September 30, 2014
Recently I was pleasantly surprised by a rich sermon from a Ugandan Presbyterian preacher. Based on Philippians 2:12-16, the theme of the pastor’s message was, “working out your salvation” and it contained the urgency of the day. What first captured my attention was how he illustrated his points. Rather than using modern day examples, anecdotes, and jokes; each point was illustrated with other passages of Scripture. The message was absent of filler and point after point was supported with a different biblical text. We don’t hear such sermons in America, but I suspect our preachers are simply delivering what the audience wants to hear. “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4:3-4 NIV).
September 29, 2014
An insert in a church bulletin listed special prayer requests for individuals, the country, and our military personnel. The list also included the amount of their last month’s offering, along with the budgeted amount needed. In this particular case the offerings exceeded the budget, so I mentally categorized it as a praise, rather than a prayer request. However, I’m conflicted when the church budget is listed as a special prayer need. It leaves me wondering if the prayer is directed to God, or the membership. Jesus said we should pray to the Father, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matt 6:11 NIV).
September 26, 2014
Many of the sermons I’ve been hearing lately are based on only 2-3 verses of Scripture. While there may be additional verse thrown in here and there, most of the Bible text is surrounded with stories, illustrations, and anecdotes. I wonder what Paul’s audience in the Jewish synagogue at Berea would have thought about today’s sermons. “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). I think I’m a little jealous of the Bereans; not only of their great eagerness, but also because Paul’s sermons had infinitely more Scripture to examine.
September 25, 2014
For many years I’ve interviewed members of the church and written their stories of faith for a newsletter. With many people it was like pulling teeth to get the interviews. Even when I assured them they would have final approval over the story and that I wouldn’t write anything they didn’t want me to write, they remained hesitant. In fact two people, after they had given their approval to the finished story, changed their mind at the last minute and decided against having it published. I’m now writing a series of leadership articles for a local online publication and I have yet to have anyone turn me down for an interview. I’m bewildered by the difference in responses. Those in the world are excited to share their strengths, weaknesses and successes; but sadly, people of faith often fail to take advantage of opportunities to share their testimony. Jesus said, “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:15-16 NIV).
September 24, 2014
I read over the counter medication labels in order to match my symptoms to the medication stated purpose — whether it’s for pain, burns, or itching. On more than one occasion I’ve swallowed the pill or rubbed on the ointment before reading the “do not warning.” Lately I’ve had a lingering itch on the back of my head so I grabbed a tube of anti-itch medication and it was only after I’d applied the medicine that I read the full label, “Do not use on scalp …” Many of us do something similar when we read the Bible looking for a spiritual cure — we simply don’t read the spiritual warnings. Jesus healed the man who had been an invalid for 38 years and later found the man at the temple. Verbalizing the warning label Jesus said, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:14 NIV).
September 23, 2014
Recently I attended a church that was in the midst of a pledge drive and the preacher made an impassioned plea for the audience to put their faith in action with their giving. However, I think he went a little too far when he told the congregation the weekly dollar amount that he and his wife had pledged to give. It became even more awkward when he went on to say that he didn’t expect anyone else to match his contribution. Jesus said, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matt 6:1 NIV).
September 22, 2014
A few weeks ago the President took criticism for showing up at a press conference without a necktie. His casual swagger was un-presidential and inappropriate for the seriousness of the situation being addressed. Yesterday I attended yet another church where the worship leader, or a member of the team, was barefoot. I really don’t get it. These folks didn’t come to church without wearing shoes, so they are removing them before taking their place on the platform. I suppose they could be having a God-to-Moses type conversation. “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Ex 3:5 NIV).
September 19, 2014
Australian authorities thwarted an ISIS terrorist plot that included abductions and videotaping civilian beheadings. Although the 15 people arrested had not yet murdered anyone, it wasn’t for lack of preparation. I’m reminded however, that Jesus equates the anger these people harbor in their hearts with the actual deed itself. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matt 5:21-22b NIV).
September 18, 2014
Fox News hosted a panel discussion on how deserving, or undeserving, today’s tarnished sports figures are to be in the hall of fame. Justifying the lack of role models one commentator remarked, “Ok, so what you are saying is that it’s the hall of fame, not the hall of saints.” I’ve got to laugh and wonder who exactly he expects to find in the hall of saints. “He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:9-10 NIV).
September 17, 2014
Recently I received an anonymous comment on a blog post that said, “WOW just what I was looking for. Came here by searching for boat mooring covers.” First I laughed at absurdity, then I laughed at the spiritual truth contained in the sentiments. As believers we find what we are looking for in Christ — but many of us didn’t start out searching for a Savior. Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt 4:19 NIV).
September 16, 2014
My church leadership is considering writing a purpose statement and I suspect the gist of the statement will have something to do making disciples for Christ. Looking objectively at the current church dynamic, we are an older demographic who encourages, supports and ministers to others — but discipleship in not in the fore front of our minds. I understand the purpose of a purpose statement. However, I have to wonder if man’s efforts aren’t in some cases trying to re-purpose the body of Christ. Paul can be speaking individually or collectively when he says, “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body” (1 Cor 12:18-20 NIV).
September 15, 2014
I’ve put off washing the windows in my house because every couple of weeks a few rain drops mixed with dust blew would in from Utah. Finally last weekend Bill and I started washing the windows and the whole world became brighter. It really was as though a veil had been lifted. I could see my neighborhood more clearly, but strangely, I felt a venerability that neighbors or passers-bye could also see into the house more clearly. According to Paul, a veil covers the hearts of those who are under the law and it is only through Christ that the veil is removed. It had not registered with me that the veil being lifted is not merely for the benefit of the one who can now see clearly, but also for the passers-by. “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever–increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18 NIV).
September 12, 2014
When the greeters of a local church learned I was visiting their church in order to write an article about the experience, they stumbled all over themselves to make me welcome, “Come in, come in. We’ve got the best coffee and food in town.” I laughed and caught them off guard when I ask, “So, how are you with the Word of God?” They were quick to tell me the regular pastor was out of town and pleaded with me to come back in two weeks when he would again be back in the pulpit. I understand where these ladies are coming from since we all want visitors to the church to experience the best the congregation has to offer. Unfortunately, many of us are like Martha and more focused on first impressions than we are on the one thing that is needed. “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 NIV)
September 11, 2014
After visiting some churches it’s been interesting to shake hands with pastors who seem to look through me, rather than at me. There is no recognition that I might be a member, nor is there any attempt to make a connection, it’s simply, “Have a good day.” The analogy of the shepherd and his flock comes to mind. So often we focus on the sheep hearing and knowing the shepherd voice, but there is also the element of the shepherd knowing his sheep. These pastors are oblivious to whether I belong to their flock or someone else’s flock. For all they know I could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a thief or a robber; someone who is there to steal, kill and destroy. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep” (Jn 10:14-15 NIV).
September 10, 2014
Some months ago an extended family (parents and adult married children) placed membership and our church has ministered to them in various ways. Their attendance is somewhat sporadic and even when they attend, they often come in late, leave early, or go out in the middle of services to answer a cell phone call. Recently, while attending another church, I stumbled into these same folks and immediately recognized the, “getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar” expression that ran across their faces. There was no doubt they were established in this other congregation and my mental knee-jerk reaction wasn’t very Christian. However, after some thought there is a sense of relief. I can now offer them the hand of fellowship, without the feeling the obligation of discipleship.
September 09, 2014
I visited a large congregation that seemed to be a combination of High-Church and Low-church, seasoned with a touch of modern secularism. On the back of their 10 full-page newsletter/bulletin were blocks of advertisements from local businesses — everything from a realtor, to a plumber, to a liquor store. Among the advertisements was a larger banner ad that said, “Support our Advertisers.” I was reminded of the Lord arriving in Jerusalem, “Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves” (Matt 21:12 NIV). I’m wondering what the Lord thinks as He walks through today's house of prayer and worship.
September 08, 2014
When we say the Lord’s Prayer in a congregational setting many of us are tentative about which translation to use, whether it’s, “Forgive us our trespasses…” or “Forgive us our debts.…” Recently I attended a Catholic church where we were collectively saying the Lord’s Prayer when two times during the prayer the priest deviated from the text, inserted his own words, and then picked up again where he left off in the original prayer. I suppose the priest may have been trying to personalize the prayer to his congregation, but I found the revision disconcerting. This was not a situation of commentary, nor of expository preaching, but rather re-writing. I wonder how the Lord feels about someone remodeling His model prayer.
September 05, 2014
I hate hearing that some churches are cliquish, but there is some validity to the charge. In high school teens develop a group identity that excludes others, but that’s not the scenario I see in the church. I sense that cliques in the church are the result of people trying to shape and mold the church. For instance, if the leadership determines the focus of the church is on families, those who are not a family unit with children — empty-nesters, singles, childless or seniors —will naturally gravitate to others of similar status. It’s not that they don’t care about families, but building their niche fellowship results in the appearance of a clique. Shaping a church is self-serving and I can’t help but wonder if the focus will change when the leadership themselves become empty-nesters, widows or seniors.
September 04, 2014
During a luncheon last week I sat across from a woman who lost her husband two years ago and she was having a hard time adjusting to being single. “It’s not that I’m not social, but it was my husband who usually started conversations and I joined in.” The woman has no family or church family in the area, and although she visited a couple of churches, none were a good fit. I invited her to my church, but I also told her about my project of visiting churches and reporting on the experience. I was a little taken aback by her enthusiasm in wanting to read the articles in hopes that they would help her find a place to worship. For most of us, evangelistic efforts revolve around inviting people to our own church. I have to admit that it has never crossed my mind to offer anyone a referral.
September 03, 2014
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) hides behind a religious structure to justify their terrorist behavior. It’s going to be interesting to see how the flower children of the 1960’s and the New Agers are going to include ISIL into their visions of world peace and “all paths lead to God” mantras. Actually, all people of faith will be tested on their views of acceptance, inclusiveness and tolerance. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (Jn 14:6-7 NIV).
September 02, 2014
Last night I watched a segment of the American Ninja Warriors finals. This is a timed run through an obstacle course and the contestants will often play to the crowd before they attempt some obstacles, or after they accomplish the feat. It’s not unusual to see the contestant get cocky about his prowess, take a misstep, fall into the water below and become disqualified. One young man made a perfect run, but failed to realize how much time was being eaten up by adoring fans. Time ran out two-tenths of a second before he hit the buzzer. In disbelief and with tears welling up in his eyes he managed a brief interview with the show’s co-host; then turned to his friends waiting on the sidelines and in emotional distress collapsed in their arms. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb 12:1 NIV).
September 01, 2014
During a church visit I ran into a familiar face with whom I’d fellowshipped with for many years. I was taken aback because our past church and her current place of worship are at opposite ends of the denominational scale. Her new place of worship practices infant baptism, absolution of sins, closed communion, and liturgy. It was nice to reconnect with her, but she was quick to say, “I left the other church because of the music. The music here is a better fit for me.” I’m really glad that my friend found a comfortable place to worship, but it does give me pause to think of others who have been alienated from their home church. I realize I’ve been naïve to assume that people who disassociate with one fellowship will always seek out the same denominational bent elsewhere. I can’t help but wonder if many of the drastic worship changes imposed in mainstream churches haven’t in fact sent believers into the arms of cult religions.