A Blessing For Small Town America

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For the last 32 months I have been a pastor in a Northwest, logging town of 1700 people.  There are small towns and then there is where I live, which is dinky.

I have loved every minute of living here.  I have loved the scenery, the people, the identity, the community.  Just this morning towards the end of my run I ran into one of my congregants downtown.  All the small business owners know who I am.  Likewise, I am well known at the schools.

Moreover, this is one of the most laid back places in America.  There is a libertarian attitude to the whole town that is quite jarring at first but quite endearing over time.  In fact, I have often said the best thing about Elgin is also the worst thing about Elgin.  It is that you can get away with murder here.  That is great news, unless you are being murdered and, by metaphor, I have been murdered a few times.

But last September I sensed God was calling me elsewhere.  In early January I was officially called by a small congregation in a suburb of Salt Lake City, UT where 80,000 people live.  It is the exact opposite of Elgin.

I am quite certain God has called me to this new venture. .  However, living in a tiny town has been a lot like going to summer camp and this is Friday, the day everybody goes home.

So before I change that byline on your left from “A Small Town Pastor’s Thoughts About Grace” to “A Small Church Pastor’s Thoughts About Grace” I thought I would take a moment to try to articulate my love for this place.

I have known for a few months this day was coming so I have had time to think long and hard about what this post would be.  A month ago I read a wonderful chapter in Barbara Brown Taylor’s book “An Altar In The World.”  The chapter was about the practice of blessing others.  It got me thinking that the best way to properly describe and honor the town I am leaving would be to pronounce the Lord’s blessing upon it.

So here goes:

God Bless Elgin, OR, its people, its businesses, it organizations and its churches.

May the Lord richly bless the citizens both young and old

Bless those who live in the town and those who live in the fields around,

Bless those who just moved here, whether young and broke or old and retired.

Bless those who were born here and will never leave and bless those whose parents, grandparents and great grandparents have invested heavily in this town’s prosperity.

Bless those who just arrived.  May their love for this place be greater than my own.

Bless those are poor and live in trailers.  May they find acceptance, wholeness and meaningful work.

Bless those who farm the land on each side.  May the heavens bring them rain in its season and dry, sunny weather when its needed.  May their crops and fields yield enough produce to feed thousands.

Bless the lumber mill and its employees.  May their efforts to conserve the forest continue to provide lumber for many centuries to come.  May your employees find satisfaction and enjoyment in their work and may the administration administer fairly and equitably.

Bless the homeless teenagers.  May they not only find a couch to sleep on but a family to give them the warmth and comfort a couch never could.

Bless the single moms.  There are far too many.  May the Lord bring them sustainable income, blessings of wisdom, and stress free days.  May the Lord be the father their children never had.

Bless the alcoholics and drug addicts.  May they find freedom from addictions and identity in Christ.  May their testimonies cause many to give thanks to the Lord.

Bless the schools, their students, teachers, staff and administrators.  May the Lord’s wisdom prevail so that the students do not just learn data but become critical thinkers and engaged citizens.

Bless the businesses, both the start-ups and those firmly established.  May they employ many with gainful wages.  May their income be ethically earned and may their products and transactions bring joy and mirth to the community.

Bless the clubs and associations:  the quilting, the Lyons, the Opera House, the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development, the City Council, the High School Associations, the Sports teams, and all else.  May their efforts bring unity and coherency and identity to all those who participate.

Bless the churches.  May their efforts to work together and sing together not overshadow their need to pray together.  May the Lord hear their prayers.  May the Lord bless and increase their members.  And may they seek the peace of this place.

Lord, bless this town.  Pour out your spirit on the rich and poor, the young and old, the hardworking and lazy, the truck drivers, millwrights, small business owners, farmers and commuters.

Bring your peace and prosperity to its people.  Bring your love and warmth and grace.  Do not withhold any blessing but richly give all good things.

Amen.

Humor On the Platform: Laughter is the Best Response

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This is my third post on using humor in ministry.  In these posts I have been trying to find and articulate the boundaries and effectiveness of humor in my many roles as pastor.  This has been difficult because “humor” is a nebulous concept and an often changing target.  Still, it is a wonderful reality in which to live because, as I have been arguing, laughing at the absurdity in the world is the best way keep it from consuming us.

This is important because I have been told that there was a day when humor wasn’t allowed within thirty feet of a Christian worship service.  But I did not grow up in that day.  Instead,I grew up in a shifting scenery of modern (or post modern, or maybe emergent and definitely missional) worship.  Many preachers tried way too hard to be funny all the time and failed miserably.  Others genuinely succeeded, having that right personality.  Others didn’t try to be funny but ended up making humorous gaffes anyway and added to the humor by being horribly embarrassed.

So when I filled my first pulpit, it was with careful measures of self condescension, humorous asides and perfectly timed (or not so perfectly timed) punchlines.  Not surprisingly, the humor in my sermons have brought me consistent praise.

Still, I struggle with how to be funny and when to be funny during my twenty minutes of fame every Sunday.  The danger is not that the joke might bomb or that your jokes might be offensive.   The danger is that the humor will be misplaced or misdirected and, in turn, misdirect the congregation.

The greatest example of misdirected humor is self condescension.  Certainly, insulting myself is the easiest way to get a few laughs and to get people to lower their guards.  So I use it a lot.  But I really struggle with why I use it.  Am I being manipulative or even honest?

Beyond that, I have found that insulting yourself for laughs is that you also insult the people who like you.  And there are those in my congregation who take it offensively because I am insulting their judgment in having me as a pastor.

To give an example, two years ago at our annual assembly gathering with the other churches, I had to give a three minute report on the state of my church.  So I got up and said, “Everything is going great” and gave examples of things that were going well.  After the examples I concluded, “So you see everything is going splendidly, except for their new Senior Pastor.  He is a young kid, right out of seminary, first pastorate, has no clue what he is doing.  He has spent the last year bumbling around town getting himself into trouble and then calling the district office at all times of day and night asking for advice and help.  Seriously, I don’t know what they were thinking hiring him!”

Everybody laughed hysterically but afterward my church’s delegates pulled me aside and said, “That was funny but you are not a lousy pastor and we are really mad you said that.  If you do it next year we will stand up right then and there and let everybody know how full of it you are!”  And though they were being slightly facetious, I still could sense the disappointment behind their voices.

So I try hard not to run myself down, especially when doing so is just a manipulative move to get people to think I am more humble than I really am.

Another dangerous area is using humor as a way of making people like you.  The truth is people enjoy being around funny people and if you make people laugh, they are probably less likely to kill you, or fire you, which would be the same thing.  However, in the pulpit, humor that scores cheap political points is misguided.  Typically these sermons are not technically sermons but stand up routines fit for comedy clubs.  They flit from joke to joke with no real point or direction.  People leave them thinking, “That was funny.  We sure like Pastor,” but their lives are not helped or changed for the better and the only reason the pastor was funny was to keep people from firing him or to give the church more money.

A third area of danger is forcing Scripture to be funny when it just isn’t.  I addressed this in part yesterday but usually these sermons rely on heavy embellishments from the biblical text in a way that violates the historical reality and the actual meaning.  They aim to make the text funnier than it is and in so doing create huge exegetical problems.

With those three danger zones in mind, there are a few incredibly useful ways to use humor in sermons.

The first is to point to the absurdity lying beneath our lives.  A common sermon structure (and one I fall back on a lot) is to describe a problem in the world, describe the problem in the Biblical text, tell the solution in the text and use that to form a solution to the problem in the world.  Humor is a great way to begin these sermons because nothing like humor helps us come to grips with the absurdity of our lives.

For example, last Sunday I preached about joy in light of the third advent candle.  I began the sermon by pointing out that I love joy because it is the only virtue you get to say you have.  But after laughing about how humble people can’t say they are humble and loving people can’t claim to be loving, I turned the joke on its head and said, “But here is the thing:  I don’t think we should let people get away with claiming they are joyful when they are not.”  It worked quite well both for capturing attention and helping people come to grips with the despair hiding beneath their fake smiles.

Another way to use humor is to highlight the awkwardness in confronting a Biblical passage that is hard to connect with.   This is not an attempt to make a Bible passage funny that isn’t.  Instead it is pointing out, in a humorous way, how detached we are from the original audience of the text.  It is laughing at the absurdity of trying to honestly read a passage written 2,000 years ago in a language we don’t understand and that nobody speaks any more.

One of my funnier moments happened awhile back when I described in short detail one of Paul’s more lengthy and complex arguments.  At the end of my description I said, “It all gets quite complicated if you ask me but the conclusion he arrives at is.  .  .”  The congregation burst into laughter because I acknowledged what they were thinking and let them know I was thinking it too.  We are far removed from this type of thinking and logic.

A third way to use humor is to move beyond jokes to actions and pictures.  Humorous pictures of the text on a screen really help people relate to the story.  The Brick Testament is a great site that recreates Biblical stories using Lego’s.  Sometimes having those funny pictures behind me while I seriously address the text helps people laugh at and understand some of the weirdness in the Bible stories.

Other times I use hand motions or even invite others up to the stage to help me address the text in a humorous way.  It lightens the mood and helps people connect and relate.  An added bonus is that those invited to help won’t soon forget the Bible story.

Regardless of how you use humor in your sermons, I would invite all my preaching peers to continue to experiment with it.  I hope this post (and all my posts) are not the last word on the issue but just helpful notes that guide conversation.

I hope to write soon about humor in pastoral counseling.  Until then a farmer and a welder walk into a bar.  .  .or a church.  .  .

A Hermeneutic of Humor: Laughter’s The Best Word

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Yesterday I wrote about the absurdity hiding beneath the fragile fabric of our lives  I argued that the best way to keep it from overcoming us is to laugh.  Today I want to turn in a different direction and talk about how we read the Scriptures.

Scripture is filled with a different kind of absurdity, a quite Holy type that encourages us to laugh at ourselves as we try to get along with the God who created us.

So over the last year or so I have begun to realize that my own hermeneutical lens lands in the middle of irony, sarcasm and humor.  This does not mean I ignore every passage that does not make me laugh.  It just means I keep my eye open to the unexpected, looking for the hidden humor to show itself.

If I have learned anything from good comedians, it is that the unexpected makes us laugh.  And as Jerry Seinfield taught us, we laugh even harder when the unexpected is hiding behind the everyday events of our lives.  But we miss that humor because we are so accustomed to our lives that we don’t stop to reflect.

In the same way we are so familiar with some narratives and passages of Scripture that we don’t stop to look for what might be hiding in plain sight for us to see.  A Hermeneutic of Humor fights that tendency by keeping one’s eye out for what you do not expect.

For example, I read the Sermon on the Mount for years without realizing that in chapter 7 verse 11 Jesus calls his entire audience “evil.”  I grew up reading that passage but had enver stopped to think about how funny and interesting it is that Jesus just insults his whole audience right there in the middle of the Greatest Sermon Ever Preached.

The story of Samson is filled with all kinds of humor and irony that one would not expect.  Nowhere is this more evident than after Samson kills 1,000 Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone.  After the slaughter, Samson tells a joke.  The Hebrew is just a bunch of forms of the word donkey.  A literal English translation might be, “With a donkey, I made donkeys out of a donkey full of donkeys.”  However, the real punchline comes right after when suddenly Samson gets all emotional and collapses, begging God to kill him.  From anger to sarcasm to depression.  .  .that is a full day.

In 1st Corinthians 6 Paul is practically screaming at the Corinthians but in chapter 7 verse 1 he suddenly stops and says, “Now for the matters you asked about.”  The transition is so awkward it makes you laugh awkwardly.

The Prophet Daniel compares Babylon to a prostitute.  Most people are so accustomed to this that they miss the force of the metaphor.  The Babylonians were doing all kinds of nice things for the Jewish captives but their military was out torturing people and sacking cities and raping women.  So the force of the prostitute metaphor is that Babylon looks pretty and inviting on the street corner but I wouldn’t go taking her home or throwing good money and hormones after her.

In case you still are not sold read the Psalms and consider they sang these songs together in worship.  Some Psalms have lines like, “Appoint an evil man to replace him!” and “It is like precious oil running down Aaron’s Beard.”  Now that is quite mental image!

All of this is missed when we read Scripture in the comfort of our low expectations.  In contrast, a Hermeneutic of Humor keeps us on our toes.  It forces us to roll our eyes at Samson, laugh at Babylon and gasp in shock at Jesus.   It makes us rather uncomfortable around Paul and questions the Psalms we sing.   Most importantly, it keeps us from getting comfortable in our own jagged relationships with the Almighty.

But, like yesterday, I must offer a word of warning.  Not all of Scripture is ironic, sarcastic or humorous.  Some of it is quite sobering and when we read with an eye to the unexpected sometimes we are surprised not by humor, but by sorrow and anger and frustration.  When we open ourselves up to laughter, we might also open ourselves up to being offended or angered.

Still, there is much humor lying behind our relationships with the Almighty and sometimes I wonder if Scripture isn’t a testimony to the fact that God spends most of the time laughing at us and with us.

Weird Liturgies: The Happy Birthday Song

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Like all churches, my church has a liturgy.  We have a set worship structure with consistent worship practices that form and shape us every Sunday morning.  We read Scripture three times.  We sing 4-5 songs, guaranteeing a proper mix between ancient hymns and newer choruses.  We pass offering plates and listen to a sermon.  We pray about 4 times.

And we sing “Happy Birthday.”

We don’t sing it every Sunday out of the year.  But every week where someone in our congregation celebrated a birthday, we sing it.  We also note the anniversaries but nobody has yet penned a “Happy Anniversary” song so we don’t sing about that.

I usually pepper the announcements of birthdays and anniveraries with a cycle of corny jokes that I have borrowed or penned throughout my years.

“Happy Birthday Tom!  We are glad you were born!”

“Larry was born and actually lived to tell the tale!”

“Lisa turned another year younger this week!”

“Ann managed to stay married to Bob another year and that is quite the accomplishment!”

“Happy 46th anniversary Yvette and Wendell!  But watch out.  I hear year 47 is the really tough one!

“86 year old Harriet turned 29 again this year!”

“The Thompsons anniversary is on Wednesday, so if they manage to stay married until then, Happy Anniversary!”

A few people laugh, most (my wife included) roll their eyes.  I personally think they are hilarious.

Some people in our church are flattered we remembered their birthdays.  More are glad that we noted their anniversaries. Others are embarrassed.  They try to hide from me and I am always overjoyed when someone snitches on them.  To be fair, I don’t go around mentioning my birthday either.  .  .and someone always tattles on me.

Still, we don’t make the announcement and sing the song to flatter the children and embarrass the old.

We announce the anniversaries because marriage is a sacrament.  God uses marriage and the married couples to provide grace to the entire congregation.  Also, I have found that the grace marriage gives increases exponentially the longer people stay in it.

So we announce the anniversaries and make the jokes because  behind all of this is a recognition that God has given us a gift through the married couple.

Then we sing, “Happy Birthday.”  We sing it because we are one body and each of us is a part of it.  We sing it because we really are glad that the people in our church were born and are still around.

But we also sing “Happy Birthday” because we know that in our older congregation we might not get to sing it next year.  At least one or two will not be around in 365 days and while they are here, we celebrate their presence among us.

We also sing it because even in a day of great technological sophistication, still-births and miscarriages happen.  They are every bit as tragic and heartbreaking as they always have been.  So we sing Happy Birthday because we know that every live birth is a miracle and it is worth celebrating even 86 years after it happened.

So Happy Birthday to you whenever your birthday may be.  I hope you live another year.  I hope you have a congregation that loves you and loves life enough to completely embarrass you.  I hope you love your wife enough to tattle on her birthday to your pastor.  I hope the church choir hits the 3 part harmony perfectly right at the, “Happy Birthday, God Bless You” and I hope your mock surprise and red face are signs of the coming Kingdom!

Happy Birthday to You!

The Stuff Jesus Never Always Did

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I read a lot of pastoral leadership resources, also known as pastor self-help books.  I fly through at least 20 a year and they cover the bases on how to be a better counselor, preacher, administrator, leader, follower, mentor, mentee, disciple maker, disciple becomer and spiritual guide.

Many of them come from the same stock.  A pastor somewhere in America discovered some principle or practice that really changed his or her church for the better.  They started sharing it with others and eventually a publisher asked them to write a book about it.  So they went to write a book and felt obligated as a preacher to make it sound like the idea came straight from Jesus.  Though, when you dig deeper than their shallow arguments, you find the idea actually came from a conversation or through a prayer meeting or from another book.  After having the idea, the pastor went to the gospels to find out if Jesus practiced this principle and found a case where Jesus may have done it.  Then they concluded, “Jesus ALWAYS Does this.”

The first chapters of these books describe these things that Jesus always did and ask the question, “Don’t you want to always be like Jesus?”

One book about pastoral counseling concluded that Jesus always asked questions.  .  .except for the fact that there are plenty of conversations recorded in the gospels when Jesus asks zero questions.

One book about “self care” said Jesus always fought off temptation by quoting Scripture.  Except we only have three examples of ways in which Jesus was tested.  That is hardly a trend.

One book about spiritual disciplines argued Jesus always made people feel warm and cozy around him and never insulted anybody.  .  .except in Luke 6:24-26 and the other passages like it.

One book about board meetings said Jesus was super patient with everybody and never lost his temper.  .  .except that one time in all 4 gospels when he beat people out of the temple with a whip.

One book about social justice concludes Jesus was always eating with poor people.  .  .except that one time he crashed Zaccheus the rich tax collector’s house.

The Children’s Ministry books say Jesus was always hanging out with little kids, except the “let the children come to me” incident only happened once.

The Youth Ministry books say Jesus was always hanging out with teenagers.  .  .except for the fact that to be a tax collector, which a few of the disciples were, you had to be a bit older than a teenager.

The anti-church growth books say Jesus always had 12 disciples so we shouldn’t have mega-churches.  Except the disciples are numbered at different times as 12, 72 and 120 and never once did Jesus command his 12 to only have 12.

And speaking about those megachurches, people were always leaving Jesus so if you preach the Jesus-truth people should always be running away from you.  .  .except for the fact large crowds were always following Jesus too.  It was kind of a wash as far as the numbers went.

They all say that Jesus always led by example.  .  .except that one time he told his disciples to bring a sword and then yelled at Peter for using said sword.

If you read all four gospels, you will find the only thing Jesus always did was breath.  .  .except there were 3 days that he wasn’t even doing that.

Instead what the gospels give us are incomplete accounts of the things Jesus sometimes did and sometimes taught.  And those things changed from context to context.

The problem seems to be that in a church still desperately struggling to rid itself of the CEO Ministry Model, we still think Jesus can be boiled down to a formula of leadership self helps for the 21st century.

But when I read the Gospels I find a Jesus who is so much greater than a formula, even if that formula “always works every time.”  When the Sadducees come at him, he answers their questions with questions but when Nicodemus the Pharisee comes at night, Jesus issues proclamations about new birth before Nicodemus even asks the question.

To some crowds, Jesus spoke in parables.  Other times he adopts the formula, “You have heard.  .  .but I say” and when it is just his 12 disciples listening in, he utters mysteries about the Spirit.

Sometimes He says, “come follow me.”  Other times He flees to the desert before anybody can, though they did try.

One time He said, “let the children come.”  Another time He waited before going to a child so that he could heal an elderly woman.

All of this would make it seem that in the full person of Jesus we do not have the confines of 21st century leadership practices.  Instead we have a full and free personality whose life and teachings could not be adequately summarized even in 4 books (see John 20:30-31).

This should give us great freedom to adapt to our changing culture without having to proof text every principle and practice through the gospels.

Instead of saying, “Jesus always asked questions,” we should note that psychiatrists conclude in our time and place successful therapists ask good questions.

Instead of saying, “Jesus only had 12” we should note that currently several pastors report that having more than 15 people make discipleship groups unmanageable.

Instead of saying, “Jesus always hung out with one age group” we should note that in the right context children and youth can provide wonderful gifts and insights.

And instead of boiling down Jesus to 21st century leadership principles and practices, we should recognize that we worship and follow an eternal Savior who invites people from all contexts and all times into a loving relationship with the Triune God.

Sometimes that means listening to children.  Sometimes it means befriending those poorer than you.  Other times it means hanging out with tax collectors.  Sometimes we tell stories and sometimes we utter mysteries and sometimes we ask questions.  But at all times we pick up our crosses and follow.

What’s Pastor Kevin Reading: A Tale of 2 Cancers

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This is a post in the ongoing series “What’s Pastor Kevin Reading” where I briefly summarize recent books I have read and explain why they are important for Christians (particularly pastors) to read.

I make it a practice to read one book a week.  And while I often fall into the trap of reading 150-200 page tomes on pastoral self help I have tried recently to branch out into popular novels and heftier theological and academic materials.

Over the last two weeks I have read two stories about cancer.  The two have much in common but they come from entirely different perspectives.  The first was John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars.”  It is fiction (though I use that word hesitantly) and written from a secular, atheistic perspective.  The second was a memoir called “Same Kind of Different As Me” written by Ron Hall and Denver Moore.  It was non fiction and deeply spiritual, bordering on bizarre.

It was not my intention to read 2 books about cancer back to back.  I ran across “The Fault in Our Stars” in a bookstore and flew through it in a day.  A friend of mine recommended I read “Same Kind of Different As Me” the following week.  He was the kind of friend that you feel obligated to read books he recommends so I downloaded it and read it in a week.

John Green’s book is every bit deserving of the hype it has received.  I personally think it is the best thing to happen to Young Adult fiction in years.  Instead of specializing in the stuff of vampires and wizards and dystopian heroins, Joel grounds his narrative in the very real world where death comes without prejudice and there is no victory against it, just the frustrating endurance in suffering by all involved.

As I read the novel a line from another popular TV show echoed in my mind.  In that TV show a decidedly anti-religious person argues to a Fundamentalist Christian, “I will never believe that God gives us cancer to teach us self help lessons.”  That may as well have been the thesis for Green’s novel.  And I could not agree more.

The push in Christianity, particularly Evangelical Christianity, has been to treat death as something painless and shallow.  A glance at my Facebook wall testifies to a sub culture that believes death can be easy dismissed by pithy cliches and shallow puns.  If you slap a picture of a cat or a flower on them it makes it all the more disgusting.  Green dismisses all of these cliches with his haunting descriptions of two teenagers aging rapidly and dying before their time.

In doing so Green calls Christianity back to our biblical roots where death is not a tool of God, teaching us self help lessons.  Neither is it a nuisance that can be easily ignored.  Death is the enemy.  It is an enemy so severe, destructive and all encompassing that it would only take the death of God on a cross to overcome it.  When we belittle death, we belittle the cross.

Green does not end at the cross but where he left off Ron Hall and Denver Moore picked me up.  I did not realize that “Same Kind of Different As Me” was about cancer until I had read half the book.  I thought it was about a white, upper class, art collector befriending a black, homeless, plantation worker.  But right at the halfway point the art collector’s wife was diagnosed with cancer.  So  I was once again subjected to the raw details of cancer, slow killing the body and the soul.  And I had just stopped crying over “Fault in Our Stars!”

Ron Hall is an evangelical Christian so I was worried that he would fall into the trap of narrating his wife’s death using those pithy cliches we slap over pictures of flowers.  However, he avoided them, choosing to be as honest as could be about how the cancer process exhausted him to the point of depression.

Interestingly the answer to his depression came not in the form of those lousy sentimentalism’s but in the friendship of Denver Moore, the homeless, drug addict.  Their friendship was a true representation of Christlike love.  As they worked together to both build a new homeless mission and create a garden space around Ron’s wife’s tomb, the two men gradually realized the conquering power of the cross.  They chose not to give each other easy advice but endured the suffering together, often times in silence.  It was only through that bond that they were able to continue with some semblance of faith and hope.

It would seem that the answer to death’s destructive ways are found in the cross and the community of true friendship that the cross creates.

Next I am reading a book titled, “Reading for Preaching” which exhorts all of us preachers to read and read often.  I barely need to finish that book because these last two books have convinced me that I must dig deep in the narratives surrounding us, both secular and religious to find the voice of God at work.

Paul’s Lousy Thank You Letter

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In preparing the sermon I wrote about earlier today I turned Paul’s thank you letter in Philippians 4 to a thank you letter from a grandson to his grandmother.  Although the English text gives us lots of “poster perfect” Bible verses for our inspirational calendars, when you read it like the thank you letter it is, you might conclude that Paul is lousy at writing thank you letters.  Below is my creative paraphrase.  Below that is the actual NIV Translation.

Dear Grandma,

I am writing about the Superman action figure you gave me for Christmas.  I rejoice that at last you have shown that you care about me!  I mean, I know you always care but you haven’t had opportunity to show it lately.

Not that I needed the superman action figure.  In fact I was doing just fine without it.  You know me, I can turn any old trinket into a toy.  I have learned to have fun with brand new toys and old paper dolls that you probably played with when you were my age.  In fact I was perfectly happy without the toy.

Nevertheless, it was good for you to give.  After all the giver is more blessed than the receiver.  So you did yourself a favor by giving it to me.  After all, you know last Christmas my other grandparents did not give me barely anything, just some clothes that I outgrew in 6 months.  But you alone are a great giver who has always given wonderful gifts to me.  But don’t misunderstand me, I don’t need any more toys because I have enough all ready but all I want is for you to have the blessing of giving so keep the toys coming.

But I wanted you to know I did indeed receive the Superman and found it to be quite fun and it is a wonderful sign of our great relationship.  I trust that God will give you everything you need.

With much love,

Your Grandson Paul

And now the NIV:

10 I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. 17 Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.