{Many Questions and Few Answers Along the Never-Finished Journey of Faith}

Advent Week 2 (for those who are in crunch time)

AdventWith the holiday last week I realized that I was cutting it close for liturgy to share for Week 2 of Advent. Thanks to all who have sent notes and comments about using the material for Week 1. Just a reminder: feel free to adapt these suggestions as needed to make them as contextual as they need to be. Good and faithful worship planning will always take context very seriously.

So on to Week 2…

Lighting of the Advent Wreath

In those days a fiery preacher from the desert came to tell the people:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!”

He is the one the prophet Isaiah spoke about when he said:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.”

We light the second Advent candle in preparation for the coming of the Messiah,

in anticipation of the fullness of God’s justice and righteousness,

and remembering the call of John the Baptist

to make paths straight,

repent of our sin,

and live holy lives devoted to God.

Light the candle

Come, Lord Jesus.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.


Opening Prayer

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Let us pray.

Merciful God,

you sent your messenger the prophets

to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation.

Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,

that we may celebrate aright the commemoration of the nativity,

and may await with joy

the coming in glory of Jesus Christ our Redeemer;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

One God, for ever and ever. Amen. (United Methodist Hymnal #201)



Go forth from this place having seen and heard the promises of God –

the kingdom of God is near;

paths shall be made straight;

hope will come from his righteousness.

Go forth as instruments of peace and reconciliation

repenting of your sin and committed anew to sharing a life of holiness

with all people. Amen.

We have two baptisms during our service so this week is a little lighter in unique Advent material. Also, next week we have our major choir work for the season. So I’ll be sure to get Advent Week 4 and Christmas Eve out early.

Continued Advent blessings!


Why a Service of the Longest Night?

Candles Burning in Dark ChurchThe Christmas season is often marked by expressions of joy, excitement, and happiness. It’s a time for family to gather and for churches to worship pointing to the hope that is found in the coming of the Christ child. However, this time of joy and expectation can often overshadow the pain and hurt many experience during this season, when the world’s merriment puts their grief and sorrow in start relief.

One of the greatest acts of pastoral care in the Advent season is to offer a service known as a Service of the Longest Night. It’s a worship service scheduled around the winter solstice (the longest night of the calendar year) and it just happens to fall on or around December 21st every year. As Dan Benedict notes: “it is also the traditional feast day for Saint Thomas the Apostle. This linkage invites making some connections between Thomas’s struggle to believe the tale of Jesus’ resurrection, the long nights just before Christmas, and the struggle with darkness and grief faced by those living with loss.”

Author Taylor Caldwell writes, “I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.”

This season is still the time God chooses to bring the world’s greatest hope into the very darkness of life that can seemingly weigh us down every day. There is, indeed, hope for those who live in darkness. But part of being encountered by that hope is telling the truth about those moments when we feel nothing but hopelessness. Maybe this year isn’t your year of feeling hopeless — maybe you’re ready for a holly jolly Christmas with all of the trimmings. But being Christian means thinking of others besides yourself. And being a Christian during Advent means being willing to stand in the darkness with others because that’s where Emmanuel promises to show up first. While Advent for many churches is little more than a pre-Christmas celebration with festive traditions and rituals, the Service of the Longest Night gives space for the real meaning of Advent — our saving hope promises to come as a light that our darkest moments cannot conquer.

Below is our order of worship for the Service of the Longest Night to be held on Sunday, Dec. 22nd at 5pm:


Words of Welcome

Call to Worship

            Jesus said, “Come unto me all you who labor

                  and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

            And so we invite each other to this time of peaceful worship.

            Flee for a while from your tasks;

            Hide yourself for a little space from

                  the turmoil of your thoughts.

            Come, cast aside your burdensome cares

                  and put aside your laborious pursuits.

            Give your time to God, and rest in God for a little while.

* Hymn No. 211

             “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”         (stanzas 1, 2, 6 and 7)


   A Liturgy of Remembering and Lighting of the Advent Wreath

            This first candle we light to remember

                  those whom we have loved and lost.

            We remember their name, their face, their voice,

                  the memory that binds them to us in this season.

            May God’s eternal love surround them.

            This second candle we light to redeem the pain of loss;

                  the loss of relationships, the loss of jobs,

                  the loss of health.

            We gather up the pain of the past and offer it to God,

                  asking that from God’s hands we receive the gift of peace.

            Refresh, restore, renew us O God,

                  and lead us into your future.

            This third candle we light to remember ourselves this Advent.

            We remember these past weeks and months;

                  the disbelief, the anger, the poignancy of reminiscing,

                  the hugs and handshakes of family and friends,

                  all those who stood with us.

            We give thanks for all the support we have known.

            Let us remember that dawn defeats darkness.

            This fourth candle we light to remember our faith

                  and the gift of hope which the Christmas story offers to us.

            We remember that God who shares our life promises us

                  a place and time of no more pain and suffering.

            Let us remember the one who shows the way,

                  who brings the truth and who bears the light.


   Act of Praise  

            “We Shall Walk Through the Valley”             arr. Burroughs


   Responsive Reading from the Old Testament                  Psalm 121

            I will lift up mine eyes to the hills.

            From where does my help come?

            My help comes from God who made heaven and earth.

            God will not suffer your foot to be moved.

            The one who keeps you will not slumber.

            Behold the one who keeps Israel shall not slumber or sleep.

            The Holy one is your keeper.

            The Holy one is your shade on your right hand.

            The sun shall not hurt you by day nor the moon by night.

            Our God shall preserve you from evil

                  and shall preserve your soul.

            Our God shall preserve your going out and your coming in

                  from this time forth and even for evermore.


* Reading from the Gospel                                                John 1:1-5


   Meditation                                                             Rev. Ben Gosden


   Hymn No. 230

            “O Little Town of Bethlehem”                              (Stanzas 1 & 4)


   Invitation to the Table 

            Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him,

                     who earnestly repent of their sin

                     and seek to live in peace with one another.

Therefore, let us confess our sin before God and one another.


    Confession and Pardon

         Merciful God,

            we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.

            We have failed to be an obedient church.

            We have not done your will, we have broken your law,

            we have rebelled against your love, 

            we have not loved our neighbors,

            and we have not heard the cry of the needy.

            Forgive us, we pray. 

            Free us for joyful obedience,

            through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

            Hear the good news:

            Christ died for us while we were yet sinners;

                     that proves God’s love for us.

            In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!

            In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

            Glory to God.  Amen.

   The Peace

            Let us offer one another signs of reconciliation and love.


   The Great Thanksgiving

            The Lord be with you.

            And also with you.

            Lift up your hearts.

            We lift them up to the Lord.

            Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

            It is right to give our thanks and praise.


            O God, you created the universe with a shout of joy,

                  a word of delight, and a big bang.

            You made gravity holes and antimatter,

                  swirling electrons and dancing quarks,

                  shooting stars and sapphire blue planets.

            You filled the ocean with clown fish and sharks,

                  with dolphins and killer whales.

            You filled the air with doves and hawks

                  songbirds and hummingbirds.

            You covered the land with shimmering aspen

                  and weathered pine.

            And You blessed all the children of the earth

                  every shape and size, every color and complexion,

                  every makeup and mood, every style and substance.

            When we walk through sorrow and chaos,

                  You are with us.

            When we live through moments of war and acts of terror,

                  You walk with us.

            When we face death and loss, loneliness and grief,

                  you stand with us and finally lead us home to you.

            And so, with your people on earth

                  and all the company of heaven,

                  we praise Your name and join their unending hymn:


            Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord, God of power and might,

            Heaven and earth are full of your glory,

            Hosanna in the highest.

            Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.

            Hosanna in the highest.


            In the right time, in the fullness of your time,

            In the nick of time, you sent your Son to bring us back to life.

            He opened a window into your new creation.

            He showed us a vision of your way:

                  where every child has enough to eat,

                  and can sleep safely all through the night,

                  where every graveyard is a front porch of heaven,

                  where the untouchable and unloveable

                        are given the seats of honor,                                      

                  where tears of mourning become tears of laughter,

                  where grievous wrongs and horrid suffering

                        are made right and fair,

                  where children hunt Easter eggs on playgrounds

                        made from battlefields,

                  and where everyone is welcomed and loved.


            And so,

                  on the night in which he gave himself up for us,

                  Jesus took bread, gave thanks to you,

                  broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said,

                  “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you.

                  Do this in remembrance of me.”


            When supper was over, he took the cup,

                  gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples, and said,

                  “Drink from this, all of you;

                  this is my blood of the new covenant,

                  poured out for you and for many

                  for the forgiveness of sins.

                  Do this, as often as you drink it,

                  in remembrance of me.”


            And so,

                  in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,

                  we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving

                  as a holy and living sacrifice,

                  in union with Christ’s offering for us,

                  as we proclaim the mystery of faith:

           Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

            Pour out Your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,

                  and on these gifts of bread and wine.

            Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ,

                  that we may be for the world the body of Christ,

                        redeemed by His blood.


            Renew our communion with all your saints,

                  especially those who now live with you.

            Since you have refreshed our souls from the waters of life,

            Help us refresh and renew others.

            Since you have given us strength for the journey.

            Help us to strengthen others on their journey.


            Send your Spirit to renew our faith and transform our souls

            So that we may hear your music,

            Work for justice, delight in heavenly food,

            And strengthen one another in love and grace.

            Thanks to be God.  Amen.


   Giving the Bread and Cup


* Hymn No. 218

            “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”


* Benediction

Go forth into the world in the loving strength of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Go forth to serve God and your neighbor in all that you do.

And may the peace of Christ surround you and enfold you this night and forevermore. Amen.


**Great Thanksgiving: Copyright © 2001, 2002 Mark Wiley. Reprinted with permission.

O Come, O Come Emmanual: Advent 2013 (Week 1)


Over the coming days and weeks I’ll be sharing liturgy, prayers, and ideas for worship planning during Advent. I will note the source of things I will borrow and what is original. Please note: Anything that is original from me is available to be used and/or adapted without citation. Please do not worry about citing me if you use a piece of liturgy because all of my personal work is to the glory of God and for the benefit of the Church (and I don’t have publishers or copyrights to worry about).

The readings for Advent Week 1 are:

Isaiah 2:1-5

Psalm 122

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:36-44

We will be mainly focusing on the Isaiah and Matthew readings throughout the season. This week, Isaiah points to a grand vision — a vision of God’s holy mountain — where nations will all come to be judged. We see images of light and peace give shape to what God’s righteousness looks like. In Matthew’s text, we see a particular event break into  ordinary life. We are told to stay alert because this event will happen at a moment’s notice. God will break into our lives when we least expect it so we must stand watch and be prepared at all times.

We begin the active waiting of Advent by beginning at the end — the culmination of God’s justice and final glory. But this ending helps to prepare us for the agent who will embody this justice and righteousness — Emmanuel.

Below is some liturgy for Sunday, December 1.


On this day we begin the season of Advent in the life of the Church.

This is the time when we gather together

to wait and watch and prepare for the coming of Emmanuel, God with us.

May our worship guide our hearts and orient our lives

that we may truly be prepared for the coming of God’s Messiah.

Let us worship God!


Lighting of the Advent Wreath

Keep awake! Be watchful!

The Son of Man is coming with great power and glory.

He shall judge the nations;

they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

neither shall they learn war anymore.

We light the first Advent candle reminding us that God’s promised Messiah

will break into our time and space

to teach us his ways

that we may walk in his paths of righteousness and peace.

May we stay alert for his coming.

               Light the candle

Come, Lord Jesus.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.

Maybe sing a verse or two of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” to follow this act.

Opening Prayer

Ever present God,

you taught us that the night is far spent

and the day is at hand.

Grant that we may ever be found watching for the coming of your Son.

Save us from undue love of the world,

give us eyes to look and wait

with patient hope for the day of the Lord,

that when he shall appear, we may not be ashamed;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[United Methodist Book of Worship #254]


Invitation to the Table

Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.

Let us prepare our hearts for his coming by confessing our sins together.


Confession and Pardon

Lord Jesus Christ, you have promised to come again

            as one breaking through the clouds

with great power and glory.

We confess that we get lost in trivial matters.

We do not love our neighbors

because our personal ambitions are more important.

We do not hear the cry of the needy

because we are busy accumulating wealth.

We have become drunk with the pursuit of power

            because we fail to put our trust in your power.

Forgive us, we pray.

Free us that we may have eyes to see your glory,

            ears to hear your voice,

            and lives to devote to the service of your kingdom;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  


Hear the Good News:

Emmanuel, God with us, is coming

that we might live our lives

in the grace that frees us from the bondage of sin.

In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

Thanks be to God! Amen.


Prayer after Communion

Holy God,

we thank you for this holy mystery

            in which you have given yourself to us.

Grant that we may go into the world

            as a people with eyes to see your presence

            as we serve one another;

through Christ our Lord. Amen.



Go forth now from this place in hopeful anticipation

for the glorious work God is about to do.

Go forth in love that you may serve others.

And may the peace of Christ fill you and empower you

this day and forevermore. Amen.

I hope this helps you a bit in your worship planning. Please feel free to contact me directly with any questions (bgosden@mulberrymethodist.org).

Why Immigration Matters to Me…And to God (A Guest Post from Rev. Stacey Harwell)

immigration-signs_onlineathens_130118-articleSomewhere in Georgia tonight, a mom will be missing her son. She will be worrying about whether or not he is thriving in a country that he does not remember. He was deported from this country during a raid that played out like it was a scene from a horror movie. The son “looks and sounds” American which equals rich in the eyes of the people in that small town and puts a target on his back for thieves.  He knows no family there and is scared. He is isolated and alone with no place to truly call home anymore.

This scene isn’t rare. I hear about it more times than I care to share. It’s not always a mother and son. Often it’s a woman with children, left here without their primary breadwinner, missing a husband and father, and left vulnerable in a world of searches, ID checks, and raids on homes.

While we have a great many systems that work and work well in our country, one broken system in particular has captured my heart and attention. The immigration system in our nation, simply put, is broken.  From the number of visas we give out, to the backlog of immigration cases, to the way we incarcerate those who are here without documents in for-profit detention centers, our system is in need of a just, humane overhaul. For United Methodists, the call for overhaul is especially felt. Within our very churches we can tell terrible stories of families that are torn apart. My church’s own sister congregation saw a dramatic loss in congregants when Georgia passed an Arizona-style law that seeks to viciously crack down on those here in this country without proper documentation.

The thing I hear most from people who disagree with me is that they wish the undocumented folks would simply “get in the right line” and follow the law.  I wish (and many of my undocumented friends wish!) that it was that easy. The so-called line does not exist for many who aren’t highly skilled and recruited by companies. Average laborers have short stay visa options and precious few green cards. The wait time for those green cards approaches infinity for unskilled laborers. [Reason Magazine had a great graphic detailing this back in 2008 http://reason.org/files/a87d1550853898a9b306ef458f116079.pdf]. Those here on those visas are easy targets for wage theft and substandard working conditions.

I wish I could tell you the situation has gotten much better since 2008, but it hasn’t. Children are left orphaned in the U.S. as their parents are dramatically taken from them at work or in their home while their children are away at school. Other undocumented children came here so young that they’ve never known another way of life. Many graduate and are then told they aren’t citizens and can’t do anything they would hope to do like college or the military.

I live in Macon, Georgia, which is not exactly the seat of progressive politics or theology, but I am surprised at who and which groups agree with me on this issue. Republicans and Democrats alike see the need for immigration reform. Farmers have need for migrant laborers. Business owners see the number of positions and institutions across our state rely on immigrant labor.  Many see the human rights concerns.

God’s people are crying out. Nobody wants to leave their home and come to a place where they will be treated like enemy combatants. Yet conditions in home countries are so bad that people are willing to risk arrest and deportation for a chance to feed, clothe, and educate themselves and their children – all in the hope that life, can in fact, be better. As citizens of the kingdom of heaven, the way we treat those strangers in our midst should NOT be dictated not by the government laws, but by the laws of God. Over and over again in the Old and New Testament we are commanded to take care of those who are a stranger in our midst and especially the widows and orphans among us. We are called to recognize the image of God in our brother and sister and to practice hospitality to strangers. We remember that our very Lord was once an immigrant in a foreign land when his parents fled to Egypt to flee a life of a fear. And we are called to live into the example of Jesus who lived on the edges, traveled more than he stayed put during his three years of ministry, and had a special knack for befriending the “marginal people” of his society. We are called to love and serve all of our neighbors – all of them.

Will you hear the call and ask our legislators for just, humane immigration reform? If politics aren’t for you, will you think about ways you and your congregation can be welcoming to those in our midst? Will you prayerfully and actively seek to find ways to be a place of welcome and love for even the most vulnerable among us? And will you hear the call of God to go out from your buildings, neighborhoods, and places of comfort in order to seek and find and be with the very people on the margins of our society? After all, there’s a good chance Jesus will already be there.

Rev. Stacey Harwell serves as Minister of Community Building at Centenary United Methodist Church in Macon, GA
She is an Ordained Deacon in the South Georgia Annual Conference.
[And I am very thankful for her wisdom and proud to call her my friend]

Hate the Sin but Love the Sinner…Stuff Jesus Never Said

love the sin hate the sinner“Well you know we’re called to hate the sin but love the sinner.”

Have you heard something like this before? Who am I kidding, of course you have. Tripp and Tyler missed a real gem of a phrase when they didn’t include it in their YouTube video, Shoot Christians Say.

Yes, we like to lob this seemingly benign phrase around as though it’s harmless when in reality, under the guise of false humility lies a phrase that wreaks of a subtle form of bigotry. I’m Southern and you might as well just begin the phrase with, “Well bless their heart” because we all know what’s really going on here — you want to be clear that you do NOT approve of someone else’s actions but you want everyone to know that your disapproval is not judgmental at all, it’s Christian.

In other words, this has become a favorite phrase to portray ourselves as morally superior to those “other people” who are not like us.

I decided to do a little homework on the phrase to find its root. So let me begin by killing a major misrepresentation — Jesus never, ever said, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” He never said it. Like ever. Add it to the lists that contain other favorite misquotations like, “God helps those who help themselves” and “Everything happens for a reason.” Jesus never said and it’s not found anywhere in the bible.

No, a variation of this phrase can be traced back to Augustine of Hippo (one of my favorite church fathers). In his Letter 211, Augustine is writing to an order of nuns on how to properly discipline members of their community. Ironically enough the vast majority of this letter is a call to a spirit of unity even with those whom you disagree with. But the infamous words can be found here:

“When convicted of the fault, it  is her duty to submit to the corrective discipline which may be  appointed by the prioress or the prior. If she refuse to submit to  this, and does not go away from you of her own accord, let her be  expelled from your society. For this is not done cruelly but  mercifully, to protect very many from perishing through infection of  the plague with which one has been stricken. Moreover, what I have now  said in regard to abstaining from wanton looks should be carefully  observed, with due love for the persons and hatred of the sin, in observing, forbidding, reporting, reproving, and punishing of all other faults”

Keep in mind that Augustine is writing to a group of people who by their own rule, devote their lives to God by living in community with one another and serving and worshiping together. This is not written as some sort of indictment against humanity as a whole.

A later use of the term comes from Gandhi in his 1929 autobiography. Interestingly enough this is the same Gandhi who also said, “I like your Christ but not your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Like Augustine, Gandhi is leading with the chin of grace by imploring us to love those who even do wrong — which sounds very similar to words Jesus spoke about loving your enemies and even those who persecute you.

I watched an amazingly convicting video last week featuring Rev. Tony Campolo talking about this nasty little phrase. In the video, Campolo reminded us of the real words of Jesus: “Love the sinner and hate your own sin. And when you correct the sin in your own life, then you can start hating the sin of your neighbor.” Campolo reminds us that when we truly get to know each other — beyond the labels and bumper stickers — we find a certain spiritual connectedness. We may or may not “approve” of everything we find in one another, but that won’t matter so much when we are connected in such a meaningful way.

Then there’s little meme with a quote from Christian singer/songwriter/comedian Mark Lowry:

See here’s the thing, you can’t “love a sinner” without getting to know the person. But you can hate the sin without ever knowing the person. So if we don’t really know a person but we do think you know about their sin, then we’re just trying to find a “bless their heart” way of saying we don’t approve of whatever it is we think their sin is. That way the real guilt remains on the other person and not on our judgmental view of that person. It’s a phrase that gives us the right to declare what’s right and wrong with the world without ever having to invest in the lives of another person and especially a person who might be different from us. It’s a phrase that gives us permission to guard ourselves against encountering the grace and humanity in others and thus preserving our own sense of superiority.

I guess you could say it’s a phrase that let’s us do very little that Jesus actually told us to do.

How to Win Friends and Influence People…And Become More Christlike in the Process

how to win friends

A church member and good friend recently gave me a book that meant a great deal to him. He’s a very successful young business owner and I’m a pastor. He’s trying to grow in the area of discipleship and how it relates to his vocation and I’m trying to grow in the area of leadership. Since the two of us come from such different yet similar worlds, we’ve begun a relationship of giving each other meaningful books that we think might help the other person grow.

The first book he gave me to read was the classic, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie. This book was written over 75 years ago and still remains a classic among business people. I actually laughed when he gave it to me because I couldn’t believe out of all the books I’ve read in my life (and I’m a big reader) I had never picked this one up. He explained that whenever he opens a new franchise to his company and is training the management and sales people in how they do business, he always gives them a copy of this book. His hope was that it would also come to mean a great deal to me. And he was not wrong.

            Here’s the basic breakdown of the book:

How to Handle People

  1. Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain. (It rarely helps the situation)
  2. Give honest sincere appreciation.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.

6 Ways to Help People Like You

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. (This is the secret to being a great conversationalist.)
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
  6. Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely.

How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking

  1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. (Because even if you win, you aren’t going to get what you want.)
  2. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.”
  3. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. (A good way to start is to admit that you could be mistaken.)
  4. Begin in a friendly way.
  5. Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately.
  6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
  7. Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
  8. Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
  9. Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
  10. Appeal to the nobler motives. (Even if deep down they make the decision based on the baser ones. Everyone wants to be the hero of their own story.)
  11. Dramatize your ideas. (A picture and a story are worth a thousand words.)
  12. Throw down a challenge. (Do this when all else fails.)

How to Be an Effective Leader

  1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
  2. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
  3. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
  4. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
  5. Let the other person save face.
  6. Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”
  7. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  8. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
  9. Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

But the best lesson of all is this: Carnegie writes, “If there’s any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to understand the other person’s point of view and to see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”

This book reminded me that just because we say we’re disciples of Jesus Christ doesn’t make it so. We are always in need of grace and growth as we journey toward greater discipleship. And too often we so-called disciples are guilty of arrogance, closed-mindedness, being argumentative, and being generally haughty about our supposed claim of holiness. We do not listen to others with graciousness. We look for arguments because we think “taking a stand” means picking fights. And yes, we often place the value of our own holiness on how unholy we regard others.

I highly recommend Carnegie’s work for leaders – both pastors, DSs, and bishops, as well as leaders outside of the church. It is a work that reminds us how much success (and holiness) is dependent on a sense of humility and grace in dealing with others. It’s a must-read for all who dare to call themselves disciples.

So go online. Go to your local bookstore. Do it today. Buy this book and be reminded how important it is to “love our neighbor as our self.” Or you could always email me for my copy – just as long as you don’t mind it being filled with pen marks, underlines, and stars next to all of the lessons I learned from reading this work.

Humility — Society’s Missing Ingredient

Washing of the Feet by John August Swanson accessed 10/21/13 http://www.johnaugustswanson.com/default.cfm/PID=1.2.11

Washing of the Feet
by John August Swanson
accessed 10/21/13

I have wrestled for the last few days about how to write this column. I’ve toyed with the idea of using cute stories or creative rhetoric. I’ve dabbled with the thought of making the article one big story with a surprise twist at the end. But nothing came together.

You see, I can’t seem to write this column without coming back to a simple, straight-forward question: Where has our sense of humility gone?

We live in a world of self-promotion and market shares. It seems like we’ve lost the sense of what “common good” means when we’d rather win an argument than see someone else thrive. Worse yet, our “winning” must also include someone else “losing.” After all, what’s the fun of winning if someone doesn’t lose and feel that loss?

We could easily turn to Washington, D.C., for great examples of trying to win at the expense of others. But if we just use them as examples we miss the larger point — they didn’t get those jobs by themselves. They were elected by people like you and me. And they’re not uniquely entrenched in this idea of winning at all costs. We’re all guilty.

We all want to win arguments so “our side” can win at all costs. We all want to be right even if it means proving others to be wrong. We all want to surround ourselves with others who think, talk, believe and act just like us. And we all use those magic labels of “us” and “them” when we talk about the world.

Where is the sense of humility that can temper our passions for issues and beliefs enough to see the God-given value of others even when they don’t agree with us?

The tough part about humility is that we tend to think it’s a sign of weakness. Being humble means you’re weak in your beliefs or you’re not passionate enough to take a stand. But I think about the people in my life who are the greatest examples of faith. They are not the ones who gripe about the opposing political party or the president. They are not the ones who demonize those who do not share their faith. They do not spend their time watching inflammatory commentary on cable news or commenting on Internet news sites.

No, these witnesses to the strength of faith are often quiet. They let their actions speak their faith and, when words are needed, they say them with gentleness. The people who have been the biggest influences on my faith are people who let humility and grace frame the ways they live and speak their faith because they know how to see God in others.

Ironically, these people would never, ever consider themselves people of great faith — that’s what makes their witness so powerful. Because, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

May we all learn the virtue of humility. May we all learn that there are more important things in life than being right. And may we all learn to let humility and grace shape the ways we live and speak with each other.

[This column originally ran in The Macon Telegraph on Oct. 12, 2013: http://www.macon.com/2013/10/12/2714280/there-is-virtue-in-humility.html#storylink=cpy]

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