December 31, 2014
On his web site a pastor had two erroneous comments: “Churches who do not give prayer a high priority are churches without God’s power.” And, “A church member not in a small group or Sunday school class is not fully committed to the body.” During a recent sermon the speaker, an older gentleman, was substituting for the regular pastor. He humbly said, “If I speak anything from the pulpit that is my opinion please forgive me. A man is to get up and speak the oracles of God and if he can’t do a little of that, then don’t stand up and speak.” It occurs to me that many web sites and blogs have an identity problem. They give opinions, but they do so under the guise of the pulpit — the power, respectability and authority associated with the pulpit.
December 30, 2014
The Winter Solstice Celebration I attended at a New Age church had 20 people assembled in a circle around an altar. The altar, a raised circular platform about 12 inches off the floor, held a large lit candle surrounded by a green wreath. On the floor around the mini-altar were tambourines and small drums. During the appropriate chants and songs worshippers were invited to pick up the musical instruments and participate. The gist of the worship was to imagine that your feet had roots growing down deep into the ground where you could tap into the energy of mother earth. The energy would come up through the body, out through heads and form a collective light of worshippers. A subdued image of the prophets of Baal came to my mind. “Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made" (1 Kings 18:26b).
December 29, 2014
I continue to visit all the churches in town and write about the experience. Right before Christmas I attended a New Age church that had a smattering of Christian elements mixed with pantheism — an Advent candle, revised verses of the children’s classic “This Little Light of Mine,” a song sheet with wishes for a joyous Christmas. During various meditative segments of the service the lights were turned off and the room glowed by candlelight. I searched for signs of the Lord’s presence, but unfortunately the room wasn’t the only thing dark. The worship service was for mother earth and it was obvious Jesus wasn’t invited. “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matt 18:20 NIV).
December 26, 2014
I recently saw a photo collage of elderly people (ages 79-107) and their thoughts on staying active and vibrant. Most of them attributed their longevity to personal lifestyle choices. All of the pithy sayings were good, and 99 year-old Ida, who is still doing push-ups said, “Do what you need to do, not what you want to do.” The writer of Ecclesiastes takes a different view and puts God in the picture. “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him” (Ecc 3:12-15 NIV).
December 25, 2014
“But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:30-33 NIV).
December 24, 2014
Many of today’s churches are on the all-inclusive bandwagon and I believe their intent is, “regardless of your religious persuasion, everyone is welcome to worship with us.” It’s almost as though all-inclusive has become a marketing tool for the church. It strikes me as arrogant that these churches would think God, gods, or any number of religious belief systems would even want to be included in a co-op worship service. “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:5-6 NIV).
December 23, 2014
I timed my visit to an all-inclusive New Age church for last Sunday because I wanted to see how they handled the Christmas story. Unfortunately the service didn’t celebrate the birth of Christ, but rather a Winter Solstice Celebration and the worship of mother earth. After setting through a gathering that seemed to lack any presence of the Lord, I was surprised by the closing song selection. They sang all three verses of “Silent Night.” While I felt this song was intended as a token gesture for the Christmas season, it was much more. “Silent Night” actually tells the entire story of Christ’s birth — the Virgin, Holy infant, shepherds, heavenly hosts, Son of God — Christ the Savior is Born!
December 22, 2014
Do not … I repeat do not, send a grandma to buy a football. I picked out an attractive buff colored leather, NCAA ball, but I wasn’t sure if it was regulation, so I ask another shopper if I had the right thing. Impressed with my selection he said, “Oh yeah, any kid would love to have this. If it were for me [for an adult] I’d want the NFL ball, but for an 11 year-old kid this is perfect.” I went to check out and the man at the register said “Whoa! Leather. This is a grrrreat ball for a kid. Now don’t let him play with it in the street because the asphalt will tear up the leather. He has to play with it on the grass.” Both of these men were so smitten with the football, it was as though they were rediscovering their11 year-old self and imagining getting such a Christmas gift. I have to admit I just about croaked when the cash register rang up the price, but at that point I wasn’t about to put that football back. After all, I had it on good authority that this football was a perfect gift. I’m now wondering if some of us, when we talk about the Lord to others, have forgotten that emotional moment when we ourselves received the Perfect Gift of Jesus.
December 19, 2014
My address book is old and over the years I make changes by putting a big “X” through the old entry and writing a new entry. Consequently, every year when I send out Christmas cards I’m reminded of deaths, marriages, divorces, changing residences, and friends with whom I’ve lost communication. It’s often a bitter sweet walk down memory lane. As believers our names are written in the Book of Life and it gives me pause to think of the memories that are attached to our names. “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels” (Rev3:5 NIV).
December 18, 2014
One of the questions I ask when interviewing women is whether they have experienced any gender equality issues. One woman employed in the judicial system gave me an interesting analysis, “Most discrimination is formed because they are unhappy with my decisions and my rulings; but they don’t say they are unhappy about the decision, rather they look for an explanation as to why I ruled against them.” I think she may be on to something. When I get tweaked about a political or religious decision, it becomes more about the person who made the decision, than about the decision itself. I may label the decision maker in such terms as jerk, bully, or chauvinist. Maybe this new insight will help me get a better handle on hating the sin and loving the sinner.
December 17, 2014
Speaking through a translator a woman was interviewed about the pressing issue of immigration rights. She has lived in the area for more than 25 years, her husband has worked in the US for 28 years, and their three children range in age from late teens to a 5-year-old. The woman, in spite of Obama’s executive orders, is still fearful of deportation. I have to admit that I suffer from indignation when I hear people living in the America for a quarter of a century, they haven’t bothered to learn the language, and yet they want permanent residency. Then again, we have believers who’ve been attending worship services for over 25 years and they too haven’t bothered to learn the language of Christ.
December 16, 2014
I recently talked with a woman who told me about a three year-old who was leaving preschool and her dad told her to hold his hand so he could help her down the steps. Putting her hands together the child rejected her dad’s offer and said, “I’ll hold my own hand.” I have to admit that I love the tyke’s independence streak. However, from an adult’s spiritual perspective, I’m now wondering how often I’ve told the Lord, I’ll hold my own hand. “The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him …” (Nahum 1:7 NIV).
December 15, 2014
The church I visited Sunday has had an interim pastor for a few months and the search committee, as well as the man the Lord has in mind for the pulpit, were on the prayer request list. Although nothing was said, I had the sense that the church may have lost some members when the previous pastor retired. As a visitor I arrived 15 minutes early, sat through the worship service, and took my time exiting the church. The 80 people present were visiting before and after the service, but only one man nodded in my direction as he took the seat in front of me. Beyond that, no one else made eye contact or spoke to me. I was somewhat conflicted when the pastor prayed for the church, “That this house of worship would be filled.” Certainly the Lord can answer their prayer, but I wonder if He expects a little help from the faithful. “By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures” (Proverbs 24:3-4 NIV).
December 12, 2014
Mormons refer to the LDS church as the “true church” and most of us are familiar with the dogma that Joseph Smith received a revelation and restored the church. However, during my recent visit to an LDS church I was surprised to hear more than one member give Joseph Smith credit for restoring the church that was “lost for centuries.” Really? In my college studies of theologians and their writings no one wrote of a lost church, or grieved over the lost church. Speaking to Peter Jesus said, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt 16:18 NIV).
December 11, 2014
A friend introduced me to a Christian web site that offers information on church issues and asks readers to comment and share their experience. Almost on a daily basis surveys, updates and discussion issues arrive by email. I’m starting to see a pattern where pastors and staff are chiming in, but lay people are less forthcoming. There have been a couple of times I went to the trouble of composing comments, but then I didn’t send them. I suppose past experiences of sharing my opinions with church leadership only to have them discounted or marginalized is in the back of my mind. I think I need to put myself in Timothy’s place and take Paul’s message to heart, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim 4:12 NIV).
December 10, 2014
I recently attended a church where the worship service, aside from taking sacraments and singing three hymns, was made up of impromptu testimonies. The speakers had an eclectic collection of thoughts — everything from Jesus being the Son of God, to personal confessions, walks down memory lane, Christmases past and persecution of their denomination. Obviously some of these folks were a little confused about the components and purpose of a testimony. Jesus said, “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid” (John 5:31-32 NIV). The work Jesus came to finish testifies that He was sent by God.
December 09, 2014
Each January my church treasurer hands out a white legal size envelope that contains a record of a person’s financial support and tithes during the last year. The first of December I visited an LDS church and a man handed out a couple of white envelopes to members prior to the service beginning. Announcements were first on the agenda and the speaker said, “The Tithing Settlement is happening, so see what day works for you and take time to sign up for one of the available days to meet with the Bishop.” I feel confident that the white envelope also contained a tithing record — a record of unpaid and past due tithes. Makes me think we should be grateful that the Lord expects an accounting of our life at the Judgment Seat of Christ — and not before the end of each year! “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10 NIV).
December 08, 2014
Last year I donated my large commercial cookie sheet to the church because my days of making massive amounts of peanut butter cookie bars are over. Recently Bill had coffee with the guys at church and he came back with the cookie sheet in hand. I’d failed to remove my name from the bottom of pan, so the guys were sending it home. As believers, many of us fret over loved ones that have drifted away from the Lord; we seem to have forgotten that a name has been written on them. “Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name” (Rev 3:12 NIV).
December 05, 2014
Prayer warriors have played a huge role in Bill’s ongoing cancer issues. Yesterday while he finished the last of the most recent course of treatment, I visited with patients and staff at the cancer center and ran a couple errands. On three different occasions women I’d never met before wanted to pray for Bill. I’m familiar with the generic “I’ll pray for you,” but in each instance these woman specifically ask, “What is his name so I can pray for him?” These three ladies were a good example of praying for all the saints — even those we do not know. “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Eph 6:18 NIV).
December 04, 2014
My friend is a retired teacher of 30 years and when the name of someone in the community comes up it’s not uncommon to hear her say, “They were one of my kids; I taught them in school.” In some cases she also taught a second generation of the same family. Years ago we heard something similar from Sunday school teachers whose ministry was to teach Bible stories to generations of children. “Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come” ( Psalm 71:17-18 NIV).
December 03, 2014
When I hear conversations about a pastor’s work hours and heavy load, one interesting factoid that always seems to find its way into the discussion is that it’s not unreasonable for a preacher to spend up to 20 hours a week preparing his sermon. I’ve heard pastors speak at conventions and their presentations reflect many hours of preparation, but unfortunately the weekly sermon does not get the same level of attention. I can’t remember when I’ve heard a sermon that was polished with 20 hours of preparation. Of course fillers such as illustrations, jokes and stories do take some thought, but Paul reminds us, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17 NIV).
December 02, 2014
When I read a news report heading that a sports figure was, “proud, humbled by Hall of Fame induction,” it caused me to contemplate the coexistence of pride and humility. In the same vein, as I interview women for a series of articles on leadership, they often say they are humbled and honored to be interviewed. Certainly our resident New Testament tax collectors, Zacchaeus and Matthew, experienced a similar experience when Jesus invited Himself to their homes for a meal. I’m now wondering if I’ve been remiss in not putting a cloak of pride and humility around salvation. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Ro 8:28-30 NIV).
December 01, 2014
For many years I’ve watched Betty wring her hands and try to interject Jesus into the life of an unsaved friend. Her friend is new age and has no interest in religious innuendo, devotionals or spiritually slanted greeting cards. Usually our prayer for the unsaved is for someone to come into their lives and help bring them to the Lord. I think it’s interesting that we pray for people to intervene, rather than praying for God directed circumstance. It is a frightening to think of asking God to bring about circumstances that will bring the unsaved to the Lord — that could be so harsh. We would rather people be saved through the kinder and more gentle means of testimony, witnessing and invitation.