June 30, 2006

Hypocrite? Never!

My cousin Ron was a control-your-own destiny type person and at age 56 he was dying with cancer. When family members approached his hospital bed and witnessed to him about the Lord, he was nonchalant. With no intention of listening, he cordially agreed to a visit from a local minister. In one last ditch effort to get through to him, his brother Ken said, “Ron, you can be forgiven. All of us have sinned, but without the Lord, eternity (in hell) is a very, very long time.” Ron responded, “I’ve lived an honorable and a good life and I won’t change now. If all of a sudden I became a believer, I’d be a hypocrite.” In recounting this conversation Ken said, “You know, you just don’t argue and pick a fight with a man on his death bed, but I knew better. Ron hadn’t lived a good and honorable life.” Sadly Ron was already wearing the ‘hypocrite label’ he so staunchly resisted.

June 29, 2006

No Laughing Matter...

I got a chuckle out of the reports that a shopping area of Sydney, Australia is trying to rid itself of undesirable hooligans. Apparently these youth have a low tolerance for the music of singer Barry Manilow, so the plan is to play his music continually over the public address system. The hope is that the young people, unable to stand the music, will just vacate the area. Stopping in mid-chuckle, I’m taken back for a moment. I’ve seen this before…in the church…and it works! Today’s church is using the same tactic to attract and repel specific audiences. Sadly, it’s really only about marketing. Offer a steady diet of loud worship music and repetitious praise choruses long enough and the ‘untargeted traditional group’ will vacate the premises. Some people stop coming all together, while others church-hop looking for a place of worship that is inclusive. And then there are those creative folks who time their arrival to avoid the music and catch the sermon. You’ve just got to love their stick-to-itiveness. I can’t champion the hooligans, but I do identify with their situation.

June 28, 2006

All in a Day's Work...

I think the employment package for our church ministers is quite generous, but it appears the opportunity for outside employment is inviting and lucrative. The initial salary package of one minister was increased to allow his wife to stay home with their preschool children rather than working outside the home to supplement their income. Within a matter of months the wife went to work anyway. On more than one occasion we’ve hired ministers with counseling credentials, and they did indeed offer their services to the congregation…for a price. Concurrently the church paid their salary for the ministerial position while ‘clients’ paid them for counseling. Many of our full-time ministers have very creatively increase their income by coaching and refereeing ball games, selling vitamins, substitute teaching, giving lessons in piano, guitar, and voice, and so on. Honestly, I’ve never understood why preachers say they don’t have time to make hospital calls, visit the nursing home or keep office hours, but somehow there’s time to pursue a supplemental income.

June 27, 2006

Wrecking and Restoration

Years ago we put an addition on our house and I was, shall we say, a little more anxious than my husband to open up the connecting wall between the old and the new. One day while Bill was at work I took a sledge hammer to the 100 year old lath and plaster wall and opened up an eight foot section for the new walkthrough. After hauling out the debris and cleaning up my mess I felt pretty good about my accomplishment. When Bill came home that night he ‘gently’ explained that my newly created walkthrough was once a load bearing wall. Sometimes in the church we take sledge hammers to one another…and that’s OK, because there are times when a hard heart needs to be hammered. Though the church is great with the wrecking ball, it fails miserably at restoration. The Apostle Paul says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” (Gal 6:1 NIV) Even though it was years before our remodeling project was completed, restoration of the structural support I demolished took place immediately!

June 26, 2006

Stones and Snakes

A past music minister grew weary of hearing church members request traditional music, hymns and accompaniment to be included during the worship service. With no attempt to hide his irritation his attitude spoke loudly, ‘OK, if that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get.’ Digging up hymns that would have played well for an audience in the 17th century Baroque period, we sat through 30 minutes of music and songs in dirge-mode. Most, if not all of those in attendance, left the service with either a heavy or angry heart. Jesus said, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 7:9-12 NIV) Once you’ve eaten stones and snakes it’s not easy to get the taste out of your mouth.

June 23, 2006

How'd That Happen?

Three years ago a shift in leadership power at one of our local congregations resulted in the resignation of all of their elders and deacons. “I really don’t know how it all happened,” said Kellie. “The church was going through a difficult time and the next thing I knew the minister appointed himself Trustee and other men became elders and deacons. I guess they just appointed each other.” Even though at one time Kellie held a position as an elected official in her church, she stopped attending almost a year ago. “Our Bylaws require yearly elections, but it’s been close to three years since we’ve held an election for elders and deacons. Between church politics and disregard for the Bylaws I just feel I can’t worship there anymore.” Wow, flexible Bylaws…what will they think of next?!

June 22, 2006

Road Kill

I recently took an overnight business trip with my husband. The next morning as we were getting ready to leave the motel we observed a small resourceful bird picking the dead bugs off the grill of our car. Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matt 6: 25-27, NIV) Feasting on an abundance of road kill delicacies, the bird’s only concern seemed to be watching his smorgasbord drive away.

June 21, 2006

Still Waters

Our church baptismal water is always ready, and until a few years ago it was common to see Sunday morning baptisms. Today, even the few baptisms we have are closeted away and seldom conducted in front of the congregation. Where we once heard confessions of faith and witnessed new believers come up out of the waters of baptism, we now read about new members in the newsletter and the bulletin. Certainly there are occasional circumstances which call for a private baptism, but it appears that public confessions of faith are becoming the exception, rather than the norm. So, is it a matter of convenience? Are people embarrassed or shy in confessing Christ? Is the invitation to accept Christ even offered on Sunday? Do preachers encourage weekday baptisms, so as to discourage ‘interruptions’ in the worship structure? Personally, I think the Kingdom of God will pay a high price for the loss of public baptism and confession. Humans are naturally visual and follow examples that are placed before them…who’s going to be an example for our children?

June 20, 2006


A few years ago we had multiple changes in church staff and the new music minister was unhappy with the congregation for not getting the ‘new’ vision quickly enough. In a temper tantrum on paper he fired off a letter to the leadership of the church…accidentally putting a copy of his seven page letter in the wrong mail box. Big mistake! These are a few choice excerpts from his letter: --“I'm certain we should not wallow in self-pity and complain that God has placed us in a ministry with a bunch of selfish, narcissistic, immature Christians.” --“It is time we stop complaining about our inheritance. It has been said. ‘We inherited an immature congregation.’ Past leaders may have created a monster, but it is our monster now.” --“The senior adult Sunday night group, seemingly the most needy group for maturation and understanding of what we are doing, should abandon their Sunday night potpourri and take on an intentional study of the purpose of the church and work diligently to draw distinctions between issues of faith and issues of expediency.” I guess ignorance is bliss, because we didn’t know we were selfish, narcissistic, immature Christians, a monster…or that our senior adult group is the most needy in the area of maturity. This minister, of his own accord, has moved on. I hope his latest congregation meets with his approval.

June 19, 2006

I've Got a Question...

After I formally raised questions about a survey and source material used to promote programs in our church, an elder sent me an email that included the following excerpt: “It has always been my belief that if indeed a person is called to a position of authority/leadership by God, when we go about questioning that leadership and authority, we are in essence questioning God!” He then directed me to Hebrews 13:17, which refers to obeying and submitting to leaders. Obedience and submission I get, but what has that got to do with asking questions of the leadership? Scripture plainly gives us permission to ask God questions, and asking Him questions is not the same as questioning His authority. In the conclusion of the email the elder wrote, “It is entirely appropriate to consult with the Elders about spiritual and scriptural concerns and I really do encourage that.” I'm sure glad God allows us to ‘consult’ Him with things beyond just ‘spiritual and scriptural concerns’.

June 16, 2006

Seen But Not Heard

Children today have obviously broken the old mold of ‘being seen and not heard’. In the church I see the child rearing techniques of yesteryear applied to our current senior population. Here are a few reasons I think the church leaders want their seniors to be seen and not heard. --Their presence allows the church to boast of being ‘inter-generational’. --Even though their physical stature is shrinking, they still make good ‘pew filler’. --They are obedient…standing through lengthy praise songs as long as possible. --They are financially generous and have given up attempts to question the budget. --They are deemed mature and therefore low-maintenance. Their requests are answered by God, relieving the church of any responsibility. Personally I’d like to see ‘seasoned’ members speak up and insist on receiving the honor, respect and attention that Scripture grants them.

June 15, 2006

Somewhere It Says...

Fear of misquoting Scripture or not knowing where to find Scripture silences many Christians. Somehow we feel we must know exactly where a verse is located in the Bible before we can use it. I love a Biblically literate Sunday school class or Bible study where I can say, ‘Somewhere it says,…’ and a voice in the room will supply the appropriate Bible reference. I found a great passage in Hebrews that should give all of us courage. “For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.’ And again in the passage above he says, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” Heb 4:4-5 NIV The writer of Hebrews gives us two quotes and doesn’t identify the speaker (God). He doesn’t say when or where it was spoken, nor does he give the location of the Scripture passage he is quoting (Gen 2:2). What a relief, ‘Somewhere it says…fear not’!

June 14, 2006

It's For You...

Recently my sister got an evening phone call. “I was tired and getting ready for bed. I didn’t recognize the name on the caller ID and I really didn’t want to talk to anyone anyway. I decided whatever it was about, it could wait until morning.” Listening to the messages the next morning she learned that the caller was a neighbor in her apartment complex telling her that not only had she’d left her car lights on, but she also had a left tail light out. I know there are times when I act the same way with God. I don’t recognize His caller ID, I’m not in the mood to talk, and I figure I can respond when there’s a more convenient time. I shouldn’t be surprised when the lights go out and I have to call on the Holy Spirit to come give me a jump start!

June 13, 2006

Successful Church

Recently one of our ministers reported on his mission trip to the Philippines. When asked about church growth, he enthusiastically explained that churches were springing up all over that country. “In the Philippines a church of 25 people is considered successful.” With a shrug he quipped, “Where, here in the US, a church isn’t considered successful unless they have 5,000.” Excuse me? Now, I’m assuming his comment was nothing more than regurgitating statistics, but where is this stuff coming from? I’d like to meet the man brave enough to tell a congregation of 150 that they’re unsuccessful. Jesus has a definition of success, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Matt 18:20 NIV

June 12, 2006

Focus, Focus, Focus...

When I shared my concern with the church staff about the lack of baptisms we’ve had in the last few years, I was told, “We’re no longer focusing on baptism.” Well duh…you think! What kind of a response is that? Am I out in left field, or does anyone else see a problem here? Without having a theological discussion on baptism, I believe we can all agree that baptism is an act of obedience to Scripture. How then can leaders arbitrarily decide to not preach and teach obedience to the Word of God? I’m having difficulty accepting that baptism slows to a trickle just because it’s not emphasized. Glossing over baptism may only be the tip of the proverbial iceberg!

June 09, 2006

I Was Just Joking...

A few years ago the focus for a women’s event at church was fashion, hair design and make-up. During the fashion segment the lofty voice behind the microphone singled me out as a personal object lesson of ‘what not to wear’ by saying, “…for instance Gail always wears black.” After the laughter, she continued in a sugar-coated voice, “I’m just joking.” My ‘sweet’ smile match her sweet voice as I mentally retrieved a proverb, “Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I was only joking! (Proverbs 26:19-19 NIV) And yes, I often wear black because it’s more slimming. I take help wherever I can get it.

June 08, 2006

Church Coup

We’ve all heard the anecdote about a church splitting over the color of new carpeting. It’s interesting to me that when this particular illustration is used, it’s the church members who can’t get along…we’re never told what part the leadership plays in the split. Although church splits do occur over petty things, I’m detecting many splits today are caused by a coup and have more to do with ‘leadership’ than with ‘membership’. My cousin’s Baptist church in Denver is in the process of healing from an attempted coup. The minister they hired slowly implemented grandiose plans for his version of a new and improved church. Resistance from the ‘old guard’ eventually sent the situation to court and the imposed judgment required a division of recently acquired assets. However, a legal loophole kept the minister and his band of merry men from walking away with the church name and property. The Apostle Paul warns us to be on guard, not only against those who come in from the outside, but also those who will rise up from among our own number, Acts 20:29-31.

June 07, 2006

Biggie Size It

A few years ago our denominational magazine requested readers send in articles on innovative activities and programs in their churches. The article demographics were specific to church attendance and ranked churches as small, mid-size, large and mega. My published article agitated the preacher. Don’t worry, he wasn’t unhappy about what I’d written, he was miffed that magazine’s criteria ranked our church as mid-size. More to his liking were polls and surveys that bestowed upon us the classification of ‘large church’. Hmmm… not only can you biggie size a church, you can biggie size an ego too!

June 06, 2006

Jesus...Lower Class?

In his book Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Palestinian Society, Anthony J. Saldarini references an analysis (by Lenski) of the social class system of the agrarian (agricultural) society. Of the nine classes, five belong to the upper classes and four belong to the lower classes. The Pharisees fit best in the upper class because of their religious and political interaction with the governing class. However, I was blown away to find that in this society both Jesus and Paul were in the artisan class, just one step below the peasants. Carpenters and tentmakers were neither powerful nor influential in Palestinian society. The lowest class mentioned was labeled ‘Expendable’. How’d you like to be in that classification?!

June 05, 2006

I'd Make a Good Pharisee

I like rules and structure, so jokingly I told friends that I thought I’d make a good Pharisee. Hindsight told me I really should learn more about the Pharisees before I become a candidate. I found a great book (although it sent me to the dictionary on more than one occasion) Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Palestinian Society, by Anthony J. Saldarini. When the Bible was my only reference, I pictured the Pharisees as highly educated, prominent men. Paul was certainly elevated in my mind because he was “a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee”. However, I quickly pulled Paul off the pedestal after learning Josephus completed all of his training with the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes in one year! I’m thinking mail order diploma here.

June 02, 2006

I Can Do It!

Three year-old David, 60 year-old Shelly and 82 year-old Betty have one thing in common…I can do it! David desperately wants to be independent, Shelly is determined to keep her independence, and Betty is not about to let anyone steal her independence. Lately, when others have offered to help in some way, all three have firmly insisted, ‘I can do it!’ Even though I may chuckle at their willfulness, I do so realizing that right now my own independence is not threatened. But…I must admit that there are times in my Christian walk when I stand before the Lord stomping my feet saying, ‘I can do it’! I take comfort in knowing I’m in the company of Moses, Peter and Paul who each had their moments of saying to God, ‘I can do it’!

June 01, 2006

Skin Deep Identity

I recently attended the Body Worlds 2 exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. The exhibit consists of over 200 donated bodies and body parts that are preserved by replacing bodily fluids with reactive fluid plastics, a technique called Plastination. As I looked ‘in and through’ authentic human bodies I tried to balance my thoughts between the macabre and David’s Psalm praising God because he is “fearfully and wonderfully made…” (Psalm 139:14-15). Stripped of skin and hair, it is strange to look upon the lifelike poses of bones, tendons and tissue which are empty of their soul. David says, “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth…” (Ps 139:15) Rationally, I know my identity is not in skin and hair, but without them, but I’m unrecognizable. Hum…, makes you wonder about all the effort put into suntans, tattoos and body piercing!