July 2011

When religious zeal leads us astray

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:13 NIV

In my daily reading this morning these simple words of Jesus “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” arrested my attention. They are a direct quote from the Old Testament given in answer to a question posed by the Pharisees who were asking Jesus’ disciples why He was hanging out with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus had been invited to a dinner party thrown by Matthew, himself a tax collector, who had recently left his profession to follow Jesus. It must have been quite a gathering, made up primarily of all Matthew’s non-religious friends given with the intent of introducing them to Jesus.

The quote gave me pause because I realized how deceptively easy it is to substitute religion for relationship, ritual for righteousness and profession for practice. In many ways the Pharisees, who were zealous for God and the teachings of the law, are no different than most Christians, myself included, who have a similar zeal to please God and be people of the Book. They got so caught up in their religious practices that they neglected the greater importance of extending God’s mercy to those who needed it. So what will keep us from falling into the same self-centered and self-righteous pit the Pharisees fell into?

Like the Pharisees whom Jesus urged to “go and learn what this means” we need to be diligent to do the same. What does it mean that God desires mercy much more than sacrifice? What does it mean that He has not “come to call the righteous, but sinners”?

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The West runs through me

Reflections and observations on my trip out West

We are driving back from a week spent in Wyoming at a family reunion. Having lived in Montana the first 14 years of my life it brought back many memories. Life in the Mountain West is very different from my citified life in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

One of the things I love are the snow capped mountains and big vistas with the road laying before you like a ribbon unfurling into eternity. Grazing livestock, pick-ups driven by men with cowboy hats and cattle guards at all the freeway exits tell you this is ranching country. The frequent use of terms to describe places like canyon, creek and gulch are unique to mountain country. Because of a winter with record snow falls and a spring and early summer with record rains the countryside is adorned with colorful wildflowers and verdant vegetation.

We spent a couple of days in Buffalo, Wyoming at the foot of the scenic Big Horn Mountains, which is one of those historic wild west settlements. The Occidental Hotel in town boasts having hosted the likes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Calamity Jane and Buffalo Bill Cody. Not too far south of Buffalo is some rugged country called the Hole in the Wall where outlaw gangs like those of Butch and Sundance used to hide out. Situated on which was once the Bozeman trail taking people into the gold fields of Western Montana, Buffalo lore also includes the tragic tales of broken treaties and Indian wars.

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5 types of people who leave the church

One of the jobs that pastors do, with some reluctance, is exit interviews. Having pastored in two congregations spanning over 35 years I have done my share. Exit interviews are basically conversations pastors try to make a point of having with people when they decide to leave their church.

The intention first and foremost is to check on their spiritual well-being and hear what God is doing in their lives. It is also a time to express appreciation for them and their contribution to the church. And finally it is appropriate to affirm and bless them as they move on in their relationship with God.

Although there are many reasons people leave a church I have discovered that they can all be grouped into five basic categories. For simplicity’s sake I will term these categories by the types of people they represent.

And so here are five types of people who leave the church.

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