Think Small or: Don’t Think At All

1 Peter 1.18-21

You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

With each passing day of this pandemic, I’ve come across countless posts and articles all about how to make the most of the time we now have on our hands. Which, of course, doesn’t even address the many who still have to work in the midst of all this and those who are putting their lives on the line so that others can have the aforementioned extra time on their hands. Nevertheless, I know people who are using this time to lose those ten pounds they’ve been meaning to get rid of, or become amateur sourdough bakers, or become professional live-streaming worship pastors.

Meanwhile, the talking heads on television are pitting the different political operatives against one another while blaming them for putting us in the mess in the first place.

Similarly, certain individuals are choosing to directly ignore the calls for social-distancing because they believe it is infringing on their freedoms.

And finally, special interest groups are pressuring elected leaders to “reopen” their respective jurisdictions for fear of what the long-term effects will be for the economy.

All of this can fall into the category of “thinking big.” Rather than addressing the small and local concerns that are, somewhat, within our control, we pass the buck along to someone else in hopes that they can bring about the change that requires the least from us. Or, a little closer to home, we’re feeling pressured to make the most of this pandemic by reimagining ourselves and fixing all the things we’ve let go for too long. 

The problem with “thinking big” is that it almost never works. 


Back in 1972, in the midst of the rise of feminism, racial reconciliation, and environmentalism, Wendell Berry had this to say on “thinking big”:

“For most of the history of this country our motto, implied or spoken, has been Think Big. A better motto, and an essential one now, is Think Little. That implies the necessary change of thinking and feeling, and suggests the necessary work. Thinking Big has led to the two biggest and cheapest political dodges of our time: plan-making and law-making. The lotus-eaters of this era are in Washington, D.C., Thinking Big. Somebody perceives a problem, and somebody in the government comes up with a plan or a law. The result, mostly, has been the persistence of the problem, and the enrichment of the government. But the discipline of thought is not generalization; it is detail, and it is personal behavior. While the government is “studying” and funding and organizing its Big Thought, nothing is being done. But the citizen who is willing to Think Little, and, accepting the discipline of that, to go ahead on his/her own, is already solving the problem. A person who is trying to live as neighbor to their neighbors will have a lively and practical understanding of peace and humanity, and let there be no mistake about it – they are doing that work.” – Wendell Berry, A Continuous Harmony 1972

The challenges, and problems, that feminism/racial reconciliation/environmentalism aimed to erase are still very much a part of the fabric of our reality. It’s been nearly fifty years since Wendell Berry wrote those words and women are still paid less than men, racism is very much alive, and the environment has passed the point of no return. (However, strangely enough, certain cities across the globe are seeing the skylines without smog for the first time in decades because everyone has been forced to stay inside).

The critique from 1972 is just as relevant today as it was then. The more we assume, or hope, that necessary changes will be accomplished by other people further up the ladder, the longer we will be disappointed. The same holds true with our own desires for self-improvement. If we want to use this time to become master bakers, or perfect painters, or marathon runners, that’s fine, but there’s a better than good chance we’re just going to disappoint ourselves.

Wendell Berry’s alternative, and an alternative from the gospel is to think little. Instead of waiting for the world to change, we can make small changes in our own lives. We can absolutely start and try new things, but keeping our goals in check will help us in these challenging times rather than shaming us into not accomplishing what we wanted.

In 1 Peter there’s this great line about how, through Jesus, we’ve come to trust in God. I love that because it’s not about trusting in ourselves or in other people. For, more often than not, we are masters of disappointment. But God? God remains steadfast no matter the circumstances; Jesus’ is still raised from the dead whether we can worship together in church, or we can run a marathon, or we can bake the perfect loaf of bread.

This is a strange time we find ourselves in. We can do things now we’ve never done before. But it’s also a pandemic. It’s okay if we don’t do anything at all. We can watch Netflix until our eyes hurt. We can go all the way to the end of the bag of Cheetos. We can wear pajamas all day long. The gospel has set us free from the expectations we place on ourselves and the expectations the world has placed on us.

The only thing we need to do is trust. Which, in the end, isn’t much at all. Because in the end, the rest is up to God. 

Daydreaming About God


Hebrews 1.1

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed her of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.

Weekly Devotional Image

One of the things I loved most about the church I grew up in, is that I always felt like I could bring questions about faith to the pastors. They, like good clergy in the UMC, would come and go but no matter who stood in the pulpit on Sunday they offered a willingness to hear what was stirring within me, and they were always prepared to nudge me in the right direction. 

For me, a question would usually begin to percolate in the middle of a sermon. It would be a line, or a phrase, or even just one word that would stick out and from it I would journey into the unknown. Sadly, there were many times when that precise moment of question formation was when I tuned out the rest of the sermon and started searching in a pew bible for an answer. However, I would inevitably find myself more confused than when I started and I would patiently wait in line after church to drop my bombshell on the pastor.

It’s like Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once said, “People don’t come to church to hear preachments, of course, but to daydream about God.”

And it was on one such Sunday, long ago, while I was daydreaming about God that I got stuck on a particularly profound question: “Why don’t we hear God speaking to us like how God speaks to the people of the biblical narrative?” The text that morning must have been from a moment when God definitely spoke to a particular individual, and I wanted to know why I couldn’t hear God in the same way.

And so I dug into the pew bible and went looking for an answer. But by the final hymn I was no wiser than when I started, so I asked the pastor on my way out.

To this day I remember exactly what he said: “God spoke God’s truest and best Word in Jesus. If we are waiting to hear God speaks in our lives, all we have to do is open our bibles because God is still speaking to us through Jesus.”


I only later learned that the pastor got the answer from the first chapter of Hebrews.

That memory has stayed with me over the years because of how profound it actually was. Many of us expect to hear God audibly speak to us in the midst of our prayers like we’re talking to a friend on the phone, and then we immediately become disappointed when God appears to be silent. However, my pastor was right: God spoke God’s fullest word in Jesus because Jesus is, was, and forever will be the incarnate Word. God can and still does speak to us through a variety of means like a conversation with a friend, a particular verse from a hymn, or even in the rare decent sermon, but God will always speak into our world through the stories of Jesus in scripture.

So, instead of reading the Bible like a collection of stories from the ancient past, can you imagine how life-giving it could be if we read it like Jesus was still speaking to us here and now? 

The beauty of the Bible takes on a whole new dimension when we stop limiting Jesus to the past, and start hearing him in the present. 

Devotional – Psalm 4.4


Psalm 4.4

When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.

Weekly Devotional Image

I like going to the gym. It’s one of the few places I can go without being spotted as a pastor (and therefore can avoid of all the Christianisms that often occur like, “I haven’t been to church in a long time,” and “What do you think heaven is like?”). There is a peace I experience while running on the treadmill in that I can be alone in my thoughts, with just enough distraction in running to actually relax.

On Monday afternoon, while about halfway through my run, my mindful journey was interrupted by the person running next to me. When I quickly glanced over it was clear that he was deeply disturbed by something on the television screen and I could hear him cursing under his breath. For 15 minutes I continued to run in silence, but I could not stop listening to, and worrying about, the man next to me. With every passing minute his face grew redder, his volume increased, and his anger became even more palpable until he could no longer stand it, he shut off the machine, and he walked away.


I honestly left the gym feeling pretty good about myself. Not only had I taken the time to be mindful about my physical health but also I wasn’t nearly as angry or ridiculous as the man running next to me. I know I left on Monday afternoon with a sense of pride. At least, I did until I got in the car, started listening to the news on the radio, and saw my tight knuckles gripping the steering wheel as I listened to all that is going on in the world. By the time I got home I realized that I was no better than the man from the gym, the only difference was he let out his emotions in front of everyone and I did it in the solitude of my car.

How do you respond to difficult information? Do you pick up a nearby object and hurl it across the room? Do you mutter words of anger under your breath? Do you lash out on those around you? Do you clench your fists in concentrated frustration?

It is impossible, and frankly unhealthy, to keep everything bottled up. Whether it’s a response to what you witness on the news or learning something disturbing about someone you know and love, we can’t avoid how we feel. But, as the psalmist puts it, we can at least take the time to ponder it in silence before reacting.

If the Lord we worship responded to our many failures with knee-jerk reactions, this world would probably not exist. But God is patient and contemplative when it comes to how God’s creatures act. Sometimes God is silent specifically such that we might come to realize who we are and who we need to be.

We all live and move in a world predicated on knee-jerk reactions. The 24-hour news cycle bombards us with information designed to elicit responses from us. We check our emails, and social media accounts with a regularity that is frightening (myself included). But God shows us a different way; a way in which we can ponder the events of the world in silence before jumping into the fray.

Family and Faith: God – Sermon on Proverbs 3.1-8 & Ephesians 4.1-6

(Preached at St. John’s UMC on 9/8/2013. I am indebted to Will Willimon’s sermon “Don’t Think For Yourself” for inspiring parts of the following sermon (Willimon, Will. The Collected Sermons of William H. Willimon (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2010), 123-127.))


Proverbs 3.1-8

My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you. Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and of people. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body.

Ephesians 4.1-6

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.


Is that really written in Proverbs? Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight? I was always taught to think for myself. Haven’t we been told to do that all of our lives? We can assign you the right books, we can help you get into college, we can show you the door, but you’re the one who has to walk through it. Think for yourself! We can teach you all about God, politics, or even healthy eating habits, but freedom is important, make your own choices.

Be independent, employ your true freedom; create your own way of life. Go out and get your hands dirty, lose yourself in something beyond yourself, fight for something worth fighting for but above all think for yourself. What a perfect bumper sticker for our culture. All I need to get through this world is me, my thoughts, my opinions, and my beliefs.

When I read through our scripture for today it made me think about a time I was helping a church in Michigan. Now this church was HUGE. While I was attending the services there were easily over 1000 people in worship on Sundays between their multiple services. You could choose between different styles of worship and at different times, you could choose between preachers and types of sermons. When I started helping out, there were five pastors on the staff each working in a different area within the church. They offered activities every week from Bible Studies, to service opportunities, to Yoga classes. In fact the first week I was there I served on a panel to discuss the theological virtues of the hit series The Hunger Games for concerned parents and parishioners. They had a lot going on.


Even though on the surface it seemed like everything was great at the church, there was something missing. There was basically no one in their 20s attending the church. Now, perhaps they assumed that because I was 24 I could explain this phenomenon they decided to give me the results of their recent questionnaire to make sense of it all. The church had recently done a massive survey of the congregation, the community, and members who had left the church. They asked all the typical questions: Has you attendance increased or decreased over the last year? Why or why not? Do you prefer to receive information from phone calls, text messages, mail, or email? Etc. But what they were really trying to discover was why none of the young people were in attendance.

What I discovered surprised me, and I believe it greatly reflects our current culture, and the scriptures for today.

Indeed, the 20-30 year age group was the lowest number for attending church, but they did not need to use a questionnaire to discover that fact. Do you know what surprised me the most? The largest group to decrease in attendance over the last year was the 45-55 year age group. Why?

As far as I can tell here is the common cycle for church attendance: A lot of people grow up in the church, when they go off to college they stop attending until the get married, have kids, realize they have no idea what they’re doing and so they start attending again. This cycle has been true for many people that I have met in my life but there is a newer trend developing. A significant portion of parents stop attending church once their children leave for college. That’s why they went back in the first place, they went back for their kids, and now that they’ve grown up, there’s no reason for them to keep attending. So that child comes back home for the first time, maybe at thanksgiving break: “Hey Mom and Dad, what time are we leaving for church tomorrow?” “Oh honey, we haven’t been recently, but I guess we can go tomorrow…


Think for yourself. Isn’t that what we want for our children, for our friends, for our families? We don’t want to push people too far, no indoctrination, we want everyone to be free to do anything they want… but thinking for ourselves, only for ourselves, often gets us in trouble. Thinking for ourselves has led to the current situation in Syria where we spend days and weeks debating whether or not to drop strategic bombs, thinking for ourselves has led to the growing number of impoverished people across the world and even in our own neighborhoods, thinking for ourselves has led to great numbers of people no longer attending church because they can handle life on their own…

God speaks to us through the writer of Proverbs: “My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you.” Paul similarly speaks to us in his letter to the Ephesians: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

In many ways, God is pleading through these verses: Do not think just for yourself. Think beyond yourself. I know that sounds drastic and remarkably contradictory when compared to the American dream, but to be followers of Jesus Christ requires us to orient ourselves and our thinking toward God, and not the other way around.

God begins by addressing us as we truly are: his children. We all have one heavenly Father who is above all and through all and in all. God has called us to lead worthy lives with humility and gentleness, patience and bearing with one another in love.

Being a part of this church community carries with it the responsibility to remember God’s teachings, and to keep his commandments. During the time of the Old Testament the Israelites were taught to remember and keep God’s commands: Deuteronomy 6.4-9: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Remember these words, because they are an alternative for the world’s desire to isolate us from one another; They calls us to be in unity as a body. They call us to remember. We can maintain our individuality but we must not lose sight of our interconnectedness as the body of Christ. It’s important for us to remember how unique each of us are, but we are all in this together.

Instead of commanding us to think for ourselves, God calls us to keep his words! Teach them to your children and your friends. Live out your vocation as a Christian in your actions, words, and deeds. Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. Do not rely on your own insight, do not think for yourself alone, do not be wise in your own eyes, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

Where God sits in your life will extend to people outside of you. When you keep his words and live out you’re calling as Christians your families and your friends will notice. Be holy just as God is holy…

When I discovered the decrease in attendance of parents whose children had grown up, I was surprised, but it made so much sense. Think about what it says to those around you when you decide that church is no longer a priority, what it says when God is no longer at the center of your life? Our words and behavior are powerful things, not just for ourselves but also for those around us.

I met a man once, perhaps you know someone just like him. He lived a good life, came to church at Christmas and Easter, and made it through day after day by relying on himself. Sure his family was a little dysfunctional, but whose isn’t? His kids had grown up, went off to college, and had little contact with their father. He assumed everything was normal until one day, out of the blue, one of his friends invited him to a group that met before work hours at the church to pray and enjoy coffee together. He went, reluctantly, sat in the back, and kept his head down. But the more he attended the meetings, the more he started to notice little changes in his life. After reaching a certain comfort level with the other men he started to share his own prayer concerns, his own questions about the bible, and even his own disappointments in his life. His prayer life grew outside of the group and he began to regularly commune with God.

When I met him, he had been attending the group for five years; he told me that his entire disposition toward life had been transformed. He spoke with his children regularly, he found pleasure in his career, and above all he had discovered his relationship with God. “It changed everything,” he told me, “praying like this, reading scripture, opening up. It changed my work, it changed my family, but most importantly it changed me. I realized that I’m not going through life all on my own and its not up to me to do everything; God is with us.”


Families of Faith: that’s the title of this sermons series. What does it mean today to be a family of faith. One of the greatest joys of being part of a family of faith, like this church, is realizing that we have been freed from the burden of having to always and constantly think for and care for ourselves alone.

Can you imagine how truly freeing that is? Have you ever experienced that kind of relief in your lives? Having a relationship with God does not guarantee that everything will be completely turned around like the man that I met, but it can at least bring newness and a sense of peace previously undiscovered.

Families of faith contain three important priorities: God, the family itself, and others, but it must first begin with God. By heeding the words of scripture from Proverbs and Ephesians, we can teach and remind our family and friends the commandments that were first handed to us. If we write the love of God on the tablet of our hearts it will be conveyed to the people around us.

One of the ways that we can live out our relationship with God in the family is to reclaim our commitment to reading scripture and having a regular prayer life. When I was growing up the only time we ever prayed as a family was before meals, and we certainly never read the bible aloud. How can we convey faith to our children, our parents, or our friends? Unlike the families that leave their children and friends to “think for themselves” in isolation we can show how wonderful it is to trust in the Lord. It is my hope that starting this week we can all start to read a little more and pray a little more and maybe, just maybe, we’ll start to see the fruitful value of these practices in our lives.

Trusting in the Lord and not relying on our own insight is a challenge because the world has always been telling us to think for ourselves. However, there is one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

What a great God we have: the one who freed us from the loneliness of the world.