Thursday, May 27, 2010


Kerry Mackey was quoted from a blog on He wrote, "I think you can belong before you believe and certainly before you behave and/or become." In other words, it is okay for your spiritual journey to go thusly;


Belonging (associating with Christians in church, even if skeptical or non-Christian)

Believing (willing to "test drive" following Jesus)

Behaving (willing, out of love, to correct ourselves when we fall short)

Becoming (transforming to the Christ-like image, which is our destiny)


True, these overlap and we even may double back on some for a "do-over." Yes, we could split hairs on this one. But I think something bigger is going on.


The people I talk to outside the church and many who initially come to church (or return to church) see that they must clean up (their act) before showing up. The job seems impossible so, they never come or it takes them 4 or 5 "running starts" to show up. In the New Testament, most of the "cleaned up" people not only kept out others by fussy rules, they were branded hypocrites (double standard) and killed off Jesus. Jesus seemed to like the company of misfits, immoral types, rabbinical flunkouts and people who were close to the earth more than close to perfect.


Do you set barriers for others? Yourself? Can you believe that Christ's death and resurrection make you okay as a person? That only God is perfect, therefore, we need grace? Jesus never made a statement about where we were "on the Way." He only offered an invitation to follow. Wherever we are on the Way, by grace, is acceptable.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


The Church has no volunteers, only ministers. "Ministry" in the New Testament literally means "carrying out the wishers on another." What we do in and for Church, we do for God. I am not the minister of the church. I am A minister of God. So are you. the Bible does not include the word "volunteer."

We do what we do for God. We do it cheerfully and because we are gifted by God to do it. Volunteers come and go as they wish. Their heart may or may not be in it. Ministers do it for the love of God and for his Church. An "amateur" is literally one who does what he or she does "for the love of it." Ministers do their absolute best. Ministers do accept great sacrifices for the Kingdom of God in the local church. Volunteers do as much as they feel like. Sometimes, volunteers work out of guilt. Ministers are fueled by God and not feelings. Yet satisfaction often is a fruit of ministry.

Ephesians 4 has words about how my job as pastor is to equip people to to the work for which they are called to do by God. And the work we all do is always done for God. Not for a good feelings (but they do happen.) and not for our own self-interest (although we often benefit.)

I pray we all develop a ministry mindset. It is God plan for the renewal not only of the Church but the World. And the World needs us.


My mother used the word, "spiffy" a lot. It is not used much today. It means "really, really good," especially in the "very presentable" sense. Here's the question, "Do we have to be spiffy for God?" By that, I mean, "Do we have to clean up nice before God wants to listen to us or find us worthy of his time?"


The answer, I believe, is an unqualified, "No!" The story of the Loving Father (Prodigal Son) in Luke 15 points out that the "highest good" is a relationship of father and child. Everything else is "details." The father will give up everything, including the lecture parents give and his own reputation. The psalmist often comes across as complaining, vindictive and somewhat whiney. And these Psalms are prayers that stood the test of time.


Stand before God, your Father, today and know that, no mater what you have done, are doing or will do, he is smiling back and loves you more than you will ever know. Conditional? Don't bet on it!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Good Jesus? Nasty Jesus?

The current issue of The New Yorker (May 24, 2010, page 74) has an article, What Did Jesus Do? The article, using the Gospel of Mark (the earliest one) and a number of recent books about Jesus traces the age old questions of, "Just who is Jesus?"


Over the years, we have shifted around. Was Jesus the "Nice Jesus?" That is, the one who said and did nice things. Or was he the "Nasty Jesus?" The one who told of judgment and easily got angry and impatient with his friends. Most of us pick a Jesus that suits our needs.


I like the one that says he was both at the same time. Fully God and Fully Human. Don't ask me "How?" I am an Episcopalian. We can live in tension. If Jesus is just nice, I get a great pal who not only loves me but overlooks my sins. So, he really isn't in a position to do much about it other than be an example. I'm not much good at saving (healing) myself. Yet, I also get a real human, not an airbrushed Savior. If Jesus is just nasty, I get all the power of God but loose some human contact and companionship. I mean, who am I next to the Great Judge? I guess I am scared as well.


I waffle between the two. And that may be okay. I am comforted by the fact that God cares on a very personal basis while, at the same time, puts all his assets to bear on both my sin and my weakness. I can live with that.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

No thanks, I’d rather go to Victoria’s Secret

A recent issue of Sorted, a British men's magazine (no, not that kind) ran the result of a survey. "A ladies underwear shop, a library, a council office, even a hospital - it seems the average British male would prefer to be anywhere but in church." See blog 


One quotation caught my attention. "'The medium obstructs the message and the most powerful story on earth is hidden behind flowery songs and awkward meetings.'" In this case, the "medium" is the church. In other words, church seems to get in the way of Jesus and the power of Jesus in our life.


I wonder how much the Church and Christians settle for the appearance of religiosity rather than a relationship with the Risen Christ? What rituals do we (you and I) have that feed that relationship and what rituals simply are a waste of time or worse - distract us from the transforming power of a relationship with Jesus.


Page 9 in the Book of Common Prayer (trust me, no one has ever touched it in your Prayer Book) tells us that there is two kinds of religious stuff, Doctrine and Discipline. Doctrine is minimal and cannot change. Discipline (practices) is changeable. The point of Disciplines is this. Does this Discipline feed a walk with Christ or not? If not, do away with it. What needs to go?


I like Episcopalians.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away. (So many people have taken credit for this quotation; I will not attribute it to anyone.)

Jesus saw time through two lenses. "Chronos," which is "the march of time," "pressed for time," "time is running out" kind of time. And "kairos," which is "the right time," the pregnant moment," "the fullness of time," and "in the moment" kind of time.


Being "in love," or taking the much-hoped-for vacation or a new baby usually take place in kairos time.  Waiting on a root canal or final grades or a pregnancy test is chronos time. "Where did the time go?," is kairos time. "I'm bored," is chronos time. We fight chronos because, deep down inside, we know it ends in our death and the death of other people and other opportunities.


Jesus said that God's Kingdom (the reality of God's desires for us in this life) was not measured by chronos but by kairos. In other words, when we chose to live for God (in his Kingdom,) we move from the busy, press of time to a "take your breath away time." True, one could take a roller coaster that plunges 150 feet in an instant. That would take our breath away. We could medicate ourselves with booze or drugs or the internet and loose track of time. Both depend on the right circumstances, however. The kingdom takes our breath away and is independent of the circumstances. Jesus was at peace (in kairos time) while suffering the pain of crucifixion (chronos time.) Peace won out.


God wants us to experience life each and every moment. In Christ, that gift is ours. While we live in a chronos world, we also can live kairos moments if our world view is God's. I pray you have a kairos day and your breath is taken away this day by the fullness of God in your life.


The Rev. Jim Liberatore, Rector
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church




Tuesday, May 18, 2010


For (Pilate) knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him. Matthew 27:18 (NIV)


Envy is considered by many as the worst of the 7 Deadly Sins (wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.) Most of these ultimately destroy us. A few hurt the "other." "Envy" really wants to suck the goodness out of another person, leaving her or him dead. Envious people are not satisfied until they possess for their own the quality of another who they envy. Envy says (silently,) "I want what you have and I want you not to have it as well." Envy killed Jesus.


TV ads appeal to envy. They strive to make us yearn for the beauty, the lawn, the car, even the beer of others. The difference is that the ad solves the envy problem by saying, "We can sell you that for which you yearn (envy.)"


Envy screams in our heart (if not ear,) "You are not whole without_______." "You will never amount to much until you possess___________."  "She has that but you are better. You need ___________."


Today, enjoy the beauty, the good fortune of others without possessing it. Count your blessings. You have many even if you are in a time of trial. Thank Jesus.

The Green Machine

My first car was a 1955 Pontiac station wagon, green and white two-tone. It has two strikes against it. First, it was an ugly ride, hardly a babe magnet or a "statement car." Second, parents hated it, presumably because they thought I would put the back seat down and get their daughters in trouble. The car looked to them like a problem waiting to happen. On the up side, gas was 19¢ a gallon.


Both of my strikes had to do with what the car said about me. In both cases, I wanted to scream, "Wait! That's not me!"  To the girls, I wanted to say, "I am really a stud even if my car says otherwise." To the parents, I wanted to say, "Hey, I am really a responsible guy with your daughter's best interest in mind."  Funny how externals said I was both a stud and a dud at the same time. Too bad I could not switch the feelings of the two audiences!


People thought they had Jesus figured out. "Oh, he's one of us; Jewish, family, scripturally smart, prophetic, a rabbi." Once Jesus displayed his loyalty to God the Father, they turned. Jesus was judged by externals. At first, he was judged positively, then it reversed and he was judged negatively, so negatively that he had to be silenced. The only ones who looked at the real Jesus were outcasts, people society had labeled "losers," They saw the real person of Jesus from the start.


Do you worry about what people think of you? You are in good company, play to your Father. That is all that matters. Do you write off (some) people because of their "exterior?"  Look deeper. Engage them. Is there someone in your life that lives and dies on externals? Help them escape the trap. Be you, the one the Father made. See the "you" God made in others. Both are beautiful. All else will soon be gone, leaving only "you." The "you" that will enter eternity.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I have long said that I can tell a person's true relationship to God by looking at two things. Kind of like the two tablets Moses had. The two? Checkbook and day planner.


How we spend our time and how we spend our money reveal a lot about where God fits in our life.


Does God get 10% (tithe) off the top, first (or some percentage of what we make?) Do we have a plan to get to a tithe? Do we have a plan for our money (budget) and stick to it? Satan's plan is for us to be perennially fixin' to have a plan or to make a budget and feel good about its formulation and forget it.  Do we carry steady or increasing credit card balances – often signs that we are living above our means? Do we save? Can we put off purchases? Is shopping an addiction?


Is every moment spoken for with no room for rest or an "oh, *%$@!" moment? Those moments are called "life" and they happen pretty frequently. We need margin in our life to be able to take up those moments. Are family and God (church, prayer, study) put on first? Do we know (have a plan for) what never gets on? Do we keep our commitments? Always late? Have any fun? Are we busy in order not to think (and act) on things?


Take a look. Who or what is god of your life? I pray it is God. All other gods are appealing but do not care about you. God created, died for and lives for you.

Slow Down

In all my years as a pastor I am not sure I have ever lead anyone to slow down. I think I may have lead some to skip church in order to be less busy. Somewhat frustrating.
I watch people and families self-destruct over busyness. Overcommitment is toxic. God created margin in our lives in the  4th Commandment. We all need Sabbath. Now, this age is faster paced. But faster paced does not mean busyness. Busyness is chaos. God thought chaos needed to be put in a box (read Genesis 1.) Busyness leads to stress, poor choices, no down time, missed appointments, letting others down, fatigue and a "How did we get here?" mantra. Imagine Jesus saying, "I came that you may have busyness and have it in abundance."

Busyness has one source. No plan. God has a plan. When we don't have a plan, everything is a priority. And what gets top billing (when there is no plan) are the pressing, get it done now things. Long term things like, "Where are we headed?" - "Will this really matter 10 years from now?" - "Will this help build the character necessary to navigate life?" - "How can I help my children make good choices, which include turning down good things?" - "Am I building a relationship to God, which is all that will last in the end?"

Jesus had a plan - to make the Kingdom (The Reality) of God central to every human life. If it didn't fit that plan, it - even if good - was discarded. If it did fit that plan, even if the results were painful, it was done. What is your plan?

I have long encouraged families and individuals to sit down and decide what the long term goals of the family were, including spiritual goals and rest. Then use that as a sorting mechanism for all the things (many good) that come our way. Jesus called this "counting the costs." 

What's your plan? God has one that puts you at peace, even in a face-paced world.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


One of my friends upgraded me to first class on a flight recently. Nice. Glassware. Unused pillow. W-I-D-E seat (for a wide person like me.) Leg room for someone taller than 4 feet. Sweet.
Jesus is big into upgrades. We insist on the economy ride to Hell on our Google search for the path of life. "No thank, God, I got a better idea!" Jesus offers a sweet ride to Eternity. Upgrade. No restrictions on travel dates. No hidden fees. He's aware of our baggage and allows it - gratis.
I hope you perform one Upgrade today. Do something nice. Upgrade someone who will not upgrade you in return. Upgrade because you have been permanently Upgraded by the Captain of our Soul. Change a life. Little things matter.
Upgrade. Sweet!

Pizza Man

While waiting for the plane in Atlanta, I sat next to a very loving, older couple. He was not functioning well. Most of the communication was in offhand waves of his frail hands. They spoke broken English and seemed (to me) to be speaking to one another in Yiddish.
A young man sat on the floor across the way. He was eating a pizza out of a box, Standard terminal food (pun intended.) He was a hip looking Millennial, maybe just shy of 30. Anyone could have been excused from noticing the hand gestures cast in his direction by the old man. The young man noticed. He could have turned away. The old man pointed at the pizza box. Moment of truth. The young man was in the process of getting up, tossing the box and heading to a gate. He headed toward the old man as if on a mission. Three points at the box by the old man and a hand gesture followed by a point in the direction of the main terminal. The old man's words were incomprehensible. The wife smiled and nodded.
The young man smiled, turned and headed to the terminal hub. Five minutes later, he came back with a pizza and gave it to the old man. Wife reaches for her purse. The young man waved his hand, "no" and said he needed the exercise. He smiled and went to his gate.
The pizza man was Jesus. Sure, he may not have been "saved." He might have been a Muslim. Maybe he just did what his mom told him to do for 30 years. Doesn't matter. He was Jesus. I saw Jesus in Atlanta. And he likes pizza.

God's Okay

Frederick Buechner, writer and theologian, wrote something along the lines of this - before the Gospel is Good News, it's Bad News. The bad news is that it is not about us; our opinions, our triumphs, our failures, our plans, our anything. Okay, that's the bad news. The world does not revolve around us. Get over it.
Now for the good news. The Gospel is about us. The real us. The one we spend much of our life ignoring. The "us" God took great pains to make, literally loving us into existence. The "us" who God forgave when we rejected his Son so we could keep the conversation about us. The "us" God empowered by raising the "best" death we could conceive from the dead. Our destiny is assured.
So what? Well, for one, we can quit trying so hard to get ahead, to impress each other and ourselves. We can relish the persons we are - unique, if not slightly odd - flawed but totally forgiven - invincible, even if fragile. God turned what we saw as reality back on its feet (we were standing on our heads, the blood rushed there and made us weird.)
The Rev. Dr. Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse said to me once, " I'm not okay, you're not okay, but that's okay." Why? Because God is okay.
I hope you have a Good day by rejecting the Bad one you planned and by embracing the one God has in store for you. Surrender. Resistance is not only futile, it's just dumb.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Patrick Lencioni, business consultant and Christian leader, wrote in his April Point of View email about the tension between discipline and creativity. Discipline without Spontaneity yields a dry, predictable, passionless existence. The contrary leads to a roller coaster of fun and tragedy. Either way, true creativity seems to take a back seat when we orbit too close to either pole.


God tells us right off the bat in Genesis that he creates. Fun stuff. Wild stuff. Cosmic stuff. Creativity is at the heart of who we are as made in the image of God. We all share in God's creativity to the extent we are true to our relationship with God, ourselves and others. The statement (often drilled into us at an early age) is that we are not creative or not PROPERLY creative. This is simple not true (unbiblical.)


I think the trick is mastering the spontaneity-discipline (grace-mercy?) tension. This means letting go of the nature pole we cling to (in place of God) and venture a little in the other direction.  Jesus demonstrates this when he says that none of the law is changed but how we view it and interpret it does. The Resurrection is pretty creative stuff. So is "lay down your life to gain it."


How's your creativity? Which pole are you more apt to cling to instead of clinging to God? What kind of nudge do you need to venture towards the other pole?