July 31, 2014
I recently heard a sermon about “Salt and Light” based on Matthew 5:13-16. The theme of the message was how believers can change the world. The accompanying illustrations were examples we’ve all heard many times before, and they were being served to a seasoned audience. I think many of our preachers could take a lesson from the Food Network reality show “Chopped.” Four guest chefs are given a basket of 3-5 secret ingredients and they must incorporate all the ingredients into a dish that is restaurant quality. There chefs compete in three category rounds — appetizer, entrée and dessert, using everything from pound cake to tuna fish. The contestants cannot expect to win the contest if they simply put a chunk of tuna on a slice of pound cake and serve it to the judges. Likewise, preachers should not expect to motivate mature believers by simply telling us about the properties of salt and light.
July 30, 2014
As I visit churches and engage people in conversation they often want to give me their denomination information, or send me to a web site that explains what “we” believe. I’m now realizing I do the same thing when I greet visitors at my church. It’s as though the denominational information helps define the church character. However, telling a visitor that my church is an independent Christian Church doesn’t really reveal what we believe. I’m now thinking I need to change my introduction to something more reflective of Jesus. So what do I believe? The confession I made at baptism may be a good place to start, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
July 29, 2014
My neighbor’s cat has expanded her territory and laid claim to a patch of grass in my backyard. Now, before Bill can even mow the grass, he has to remove five dead mice and one bird. Obviously the cat is not hungry; she’s just demonstrating her prowess on a grass altar. It does give me pause to think that some of the things I place on the altar before God are also dead. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Ro 12:1 NIV).
July 28, 2014
A fellow believer boasts, and he has records to back up the boast, that he is the most productive salesman in his field. Interestingly he also publicly bemoans that some people in the business community are saying negative things about him, which is hurting his business and reputation — and he wants the comments to STOP! From the world’s perspective he might garner some sympathy. However from a biblical perspective, God has faithfully and abundantly provided for the man who, by his own admission, is successful. “A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the LORD will prosper” (Proverbs 28:25 NIV).
July 25, 2014
Our cucumbers are vining and they climb on anything they can reach. The other day I had to laugh when the tendrils of one young vine even reached out and put a strangle hold on an elm seed. I think sometimes our evangelistic efforts, especially with family members, resemble tendrils. In our zeal we forget what Jesus said about those who belong to Him, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (Jn 10:28-29 NIV).
July 24, 2014
Last Sunday I visited an independent Christian Church and as I scanned their bulletin for the order of service I read, “Gathering times: Sunday 9:00 am.” The reasoning behind replacing the term worship with gathering gave me pause. Certainly there are always changes in church terminology, but in this case I sensed a loss in the spirit of worship; and I wonder if the Lord feels a similar loss. I thought of the old hymn “Shall We Gather at the River” (1864), refrain:
“Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.”
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.”
To me, gathering with saints is not the same as gathering with the saints in worship.
July 23, 2014
Last week a Jehovah Witness showed up at my door and before he gained any traction with his ministry, I turned the conversation around and told him about my ministry. I explained I was going to every church in town in order to write articles about the various worship services. He gave me the service times for the Kingdom Hall, but I doubt he took me seriously about visiting. I had to laugh at the look of surprise on Bill’s face when I showed up the following Sunday. My host understood my visit, and that I was firmly planted in my own church, but I’m sure the other members of the congregation thought Bill had landed a live one. I was not prepare for the outgoing welcome given me by this group. Well over 20 people, out of a total of 97, approached me to introduce themselves, shake my hand, and ask where I was from. Much to my chagrin protestant churches don’t come close to this outpouring of welcome.
July 22, 2014
The publisher of our local paper is moving on to a new community and in his good-by editorial he says, “Lastly, there’s always a place for an organization like a newspaper, to help lead a community and make sure those who are in leadership positions are doing what we expect of them” (Montrose Daily Press, 7-20-2014). Interestingly, the Society of Professional Journalist sees things a little differently in their four point code of ethics:
· Seek truth and report it honestly, fairly and courageously.
· Minimize harm by treating sources, subjects, and colleagues as human beings, deserving of respect.
· Act independently (free of obligation to any interest group other than the public rights to know).
· Be accountable (abide by high standards; correct mistakes promptly).
Sadly we believers do the same thing when we put our own spin on God’s code of ethics. Our personal interpretation of God’s Word should never change His clearly stated intent.
July 21, 2014
I am somewhat dismayed by the lack of greeting extended to visitors in the various churches. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the worship service numbers eight or 300. My experience is showing that extending a hand in fellowship is sorely lacking. I have to laugh when I consider that the battle cry for many churches today is, “making and maturing disciples for Christ.” I’m here to tell you that if we can’t even welcome strangers into our worship, it’s beyond me that we think we can make disciples.
July 18, 2014
Once in a while I’ll have a weak moment and respond to a political robocall. I suppose in the back of my mind I think participating in such a poll gives me somewhat of a voice on the political landscape. In a recent survey I went through the litany of political candidate preference questions — press 1 for very positive, 2 for somewhat positive, 3 for no opinion, 4 for somewhat negative, and 5 for very negative. Then, taking a strange turn the question was, “How likely are you to lease a car in the next year?” Press 1 for …” I still have no idea if I participated in a political poll, a marketing survey, or a combination of the two. Sometimes we approach biblical instruction in the same manner as taking a survey — we don’t want to be obedient to the Word, we simply want to weigh in and give our opinion.
July 17, 2014
A Dear Abby letter writer (7-5-14) was in a difficult situation because a friend asked her to read his self-published novel and then write a “great” review to post on-line. There were many flaws and errors in the novel, hence the dilemma. I was surprised when the communist advised, “Find SOMETHING you liked about the book and mention that ...” Such reasoning might be appropriate in a one on one friendship situation, but I question the wisdom of such advice when it affects others looking for truthful reviews. Abby determined that because the reviewer wasn’t a literary critic, her credibility wouldn’t suffer. I’m reminded of the incident when Moses sent men to explore the land of Canaan. Upon their return, “They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large” (Num 13:27-28b, 30 NIV). The first part of the report was accurate, but in their fear they had to find SOMETHING to say. Immediately Caleb silenced the people with the truth, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
July 16, 2014
Bill picked his first tomato of the year and put in in the window sill to ripen a bit more. I admired the yellow Brandywine, but he said with a sheepish laugh, “Yeah, that one I’ve been keeping an eye on — and waiting for it to turn red.” It strikes me that many of us may be doing something similar when we look at the Fruit of the Spirit, not only in others, but also in ourselves. We often use the Fruit of the Spirit as a measure, or a grade for righteousness. For instance if we lose our temper we equate it with lacking patience and the need to pray for more patience. I’m now wondering about a spiritual color chart and the fact that it is God assessing the ripeness and He determines the color of the fruit in my life.
July 15, 2014
Last Sunday I visited a church that is steeped in ritual and tradition, yet offers both a traditional and a contemporary service. The messages for each service are identical, but the music and accompaniment set them apart; as does the attendance. I’m told that the average attendance for the contemporary service is 80, but I chose to visit the traditional service where, including the clergy, we numbered eight. The environment was an interesting mix of peace and quiet — so quiet that I could hear the subtle page turning of my own Bible. As the worship came to a close we sang, “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” and it brought to mind that whether we number eight or 80, we are all, “soldiers of the cross.”
July 14, 2014
Yesterday I attended Christian Science and the entire service was structured around pre-scheduled readings. There were nine of us present, but absolutely no introductions or visiting. The regular members didn’t even speak to one another or ask, “How was your week?” The two ladies presiding over the service were called Reader One and Reader Two. I can only describe their voices as poetic monotone — the volume, pacing and rhythm remained constant. I was taken aback because there was absolutely no personality in the presentation. At the conclusion of the service I mentioned to Reader One that there seemed to be lack of any identity in the service and ever as a leader her name was never given. She was thrilled. Paraphrasing she said, “Oh, that’s good to hear. That means we’ve accomplished our purpose. We want to be impersonal! We don’t want anyone to hear or see our personalities, we want them to hear only the message.” For me, it was the impersonal message that spoke volumes.
July 11, 2014
The guest preacher prefaced the sermon by complementing the church on their reputation as an intelligent congregation. I perked up thinking I would hear expository preaching, but the message turned out more topical in nature. The pastor shot out rapid fire Scripture references that only a seasoned believer could capture, and I wondered about the novice Christian in the audience. If the Scripture references flew over their heads, the only thing left for them to capture would be the jokes, illustrations and stories. My thoughts turned to the Bereans, “…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).
July 10, 2014
Recently I attended a toxic governmental meeting and the air was filled with truths, half-truths and lies. Sadly, some of those making false accusations are professed Christians and it gives me pause to see how easily they flip a hypocrisy switch and go from witness to false witness. Experiencing such a display of poor behavior leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth and I struggle with how to respond to these folks when we again cross paths. David, a man after God’s own heart, shares his solution in a prayer, “I do not sit with deceitful men, nor do I consort with hypocrites” (Psalm 26:4 NIV).
July 09, 2014
When we built a woodworking shop for Bill it freed up the garage and now, for the first time ever, I have a place to park the car out of the weather. Recently a friend said, “I drive by your house and think I’d like to stop in for a quick minute, but I can never tell if you’re home. Are you parking in the garage?” I wonder if the same might be said of believers when others pass by and see no evidence of the Spirit being home. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self–control. Against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23 NIV).
July 08, 2014
I’m starting to see a pattern of imbalance immerge in sermons, mediations, and church announcements. There is often more filler — jokes, personal stories, anecdotes, and illustrations, than there is text, or actual focus on the subject at hand. Certainly a message or information can be enhanced by examples and even Jesus told stories and parables to illustrate His message. However, we don’t hear Jesus bridging His thoughts by making personal jokes about His relationship with the disciples or saying, “This is my mother’s favorite passage of Scripture.” I’m wondering if the time set aside for worship of the Lord isn’t being undermined by the many extemporaneous comments of the day.
July 07, 2014
Yesterday I attended a church that had a patriotic themed worship music. With robust and rousing enthusiasm we sang all verses of, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “America the Beautiful,” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It was not simply the words of the songs and the tempo on the music that united the fellowship. There was no choir, no worship team, and no assortment of musical instruments in accompaniment; there was only one talented pianist and one strong, capable song leader. It has literally been years since I’ve worshiped in a service where the lone worship leader used his voice and hand signals, as though conducting a choir, to bring out the best out of the audience.
July 04, 2014
Yesterday I attended an Eagle Cane presentation for veterans. The walking canes, which consist of a hand carved eagle head handle and lathe turned shaft, are the handiwork of local carvers and wood turners. All veterans are eligible to receive a cane, they simple need to fill out an application. Adding a personal touch to the cane, the service member’s name, rank, branch of service and duty station are etched into the cane. All of the presentation were touching, but for the three WWII vets, who were unaware they were being recognized until their name was called, it was an emotional event. “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isiah 40:30-31 NIV).
July 03, 2014
As I talk to people about attending different churches and reporting on their worship service, some of my friends express concern about a church that may have an off-day on the day I visit. For instance it wouldn’t be a normal Sunday if there were a substitute preacher, a crisis in the congregation, or praise team members missing because of the church camp out. Betty said, “You’ll just need to go back again and give them another chance.” I had to laugh. I have a list of 74 churches to visit and somehow I can’t see going back to each one until they have a normal service. I suspect many believers use similar reasoning when they think about the Lord’s return. They too hope it occurs on a normal day when their spiritual ducks are in a row. Jesus said, “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Luke 12:40 NIV).
July 02, 2014
When my grandkids visit and there is a lull in family time they like to play video games on our cellphones. I have to admit that the games come in handy if I have other things I need to do like fix lunch or return phone calls. Recently during a worship service I watched three children entertaining themselves on video games and I had mixed emotions. I wondered if this was any different than my generation giving children something to do to keep them busy during a sermon — books to read; pencil and paper to draw with; crayons and coloring books. I sought an answer from two reliable sources, 11 year-old David and 8 year-old Lydia. Both kids agreed that there is a difference and viewed playing video games during worship as a problem. David said, “There are so many games to play you would never even look up to hear anything that was being said. You need to listen to at least some of the sermon!” Paul reminds us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom 12:2 NIV).
July 01, 2014
As I visit different churches I’m struck by the connection, or lack of connection, I feel with the music selections. One church sang only praise songs which were worshipful, but I’d never heard any of them before. Another church sang traditional hymns, most I knew, but a couple were unfamiliar. When we sang “Onward, Christian Soldiers” I was immediately transported to a familiar place and I felt at home. My thoughts turned to folks who’ve drifted away from the Lord. Hopefully they will find some sort of familiarity when, and if, they hear the Spirit tell them, “Get up, take your mat and go home” (Matt 9:6b NIV).