What is greatness?


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What is greatness?  I imagine it’s one of those things that you know it when you see it.  But what is it really?  Part of it will depend on the characteristics of greatness.  Many different people lay claim to the word, but have very different definitions and characteristics of what greatness is.

There is a certain political leader who adopted the word great right into his campaign slogan.  Based on what I hear from him, he defines greatness = power.

Others define greatness in terms of wealth.  Sports people will define greatness in terms of records broken.

How do you define greatness?

How would you define it in terms of politics, social policy, governance, finances, sports, work?  Is it great to deport people and tear families apart?  Or would you rather say that it is great when we enforce the immigration laws that exist?

Is it great to build a wall to keep foreigners out?  Or is it great to build a wall to keep people in?

Is it great to govern from a mentality that only the strong deserve to survive?  Is it great to ignore the cries of the poor and homeless?

Is greatness defined by how many enemies we can kill?  Is greatness defined by how much material wealth we can accumulate in our lifetime?  Is it great then to have to turn it over to someone else when we die?

Is it great to shout over your opponents, be disrespectful, and label and dehumanize your opponents?

Is greatness the ability to constantly draw attention to yourself?

Is greatness defined by military might?

Is greatness defined by how many people become reliant on you?

Is greatness defined by license to do whatever you want, with who ever you want, when you want?

If you look through human history, you would see that the “great” empires of the past could all lay claim to many of these definitions of greatness – Babylon, Egypt, Rome, Greece under Alexander, and more.  They might differ on some of these, but they share one thing in common – they all fell eventually and left a big mess for others to clean up.  And they brought ruin to those they conquered and eventually ruin on their own people.

That is because greatness can never ultimately be found at the end of a rifle or in mandatory compliance and unwavering allegiance.  Greatness isn’t found in blindness to the needs of others.  Greatness isn’t found in being able to beat other into submission.

Greatness comes in a different way.

Jesus had a definition of greatness.  In Mark 10:43, Jesus states, “Whoever wants to be great must become a servant.”

Greatness comes in being a servant and in participating in the unfolding of the kingdom of God.  It goes far beyond human made national boundaries and weapons.  It goes beyond wealth, records, and political parties and slogans.

Greatness comes in living out our faith, not in subjugating faith to ideology.  When ideology is our foundation in life, we have built a life and a nation on a weak foundation that will crumble and eventually fall.

God has a different standard for what is great.  And it is a great standard that Jesus modeled and calls on us to follow.  Be great.

New Podcast!



Friends, my good friend Moses Robson Kavishe from St. Paul Lutheran in Carlisle, PA and I created a new podcast that we’re going to do on a regular basis. It’s called “Everything’s on the table.” And since everything is on the table, we decided to start right in with a controversial issue – gun violence. We attempt to take a different look at it. You can find the first episode at a new website – www.pastormatthewbest.com. If you have an idea for a topic, you can leave it in the comment section of the website or e-mail topicsonthetable@gmail.com

You can find this specific episode at the following address:


Thanks and blessings to you all.




What is leadership?  More specifically, what is leadership within the church?

Leadership is driving an organization, a movement, a group of people towards something – ideally a vision or mission, maybe even a calling.

What is leadership in the church?  It’s leadership in conjunction with creating an environment where the others are empowered and equipped to carry out the Spirit’s calling in their lives and congregations.

Leadership often means making difficult decisions – very difficult decisions.  And often those decisions aren’t easy and have no easy solutions.  Leaders end up doubting their decisions.  Leaders have to weigh the needs of an individual vs. the needs of the whole group or institution.

Poor leadership is avoiding difficult decisions or sweeping difficult topics under the rug for someone else to deal with.  But all that does is enable bad behavior to continue – all because the leader is too stressed to make a decision.

The church is in desperate need for leaders who are willing to make difficult decisions.


For Christians, the ends never justify the means


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For Christians, the ends do not justify the means.  The means are important.  And so are the ends.  When we look at the example of Jesus, we see that means are important.  The Sermon on the Mount is one verse after another about how the means are as important as the ends.  Blessed are the peacemakers – not blessed is peace.  Peacemakers are in the process of making peace happen.  It’s the means.

Bless are those who thirst for justice – not those who have arrived at justice.  It’s in the process.

The means are important.  Because if the ends justify the means, then it makes sense to bully your way to the ends to get what you want.  But Jesus never condoned this activity.  Christianity can be described as many things – a way of life is one of them.  A way of life means that there is more to life than just the end result – there is the living of your life that matters.

But unfortunately, there is a theology out there that says that only the end matters – where you end up when you die.  There is a theology out there that promotes Rapture – an escape from this world.  If we are going to escape, then what happens here doesn’t matter.  There is a theology out there that promotes a wrathful God who relishes destroying anyone who even questions God.  If there is no room for questions and doubt, then we are just robots and life doesn’t matter.

There is a theology out there that mixes its political and partisan loyalty with theological belief (or rather disbelief).  It confuses political identity for baptismal identity.  It puts faith in leaders who will do anything and destroy anything or anyone in the way in order to get the desired result.

When you can willingly be cruel, oppressive, dehumanize, mock, ridicule, divide, foster fear and anger – or support someone who does this on your behalf – then you have a faulty belief system.  That’s not a belief system of Good News.  It’s a belief system on an earthly empire concerned with obtaining and wielding power and crushing enemies.  That’s not God’s kingdom and it’s not Good News.  It’s not a belief system that saves anyone.  It’s not a system of belief that builds off of trust.  It’s a belief system based on slavery, demands compliance, unquestioning allegiance, and lacks any freedom.

It’s a belief system that sells one’s soul to the empire to receive a short-term gain, at the expense of the Kingdom of God.  Rather, we are to deny ourselves and our quest for power and pick up our cross and follow Jesus.

Proclaiming the Gospel in the midst of other gospels


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Lately I’ve noticed many articles, interviews, programs, and media that focus on death, division, destruction, scoring political points at the expense of opponents, keeping people out, conflict, stress, anxiety, theft, cheating, infidelity, and more.

That’s a heavy load to carry.  This is the gospel message of the world and our culture.  A message of sin and death.  A message that says there is no escape from these things – that you are going to drown in a message that will bring you down and destroy you – unless you are strong enough to swim.  The bad news is that you aren’t.  That’s why we are also bombarded by messages that tell us that we aren’t good enough, but no worries – have we got just the right product, service, politicians, treatment, pill, move, job, significant other, car, house, etc for you!

And it’s a lie.

Being exposed to these messages is sad.  It is even more sad when Christians spread these same messages through social media posts, articles, conversations, and more.

What gospel are we proclaiming?  Do we willingly proclaim a gospel of hopelessness and death by what we post and share, by insisting that we are right about everything, by pointing or giving the finger to those who we identify as enemies or worse?  Where is the Gospel in this?

What Gospel are we proclaiming in our daily lives, in our social media posts, in our conversations, in the ways we live our lives, in how we see other and refer to them and label them, in who we pray for and what we pray about?  What Gospel are we proclaiming in the leaders we choose to represent us in religious and secular matters?  What Gospel are we proclaiming when we proclaim that the nation’s salvation can only come through this political party or that one and only with this leader or that one?  What Gospel are we proclaiming when we set our standards so low that even a serpent couldn’t get under the bar that is set so low.

I wonder what gospel we Christians proclaim – is it a Gospel that talks about the reality of the world, but also proclaims the promise of resurrected and transformed life?  Or is it a gospel that proclaims hopelessness, dystopia, and where death has the final say and the ultimate victory?

What would happen if we asked ourselves what Gospel we are proclaiming before we post, before we speak, before we act, before we judge, before we forgive, before we do or say anything.  I wonder what the world would look like?  Maybe it would look like the unfolding of the Gospel in our midst.

The Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday talks about the necessity of a grain of wheat to die in order for new life to blossom.  What needs to die in our life?  What needs to die in our congregations?  What needs to die in our work? What needs to die in our social media?  And what about us needs to die, so that resurrection and new life can take hold?

Alternative gospels that declare hopelessness, death, destruction, and power need to die – that’s what.

Are we willing to take these things off of the life support that we are maintaining?  Or are we afraid of this death?  Or are we afraid of what resurrection will be and how it will be different and out of our control?

The Gospel is waiting for us – seeking us out in our daily lives.  God will continue to hound us and hunt us down, pushing forward no matter how many times we bat it and God away from us.  God is relentless like that.  And that’s a good thing.  It’s what guarantees that the Gospel that is proclaimed and lived out is the Gospel of hope, peace, resurrection.  A Gospel of unbelievable love.  A Gospel that many find hard to believe.  But a Gospel that gives life.

Church for the unchurched


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Recently I led a funeral service where many of the attendees were not regular worshipers.  In fact, it might be safe to say they never attended, nor had a belief system about God, nor could possibly think about encounters with God.  I could certainly be wrong about that.  Regardless though, this raised a few questions in my mind.

Before the funeral began, a thought went through my head – that I was going to have to explain everything to the people.  There would need to be an explanation about communion – not just what we did, but why we did it.  There would need to be an explanation about the hymns, where to find them, and more.  There would need to be an explanation about the passing of the peace.  The entire service would be foreign for many people.  And here was an opportunity to explain it to people.

I’ve never had to explain everything we did in worship before – all at once.  I’m not sure how I did with explaining everything, but that’s ok, it was a good exercise anyway.

This has got me thinking about when people come to worship – visitors.  We can’t assume people know what’s going on.

There is an opportunity to explain.  And an opportunity to bring someone into relationship with others, with God, and with facing the realities that exist around them.

How would you go about explaining parts of the service to someone who has no experience with church?  How would you explain communion to someone who has never heard of Jesus?




Addictions are interesting things.  It’s hard to even describe what they are really.  Are they things?  Habits? attitudes?  Ways of doing things?

Addictions follow similar patterns.  They usually get worse.  And the addict typically looks for ways to rationalize away what is happening.   I’m not a professional addictions person – but I have seen enough addicts in my life to recognize the pattern that forms.

The addict scores a hit that gives them a boost – a shot of energy.  They feel alive.  Then they get caught because they mess something up.  And they apologize and promise it won’t happen again.  And they look for people to help them rationalize the situation – people who aren’t going to cause a confrontation.  There is pain and a great amount of energy and time spent on the addict.  And there is a backing off too.  And then it happens again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  Unless someone or someones put a stop to it.

That’s one pattern of many that forms for addicts.

And addiction can come in many forms – drugs and alcohol are obvious addictions.  There are sexual additions and food addictions.  There are porn addictions, social media addictions, entertainment addictions, and more.  There are work addictions and exercise addictions.  The reality is that almost anything can be an addiction, but not everything is.   Something becomes an addiction when we don’t have control over it, just rather, it controls us.  It’s an addiction if it is destructive to yourself or others.  It’s an addiction if you find yourself saying – “It’s just one…” or “I can stop anytime I want…” knowing full well that you are lying to yourself.  And lying is a main component of addictions – Lying to yourself and to others.  All to protect yourself from the reality that you are not in control and that you need help.

Addictions can lead to death – your own or other.  It can also lead to the death of relationships, abilities, jobs, and more.

If you think you have an addiction, talk with someone who can be honest with you – brutally honest.  Someone who will tell you that you are full of it when you try to rationalize something.  Someone who will ask you difficult questions and demand an answer – and won’t enable you.  That’s a true friend – someone who actually cares enough about you to hurt your feelings for your own benefit.

That’s how dealing with addictions starts.  It starts with recognizing you have a problem and seeking help.  Where it goes is a long journey.  One that will take many people to journey with you along the way – to strengthen you when needed, to hold you accountable, to prop you up when you are weak.

Above all, addictions don’t have to run our lives.




Like many pastors, I don’t like conflict.  I try to avoid it when I can.  But I won’t sacrifice everything to avoid it.  Often I don’t like conflict because of the drama that is attached to the conflict.  I really don’t like drama – that’s the real issue.

Drama is anathema (a good church word) to me.

But I have to ask myself – why?  Why do I despise drama so much?  I think I dislike drama because it is unnecessary and avoidable for one thing.  Drama rarely ever needs to happen.  Drama rarely is positive.  It usually is destructive and so I see no value in it.

Drama happens when the lines of communication are broken.  I don’t mean that in the sense that people aren’t talking with one another, as in something like radio silence – although that could be the case.

Rather, broken communications is more often incomplete communications – people withholding information from one another, either on purpose or unintentionally.

So why do I try to avoid conflict?  Well, it’s complicated.  I don’t think there is an easy answer to that.  I have a background in politics.  I’ve been through political conflict – a presidential impeachment.  I’ve been in campaigns where there is deep conflict between campaigns – to the point of animosity.  Maybe my wanting to avoid conflict is due to these experiences.

But again, this doesn’t mean that I will avoid conflict at all costs.  Hardly.  I think it’s more about trying other avenues, so coming to solutions that can be win-win situations.  I have found that things are usually better when we can find something redeeming for both parties involved in a conflict if at all possible.  It makes making peace much easier.  It humanizes the one in which you are in conflict with.

Being in conflict doesn’t mean that the other person is evil or bad.  They come to their conclusions for very good reasons, just like anyone else.  Trying to find a win-win is merely acknowledging this idea.

When I think about conflict, I also think about Jesus.  He was often in conflict with the religious figures of his day – the group of people who should have known better, but chose a different way.  The leaders of that time had an all or none approach to life – either you fully submit or you are an outcast.  That gets you compliance, but typically it is compliance meant to avoid punishment.

Conflict these days often seems unnecessary.  It seems as though there are many who create conflict.  To many it might be a form of entertainment or a distraction.

Conflict is a part of life.  Drama, unfortunately, is too.  These aren’t going away anytime soon.

At the same time, how we deal with them makes a big difference.  My experience informs how I handle conflict and drama.  I tend to be someone who prefers to deal with conflict sooner, rather than later – to not allow it to simmer.  I find that simmering conflict leads to drama and worse outcomes.  Dealing with it sooner doesn’t always have a happy ending, but it does get to the conclusion quicker so that life can go on.


The Cost of Discipleship


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Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “The Cost of Discipleship.”  I haven’t read it, but it’s on my bookshelf ready to be picked up at some point.  Along with the other 1000 books on my shelves.  I love books – just having them on the shelves makes me feel like I have learned something.  Of course I’ve read many of them also and have learned a great deal from them.  How I have read them and interacted with them has changed over time too.  I don’t just read a book anymore – I have a conversation with a book and author.  I ask the book questions and offer criticism to the arguments presented.

And it is in this way that I have been thinking about discipleship lately.  Discipleship is more than just a list of things that a follower of Jesus does.  It’s a conversation with Jesus.  A conversation that is in words, prayer, response, and action.

The marks of discipleship are important because they give us a direction – something that we can grab onto and let us know if we are moving in the path of discipleship.

And yet, there is more – much more.  Discipleship starts with a conversation with God.  The mark of discipleship are ways we respond and ways to measure how we are doing in relation to what we should be doing and how we are doing with our relationship with God.  They show us how broken we are and how we fail because of that brokenness.  They also show us where God is acting in our lives and transforming us.

Discipleship is not easy.  It’s not easy to be vulnerable.  It’s not easy to carry out the Sermon on the Mount.  It’s not easy to turn the other cheek.  It’s not easy to live in discipleship.  Our world makes it easy to be hopeless, judgmental, a seeker of revenge, one who believes and lives out that might makes right, a seeker of power, someone who separates people, etc.  Our world thrives on these things and more.  This is what sin does – it pushes people towards chaos and darkness.

Yet discipleship means being a light in the world of darkness – someone who rejects the ways of the world and all it offers.  The world is rejected because it doesn’t really offer anything at all – just a promise of death ultimately.

Discipleship means life – life lived alternately.  Life that empowers and enhances life.  Life that encourages.  Life that recognizes the brokenness around us and seeks to offer a true fix to the brokenness.

Discipleship isn’t easy.  But like most things that aren’t easy, it is worth it.  It’s what keeps us going forward each day.




Yesterday I wrote about death.  Yesterday was a draining day.  I presided at a graveside funeral, planned two other funerals with grieving families, and scheduled when I’ll be doing funeral planning with a fourth family.

But it was also a day full of promise.  So often we don’t want to deal with the reality of death.  We’d rather avoid it altogether.  We’d rather put on a happy face.  But death is here and it is real.  It walks among us.  It touches our lives.

And I think we need to experience the fullness of death in order to really understand and appreciate resurrection.

How can someone really grasp what resurrection means if they don’t really know what death is?  Without truly knowing death, resurrection is just a nice sounding idea with nothing deeper.  It’s something we’ll think about later.  It’s boring.  It’s something that sounds good in theory.

But it is so much more.  When we consider that without resurrection death is the end.  Death is annihilation – complete non-existence.  Death is hell.  Death has power and control over all of creation.  That’s death without resurrection.  Without resurrection, death leaves us hopeless and purposeless.  What’s the point if we all just end up dead.

But resurrection is good news – the best news in the history of creation.  It’s the news the church gets to proclaim.  It proclaims this news in the midst and in the face of death.  It shouts right in death’s face saying “you lose!”

Resurrection isn’t just some idea that is nice.  It’s about transformed and renewed life.  Life we will experience.  Resurrection is a message of hope.  Resurrection is a message of purpose.  Resurrection is a message of life.

The people who recently died are dead.  But they have been promised resurrection.  And so have we.

But death is more than just physical death.  People experience death in many ways – death of a relationship, a job, physical abilities, meaning for their life, purpose, etc.  We experience death of organizations and causes.  Death is not the ridiculous way it is presented in entertainment. That isn’t death at all.  It’s over the top and beyond being able to relate to it.  It is fake and false.

And when we experience death, it is only then that we are ready to experience resurrection – new life, transformed life.  New opportunities and adventures.

But we only really understand and appreciate resurrection when we have gone through death.