August 31, 2006
I hate talking to people who, rather than keeping eye contact, look past me to scope out the rest of the room and see who else is there. At my recent 40th year high school class reunion I discovered all of us were practicing this rude behavior. Catching a vaguely familiar face out of the corner of my eye, I’d stop a conversation in mid-sentence and say, ‘Who’s that?’ A tap on the shoulder, followed by bear hug kept people moving from one renewed acquaintance to another. Then of course there are multiple huddles and finger pointing as people tried to put names with faces that no longer match. More than a few times after finally identifying a classmate I thought, ‘No way! That can’t be…’ And then there were a couple of people whose photos never made it into the class annual and my mind refuses to make any connection. Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matt 16:13-16 NIV. I too know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God…but there are still times when I don’t recognize Him right away.
August 30, 2006
It sounds like our Funeral Dinner Ministry is headed for the chopping block. For well over fifty years this ministry has provided a meal to families of the deceased following the funeral service. Always before these meals were considered an outreach and were served not just to the members of the church, but also to non-members who used our facility. Apparently the new ‘proposal’ (not yet adopted) presented to the committee is to eliminate their service and anyone in need of a funeral dinner will have to rely on friends, Sunday school class members or a Bible study group. The impending death of this ministry is a real mystery to me. This group of ladies has willing volunteers, is highly organized and they require minimal funding from the church coffers. So, what’s the problem? I suppose the motives behind this decision will eventually be revealed, but once again my heart aches for our members who are systematically removed from the service they offer to the Lord. Remember Dorcas who was always doing good, helping the poor and making clothes for others? (Acts 9:32-43) As the widows grieved for her, Peter knelt, prayed and raised her from the dead. In the climate of today’s church, there’d be no need to raise Dorcas from the dead. Let’s just eliminate her ministry all together and hope that her widow friends will organize her funeral dinner.
August 29, 2006
I usually pay little attention to a sign on a fence that reads ‘Beware of Dog’, unless I needed to go into that yard. Recently while walking in my neighborhood I saw signs posted on power poles that read ‘Lost: Brown Pit Bull with three white paws. Please call…’ Oh sure, make it sound like little Fido went out for a walk, forgot where he lived and you want people to help in his return. Let me rephrase what the sign says, ‘Beware: Dog on the loose that can chew your leg off’. Now when I walk the adrenalin is flowing and I’m watching out for anything brown, with or without paws, that makes a move. Until ‘Fido’ is found and those signs come down, I’m nervously looking over my shoulder. I’m sure the Apostle Peter hoped to evoke the same response when he wrote, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 NIV) Maybe it would help me to visualize Satan as a Pit Bull.
August 28, 2006
An August 25th CBS morning news segment reported on a movement known as ‘Growing in Grace’ that is sweeping across Latin America and now has 30 centers in the U.S. The group’s leader, Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda, claims the Second Coming has taken place and that he himself is Jesus. He preaches there is no sin, hell and no need for prayer. Not surprisingly one of the Biblical principals he does encourage is tithing. Miranda’s target group in the U.S. is the Latin community and his movement encourages confrontational protest marches against churches. I’m not as worried about what Miranda preaches as I am about what our mainstream churches are failing to preach. The current trend of feel good, self-help sermons does not equip believers to fight against half-truths and untruths. When the church fails in its responsibility to teach the whole Truth, i.e., false apostles, antichrists, sin, hell and the devil…can apostasy be far behind?
August 25, 2006
Churches today continue to search for programs, methods and trends that will open the floodgates of church growth. I’m sure our leader’s intentions are good, but I can’t help but wonder if they’ve overlooked Paul’s comments to the Corinthians, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.” (1 Cor 3:6 NIV) It appears to me that churches spending energy on planting and watering don’t have to worry about growing. I’m not trying to sound pessimistic, but in my church if God did open the floodgates of growth, someone would probably decide it needed to be controlled and managed.
August 24, 2006
Fox News recently had a program segment titled ‘Purpose Driven Life, ‘Can Rick Warren Change the World?’ Hmm…Jesus changed the world, the Word of God changes the world, and the Spirit can change the world …but can Rick Warren change the world? Warren wants to network churches (50 million evangelicals) to fight what he considers to be the five global giants; Spiritual emptiness, Egocentric leadership, Poverty, Disease, and Illiteracy; and Africa (emphasis on Aids) is his new global mission field. The reporter asked the question, “Has he (Warren) bitten off more than he can chew?” Because he is pastor and CEO of Saddleback church, Rick’s followers might not have a choice on whether or not to support his new mission. However as one of the 50 million evangelicals, I don’t want Rick Warren, Billy Graham or Pat Robertson selecting a mission project for my church to support. Please don’t get me wrong, I believe Rick Warren’s endeavor to be a worthy secular project, but I’ve looked at Scripture and I just can’t find his five global giants in the Great Commission, Matt 28:16:20. What say we ‘target’ the United Nations with his project rather than independent churches?
August 23, 2006
My father-in-law tells the story about a cousin who, at six-years old, still nursed at his mother’s breast. “Years ago women nursed as long as possible, but this kid was old enough to be embarrassed. If others were in the room he’d hide around a corner and get his mom’s attention by motioning ‘come here’ with his index finger.” Eeww, I’m embarrassed for the kid and the mother! I now have a new visual for one of John the Baptist’s arch enemies, Herodias. “So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him…” Mark 6:19a NIV. Just how big should a grudge get before you wean it?
August 22, 2006
As newlyweds my husband worked rotating shifts, while I worked 9-5. We met each other coming and going and were unable work together on the household chores. I soon became resentful doing chores at the end of my day when it appeared to me that Bill spent his after-work hours with his feet propped up reading Louis L’Amour books. Diplomacy, begging and temper tantrums failed to generate a helping hand, so I stopped cooking and doing his laundry. I’ve seen a similar shift in attitude at church in the last few years as we’ve hired additional staff. Our heart of willing service is growing weaker, but just how do you cultivate a volunteer spirit while it appears the staff has their feet propped up?
August 21, 2006
My 89 year-old neighbor fell down, and after a few days of misdiagnosis, it was discovered that she’d broken her back. Gwen is a widow and her only living relatives are two cousins in their 70’s living hundreds of miles away. In the world’s eyes she is not my responsibility, but God keeps bringing Scripture to my mind. There are all those verses about ‘neighbors’, and of course the Good Samaritan. Then there is the big one… “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27 NIV. After being admitted to the hospital Gwen called and left me the first voice mail. Giggling she said, “They’re treating me like a queen! I have a phone, a TV and I can order anything I want to eat by just picking up the phone. I’m having French toast for breakfast…and don’t forget to pick up my mail.” When additional phone calls began giving me instructions, I began leaving voice mails for God telling Him all the reasons I can’t be a fulltime care-giver to my neighbor. Eventually I heard God saying, “Did I ask you to be a ‘fulltime’ care-giver?” OK God…, for right now I can pick up her mail, take in the newspaper and share in her excitement of the queenly treatment she’s receiving…but is it really necessary to visit with her three times a day?
August 18, 2006
More than 40 men bound themselves together with a solemn oath to not eat anything until they had killed Paul, (Acts 23). Obviously Paul was spared, so I wonder how many meals these guys actually missed before they were released from the oath. Nowadays there appears to be commitment, an oath of sorts, in church eldership. One of our elders described the current leadership by saying, “This is the most unified staff and eldership that I’ve ever seen.” Ah, for the good old days when elders were individually directed by the Spirit, meetings lasted until midnight and agenda items were tabled until agreements could be reached. Factions aren’t all bad, “No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.” (1 Cor 11:19 NIV)
August 17, 2006
Although I haven’t actually visited other churches in town looking for a different place to worship, there are times I’ve thought about it. When our congregation gets out of sync, fed up with church politics and discouraged, we start asking one another, “If we left, where would we go?” Then we start down the list of other churches in town and discuss their pros and cons…and the problems that they too are having in their congregation. In the book of John when some disciples turned back and quit following Jesus he said to the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” To which Simon Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go?...” OK, so God hasn’t yet called me to jump over the fence, but sometimes the grass over there really does look greener!
August 16, 2006
Picture this: Cheerfully you put your tithes in the offering plate…and then the church sends your check back to you! At our church if you want an end-of-the-year receipt for a charitable contribution to the church you must give your offerings to the ‘general fund’ or to an elder approved ‘special project’. For instance, I can’t designate funds to the youth group or a visiting missionary because these aren’t elder approved designated projects. I can however, designate money to go toward a new baby grand piano or a new van, because these are on the elder’s approved list. The congregation is told that these restrictions are required by the IRS. What they don’t tell us is that they could, if they chose to do so, approve all of the outreach ministries in the church. I feel that restricting offerings to the leader’s pet projects hinders the Spirit’s ability to work in the heart of the giver. Of course, I suppose if we were given the opportunity to be stewards of our tithes and offerings we might never get that baby grand piano.
August 15, 2006
For years a large white gilded Bible sat openly displayed in front of the sanctuary on the communion table. Seldom used because of its size and weight, the King James Version Bible served as the center piece and focal point for the worship service. One would never suspect this symbol of Christendom was in fact a battle field. On one side was an octogenarian sister in Christ who was a longstanding member, and on the other side, the recently hired middle-aged minister. The disputed territory was 1 John 4:7-21. The senior saint, passionate about this portion of Scripture, wanted the Bible to always remain open to this passage. Just as determined, the preacher wanted the Bible opened to the text he was using in the weekly sermon. Week after week the pages would fly back and forth…at least the Bible was getting some use. Eventually the minister won a victory of sorts by removing the Bible from its place of honor. Interestingly the NIV header for this passage of Scripture is ‘God’s Love and Ours’.
August 14, 2006
There are all kinds of critics - food, movie and book - and I’ve often thought there should be a place for respected church critics. You know someone who could critique the church without being accused of criticizing and complaining. I’ll admit that I’m sometimes a sermon critic. There was once a stretch of a few months when the Sunday morning sermons just weren’t doing it for me. The Biblical content and application seemed lost amongst the preacher’s jokes, illustrations and family anecdotes. Frustrated, I decided to record the amount of time used for ‘fluff’ and the amount of time given to Biblical teaching and instruction. One Sunday, much to my consternation, I discovered that out of the 30 minute sermon only four and a half minutes were used for Scripture and application. I wonder what the Bereans would think of this. “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11 NIV
August 11, 2006
At one time a priority for our leaders was trying to keep ‘the sheep in the fold’. For instance during a year we might gain 85 in memberships, but loose 75. As new staff was hired one of the questions asked of them was, “Can you help us keep people from going out the back door?” Rather than continue to work on the revolving door issue, our elders have now taken a new position. “We believe that over the years there have been many ways tried, some worked and some didn’t. We have had people over the years come and go (for what ever reason that may be), we’ve had new people visit who found their place in the body elsewhere because we weren’t contemporary enough, and there were some who thought we were too contemporary. Some may or may not like the sermons. Some may or may not like the childcare arrangements…You get the point.” Actually, I think we are missing the point, as well as the happiness and rejoicing that comes with recovering lost sheep. (Matt 18:10-14; Lk 15:1-7).
August 10, 2006
I wrote a letter to our leaders concerning some of the issues surfacing in our church and the direction we were going. In response, their letter to me ended with the following, “We would encourage all members to be a shinning light everyday of their lives and to help the staff work through stumbling blocks that Satan puts in our way.” I’m assuming the ‘stumbling blocks’ are people who question the leadership and the direction they are taking the church. I’m a what? What I do find objectionable is that Satan is brought into the picture. Reading between the lines it’s easy to hear, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matt 16:23 NIV)
August 09, 2006
Geico’s lovable talking Gecko tells us, “A gecko can be trusted”. Not only does he sell auto insurance, but he’s an advertising icon on caps, mugs and baby blankets. With that British accent and those big black eyes his mum and dad must be very proud of him. According to his own words, this green bloke knows how to keep advertising from being ‘boring’ so people think they’re actually watching entertaining television. Do you suppose people who say the church and hymns are boring could be entertained by a talking gecko? Wait mate…that gecko already has a job and an ‘unclean’ icon (Lev 11:30) might not be well received. Let’s see, who would we trust?
August 08, 2006
My friend Kathy attends church in northern Colorado where they too are experiencing the tug of war in worship service. “For awhile the leadership was trying to force the music [contemporary] on us, but now it’s settled down a little. Our new minister really cares for people, so he’s trying to find a balance.” The compromise reached in Kathy’s church is that one service is contemporary and the other traditional. “Once a month in our service [traditional], the youth minister preaches and the praise team performs, so we still feel pressure to change.” With a gentle laugh Kathy continued, “But, our old timers just sit there with their arms crossed and wait for it to get over with.” The apostle Paul says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Eph 4:2-3 NIV
August 07, 2006
Because of rebellion, Israel wandered in the desert for forty years while a whole generation met their end and died off. I’m beginning to have an inkling of how that doomed generation must have felt. Recently the topic of hymns (or lack of hymns) came up in a meeting. Exasperated one of the elders said, “…then you’re asking for us, you’re asking for this church to cater to let’s say 200 people who want to hear hymns and tell the rest of us to go fly a kite ‘till these people die off?” Actually, I think I could live with that scenario. Right now I’d like to have a few hymns during the desert worship service, because after I ‘die off’, I don’t think I’m gonna care.
August 04, 2006
The selection process for elders in our church has been revised and stretched beyond Biblical requirements. A few years ago during interviews, an elder candidate was told that we were on the Purpose Driven Church path. The last qualifying question asked of the candidate was, “Can you get on board with that [Purpose Driven Church]?” It’s of no surprise that today all of our elders are in complete agreement with the direction the church is heading. After all, a nominee isn’t considered for the position of elder unless he’s already ‘on board’. Is it any wonder that members of the congregation are jumping ship? Man overboard…
August 03, 2006
I’m having trouble accepting a statement made by one of our leaders during a recent meeting. He said, “…anyone who speaks against the direction the church is going, in our mind [the elders], speaks against God.” Let me say I’m certain our elders honestly believe they are taking our church in the right direction. That being said, the assertion that they feel I am ‘speaking against God’ if I disagree with their direction for the church is mind blowing. One would expect this type of thinking from Jim Jones (Jonestown) and David Koresh (Branch Davidians), but not from leaders of mainstream Christianity. The Apostle Paul says, “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” (1 Thes. 5:21 NIV). The direction of the church can be tested.
August 02, 2006
In general, it seems like media coverage of the church and religion is often slanted, lopsided and liberal. Not long ago on a Fox News TV segment, Cal Thomas made an observation that most reporters aren’t educated in theology or church affairs, nor do they want to take time to educate themselves in those areas. Consequently, stories written about issues in the church reflect the reporter’s lack of knowledge. I’d like to say that’s no excuse and demand that the news be ‘fair and balanced’. The reality is that many Christians are just as guilty when it comes to educating themselves. We can’t expect the media to chew on religious meat when we ourselves are satisfied with milk. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
August 01, 2006
Last week our Sunday School teacher told the class about the Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmond, OK. Their Elder Council is proposing a bylaw change which would eliminate baptism as a prerequisite to membership. WOW…Who would have ever thought that a Baptist church might toss out baptism because they consider it to be stumbling block for membership? My sympathy goes out to members of Henderson Hills who disagree with the proposed changes and are grieving the loss of their Southern Baptist roots. According to their web site, baptism is still important, but not for membership. In its make-over, the traditional church has been implanted, liposuctioned and bypassed to make her irresistible to non-believers. Just one more facelift or series of botox injections and I wonder if Jesus will be able to recognize His Bride!