January 30, 2015
We often hear people jokingly refer to repetitious praise song as “7 – Elevens,” meaning a song with seven choruses which is sung 11 times. I recently visited a church that sang praise songs continuously for 45 minutes, verses and choruses, and we only sang four songs — that’s an average of 11 minutes per song! Seriously, can you imagine singing, “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” or “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” each for 11 minutes? Certainly repetitious songs are intended to praise God and be a pleasing aroma; however, somewhere along the line my worship and praise simply wore out — and my praise became nothing more than words. “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matt 6:7 NIV).
January 29, 2015
Each church has its own practice in collecting tithes and offerings and most of us are accustomed to free standing receptacles, or passing offering plates throughout the congregation. During a recent church visit I was preparing to contribute to the offering until the pastor invited us to bring our gifts, tithes and offerings before the Lord. Similar to an altar call, people began to slowly leave their seats and go to the front of the auditorium. With praise songs and music as a backdrop, worshippers put their contributions in a bowl that was placed in a prominent place below the podium. It felt awkward to watch people deposit their gifts and yet it shouldn’t have. “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny” (Mark 12:41-42 NIV).
January 28, 2015
In my random visits to local churches I recently went to a church whose fresh and modern name led me to think they were an evangelical congregation. I barely settled into my seat when I realized I needed to adjust my thought processes and prepare for a Pentecostal worship service, rather than an evangelical service. Toward the end of the two-hour plus service the pastor said, “Other Pentecostals look at us as old fashioned, and outdated, but we're Pentecostals [traditional] and we're not going to change!” I was reminded of the many churches who are trying to refurbish their image by rebranding their name. They drop denominational indicators and look for titles that make them seem fresh, modern and relevant in today’s culture. I would never suggest that any church who wants update their community image had a problem with hypocrisy. However, I have to laugh at the similarities in Jesus teaching about cleaning the outside of the cup and dish; the whitewashed tombs that were beautiful on the outside; and the tombs of the prophets and decorated graves of the righteous. (Matt 23:25-28)
January 27, 2015
I visited a local church and met a man who felt I looked familiar; so much so that he thought there was other person in town who could be my twin. It was curious that he didn’t know the other person’s name and he didn’t ask my name, but he was adamant that I had a look-a-like running around. I laughingly told him maybe I and the other person are one in the same. He rejected the suggestion and now I’m worried. Obviously he never have expected my look-a-like to be in a worship service, so if by chance we are one in the same, somewhere along the line I must have failed to leave a Christian impression. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Phil 4:4-5 NIV).
January 26, 2015
The sidebar in a newspaper column on faith said, “Catholic teaching may not yet grant animals souls, but priests and monks of the Franciscan order have a long tradition of blessing the animals on…” Really, Catholic teachings have the power to grant animals a soul? The power of creation, who knew? I’m sure animal lovers have good intentions when taking their pets to be blessed, but I wonder if they extend those same good intentions to their friends, family or neighbors. The Bible says, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen 2:7 KJV).
January 23, 2015
I’ve been reading a blog site that is geared toward pastors. While some minister’s comments are in the form of encouragement, many of the comments lately are simply pastors complaining to one another about situations they’ve experienced, the people they serve, and the hardships in ministry they endure. I have to laugh at their Moses-like lament, “Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me” (Exodus 17:4 NIV).
January 22, 2015
I attended a church that has a time of “Confession of Sins and Forgiveness.” After the corporate confession the pastor said, “Therefore, as a called servant of Christ and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When I’ve attended other services where there is a public absolution I’m somewhat uncomfortable because it feels like the preacher is somehow standing between me and the Lord. However, it just dawned on me that if I were to hear another person’s confession, I too can state the obvious and say that their sins are forgiven — not that I forgive them, but that the Lord forgives them. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NIV).
January 21, 2015
I talked to a pastor friend about visiting churches and he cautioned me to be careful. Reading between the lines he thought I might get sucked into false teachings. I found it curious. I don’t know whether his warning was a way of watching over the flock, or if he felt that clergy are better equipped than laity to spot erroneous teachings. Whatever his thought processes, he misjudged my biblical foundation; and unfortunately he failed to see me as one dressed in the Armor of God. “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Eph 6:13 NIV).
January 20, 2015
My brother-in-law called for the elders to pray and lay on hands, but the suggested time on Monday conflicted with his schedule so alternative days were suggested. While this is a grief-type situation, I had to laugh at the absurdity that even in life and death situations, we still want everything to revolve around our own schedule. Jesus told the parable of a great banquet where many guests were invited. However, all those invited began to make excuses such as having just bought a field, purchased oxen and gotten married (Luke 14:15-24). While the parable is an illustration of the Jews rejecting God’s invitation, it also reminds me that throughout our Christian walk we have spiritual invitations — and many of us make excuses.
January 19, 2015
I visited a liturgical church and the large print bulletin was a whopping 22 pages in length. With the exception of the sermon and announcements, everything was scripted and written out — prayers, responsive readings, and songs. The words of the prayers had meaning, but for me they seemed to lack the same spiritual depth that comes when I bow my head, close my eyes and listen to a corporate prayer. “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care” (Psalm 95:6-7 NIV).
January 16, 2015
Yesterday I visited with a pastor who shared his concern about how to reach what he referred to as, “this lost generation.” The preacher was thinking in terms of outreach programs. I know ministers wear multiple hats, but it suddenly occurred to me that they do so by choice and/or job description. The Epistles lists attributes that are given to believers – preachers, teachers, administrators, prophets, healers, interpreters, etc. (1 Cor 12:8-10, 28; Eph 4:11). However, none of these passages refer to believers wearing multiple hats. Scripture doesn’t say some were called to be prophets and evangelists; or prophets and Apostles. We are all a part of the body; not parts of the body. I’m wondering if a preacher’s gift for preaching isn’t marginalized when he also tries to be a teacher, evangelist, and administrator. “He gives them to each one, just as he determines” (1 Cor 12:11 NIV).
January 15, 2015
There were only 20 of us for worship in the small Baptist church, but the pastor preached as though there were 200 people in the room. His booming voice needed no amplification and the well-prepared message, told in biblical story form, needed no illustrations, fillers or anecdotes. Rather than trying to ingratiate himself to the audience, the preacher focused on presenting the Word of God. It was refreshing to see shades of the Apostle Paul in this preacher, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Cor 2:4 NIV).
January 14, 2015
Some people in my family are having a hard time coming to grips with words like terminal, hospice, and end of life. It’s as though the first person to utter those words has not only given up hope, but they might also dash the hope of others. In a similar manner believers hesitate to speak about those who are spiritually dying right before our eyes because we don’t want to be labeled judgmental, or appear to have lost hope for another’s salvation. The reality is that there are observable signs for both physical and spiritual death. “The truly righteous man attains life, but he who pursues evil goes to his death” (Proverbs 11:19 NIV).
January 13, 2015
I’m healing from a stress fracture located above my left ankle and I’m a little out of sorts that it wasn’t diagnosed sooner. Since I hadn’t had an accident and there was no redness or bruising, the medical provider didn’t think it was broken. I hobbled around for six weeks before an X-Ray was ordered and I was fitted with a boot. I groused to the therapist about the delay in diagnosis and was surprised to learn that many stress fractures are so thin they actually won’t even show up on X-Ray until they begin to heal. I’m now pondering the fact that our need for healing, whether physical or spiritual, is not always obvious to us, or to the professionals. Speaking through Isaiah the prophet the Holy Spirit said, “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them” (Acts 28:27 NIV).
January 12, 2015
My adult Sunday school class is watching a DVD about leaders equipping members for ministry. The motivational thought behind the last lesson is that we are all gifted in some area of ministry. When we build a team, have a dream and get support we can have an effective ministry. The presenter said, “When you position yourself in that structure you are cooperating with God’s structure.” Unfortunately on today’s church landscape, changes in leadership often means changes in church direction and ministry. I think it’s a tragedy when ministries are eliminated, destroyed, and replaced — all for the sake of change. We have children’s Sunday school teachers who no longer teach; youth group leaders who no longer sponsor; and hand bell choirs who no longer perform. Leadership sometimes forgets, “…But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor 12:24b-26 NIV).
January 09, 2015
My brother-in-law was taken to the Emergency Room of a local hospital and I spent a few hours in a packed waiting room and ER cubical area. Similar to a restaurant maître d' telling customers they’d be seated as soon as a table was available, the admissions clerk put names of patients on a “triage list” as they waited for the next available bed. One man, who was riddled with the flu, stayed slumped in his chair when he wasn’t loudly regurgitating in the bathroom. I knew I was in a large petri dish when I watched a healthy husband and wife, grab face masks, hand sanitizer and moved to the far side of the room. And to think there is something more unclean than a germ, or a virus. “Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’” (Matt 15:10-11 NIV).
January 08, 2015
I have a friend who is a strong person of faith, but in the work environment she doesn’t want others to know she is praying about difficult situations. It’s as though prayer is her weapon of choice and she wants to keep it concealed. At first I thought her stance strange. I suppose it’s because I’m just the opposite — I want others to know that prayer is in my arsenal. Paul tell us to put on the “full armor of God” because our struggle is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Interestingly prayer is not listed as part of the armor. “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 6:17 NIV).
January 07, 2015
During a holiday meal I dribbled some cranberry sauce down the front of my white turtle neck top. My son-in-law, who has laundry experience from his bachelor years, jumped into action and insisted we get some detergent on it right away. I’m more of a pre-spot person, so when I’m ready to do a load of laundry then I look over the clothes, put on a dab of spot remover and toss them into the wash — sometimes the stain comes out, sometimes it doesn’t. Tim offered to work on the spot immediately, so I let him. Actually I thought the shirt was a goner, but with his quick action the stain is gone. It’s not a far leap for me to see the similarities between sins and laundry. There are times when sins are just not on the forefront on my mind. I may postpone confession until bedtime prayers, before taking communion, or even wait until the Spirit forces a confession out of me. “Come now, let us reason together,” says LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool”” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV).
January 06, 2015
During a church visit the preacher sought me out as soon as I walked through the door and introduced himself. I extended my hand, but he declined because he was recovering from the flu which is reaching epidemic status in the community. While there was no outward evidence that the pastor had been ill, or that he might still be contagious, he sat aside ambition and used caution. Even in little things Paul reminds us, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4 NIV).
January 05, 2015
Sunday I attended a Baptist church and at the end of the service one woman was curious about the reason for my visit. I told Kathy about the series of articles I’m writing on the different worship experiences and she perceived me to be a reporter working for a newspaper. I was taken aback when she asked, “Are you a Christian?” Seldom has anyone ever asked me that question in a worldly setting, much less in a church setting. Kathy’s question was bold, inquisitive and thought provoking. We don’t think about being on guard during worship, and yet that is the warning we hear from Jude. “For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 1:4 NIV).
January 02, 2015
An internet photo of a puppy that had destroyed a newspaper had the caption, “Bad dogs that are too cute for you to get mad at.” I might have reworked the caption to read, bad dogs that are too cute to stay mad at. It’s interesting that we don’t stay mad at a baby or a puppy, yet for years we can hold a grudge against a family member, co-worker or friend who has wronged us. The Canaanite woman who ask Jesus to heal her daughter recognized, “…even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matt 15:27 NIV). In order to let go of grudges maybe I could put a new face on those who’ve left me with an offense I can’t get past — Bad Dog!
January 01, 2015
As I visit all the churches in town I’m sampling many different types, shapes and sizes of unleavened bread. Last Sunday the wafer was more heavily infused with olive oil, which left a lingering taste in my mouth long after the elements were consumed. Unlike the cardboard taste of many commercial wafers, the experience placed a pronounced emphasis on the body of Christ. “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” (Ps 34:8 NIV).