January 2012


A couple of days ago a discussion about tipping was launched at SBC Voices.  The question at hand was: Are Christians LOUSY Tippers? The general consensus from the service industry (particularly the restaurant trade) is that Christians (particularly the Sunday after worship crowd) have a reputation for being poor sports when it comes to the gratuity.

I’ll let the industry judge us as may be perceived. There are several arguments from a vast variety of viewpoints and angles dropped into the comment section at the original post if you’re interested. For the record, my suggestion to anyone (particularly Christians and especially the after-worship crowd) is that you practice being a generous tipper. If you eat at what I like to call a “sit-down” restaurant don’t whittle your tip down to the half-penny by figuring exactly 15% (I’m told that the new custom is 20% anyway), and don’t base your gratuity on the service rendered (there are often extenuating circumstances that could develop a crabby disposition from your server), the quality of the food (your server isn’t responsible for that at all–that’s the chef/cook’s bailiwick). Just be generous. And don’t leave a tract instead of a tip (I hesitate to suggest it, but I wouldn’t leave a tract with a tip either–there are always better ways to witness–consider offering to pray for a specific need of your server as you are preparing to offer the blessing–and invite them to wait with you a moment while you pray for them). Rather, what I wanted to touch on was a statement that cropped up years ago when I was having this same discussion (about tipping that is) with a friend.

His quote: “Why should I give a waiter/waitress 15%? God only requires 10!” [Then I would assume the person proceeded to leave a tip equivalent to 10% of the bill.]

The statement is poor representation on a number of levels (I’ll touch on just a couple. If you would like to chime in, there’s always the comment section):

First of all, this idea suggests that our tithe is a tip to Almighty God. I understand that we are a bold part of creation, often taking credit when credit is due elsewhere. And I know that we are an arrogant lot as well, expecting God to answer our prayers because we took time to pray, even as far as claiming a “right” to salvation. After all I’m a man, an American man, a middle-class American man, and I was raised in the church. Why, I’m so good, God owes me not only salvation, but a credit for my good friends and buddies as well. (Those who are unfamiliar with sarcasm need not bother quoting me, or passing judgment.) Actually, our tithe (the 10% referenced above) is our response to God understanding that He already owns all that I have, and I am entrusting the first 10% of my earnings to His storehouse (that’s your local church, not your favorite TV preacher) with the understanding that I will choose wisely how I use the other 90%.

On top of that, the gratuity that I leave with my meal bill is part of my server’s income. Legal and industry standards for wages for service personnel expects tip earnings. The minimum wage for the average waiter or waitress needs to grow a few inches before it reaches the level of the common minimum wage for, say the stockboy at the local department store (who does not expect, nor should he receive tips from the general public). The money that you pay for the meal is used to purchase all the overhead items of the establishment–food, equipment, energy, salaries–for the non-wait staff). If you are not generous, your server may not make ends meet.

So, be generous to your server, and stop treating The Almighty as if He is your servant. He’s your Maker!

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Put your stones away. I am not speaking out of both sides of my mouth (which you might be thinking if you read my last post). While it is true that the word “grace” is not a code word for Calvinist theology–relegated to proper use only in one setting, by one people, for one reason–it is indeed a code word.

Grace is the word used to describe an indescribable God. It is the unfathomable depth of the God whose very word created everything, whose utter righteousness disdains all the sinful shortcoming that we are. And still He offers from Himself, His only Son (who is part and parcel of who He is) to walk among us, die in place of us, and offer to us a Life that we could never earn.

In short Grace is that word which belongs to all who receive the gift of salvation from the hand of Jesus.

Grace is not the beauty of an Olympic Medal skater with a flawlessly smooth routine that wows the judges and catapults the spectators to their feet with more than a pride in being countrymen of the athlete–screaming for more because of the sheer beauty of the program. This is a drop in the bucket of grace, though.

Grace is not a word said over a plate of food in a vague show of gratitude for the sustenance that we think we have earned.

No, Grace is not any of those things that we like to call grace. Instead, Grace is a code word. It is code for all that we cannot earn, buy, or measure, but that God gives freely to any and all who will but say, “Yes.” Grace is code for Jesus, for the Cross, for the empty Tomb, for all that we can be because of who He is.

Break the code: believe.

I received a copy of Brennan Manning’s neo-classic The Ragamuffin Gospel for review yesterday. As I started to read, I was struck by the way Manning jumped headlong into the deep end with little or no fanfare. His first chapter touched on how we no longer understand the word “grace.” His words struck in me a chord about grace that I wanted to play for you.

Language is an interesting thing. Regardless of the one you espouse – or the one you learn, for that matter. Since English is my language of origin (although that would be debated by British nationals and New Englanders alike) I’ll concentrate on that one for a moment. Words in English have a way of taking on a life of their own. For instance, the word “gay” originally meant “happy and carefree.” Today, it has become a designation: a badge to some and a by-word to others. I recall a sermon in which the preacher suggested that the word “high” had taken on a new meaning (I was in high school at the time). “When I was young,” the preacher asserted, “if you wanted to get high on pot, you’d go and climb up on the back of the toilet—then you were high on pot!” A bit later in the same sermon, the speaker assured his listeners that when he was young if you were “bad” you were doing something wrong, and at the time of the sermon if someone was “bad” they were to be looked up to. [Which reminds me of a clip from Welcome Back, Kotter in which Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington tried to explain to the teacher that when he said he was bad he did not mean that he was bad but that he was ba-a-a-a-a-ad.]

Another example of the fluidity of our language has to do with the phenomena known as homophones—words that sound alike but have totally different meanings. My favorite of these pairs are the words raise and raze. The former means to build up; the latter, to tear down. And with the constant mutation of our language, some words get snatched up, banged around, and battered into an unrecognizable mound. Our case in point today: grace.

Not long ago I was in a meeting with other Baptists from around our state. In the course of the discussion, one minister-type made the bold statement that we all know that “Grace” (when used in the name of a church, particularly) is a code word for Calvinism. In making such a statement we disallow any other Christian group access to the word. Could it be that only Calvinists can understand or have grace? Has God relegated grace to those who hold tightest to the five petals of the TULIP?

I would like to argue that grace is not so much a theological term as it is a biblical one. And it is not so much a designation of a certain doctrinal inclination as it is a holy gift from God Almighty. The reason is that grace suggests to us several things: the first of which is that God is the initiator of our salvation. We should be reminded again of the injunction from the book of Revelation:

9 After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

Salvation belongs to our God,
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb! [Revelation 7:9-10, HCSB]

Salvation is both His initiative and His prerogative. There is nothing that you or I could do to make or earn our salvation. As such, grace also means that since God initiates and provides salvation, He also keeps it. Since I cannot make or earn it, once I have it I cannot do, say, or think anything that can pull it from His grasp.

Grace is not a code word for one type of believer, for one denominational leaning, or for one theological bent. No, grace is God’s gift. It is beyond our power and greater than our understanding, but we are to fall on it, trusting in Him to catch us—mercifully because we do not deserve it, and gladly because He provided it.

I am glad that as follower of Christ, grace has found me—regardless of the theologian whose teachings I find most appealing.

“On the twelfth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me . . . twelve drummers drumming . . .”

And so we come to day twelve (I hope you have enjoyed this simple, songly trek with me) and look for twelve things to bring to our minds our Savior. Could we look to the twelve tribes of Israel? Certainly it would be a biblical solution. Perhaps the apostles–but we’ve discussed them, their number, and their replacement on day eleven. And so, if tradition be minded (and what should we do but mind tradition?) our drummers would be the twelve tenets of the Apostles’ Creed beating out a cadence to call men to Christ.

  1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
  2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
  3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
  4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave].
  5. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
  6. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
  7. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
  8. the holy catholic Church, (one quick note would remind us that this is not the Roman Catholic Church per se, but the universal “catholic” Church–the body of Christ, which includes the early Roman expression, but is not limited by denominational boundaries)
  9. the communion of saints,
  10. the forgiveness of sins,
  11. the resurrection of the body,
  12. and life everlasting.

And so, let us sing with all gusto today:On the twelfth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me, Twelve Drummers (the Apostles’ Creed) drumming, Eleven Pipers (the faithful apostles) piping, Ten Lords (the Decalogue) a-leaping, Nine Ladies (the fruit of the Spirit) dancing, Eight Maids (the Beatitudes) a-milking, Seven Swans (the gifts of the Spirit) a-swimming, Six Geese (the days of Creation) a-laying, Five Gold Rings (the Pentateuch), Four Calling Birds (the Gospel accounts), Three French Hens (the theological Virtues), Two Turtledoves (the Testaments,  Old and New), and a Partridge (Christ the Lord) in a pear tree.

“On the eleventh day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me . . .  eleven Pipers piping . . . ”

In his earthly ministry, as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ walked about and made God’s plan a reality for us all, he chose Twelve. These Twelve walked with him, following him, soaking in his every word and deed. Learning. Expecting. Believing. One of the Twelve did the unthinkable – Judas Iscariot not only denied and abandoned Jesus (as all the others did in his hour of most need), but he also betrayed the Lord into the hands of those who desired Christ’s destruction. All of this was part of the plan that would provide salvation for those of us to follow.

But our Pipers, who play the song of Truth for all of history to hear and then sing, are the Eleven who returned–those who remained faithful following the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. The Eleven are those who received the Great Commission just prior to Jesus ascension, and bear for us an example and a message to carry on. (Please take note that the aforementioned Judas Iscariot is excluded for the reasons stated, but also that his replacement, a disciple named Matthias, is also excluded–this allows us to keep the number at eleven.)

Named (from Luke’s account of the Gospel) they are:

  1. Simon, called Peter (so renamed by Christ because of the disciple’s faith),
  2. Andrew, his brother,
  3. James, the son of Zebedee (one of the Sons of Thunder),
  4. John, his brother, “the Disciple that Jesus Loved,”
  5. Philip, who led an Ethiopian Eunuch to Christ on a barren road, and thus paving the way for an entire nation to hear the message of Salvation,
  6. Bartholomew,
  7. Matthew, also known as Levi, a tax collector,
  8. Thomas, who needed proof (much like Christians today),
  9. James, the son of Alphaeus,
  10. Simon, the Zealot, and
  11. Judas, the son of James.

Let us be disciples in their fashion, sharing Jesus to the ends of the earth.

“On the tenth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me . . . ten lords a-leaping . . .”

As we get closer to the end of our song, our lists get longer. That’s why as we get closer to the twelfth day (Twelfth Night, if you will), we find more and more fodder from my sermon bin. Yes, you guessed it, I have a series of sermons built on our ten lords, just as I have on the nine ladies and the eight maids. Let me start by quoting the unknown wag who likes to wax poetic on behalf of the Almighty and said, “God did not call them the ‘Ten Suggestions.'”

So by now, you know that our ten leaping lords are none other than the Ten Commandments. Far from the Charlton Heston film of yesteryear, the Decalogue (that’s your big word for the day), best remembered from the Exodus 20 listing, are first of all given to help us act justly in our daily lives. They were not intended to give politicians and lawyers something to fight over in court. Nor were they designed to give Pharisees (preacher-types) of old, and red-faced evangelicals (preacher-types) of today a way to “lord” it over those who didn’t abide by them. (Notice how I played on the word “lord” there?)

No, these Ten Commandments, when properly used, do two things: First, they point out our short-comings as the humans that we are, teaching us how to behave before God and between one another. Secondly, they emphasize (because we can’t really keep them forever) our dire need for the Savior who is Jesus Christ.

Rather than list and re-list the ten lords here, I’ll just quote you (and just for fun, I’ll use the beautiful Shakespearean language found in the translation authorized by King James of England in the sixteen hundreds):

 1And God spake all these words, saying,

2I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

4Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

5Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

6And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

7Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

9Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

10But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

12Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

13Thou shalt not kill.

14Thou shalt not commit adultery.

15Thou shalt not steal.

16Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

17Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

 

“On the ninth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me . . . nine ladies dancing . . .”

Once again we turn to St. Paul to give us our list of “ladies”:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV)

In this short passage, one that follows Paul’s non-exhaustive list of the works of the flesh which battle against this fruit of the Spirit, the missionary gives to us the kind of characteristics that are prominent in the life of a Christian. These are the fruit (not fruits) of the Spirit which tells us a couple of things. First, since it is not plural, the items mentioned are varieties of the same thing (not separate thing altogether); and second, they are inter-related and may separately be the manifestation at various times of Christ’s Spirit in the life of an individual, depending upon circumstance.

As most evangelical preachers, I have a series of sermons dedicated to studying each variety of the fruit, while trying to remember that they are all but one. I’ve heard others’ (or portions of others’) series which have been creatively named with wit and audacity things like: Juicy Fruit (a personal favorite) and Tasty. Even now, I’m in the process of preparing the manuscript version of my own sermon series entitled Be Fruitful. In any case, you should be able to find adequate discussion of the fruit of the Spirit almost anywhere. And when you do you will find:

  1. Love — self-giving, selfless, unlimited, unqualified, and unequaled love,
  2. Joy — unhindered, unmitigated joy full and overflowing,
  3. Peace — not the absence of strife, but rather the presence of calm that knows no understanding,
  4. Patience — endurance in the most trying of circumstances (whatever happened to that superb Shakespearean/KJV word “longsuffering”?),
  5. Kindness — even when others are not kind. This benevolence takes root and reins in us,
  6. Faithfulness — through thick and thin, good and bad, or as we often repeat in modern wedding vows in our western civilization, “for better,  for worse; in sickness and in health; for richer, for poorer; until death alone should part us,”
  7. Goodness — more than just nice or polite, but truly good. Good that comes from and imitates God (from whom goodness springs), good,
  8. Gentleness — finding that loving, tender touch with which to address all problems. It’s more than just tact (although most of us could learn some more of that), it is a calming spirit with which to approach all situations as a mother would comfort her child, and
  9. Self-control — last in the list because it is the most difficult for us to wrangle, getting control of ourselves. How nice it is that this is another affectation of the Spirit of God (who is actually in control and not us) dwelling in our lives.

So, let the fruit of the Spirit bud, blossom, emerge and ripen in your life. To do so, you must have the Spirit working within your life, so let Him. And in the meantime watch and wait patiently for Be Fruitful to hit the book stores (but don’t hold your breath).

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