Thursday, October 21, 2010




Is your church a Crowd of Consumers or Community? How about you? Do you "consume" church? That is, come to get fed. To be a "taker?" Or do you see yourself as part of a community; gathering to form deep commitments with God and others? Living in a reciprocity of sacrificially giving as well as taking?


The following is one bullet point of the Vision Statement of Parish Church of St Mary and Harlow Hill (Anglican,) Church of England found at


"Community not consumer" – it is all too easy to have a 'feed me' attitude when it comes to church. We aren't about coming to consume a product – we say that church is a lot more than that.  It is about followers of Jesus gathering in the expectation that Jesus is the one "in whom all our hungers are satisfied".


Typically, in the fall, churches emphasize Stewardship. This is due to the proximity of Thanksgiving Day. Stewardship is the releasing of ones gifts for the benefit of others under the direction of God (who gave the gifts.) Stewardship is a life strategy of community people. It is hard to be generous without community and it is hard to be in true community without being generous.


How might you (and your church) be more community building and be less consuming today?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ambiguous Language

The following is an excerpt from a blog on SAMBA, a sixth month alternative to an MBA blog offered by Seth Godin, author of many business books including Purple Cow,which I am currently reading.


We often use ambiguous language to shield ourselves from reality.

We say we want get "healthy" because it's easier to say than "lose 30 pounds".

I made "some" sales calls yesterday...hides the fact that we only made "3".

Declaring to our colleagues that someday we'd like to run for a "national office" because we're too embarrassed to say "I want to run for President."

Words are incredibly powerful (much more powerful than most of us will ever realize).  They have the power to create and the power to destroy.  Often times, the only thing preventing you from making the changes you need to make, is the words you use to describe them.  Choose wisely.


James 5:12 states, Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned.


Some times, we use words to shield ourselves or others from the truth. Relationships do not hold up well to ambiguous speech. We hate it when politicians do it. We might even call it "lying."


Check your speech today. Be clear and honest in your statements and assessments. Be bold. Foster loving relationships through unambiguous speech.


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




Monday, October 18, 2010


Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction.

The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences. Proverbs 18:20-21


I am pretty good with words. At times, I do not choose them wisely. Other times, I leave unsaid that which should have been said. On occasion, I even say the right word at the right time.


Words are more powerful that money, sex, power, bullets, or achievements. Word can build up or tear down. Usually, the more we talk the greater the possibility of tearing down things. Well chosen words can come straight from the heart.


God calls Jesus his Word (John 1) and tells us his word never returns to him empty (Isaiah 55:11.) I think that means God's word will build up and will not be stopped, even if our poorly chosen words detour God's will for a bit.


One word said can lift a spirit. One word unsaid can withhold the very breath another needs to thrive.


Today, both choose your words wisely and leave none of the life giving words you have left unsaid. Take no one for granted. May you hear great words yourself.


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




Saturday, October 16, 2010


I am not sure what it is about us but we tend to notice weaknesses in others and assume (take for granted) strengths. An exception to this may be the phony "self esteem" movement that gives people an "attagirl" for doing nothing. Still, this is an exception.


All people deserve respect and are valuable. They need do nothing to earn this. But each of us has unique, God-given gifts (and not just the "spiritual" kind,) many of which go unidentified and unacknowledged.


We can point out a weakness, however, a mile away. People spend many frustrating hours either trying to eradicate weaknesses (which they probably cannot do.) Or else, bemoan the fact that they either have no strengths or people will not acknowledge those as well as the weaknesses.


I read a book once that said not to waste our time on weaknesses but fill our time with strengths. I like that. Jesus saw strength in even the weakest of people.


Today, embrace your strengths. If you do not know what they are, do not waste any time (especially on weaknesses.) Find them out. Friends. Tests. Prayer. Reflection. Each will help. And spend more time acknowledging the strengths of others. Do not keep silent. Help them understand themselves and, thereby, unleash the power that God has given them for the benefit of us all.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Elliot Gershenson, the President and CEO of Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston turned 60. He considered this a milestone where you become "wise." I have hit this milestone but have not had too many consider me wise. Nonetheless, I print his life wisdom, which he published recently. Here are a few.

  • Nothing can replace one's integrity.  If something doesn't feel right, don't do it. When you can't figure out what's right, do what you think your Mom would want you to do.
  • Get lost in community, because when you do, you will find who you truly are.
  • Don't be afraid to take risks or dream big, because when you just take the easy road, you end up not going very far.  Don't think you can always succeed, because when you fail as you sometimes will, you might just give up.
  • Be aware of your actions, because what you do on earth will live on well past your life; be a good parent, because your kids are going to inherit that world. 
  • Be loyal to a fault, but don't be blinded by that.  Once you figure this one out, you will be ready for heaven.


I found these really on-the-mark. #2 is one I knew but could never articulate well. Many people get lost in isolation and rely on others to tell them who they are. It is literally depressing.


Do you embrace any or all of these as if your life depended on it?  It probably does. What would you add?


"Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me"


This is a stupid adage. I was told it as a child. It is untrue. God tells us over and over again that naming is power. God names Jacob, Israel. God gave power to name animals to Adam and Eve. God will not give his name to Moses. Jesus shuns the Messiah title. Jesus said that using derogatory names are akin to murder. He didn't even like the label, "good."


A lot had been said about bullying lately. The Houston Chronicle reported on 10/11 that ~20% of high school teens reported being bullied. Some of this is physical and that should be both condemned (which most do) and eradicated (which few take on.)


But let's stick with names. Facebook is awash with them. I read about fags, retards, whores, stupid, and bitches. My Italian immigrant grandfather was called a wop (interestingly, meaning "without papers.") Even "beautiful" and "athletic" or "brilliant" (straight A student) can turn a people into a caricature of themselves leaving the named wondering if they will have validity when beauty fades, games are lost or a smarter person comes along. Politicians are maligned more that their policies debated. I weep so does God. Jesus died for each one of these people.


Consider your use of names. Have you exercised power over others by naming? While this may make us feel superior for a while, we know it is only time before we will be named ourselves. Have you been named? Know that you are so much more than any name. More complex and more beautiful.


Embrace the name God gives you: son…daughter.

Big God

Someone once told me that the size of your God will determine the size of your goal. I believe that. One of my life verses from the Bible is this one.

…to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-22 (NIV)

Each day, I meet both people with God-sized goals and people with goals they can easily accomplish on their own without God. Both claim to follow Jesus. The former invariably seem to lead a fuller, richer life. The later lead lives that are safe but diminished.
Pilate did what was expedient in handing over Jesus to be killed. His goal was to get through the day. True leaders are more than safe "talking points," "bottom lines," and "sound bites." True leaders have goals that can only be reached with help from something or someone beyond themselves. Churches often set mediocre budgets that they can reach on their own rather than asking what God wants to do and expecting God to provide the resources. Real transformation will not happen in timid, self-reliant churches. They may be places of order and religious looks but they will lack the vitality those who have a BIG GOAL that can only be meet by a BIG GOD.
Do you have a big goal from God that you will need help with from God? Are you part of a community (including church) that dreams big and expects BIG GOD to show up?

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Leonardo Da Vinci said, "Simple is the ultimate sophistication." My church in Colorado, St. Matthew's-Parker, had a bumper sticker, "Live simply so others may simply live." The Shaker song of the 18th century states,


'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,
'tis the gift to come down
where we ought to be,
and when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained
to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,
to turn, turn, will be our delight
till by turning, turning we come round right.


How many times have you said or heard, "I've gotta simplify my life?" Probably many. Even we who are overwhelmed by what researchers report are over 5,000 media messages a day, we who have a "To Do" list that would make Jesus shrink, we who carry a guilt trip of "hafta's" that were laid on us by others (not to mention the ones we laid on ourselves,) we who are enslaved and weary: we know simplicity brings freedom.


May you be bold today in lifting burdens from others and yourself by taking on, viewing, and doing - less. God has your 24 hours fitted with just the right amount of life. Anything more is neither his plan nor to our advantage. May you know the freedom of simplicity.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010


A number of clergy and I were talking about our own churches recently. I listened as I heard story after story of hard times. I prayed for my fellow clergy and their parishes. I did speak up as well. I wondered if the Church had abandoned Hope as a part of her Good News. Over and over in scripture, God speaks out to those whose life circumstances are lousy. Often, churches speak only of relief and the past. God offers Hope.


Not "hope," as in optimism that things will go back the way they were. God often tells us that circumstances may get worse.  The Hope of God transcends circumstances. The world tells us things will get better and better. The next generation will do better than the last. My job will get better and better. You get it.


Both God and the Second Law of Thermodynamics tell us that, actually, the wheels ultimately will fall off. God goes on to say, "And I will take care of you and I will provide a place for you and you will be okay." Hope is for-certain knowledge that God loves and God is in control, even if today isn't what we expected.


Do you hope in what you or the government or your family or your job will do for you? Or do you Hope for God and accept every blessing with thanks and every not-so-blessing with Hope?

My prayers are that things go well for you. My biggest prayer is that you let go enough to let Hope grab a hold of you – forever. Hope will always be there even when "circumstances" walk out.

Monday, October 4, 2010


Leading an all volunteer organization has special demands. When it is the Church, I think it is a little harder. (I am aware that many churches need a few professionals, but even they should offer their services without pay.) For most non-profits, those that help are volunteers as in, "I am just a volunteer." This phrase is usually uttered when someone wants "out" of task. In Church, we are ministers. We are part of Christ's Body and work for God. We are called and equipped by God. Sacrifice is the norm. Church is the last place to play the "just a volunteer" card.


We, the Church are amateurs. That is, we do what we do for love (of God.) Unfortunately, in our time-crunched, hectic world, few have time to love God (other than in thought or theory.) It is not that they do not want to love God; they just don't take the time. If I did not take the time, Christine and I would not be together 42 years later. She took time, too.


The "just a volunteer" card gets played by those who need to be in love with God rather than just know about him. True, some may be in bad fit ministries and need to get out. But I see too many very earnest people doing too much and others watching. Christianity is not a spectator sport (despite what TV evangelists might say.)


So here's what you might do if you are bold. Don't settle for knowing about God, learn to love God. Be in love with God. It takes practice. Help another love God, especially a child. Too often an adult (who hasn't learned to love God) convinces a child (who naturally loves God early in life) to pursue other loves at the expense of God.  Well meaning, but not helpful. And minister for God using your gifts. Leave the "volunteer" card unplayed.


A friend of mine met a group of people with whom I was familiar the other day. I was not there. I had suggested them to help finish a project. Later, I checked in to see how it went. Thankfully, it went pretty well.


As I reflected later, I was struck by a few thinks that were said by my friend. These things were side bars to the main conversation we had. These side bars had a common theme. In each case, my friend had pretty accurately assessed the assets and the liabilities of her team.


This led me to thinking. In direct (not rumor or gossip) interaction, people reveal themselves pretty quickly for who they are (who they can become I will leave for another musing.) "Reveal to others" maybe a better way to say it.


In some cases, people really undervalue their gifts and do not know they have much to offer. This can hurt a team because these people defer to others when they should be right in the middle of things where their gifts can be employed. Others can put on airs and may come across as informed, competent or wise. The folks can hurt a team because they usually think they know better and often need things their way or, at least, their egos soothed. They may not deliver anything; on time or otherwise. Some want to tweak things to their liking even if the team agrees to do it another way. This latter (the airs) group also miss out on knowing their true calling, the one that will fulfill them.


God loves variety. That's why you are uniquely you and here. Each of us has a piece of His pie. No one has it all. No one has nothing at all.


Tell someone today the gifts she or he has to offer, especially telling one who thinks he or she has nothing and who always defers.  And for someone you know well and care about, tell them when they are off base and help them find their true calling. They will be happier. And, if you who cares and knows won't tell, who will?


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Mail Call

As the years pass, I notice that "mailing it in" has become more common place. I notice how many are hurt by this phenomenon. Now, I may not have the precise definition of "mailing it in" but here's mine.


"Mailing it in" occurs when a person puts in the least humanly possible effort into a project. The project may be a promise, returning a call or email, or a task – complex or simple. Often, 'mailing it in" is an outcrop of procrastination or saying "Yes" to too many requests. "Mailing it in" makes us look like we are being responsible without putting much effort in. And "mailing it in" always shifts the burden off of the "mailer" and on to another. "Mailing it in" always fractures community because trust is broken.


The cycle of "mailing it in" only can be broken when one begins to think of others. "Others" being God and those with whom the mailer is in community. The cycle is broken when one thinks of others first (Philippians, chapter 2.) A plan (Jeremiah 29:11) is what God has in mind and the plan is not "escape." Christ and the Cross is our exodus.


If we think of God, we only take on those things God wants. This is not the same as those things which we want. God's will requires sacrifice. "Follow me," is not easy. Yet, God does not expect us to be saviors. He already sent one. We are meant to say "No" to good things so we might say "Yes" to God things. If some things belly flop, it may be because someone else is refusing to follow Jesus. There is amazing freedom in listening to God because only God cares about you completely. He will never hurt you. It's not all yours to fix.


If we think of others, we realize how rough it is to be bailed out on at the last minute or just ignored. Both hurt.


Be an agent of a flourishing community. Vow never "mail it in" again. Ask God for help. When you find yourself "mailing it in," repent (change your ways,) make restitution, and seek forgiveness from those hurt. Have a plan but make it God's.