  Jesus provided for those needs that he could where he was.

Remember the story of the little boy saving the starfish?  He threw them into the ocean to save them one by one.  An old man stopped him.  “You can’t save them all, what you’re doing doesn’t matter.”

“It matters to this one.”  The little boy said picking up a starfish and returning it to the ocean.

If we give God what we can, miracles do happen.  One of the things about his passage that really amazes me is the size of the gift that was given.  This youngsters mama had packed one whopper of a lunch.  Five loaves of bread!  Two fish!  Well, the fish might have been small, but this youth’s mama expected him to go on a long journey with Jesus and to need provisions for the journey.  This child isn’t coming from poverty, yet is willing to share all of it.  This child doesn’t get overwhelmed by the masses, she is willing to give all that she has for Jesus.

If we give God our nothing, an abundance will be provided.  The Disciples say they have nothing to give, but they can serve.  A child gives up lunch – and a miracle happens.  The miracle could be one of multiplication.  Jesus could have made the bread suddenly become more and more as the folks ate to their fill.  The miracle is no less surprising if it is one of sharing.

Can you see it?  Jesus stands and points out to the crowd the generosity of this little child willing to share what’s in her lunch box.  Suddenly everyone checks their bags.  Some were prepared, others were not.  They sit down on the grass and begin sharing, sharing so much that twelve baskets full of bread are left-over.  The sign of the child’s generosity caused others to be generous.

God provides enough for everyone.  Sometimes what others need is in my pocket.  Sometimes God gave me extra so that I could live out the gift of generosity to someone else.

The real problem is that we’re waiting for Superman to save the day.  We’re looking for a king or president or leader to elect to solve our problems.  But Jesus the Cook is looking for waiters to serve solutions.  In our American culture we love the idea of one hero rising up and solving everyone’s problems.  The reluctant diamond in the rough messiah who will make it all right.  John Wayne comes riding tall in the saddle.  James Bond shows up as the lone spy against the bad guys.  The story of a situation so horrible and so bad yet only one guy has the answer.

Let’s be honest.  One person can make a difference, but one person isn’t going to solve everything if elected.  It takes all of us together.  The reality is that even Jesus, the Savior of the world, asked for help.  “Where will WE buy food to feed these people?”  The disciples bring the boy to Jesus.  The disciples distribute the food.  The disciples pick up the leftovers because Jesus says “Let nothing go to Waste.”  Have we given God our nothing?  Will we be disciples?  St. Augustine said, “God who saved us in spite of us will not save the world without us.”

He walked into the pastor’s office with his lunch box.  He was in debt so deep he couldn’t tread water.  But for two hours the pastor, a church member who was a banker, and he went through income, bills, expenses, budgets, debts.  The man sat there, wept, head in hands.  The pastor said, “We’re not going to pay your light bill.  We’re going to give you an opportunity at jubilee, a chance at freedom.”

The pastor then began telling the man a story.  There had been a young man in the congregation who had made similar bad decisions.  Too embarrassed to ask for help, too ashamed to face his family, the man took the only thing he thought he had left… his life.

His mother was tormented by this for years.  So she went to the pastor.  They prayed to God.  God gave them hope.  After praying, they felt God leading them to set up a fund to help those who came to the church with debt.  They called it a “Jubilee Fund” after the Old Testament idea of restoration and renewal.  She was not a wealthy woman.  She promised the pastor not to cut back her giving, but to give what she could each week.  She decided she didn’t need to go out to eat each Sunday after Church.  So she gave the money that usually paid for her lunch.  $7.  Each Sunday, $7 went into the plate.  Her lunch money.  Others heard what she was doing, and they contributed their lunch money until the fund was an amount able to help.

The pastor and the banker smiled at the man drowning in debt.  “We’re not going to pay your light bill.  We’re going to give you an opportunity at Jubilee.  A zero-interest loan to help get you back on your feet.”

The terms were agreed to.  Financial counseling, strict budget living, hard work, monthly payments.  The man experienced grace, hope, a new beginning.  He took the opportunity at jubilee.

Jesus is still on that mountain.  Jesus is still asking his disciples.  He is still calling our attention to the needs in front of us, our community, our neighbors, starfish we can save, people not problems.  We don’t have to be overwhelmed.  God has provided all that we need.  If we give God what’s in our lunch box who knows what will happen?  If we give God our nothing, God will provide a miracle.  If we stop trying to elect Jesus as King and experience him as the cook calling waiters, then maybe, just maybe, a miracle will happen again.  Amen.  

Call to Worship for Pentecost Sunday 2015

We are the Church of God.

And today is the unbabel of our time!

We are the Church for the poor and the rich!

We are the Church for the Native and the Immigrant!

We are the Church for the Boss and the Employee!

We are the Church for Justice, Mercy, and Grace!

We are the Church for the Powerful and the Powerless!

We are the Church for the Fool and the Wise!

We are the Church for Babies Crying and Old Folks Moaning!

We are the Church for Singles, Divorced, and Happily Married!

We are the Church for Straight and Gay!

We are the Church for the Prodigal Son and the Elder Sibling!

We are the Church for Sinners and Saints in the making!

We are the Church for you.

And also you.

We are the Church.  The Spirit Blows.

We are the Church.  The Spirit Alights.

We are the Church.  The Spirit Speaks.

-©2015 Nathan Decker, http://www.worshipswake.wordpress.com

Spiritual Disciplines – Reading the Bible

Spiritual Disciplines – reading the Bible from Matthew 5:13-20


What do you do with an old Bible?  Not too long after becoming a preacher I was asked this question.  My mother asked me on the phone that day.  Keep in mind this is the person who taught me not to write in it lest the curses within be added to my life!  This is the one who told me not to put it on the ground, but to treat it with respect.  This is the one who told me that I should avoid putting other books on top of it.  In her words I heard the desire to offer respect and honor in the same way we do when it comes to the American flag.  And now she asked me, “what do you do with an old Bible?”  She had a used bible, pages falling out, binding unwound, cover tattered.  This wasn’t something that you would want to hand off in charity.  What do you do with an old Bible?  So I answered, “You very gently, and very respectfully put it in the recycling bin.”


The Bible is just a book.  There is no magic in the words themselves.  There is no secret divine code that mathematicians can decipher like some episode of Numbers.  Reading this book like any other book will not get you into heaven.  The Bible is not a history book.  The Bible is not a science book.  The Bible is not an ethics book.  It’s not a book of rules and morals for life.  It’s not even a road map for life.  It’s God’s story book for his children.  The Bible is a messy book of a people struggling to understand God, God’s direction, God’s expectations, God’s hopes and dreams.  The Bible is God’s story of and for his children.


The Bible is just a book, unless you read it with the Holy Spirit.  As Christians, we’re called to read this with the eyes of Jesus, the heart of the Father, and the nudges of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus challenges us to be a people who have salt within.  This is God’s story.  God wants us to take in God’s story to become our Story.  The Bible is one place (among many) that we can receive salt from God.


Jesus challenges us to be a people of light.  When we read the Bible, it should enlighten us.  We should gain insight and hope.  We should gain encouragement.    Reading the Bible should be like walking out into the sunshine on a sunny day.  Reading the Bible should give us light so that we can reflect that light into the world.  We are who God choose to partner with to transform the world.  Terrifying the thought, we are God’s hands, feet, voice, and Good News in the World.


Tragically, many of us are not salty.  I once heard the story of a man who read the Bible every day.  He was a scholar.  He could argue all the theories and theologies.  His head was filled with knowledge and verses.  Yet, he never let what he read change him.  He spent a great deal of time in brothels, gambling joints, and doing drugs.  He had horrible relationships with his friends.  He didn’t even acknowledge his family.  No one felt this man was happy.  He was a shell, hollow when God wanted him to be hallow.


Many Christians are really good at quoting and doing commentary on the Bible, but when it comes to being the living Word – we fail.  The Incarnation was intended to be from Heaven all the way to the roots.  We are a part of Christ’s continuing presence in this world.  Reading the Bible as a Spiritual Discipline should cause change.  First in us and then through us in the community.


Tragically many of us are in the dark.  Recently, Rev. Jeux Simmons shared a story with me.  She was asked, “Are you a real Christian?”  To which she replied, “Yes.”  The man looked at her with great suspicion.  “Then you should know that women are not suppose to preach.”  How horrible!  What darkness.  God speaks through men and women.  Unfortunately, this man had been taught to read the Bible only one way.  He had latched onto someone else’s interpretation instead of doing the work for himself.  When we don’t read God’s story for ourselves and hear the Spirit speak to us together, we live in the dark.  Reading the Bible should be a communal effort as much as a personal effort.  We hear God more clearly when we are open to correction.  Open to the light.



When we read it as something more than a love letter from God, we get ourselves in trouble.  Pharisees of Jesus day had turned the Bible into an idol.  They had lifted up the Torah and the Law as God.  Obeying the Law was obeying God.  They lorded over the people as experts, controllers, and masters.


We don’t do that do we church?  I had a professor of the Greek Language who said, “when you read the word Pharisee  in the Bible, insert Church member.”  We’ve been guilty of lifting up the Bible into a magical idol.  “If we could just make all the children in the school system read the Bible, all our problems would be solved.”  The Bible is not a magic cure all to our society.  God didn’t partner with a book.  God partnered with the church to change the world.


We’ve been guilty of laziness in our reading the Bible as a law book, a science book, a history book.  “The Bible says it, that settles it.”  Let’s be honest.  The Bible was inspired by God and written by and through people.  So let’s treat it as such.  To really hear God within the Bible, we have to seriously listen to the context of where God was speaking and how God is speaking today.


I confess on behalf of all the Pharisee Preachers and Pastors that I don’t have all the answers.  For too long pastors and preachers have acted as though our interpretation was ‘the’ interpretation that everyone else should live by.  The more I read, the more I understand how big and unimaginable God is.  Mark Twain was once asked if the Bible scared him because he didn’t understand it all.  He responded, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that scare me.  It’s the parts of the Bible that I do understand that scare me.”


Jesus says, “your righteousness, your justice, needs to exceed that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.”  A disciple reads the story to hear the Father’s heart beat.  A disciple reads the story to follow Jesus.  A disciple reads the story to experience the Spirit’s nudge.  The Bible is the most bought and least read book on the planet.  Today, God is challenging us to hear God’s story, to make it a part of our story, so that we are in God’s story.  Amen.


(C)2015 Nathan Decker, Worship’s Wake

Prayer for Our Church – Carpenter image

Jesus, Carpenter of our hearts,

you who nail our sin

and cut away our pride:

Rehab our meeting tonight.

Level our thoughts in Your Kingdom.

Square the Mission into our agenda

so that you again stand out as the cornerstone,

for our church is falling apart.

We sink in sands of disrespect and

We are tearing each other apart with crow-bar words.

Measure us among your people again

through the carpenter’s son, Jesus, Amen.


Special thanks to the Lay Servant Class “Leading Prayer” that I taught in February 2015.  The Spirit used them to help me create this.


(C)2015 by Nathan Decker, worshipswake.wordpress.com