Canadians Argue the Liberal Church is Dying

A recent study released by the Review of Religious Research titled “Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy”, argues that across Canada theologically conservative churches are growing while their liberal counterparts are experiencing decline. This study was brought to our attention by way of a Washington Post article.

What stands out in the study?

Here’s a few things that I think are tell-tale signs of a larger problem within liberal churches.

First, the statistics below show the danger many liberal congregations are fighting: becoming more of a civic organization and less of a church. That is in no way say flippantly or sarcastically. Instead it is a danger I think has existed for the past decade as many theologically liberal congregations and pastors focus on social justice without incorporating the Gospel. Social justice work can be done as a response to hearing the Gospel message, and it should be.

93 percent of clergy members and 83 percent of worshipers from growing churches agreed with the statement “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb.” This compared with 67 percent of worshipers and 56 percent of clergy members from declining churches. Furthermore, all growing church clergy members and 90 percent of their worshipers agreed that “God performs miracles in answer to prayers,” compared with 80 percent of worshipers and a mere 44 percent of clergy members from declining churches.

Second, statistics show a stark difference in what the  purpose/mission of church is as reported by congregants.

Purpose/mission Growing (%) vs. Declining (%)
  • Evangelism – 29.3 vs. 8.9
  • Share divine love – 13.0 vs. 10.4
  • Nurture the congregation –  14.2 vs. 14.4
  • Social justice – 16.4 vs .31.2
  • No answer – 21.2 vs. 35.0

Liberal Christians inability or lack of urgency when it comes to sharing the Gospel message, which can be argued is different from sharing the love of Christ, is a place of concern. This is the result of a variety of things including lack of formal catechesis and moving too far away from conservative evangelicalism.

In the latest episode of Crackers & Grape Juice we tackle this topic from the context of local UMC congregations and campus ministry. At one point we are even able to correlate the decline of liberal churches with the decline of Duke basketball.


If you like this post and want to follow my blog, all you have to do is subscribe using the ‘Subscribe Here’ box above in the top right corner.

The Cracker & Grape Juice team will be part of Home-brewed Christianity’s Theology Beer Camp this January in L.A..

Want to join us?
All you need to do is head over to theologybeercamp.com, click the button to buy tickets, and use the discount code below to receive $100 offBLITZEN4JESUS

Click the images below and subscribe to the Crackers & Grape Juice Podcast. We promise to provide you with theological conversations without stained glass language. For the love of all that is holy: Give us a review there in the iTunes store, Stitcher, or on Spreaker. It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast.

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Original Blessing & Youth Ministry

Last March I had the opportunity to attend the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference, held at the Cathedral of Hope, in Dallas, Texas. One of the sessions I attended was led by Danielle Shroyer about her new book, Original Blessing: Putting Sin in Its Proper Place.

Original sin, as descried by Danielle is the ‘red sock’ in our theological laundry. In her new book, Danielle explores how we are not born separated from God as God has chosen fidelity over separation. We are not separate from God, and if we are, it’s on our end.
In Dallas, Danielle outlined for us how and why Original Blessing vs. Original Sin could be a valuable tool in youth ministry. I’ll share the outline below but encourage you to purchase her book, listen to the C & GJ episode she was just on, and then fill in some of the blanks.

Identity

Original Blessing provides a grounded identity to youth in a season when they need it most.  The doctrine of Original Sin grounds our identity in ourselves and not in God. In a time where teens are coming into their own, finding their identity, it is important for them to know God is there, loving them for who they are, by default.

Sexuality

According to Danielle, Original Blessing provides a the ground work for a healthy sexuality. Because sex has became a dirty or bad thing in many circles within Christianity, it’s not wonder teens are confused and don’t have a clear understanding of what it means for sex to be part our God’s divine design for us. This is not a free pass for a sexual free-for-all but it does open up the possibility that we are not the sum our our sexuality.

Agency & Call

Danielle suggested that maybe the Garden, then removal from the Garden is part of our maturing process. God giving clothing to Eve and Adam is a way of God addressing our own shame and not leaving us to stand there naked and confused. According to Danielle, it is possible the first couple were not banished from the Garden. Rather Eve and Adam were sent forth. This is a way of acknowledging conflict we experience with one another, and God, but still moving forward with peace.

If you like this post and want to follow my blog, all you have to do is subscribe using the ‘Subscribe Here’ box above in the top right corner.

The Cracker & Grape Juice team will be part of Home-brewed Christianity’s Theology Beer Camp this January in L.A..

Want to join us?
All you need to do is head over to theologybeercamp.com, click the button to buy tickets, and use the discount code below to receive $100 offBLITZEN4JESUS

Click the images below and subscribe to the Crackers & Grape Juice Podcast. We promise to provide you with theological conversations without stained glass language. For the love of all that is holy: Give us a review there in the iTunes store, Stitcher, or on Spreaker. It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast.

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Crackers & Grape Juice – Top 16 of ’16

2016 marked the official launch of Crackers & Grape Juice. Who would’ve thought that little podcast that started with poor audio and an even poorer understanding of how to fix it would steadily grow each month. Since April 2016 C&GJ has grown from 490 to 11,000+ downloads monthly (as of December 2016). To that Jason, Morgan, Taylor, and I owe a debt of thanks to you our listeners and subscribers.  

We’ve maintained a 5-star iTunes review as we learned how to produce a quality podcast. Yes there have been hurdles and hiccups along the way but through each of them we’ve learned, grown, and hopefully moved on from those mistakes.

This month a few of us will be at the Beer Theology Camp hosted by Tripp Fuller and Homebrewed Christianity. If you are attending as well, please stop by and say hello. We’d (Jason) love to buy you a beer.

Before we move into 2017, here’s the list of our top episodes from 2016. This list is what you’ve loved the most (or hated the least). Perspective is everything.

  1. David Bentley Hart: All Creation Afire as a Burning Bush
  2. Joseph Mangina: Karl Barth for Dummies
  3. Rob Bell, Part 1: Under Attack by Ideas
  4. N.T. Wright, Part 1: He Never Says ‘Um’
  5. Father James Martin: Heaven and Mirth
  6. Fridays With Fleming: Don’t Preach Lettuce Sermons
  7. N.T. Wright, Part 2: Still No ‘Um’
  8. Eric Hall: Giving Up Faith (in Sola Scriptura)
  9. Brian McLaren: The Great Spiritual Migration
  10. Kenneth Tanner: Our Biggest Fan
  11. Ian McFarland: Creation(from nothing)ism
  12. Wild Geese: Bec Cranford
  13. Fred Schmidt: Stained Glass Language
  14. Will Willimon: Stopping the Obsession With Clergy Coitus
  15. Gnostics Are Better Than John Piper
  16. Will Willimon: Fear of the Other

If you haven’t done so yet, head over to www.crackersandgrapejuice.com and subscribe top podcast. You can connect with Jason, Morgan, and Taylor there. We’d love to hear from you on the Speakpipe or better yet on iTunes by way of review.

Top Posts of 2016

For some, 2016 has seemed like a kick to the gonads.

This year e experienced a heated, and at times down right uncivil, presidential election for the entire year. I myself fell asleep on the couch while HRC was ahead in the ballots only to wake up around 2:00 AM and DJT was being declare the winner of the general election. This made for a perfect storm as we headed into Thanksgiving. For some, you had to gather around the table with people who while loving them deeply, now you question their moral integrity.

The outcome of the 2016 Presidential election left many in shock. They didn’t know how they could trust the “other side” again and many are still wondering what the next 4 or 8 years will look like.

We lost celebrities in 2016. More than we could ever count. We all know celebrity deaths come in 3’s which makes their deaths hard to deal with. But on top of celebrity deaths we’ve experienced violence and death around the world in ways we never would’ve imagined.

The image of 5 year old Omran Daqneesh sent shock waves around the world, leaving many of us to question our own humanity. The violence in Aleppo and throughout the Middle East will be haunting us all into 2017.

Police shootings around our country have forced us all to think about the ways in which we not only ask police officers to protect our communities but also our own involvement in repairing centuries of racial disparity.

Oh yeah, and England decided to leave Europe.

 

My friend Fred Schmidt had this to say:

The deaths of George Michael and Carrie Fisher are a loss, as is the death of anyone, but the death toll in Syria topped 400,000 this year with little or no comment, no effort to avert those deaths, and none of the existential woe that I see on the Facebook feed.

We should ask ourselves why this is the case.

We should ask ourselves what that says about the way in which we prioritize the lives of people around us.

And we should ask ourselves why we agonize over the loss of life that could not be averted and the loss of lives we make no effort to stop at all.

I’ve seen memes and Tweets describing 2016 as the worst year on record. Many are happy to see 2016 go, because after all, 2016 is the cause of all our problems. Right?

But 2016 wasn’t all bad.

Crackers & Grape Juice was officially launched. This was a project Jason and I had been working on of a few years. We finally got our act together, added Morgan Guyton and Taylor Mertins to the mix, and now we are the fasting growing UMC podcast. This project and our listeners challenge me daily to find ways of articulating my faith that is not cumbersome, manipulative, or confusing.

I finished my MTS at Wesley Theological Seminary this year. And if you ask my wife, that is definitely cause for celebration.

The world came together in Rio as we celebrated our own humanity. The greatest athletes on the globe gathered to compete, representing their small part of the planet.

The Cubs broke a century old championship drought as the won the 2016 World Series.

As we close 2016 I want to thank everyone who read, liked, or shared a blog post. The feedback, good or bad, is why I write. I want to grow in my understanding of what it means to be Christian all the while knowing that I don’t know it all. A few years ago I wouldn’t have been able to say that but because of the Tweets, FB messages, and emails from you that has become possible.

To wrap up the year, here is the Top 5 posts you read, liked, or shared this year:

 5. I Just Don’t Understand

4. Disarming the Pulpit

3. Why Youth Ministry Needs Lent

2. Under Attack by Ideas – Part 1 With Rob Bell

1. Reflecting On My Time With the Evangelicals 

2016 couldn’t have been all bad. What were you successes? What was your shining moment this year?

 

 

#1 – Dangers of Christmas – Forgetting to Worship

A few years ago the Huffington Post featured an article on the 12 dangers of Christmas.  The article focused on fire safety during the holiday season.  They covered everything from your Christmas tree drying out and catching the drapes on fire to burning down your home while preparing your roast beast.

The article had me thinking, what if there were other dangers during Christmas?  What if, aside from falling off your roof while working on your light display and over roasting your chestnuts, there were hidden dangers during the season of advent that most of us overlook. So I decided to write about the dangers of Christmas we often ignore.

Now, a few years later, I want look at a few more dangers of Christmas we might ignore or be unaware of. So here we go, another 12 Dangers of Christmas.


Forgetting to Worship

A few months ago I had a chance to interview Melissa Greene alongside one of my Crackers and Grape Juice partners, Morgan Guyton. Melissa is the Associate Pastor at GracePoint Church in Franklin, TN where she oversees worship and the arts. She was also a member of the Grammy nominated group, Avalon.

To wrap up the Dangers of Christmas 2016 series I think Melissa’s words are helpful as we often forget that Christmas Eve, Day, and Tide are are about worshipping God, giving thanks for what happened in the manger. In the hustle to get everything just right for parties we forget that the Holy Family was walking a fine line between Divine beauty and human tragedy. This then leads us to ignore the Divine beauty and human tragedy we encounter, knowingly or unknowingly, each day as we go through our daily routines.

Worship is an important part of the life of all Christians. We often use the excuse of being able to worship on our own, in our own way, maybe in the nature. Have you ever said that or heard that?

I think the conversation Morgan and I had with Melissa will help us understand why worship during throughout the year is just as important as the Christmas Eve service we spent so much time and effort planning. What if we placed that same amount of time and effort into every worship service?


If you like this post and want to follow my blog, all you have to do is subscribe using the ‘Subscribe Here’ box above in the top right corner.

The Cracker & Grape Juice team will be part of Home-brewed Christianity’s Theology Beer Camp this January in L.A..

Want to join us?
All you need to do is head over to theologybeercamp.com, click the button to buy tickets, and use the discount code below to receive $100 offBLITZEN4JESUS
But this discount will only be good through Christmas!
 

Click the images below and subscribe to the Crackers & Grape Juice Podcast. We promise to provide you with theological conversations without stained glass language. For the love of all that is holy: Give us a review there in the iTunes store, Stitcher, or on Spreaker. It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast.

Itunes

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#2 Dangers of Christmas

A few years ago the Huffington Post featured an article on the 12 dangers of Christmas.  The article focused on fire safety during the holiday season.  They covered everything from your Christmas tree drying out and catching the drapes on fire to burning down your home while preparing your roast beast.

The article had me thinking, what if there were other dangers during Christmas?  What if, aside from falling off your roof while working on your light display and over roasting your chestnuts, there were hidden dangers during the season of advent that most of us overlook. So I decided to write about the dangers of Christmas we often ignore.

Now, a few years later, I want look at a few more dangers of Christmas we might ignore or be unaware of. So here we go, another 12 Dangers of Christmas.


Forgetting Christmastide

“Packing up Christmas” she said on December 26th.

“Can’t wait to get back into our ‘normal’ routine” said one father friend of mine.

I’m not going to lie to you, Christmas is a stressful time of the year. Between multiple (required) family gatherings and not taking care of yourself this past 4 weeks can really put strains on one’s life.  It’s not wonder then that so many of us are so quick to put Christmas back into the attic as soon as we get a chance.

I’ve notice over the past few years that we mainliners, and I’d guess the same is true among our evangelical sisters and brothers, that we punt the week or so after Christmas until Epiphany is here. Then all of a sudden we remember Christ came for Jew and Gentile and we remember we’re the Gentiles.

One of the dangers this Christmas is the way we ignore Christmastide.

Christmastide is comprised of the 12 days following Christmas. This is a time where historically Christians have read scripture, celebrated with feasts, and worship. Christmastide is an extension of Christmas Day, ensuring that we don’t pack up sweet baby Jesus too early, putting him back in the attic until we are ready to max out our credit cards the following year.

Don’t ignore Christmastide this year. Over the coming week or so, enjoy the season with family and friends. While you might not get to take the entire week off, take time in the mornings, at lunch, and/or in the evenings for prayer and reflection. A great resource to aid you and your family in this is Christmastide Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by the late Phyllis Tickles. In this book there are daily offices one can observe alone or with a group of people. I have used this with my students at our Friday prayer breakfasts and found it to be quite engaging for them.

 

How will you and your family be observing Christmastide this year?

#3 – Dangers of Christmas

A few years ago the Huffington Post featured an article on the 12 dangers of Christmas.  The article focused on fire safety during the holiday season.  They covered everything from your Christmas tree drying out and catching the drapes on fire to burning down your home while preparing your roast beast.

The article had me thinking, what if there were other dangers during Christmas?  What if, aside from falling off your roof while working on your light display and over roasting your chestnuts, there were hidden dangers during the season of advent that most of us overlook. So I decided to write about the dangers of Christmas we often ignore.

Now, a few years later, I want look at a few more dangers of Christmas we might ignore or be unaware of. So here we go, another 12 Dangers of Christmas.


Family Gatherings

The movie Four Christmases is not too far off on my annual Christmas experience. Both my parents and my wife’s parents are divorced. For the first few years of our marriage we would drive all over Northern Virginia and Maryland in a single day.

It was exhausting.

Exhausting is an understatement.

We realized when we found out we were pregnant that this was not the life we wanted for Camden. We didn’t want him to go from one all out present opening sprint to the next to the next to the next and then finally get home exhausted.

Family gatherings are great fun for any occasion. I love seeing Camden play with his cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. He loves it too which is an added bonus. We’ve done our best to keep these events fun but it can be hard.

Tempers flare. Attitudes sometimes need to be adjusted. We forget why we’re there.

As we head into Christmastide beware of family gatherings. Keep the fun. Keep them lighthearted.

And if you are gathering the celebrate Christmas, actually celebrate Christmas. Open gifts sure but talk about what it means for a baby to be born in the midst of chaos and then how that sweet little baby changed the world.

Here are some tips to survive your four Christmases over the coming week:

  1. Reflect on past experiences. Examine what worked and what didn’t. If sleeping arrangements left you cranky and tired, think of an alternative. Shorten your trip or bunk somewhere else.
  2. Have an attitude of gratitude. Yeah, they may be annoying, but it’s your family.
  3. Resolve previous differences. It is not helpful to go home for the holidays to rectify an old disagreement. Make a phone call, send a text, write a letter with the intention of smoothing out any misunderstanding before you go.
  4. Look for the humor. Try not to take everything so seriously. Sometimes you just have to laugh and say, “It is what it is”.
  5. Exercise. Take your gear, plan to workout, and organize a family walk or active game. It’s a great stress-buster and if nothing else you will feel energized and more optimistic.
  6. Invite a friend. Friends can offer a new perspective on your family and help create a more positive context.
  7. Organize an event that creates a memory. For example, create a cookbook. Ask relatives to donate stories or recipes to share with each other. Take pictures and make a photo album to share.
  8. Be yourself. These are folks who love and support you, no matter what. Relax and reconnect with your roots.
  9. Set your own ground rules. Don’t’ allow yourself to be baited into behavior that is out of your character.
  10. Keep a positive mindset. When presented with comment that may seem hurtful, ask yourself, “What’s another way to look at that?”

 

#4 – Dangers of Christmas

A few years ago the Huffington Post featured an article on the 12 dangers of Christmas.  The article focused on fire safety during the holiday season.  They covered everything from your Christmas tree drying out and catching the drapes on fire to burning down your home while preparing your roast beast.

The article had me thinking, what if there were other dangers during Christmas?  What if, aside from falling off your roof while working on your light display and over roasting your chestnuts, there were hidden dangers during the season of advent that most of us overlook. So I decided to write about the dangers of Christmas we often ignore.

Now, a few years later, I want look at a few more dangers of Christmas we might ignore or be unaware of. So here we go, another 12 Dangers of Christmas.


Too Much Exhortation and Too Little Promise in Our Preaching

Up next on Crackers & Grape Juice is another installment of Friday’s With Fleming.

Fleming Rutledge is an ordained Episcopal Priest who expertise resides in the intersection of theology and contemporary culture. She has quickly become a staple on Crackers & Grape Juice due to the way she calls things like she seems them with little to no fluff.

One of the dangers all preachers fall into is what Fleming referred to as too much exhortation and too little promise. Often times when preachers preach we try to prove how much we know and put the $45,000 degrees we’re still paying for to use. We’ve sat through hours upon hours of theology classes and want to share prove how much we know.

So and so said this which means what you use to think is wrong, meaning now I have all the knowledge, and yet I might not believe what I am saying.

The level of exhortation vs promise reminds me of Fleming warning to always end our sermons (and worship services for that matter) with the Gospel proclamation and not a challenge. The challenge then comes when we as preachers have to figure out how to share the Gospel proclamation with large groups of people, on a weekly basis, without sounding redundant. We need to share the Gospel in ways that shows how much we believe what we are saying instead of using the Gospel proclamation to prove how much (or little) we know.


The Cracker & Grape Juice team will be part of Home-brewed Christianity’s Theology Beer Camp this January in L.A..

Want to join us?
All you need to do is head over to theologybeercamp.com, click the button to buy tickets, and use the discount code below to receive $100 offBLITZEN4JESUS
But this discount will only be good through Christmas!
 

If you like this post and want to follow my blog, all you have to do is subscribe using the ‘Subscribe Here’ box above in the top right corner.

Click the images below and subscribe to the Crackers & Grape Juice Podcast. We promise to provide you with theological conversations without stained glass language. For the love of all that is holy: Give us a review there in the iTunes store, Stitcher, or on Spreaker. It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast.

Itunes

stitcher_radio_header

 

#5 Dangers of Ch

A few years ago the Huffington Post featured an article on the 12 dangers of Christmas.  The article focused on fire safety during the holiday season.  They covered everything from your Christmas tree drying out and catching the drapes on fire to burning down your home while preparing your roast beast.

The article had me thinking, what if there were other dangers during Christmas?  What if, aside from falling off your roof while working on your light display and over roasting your chestnuts, there were hidden dangers during the season of advent that most of us overlook. So I decided to write about the dangers of Christmas we often ignore.

Now, a few years later, I want look at a few more dangers of Christmas we might ignore or be unaware of. So here we go, another 12 Dangers of Christmas.


Pastors Fighting Pastors

With Christmas Day falling on Sunday pastors and church leaders have been debating arguing with one another for the past 6 months on whether or not to have worship services on Christmas Day.  The debate argument stems from the opinion of some that canceling services on Christmas Day signals that Jesus is losing the culture war between Christendom and a Post-Christendom world.

As I see it, here are the two arguments:

To Have Services:

To Not Have Services:

I highlight these 2 views because I think most pastors would not argue the idea of worshiping Christ in all we do. That can be anything from opening gifts to sitting in a physical church.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:17

The larger problem I see with the Christmas morning debate is that pastors have turned this argument into a pissing contest with one another, measuring their ‘pastorhood’ and worthiness to lead a congregation based on their chose to hold or not hold worship services at a time when it will more than likely be a service attended by paid musicians, staff members, and their families.

This isn’t the first nor the last time a debate will turn to argument. 

Pastors have enough on their plates this time or year, and throughout the year for that matter. Pastors and church leaders need to resist the urge to beat the crap out of one another.

One of the dangers this Christmas is pastors beating each other up on ticky-tack issues. Rather than beating each other up, let’s start working together to strengthen our community ties, make disciples for the transformation of the world, and reverse the slide towards decline. It’s just a thought.

#6 – Dangers of Christmas

A few years ago the Huffington Post featured an article on the 12 dangers of Christmas.  The article focused on fire safety during the holiday season.  They covered everything from your Christmas tree drying out and catching the drapes on fire to burning down your home while preparing your roast beast.

The article had me thinking, what if there were other dangers during Christmas?  What if, aside from falling off your roof while working on your light display and over roasting your chestnuts, there were hidden dangers during the season of advent that most of us overlook. So I decided to write about the dangers of Christmas we often ignore.

Now, a few years later, I want look at a few more dangers of Christmas we might ignore or be unaware of. So here we go, another 12 Dangers of Christmas.


Over Thinking Our Giving

Every year churches and community organizations ramp up their efforts between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The goal is the tap into the sentimental attitude most people are feeling and provide opportunities for service. This manifests itself as carolers take to nursing homes, food pantries are bursting at the seams, and we buy gifts for children who might go without on Christmas morning.

In addition to providing service opportunities, churches and community organizations ramp up their fundraising efforts. This is done to meet the organizations yearend financial goals and obligations or to go above and beyond their normal outreach/mission giving. The church where I previous served raised money each Advent and Lent to support The Highland Support Project, providing opportunities for Mayan women and their communities. The church I currently serve is raising money for ForKids, an organization helping children and families escape the grip of homelessness.

When we host/coordinate/participate in these acts of mission we often pat ourselves on the back, thinking about the good we are doing, and yes we are doing good in the world. We are reaching out into the world, serving as Christ would serve, as hallmarks of Christian Discipleship.  Often when we do this things we congratulate ourselves on the amount of time and money we give or the number of lives impacted.

Over the past week our church has hosted a cold weather shelter. Each might 60 men and women would board buses to seek refuge from the cold, find a warm meal, and have a safe place to rest their heads. Monday morning, as our guests were boarding the bus to head back to downtown Norfolk, a guest handed our coordinator five one dollar bills.

I want to give this to the church.

I know it’s not much but I want to help.

Now John, the coordinator, was blown away and as he was telling me this story I was blown away. Here we are, preparing to donate $10k plus to a local agency to do good work, patting ourselves on the back, and this gentleman who only has what he can carry on his back gave his last dollars.

How many of us would do that?

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Matthew 19.21

After all, every time we read this verse from Matthew’s Gospel we find ways to re-write Christ’s words so we don’t actually have to sell and give to the poor. We justify our Starbucks addictions all the while people who have little are living this out.

This Christmas, beware of the danger of overthinking and over-gratifying ourselves for our giving. When we have the faith to give our last $5.00 as we board the bus for a cold day on the streets, then and only then, can we say we’ve listened to what Christ said.