January 31, 2007
Without exception, every book I’ve ever read on communication and public speaking stipulates that a speaker is to avoid the subjects of politics and religion. I suppose the originator of this rule was just trying to keep the peace. However, the reality is, this rule has duck-taped the mouths of Christians. Scripture tells us to spread the gospel, but the world says, ‘By all means spread the gospel, just don’t talk about religion while you’re doing it.’ According to Paul, “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom...” (Col 2:20-23a NIV) Can you picture anyone telling Paul that he had to avoid the topics of politics and religion?
January 30, 2007
If you’ve ever been to Disneyland with young children and heard the song ‘It’s a Small World’, you know that it can keep replaying in your head for days to come. Actually, even the mention of the title can trigger the song to go off in my brain. Similarly, I find that many of today’s praise choruses are highly infectious, running circles in my mind and going nowhere. Please don’t misunderstand; it’s not the fault of the music or the lyrics. I just think our churches are full of music directors who are repeat offenders.
January 29, 2007
Our leaders recently prefaced their opinion on membership by saying that our, “…standing with Christ, commitment to His kingdom, or eternal life” are not dependant on membership in XYZ Church (I would agree). That being said, we’ve been given a new litmus test for membership. We’ve been told that in order for new members to join the church and for current members to retain their membership, they must annually sign a ‘membership commitment form’. Somehow this just feels like I’m subscribing to a magazine. The newsletter describes it as, “…just an avenue by which you can state your loyalty to this local body…” I never knew that loyalty could be as simple as signing my name once a year.
January 26, 2007
Solicited pledges and commitments in the church always cause me to stop and ponder. A recent sermon titled ‘Membership’ included distributing a Membership Commitment Slip in the worship service. Members, and those desiring to become members, were asked to commit to a lifestyle of Surrender, Study, Sacrificial Giving, Service, Sharing Jesus Christ and Submission. Once signed, participants were to place the commitment slips in a basket in front of the auditorium. Having been a member of one church for 40 plus years, I’m not sure how much more committed I’m expected to get. I can’t help but wonder how my husband would respond if, after 37 years of marriage, I were to ask him to sign a Marriage Commitment Slip. Hmm…
January 25, 2007
On Fox News I caught just a snippet of the ticker scrolling across the TV screen. In part, the report said a court in Saudi Arabia sentenced a drug lord to memorize the Koran in six months. If he failed to do so he faced lengthy prison time. I find this a fascinating attempt at rehabilitation. Certainly the criminal will be a changed man if in fact he does the memorization. This sentence could never be handed down in the USA…but just imagine the changes in criminals if they had to memorize the Bible.
January 24, 2007
I just watched ‘Seabiscuit’, a movie about a famous race horse. Referring to the spirit-broken horse the trainer says, “He needs to learn what it is to be a horse again.” I believe this thought applies to some Christians as well. Estranged from the church for many years, one of the girls raised in the church recently moved home. When Sally’s (name changed) husband was suddenly faced with a medical crisis, she said, “I hope somebody up there is listening.” I’m thinking that Sally needs to learn what it is to be a Spirit-filled Christian again.
January 23, 2007
I attended a community leadership class where speakers often referred to the Master Plans of both the city and the county. Listening to comments about growth and vision, followed by questions of ‘What do you want this valley to look like in 25 years?’, I was struck by how this train of thought has infiltrated the church. Many churches today seem more interested in molding and shaping the future, than they are in dealing with the present. I find it absurd. Really, can you image the Apostles brainstorming about the early church and asking one another, ‘What do we want this church to look like in 25 years?’ Shouldn’t we rather spend time on implementing the plan that’s already in place…the Master’s Plan?
January 22, 2007
Most Sunday school teachers and Bible study leaders will keep previously used lesson material in a file just in case they have to teach the same topic again. Not so with my friend Rick, who tosses out all his notes and lessons as soon as they’re taught. “I always thought if I used old lessons I’d be more dependent on them than I would on the Spirit. Even if I were to teach the same subject or book of the Bible, the people in class aren’t the same and it’s likely that the Spirit will have a different message for them. For me as a teacher it’s important to stay open to the Spirit’s leading.” As I think of Jesus teaching on the importance of pouring new wine into new wineskins, it’s probably time for me to discard a few of my old wineskins.
January 19, 2007
I once knew a woman who was so absorbed with her family that every conversation included their activities, accomplishments and plans. I’m discovering that where the family of God is concerned, I’m guilty of the same charge. As I let go of volunteer service in the church and look for areas of service in the community, I’m struggling to carry on conversations without relating everything to church. It’s as though I have to change vocabularies and learn a new language. I’d share my frustration with my new civic minded friends, but I don’t think they can relate to the Tower of Babel.
January 18, 2007
When the Apostles were having trouble keeping up with all the needs of the early church they parceled out the work load. While they concentrated on prayer and the ministry of the word of God, other disciples were chosen to ‘wait on tables’. One wouldn’t think that waiting on tables would require much in the area of credentials. After all, how hard could it be to distribute food to the widows? The job description however, required that those selected must have the reputation of being “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6). Stephen, one of seven men selected was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” and “full of God’s grace and power”. I sense there is no job in the church so small that it doesn’t require spiritually high standards.
January 17, 2007
At one time the commitment to marriage seemed simple, 'for better or for worse, in sickness and in health ,for richer or poorer, ‘till death do us part…I do.' When the popularity of prenuptials came on the scene things got more detailed and complicated before the ‘I dos’ were exchanged. For almost 100 years our church’s Bylaws were relatively scant and a quick read at two pages in length. However, in a couple of weeks seven and a half pages of new and improved Bylaws will be presented to the congregation for affirmation. In Paul’s day believers wanted to crawl back under the old law...today we just make up new ones.
January 16, 2007
I give the guys in my family a bad time for reading product instructions only when all else fails. Recently I happened to read the directions on some products I’ve use for years and was surprised to find that my dishwasher detergent label says, ‘For best results, separate the silver from the stainless’. My toothpaste for sensitive teeth says, ‘Warning – When using this product do not use longer that 4 weeks unless recommended by a dentist or physician.’ In the church, as in life, we can also stand guilty of overlooking instructions. How often we turn to one another for their advice, rather than turning to the Scripture. I asked my dentist about the toothpaste warning and although he knew it was on the packaging, he didn’t know why it was there…he suggested I call the manufacturer. What a concept…Go to the source.
January 15, 2007
In the book of Luke as Jesus is describing the ministry of John the Baptist, a parenthetical thought is inserted in Scripture. “(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)” Luke 7:29-30 NIV. It’s not surprising to me that an individual might reject God’s purpose, but as a group the Pharisees and experts in the law might well have numbered 6,000. I find it frightening that these religious leaders collectively rejected God’s purpose for themselves.
January 12, 2007
There are Biblical accounts where people believed in Jesus, but would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue. Although we may not be aware of it…or we don’t want to admit it, the Fear Factor can still be seen in our congregations today. Both members and leaders alike use Biblical and spiritual intimidation as tools for controlling the flock. Although we all react differently in a fearful situation, I personally like Joseph of Arimathea’s response. Secretly a disciple of Jesus because he feared the Jews, he boldly went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Joseph is a good example in how one can be fearfully bold.
January 11, 2007
In my mind I often elevate people in the church who are in leadership roles. I suppose it stems from some of those scriptures that call us to honor and double honor those in authority. Paul, in referring to Christ says, “And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” (Col 1:18 NIV) I know that Christ is the head of ‘the’ church, but my tendency is to think of the Chairman of the elders or the Senior Pastor as being the head of ‘my’ local church. Obviously there is only one Head. I’m going to have to make a concerted effort, even if it does feel awkward, to visualize those in authority as being an elbow, a liver, or just another toe.
January 10, 2007
I’ve recently participated in two separate groups that are designed to promote leadership skills in individuals. In one meeting I was given the role of leader, but when leading the proceedings in a specific area the president gently said, “No, we don’t do that.” I really wanted to ask, ‘Who are we, and why can’t we do that?’ In the other session, our group of five was told to brainstorm and write down ideas. I offered a suggestion to which one of the organizers said, “Oh, they won’t go for that.” Again I’d like to ask, ‘So, who are they and why won’t they go for it?’ Very often we in the church put similar stumbling blocks in one another’s way. Whether servant or leader, zeal and enthusiasm can easily be stifled by hearing, ‘No, we don’t do it that way’. Or ‘Oh, they won’t go for it.’ Someone needs to remind us that in the church, they and we…are me.
January 09, 2007
Not too long ago on Fox News a former CIA Senior Analyst was asked about CIA leaks. The analyst noted he wasn’t nearly as worried about the leaks as he was about what the leaks revealed. I wouldn’t say we in the church leak…but we do grumble. Certainly our desire is for the church to be peaceful, with everyone in agreement and of one accord. However the reality is that we, like the early church, have conflicts and differences of opinion. It’s easy to point the accusatory finger of grumbling at each other, but grumbling may be a symptom, not an illness. I think the question we should be asking ourselves is, what does the grumbling reveal?
January 08, 2007
When my children were growing up there was a time that our church program wasn’t meeting their spiritual needs. We found that worshipping at our church, going to youth group at the Baptist church and attending Bible study with the Presbyterians worked well for them. At the time I felt we innovatively dealt with our problem, but the religious landscape of today is revealing our solution wasn’t unique at all. Many people are flitting from church to church and program to program in order to have their needs met. On Sunday mornings we often have people coming to a portion of our worship service and then hustling out the door to make it to another church for their program. Without reservation or excuse, worshippers are sampling from a smorgasbord of programs and activities…and they’re not limiting themselves to any particular denomination. Actually I find it appealing to think one could listen to the best preacher in town, scoot over to another church for the best Sunday school teacher in town and then drop by another church for the best fellowship in town. I love buffets!
January 05, 2007
Recently one of my fellow church members said, “I don’t know why you don’t trust the leaders.” Actually I don’t consider questioning situations and motives as being a trust issue. I’ll admit that I’m a suspicious person by nature, but I don’t believe that to be a negative character trait. For me, blind trust is closely akin to the blind leading the blind. Paul tells us to ‘test everything’ (1 Thess 5:21) and Luke observed that the Bereans examined the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul was saying was true’ (Acts 17:11). I can’t quite picture Paul turning to the Bereans saying, ‘So what...you don’t trust me?’
January 04, 2007
Even in death former President Ford continues to be a healing balm to the nation. His funeral was an instrument that drew leaders together in dignified respect to the office of the President. I saw sparks of patriotism ignited by anthems, uniforms and flags. Certainly God was glorified in prayer, hymns and Scripture. Honestly, the proceedings left me feeling as though I been to worship. In an atmosphere full of reflection and honor, I didn’t have to look for God amongst video clips and loud redundant music. The service was choreographed to lay the President to rest, but I think those privileged to watch the proceedings are the one’s who have found rest.
January 03, 2007
Years ago our church interviewed a potential candidate for the position of senior pastor. I thought the man’s sample sermon was impressive, but a retired preacher lightheartedly told me, “I’ve never met a preacher yet that doesn’t have at least one good sermon.” Sizing each other up, the candidate and the church at first appeared compatible. However as groups and committees met, the candidate’s conversation began revealing his list of must-haves, I suppose he felt we wouldn’t take care of his needs. One stipulation was that our out-going senior pastor had to leave town. We’ve all heard horror stories of a new pastor living in the shadow of the old pastor. It’s understandable to want a leadership transition to go smoothly, but this situation just smacks of ego. James and John showed us some ego when the asked Jesus if they could sit on his right and his left in glory, but at least they didn’t ask the other disciples to leave town.
January 02, 2007
During the most recent edition of the TV show Survivor, the host gave contestants on the two tribes the option to mutiny. Each individual had 15 seconds to make their decision, leaving no time to confer with one another. Two players took the opportunity and joined the other tribe changing the dynamics of both teams. I wouldn’t exactly say we have mutinies in the church, but on occasion we do have people jumping ship. To be honest, I do a little rejoicing in my heart when my church gains a new member from another church…especially if that new member is a ‘body builder’ and ready to actively contribute to our tribe. On the flip side of the coin, I’m discouraged when biblically well founded teachers and leaders hop into a life boat and paddle to the church across the street. Actually, God can and does use people in both scenarios, but it can take a year or more for people to establish their credentials in a new congregation. My regret is for the loss that any of our churches suffer while gifts of service are set aside until a person can build their relationship in another church.