Humpty-dumpty church members

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We all know people who are especially sensitive and susceptible to harm. There’s a wonderful term in civil law for these sorts of people: egg-shell plaintiffs. An egg-shell plaintiff is someone who is harmed more seriously by an action that other plaintiff’s might be. They’re like Humpty-Dumpty. If they fall off the wall, they’ll shatter into so many pieces that “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” won’t be able to make them whole.

Humpty-Dumpty church members and Humpty-Dumpty coworkers are part of life in a broken and fallen world. In civil law the fact that you harm someone and they are harmed more by the action than most others would be, isn’t a defense. In other words, you cause the hurt (even if you feel it’s over the top) then you’re liable to make the person whole.

The same is true in the church and the workplace. Harm an egg-shell coworkers and its on you to make it up to them–even if you think their reaction is over the top. However, it pays to learn quickly and well who these people are. 

And once you know, be careful. Make sure the spiritual leaders in your church are aware of who these folks are and develop and plan to intentionally care for them and prepare for the next time they fall off the wall. 

At work, take a similar approach. Make sure to invest in your relationship with them so that next time they come off the rails you have a credit balance in the relational sphere.

It’s impossible to avoid Humpty-Dumpty, but she doesn’t have to ruin your day.

Sunday Sermon – The Way that Leads There

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I had the pleasure of preaching at Immanuel Presbyterian Church this weekend. This is the community we have belonged to for the last couple of years, and a place we have grown to love.

I preached on the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. You can read the bulletin here and follow this link for sermon audio. Here’s the sermon manuscript uploaded with my personal notes:


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As conservatives, we have a duty to our ancestors, ourselves, our children, and their children to remember and conserve what must be remembered and what must be conserved. While the West has made more than its share of mistakes—after all, the West is no different than any other civilization, in that it is made up of men and women, some who choose to do good and some who choose to do ill—it has also done some things better than any other civilization, or, at the very least, introduced things to the world that the world than claimed for all of humanity.

Bradley J. Birzer, “What the West has Given the World

Understanding Christ’s Righteousness

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“By his passive righteousness is meant his expiatory sufferings, by which he satisfied the claims of justice, and by his active righteousness is meant his obedience to the law as a rule of life and conduct. It was contended by those who made this distinction, that the purpose of Christ as the vicarious substitute was to meet the entire demands of the law for the sinner. But the law requires present and perfect obedience, as well as satisfaction for past disobedience. The law is not completely fulfilled by the endurance of penalty only. It must also be obeyed. Christ both endured the penalty due to man for disobedience, and perfectly obeyed the law for him; so that he was a vicarious substitute in reference to both the precept and the penalty of the law. By his active obedience he obeyed the law, and by his passive obedience he endured the penalty. In this way his vicarious work is complete.”

William Shedd, History of Christian Doctrine, Vol. 2 (New York, T. & T. Clark, 1863), p. 341.

My complicated relationship with Lloyd Ogilvie

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A portrait on the wall

I never knew Lloyd Ogilvie. Never heard him preach. Never shook his hand. Never beheld his toothy smile. Yet, I felt as though I did. For three years I served on the staff of the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. And during those years I spent many evenings in the parlor, a large room hung with the portraits of senior ministers of the past. Ogilvie was Senior Pastor from 1962-1972 and his successor Keith Brown was his former associate pastor. Like everything else he touched, he left his indelible imprint upon the church, in ways greater than the black and white photo on the parlor wall.

A complicated relationship

Churches are complicated. And churches with an illustrious history are even more complicated. Over my time at First Presbyterian Church I many shared stories about how Ogilvie’s personal dynamism and commitment to a rigorous new members class led to the church growing to become one of the largest Presbyterian churches in the northeastern United States.

By the time I left I was, to be frank, pretty sick and tired of the Ogilvie legacy. As a hard-working associate pastor, it’s difficult to hear stories of the glory days and not feel an implied critique of today’s (perhaps less than glorious) reality.

The truth–one that was difficult for some to accept–is that the Bethlehem of Ogilvie’s tenure was gone. Post-Steel Bethlehem was world’s apart from the 1960s-1970s–the Madmen years in which executive wives stayed at home while their husbands played at the executive golf course and watched over the city from their corner office in Martin Tower (recently demolished).

It was the best of times

I have a melancholy temperament at the best of times, but it’s always seemed a little unfair that ministerial heroes of yesteryear made their name (so to speak) in the midst of culture that was positively oriented to American Christian civil religion.

I’m not sure it was that difficult to plant a church like Eugene Peterson did.

I’m not sure it was that hard to develop a 12-week new members process like Ogilvie did when women didn’t work and families could live on a single income.

Perhaps that’s unfair. Perhaps I’m bitter. I’m sure it’s a bit of both.

Ogilvie positively impacted many people. At the same there was something of a low-church, low-theology, positivity-focused evangelicalism about him. He certainly didn’t go to the lengths of someone like his contemporary colleague Robert Schuller, but they seemed of the same ilk. Always ready with the big smile, the positive catchphrase, and the promise of a life ahead that is better than the only past because you let Jesus in.

The future is not bright

Today’s pastors cannot offer a future that is made smoother by Jesus’ presence in it. Better, yes. Smoother, no.

The truth is that I think pastors often don’t get credit for the immensity of the task that’s before them today. That’s a shame because it is an incredibly difficult job and its a job they’re (we’re) doing in the face of a culture that is shifting in some really significant ways.

So, this weekend some time to thank your pastor!