February 27, 2015
This week we filed our income tax and it is such a relief. For whatever reason I always feel like I can’t begin the New Year until the old year is put to rest. For many of us paying taxes is mentally and financially painful. I’m wondering if our preachers aren’t missing a good sermon opportunity by not reminding us of why we pay taxes. “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Ro 13:6-7 NIV).
February 26, 2015
Occasionally I read a web site whose main audience is pastors. Unfortunately the posts and comments sometimes turn into a woe-is-me-party with pastors feeling unappreciated, overworked and underpaid. As I read through the list of grievances from pastors, I can honestly say that they are no different than what is experienced by politicians, social workers and government employees. It’s curious that believers sometimes feel their struggles in life are more difficult than they are for others. Paul tells us that we all face the same types of issues, even when it comes to temptation. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor 10:13 NIV).
February 25, 2015
Most people are familiar with Paul’s teaching and instructions on putting on the full armor of God. During a recent sermon the pastor spoke about being dressed with the “breastplate of righteousness in place,” however his emphasis was not so much on the breastplate as it was on being in place. The breastplate, if it is to be effective, can only be worn over the chest. It occurs to me that sometimes I might be throwing on my armor without making sure it is adjusted to the proper fit. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph 6:10-11 NIV).
February 24, 2015
I’ve attended a few worship services where pastors had prepared sermons; however, they took sermonette side trips saying, “I hadn’t planned this, but there is someone here today who needs to hear what I’m about to say.” The implication is that the Spirit has just given the pastor words of wisdom or encouragement to convey to one particular person in the audience. The pastor states that the intended recipient is someone struggling with depression, is in need healing, or feels spiritually lost. Certainly I won’t deny the Spirit’s leading of the pastor. However, when I hear that the message is intended for only one person in the room, I have to wonder if the rest of the worshippers are expected to try to find something applicable to their lives, or are they simply eavesdropping.
February 23, 2015
On my most resent church visit I felt like a mere observer throughout most of the song service, but then they sang a praise hymn that was familiar. The song “Praise Your Name” allowed me to connect with that body of believers and I went from simply being a visitor, to being a fellow worshipper. I’m reminded of the “new song” referred to in Revelation 5 and I’m really glad John gave us the words to the song. Hopefully by the time the Lord returns to break the seven seals on the scroll the new song will feel like a familiar favorite. “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Rev 5:9-10 NIV).
February 20, 2015
With the articles I’ve written on churches I’ve had very little response from the pastors. One pastor thanked me profusely and even posted the article on the church bulletin board. However, two others emailed me and simply stated that I had reported on the visits accurately. I suspect the lack of response from pastors may have more to do with wishing I would write through rose colored glasses, rather than reporting accurately. Speaking to the disciples of John the Baptist, Jesus said, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see …” (Matt 11:4 NIV).
February 19, 2015
The Johnsons moved into my centrally located neighborhood because they didn’t drive and they could walk to the grocery store, the doctor’s office and the downtown stores. The Johnsons had no children and their only living relatives were two long-distance elderly cousins. When Mr. Johnson died his widow stayed in the small house until she was forced to move into an assisted living facility. Over the years Mrs. Johnson would call me to chat and I knew she wanted us to keep a neighborly relationship going. However, my plate was full caring for two people in my own family and I didn’t have the energy for another care-giving type of responsibility. Recently a legal notice was placed in the newspaper that Mrs. Johnson passed away, apparently some weeks ago. I find it sad that there was no death notice or obituary, and that we in the church community didn’t even realize that we’d lost a body part. “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).
February 18, 2015
Recently two vandals were caught on video destroying a large statue of St. Francis of Assisi, but unfortunately their identity is not yet known. During an interview the pastor of the church said his only reaction must be one of offering God’s forgiveness, “I want them to know that God is waiting for them.” Certainly the pastor’s thoughts are appropriate and aligned with God, but it does cross my mind that if they fail to seek forgiveness, God will still be waiting for them!
February 17, 2015
I’ve visited a number of churches who place emphasis on a type of meditation that encourages you to leave your mind open — open to God, the Spirit, inner light forces, the earth’s energy, etc. It’s curious that these churches never mention the existence of evil spirits and there is no call to discern the spiritual world through the Word of God. Jesus warned us against leaving our minds unoccupied and void of the truth. “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there” (Matt 12:43-45a NIV).
February 16, 2015
We recently went new car shopping and even though we had an appointment, the salesman was distracted by others — phone calls from other clients, saying hello those he knew who walked in the door, and helping previous customers who were at the service counter. In the process of finalizing the sale the salesman talked about the survey we would be getting from the dealership and he let us know if he got anything less than a 10 his record would be tarnished. I see a similar mindset in the churches I visit. Pastors and members alike want everything written about their congregation to be put in positive light. “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3 NIV).
February 13, 2015
For some time now the tellers at my bank have irritated me with their probing and inappropriate questions. “Do you usually carry that much cash? I noticed you have a large amount of money in your checking account…With that much cash are you going shopping when you leave here? What are your plans for the weekend?” Here I am in a public place where the conversation can be overheard by those at the next window, as well as those waiting in line. Earlier this week I went to the drive-through to cash a check and over the speaker the cheerful teller ask loudly, “I see that you have a large amount in your checking account …” My chat with the branch teller supervisor following the incident wasn’t totally satisfactory, however she understands that the next teller to publically pry into my banking practices is in for a rude awaking. “Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own” (Proverbs 26:17 NIV).
February 12, 2015
In one of my church visits I talked with a woman about the diversity that I was experiencing and she said, “Well, you’ll see with us that you finally came to the right church!” This is not the only congregation I’ve run into that feels unless you belong to their church your own testimony as a believer, as well as your salvation, is questionable. Unfortunately not all of us have letters of introduction like Paul, Barnabas and Timothy. Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matt 7:1-2 NIV).
February 11, 2015
I am a visual person, so when Jesus tells me to store up my treasures in heaven I try to picture what I’m putting on the storage shelf. For many of us doing good, being rich in good deeds, generous and willing to share (1 Tim 6:18) are not things that stay in the forefront of our minds once we’ve done them, and yet they are classified as treasure in heaven. From our worldly perspective prayers are another category that seems short-lived, because once we deliver them to the Lord they seem to dissipate from our mind. However, prayers too have a treasure value in heaven. “And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev 5:8 NIV).
February 10, 2015
I attended a gathering where people in the audience were given an opportunity to speak from the floor. Once again I watched as a speaker waved off the program host saying, “No, I don’t need a mic, everyone can hear me.” Invariably impassioned words fail to reach the entire audience because of the speaker’s overconfidence in his abilities. “Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of gifts he does not give” (Proverbs 25:14 NIV).
February 09, 2015
A few weeks ago I visited a Pentecostal church that had an hour of highly charged praise songs mingled with altar calls prior to the sermon. Describing the ambiance of the worship service the pastor said, “We create an atmosphere to be in the presence of God.” On the other side of the spectrum I recently attended a church that practices silent worship. For an hour the only noise in the room was my turning the onion skin pages in my Bible and, much to my chagrin, the growls in my stomach. The pamphlet from this church states, “Worship is based on silent waiting, where we expect to come into the presence of God.” Certainly God is never confused about His presence; however, I’m not so sure we can say the same about His creatures. Jesus said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matt 18:20 NIV).
February 06, 2015
The topic of discussion on a Christian web site was about those who withhold financial gifts from the church. The writer, a preacher, listed nine concerns about the practice. One point said, “The practice is divisive. One of the most precious resources of any congregation is unity. The withholding of financial gifts is an act of disunity and divisiveness.” Aside from the fact that a gift is not a gift until it is given, I don’t see how not giving gifts could be divisive — unless of course you were trying to talk others into following your lead. Certainly pastors do worry about tithes and offerings being diverted to areas other than the general fund. However, it seems to me that Jesus’ teachings on worrying about life, food and clothing could be applied to the church finances, as easily as it is applied to the individual. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matt 6:26 NIV).
February 05, 2015
I think most of us are guilty of feeling a twinge of satisfaction when we see someone get their just desserts. It’s been interesting to hear the conversations swirling around those who’ve gone through recent church splits. Neither group wants the other to succeed. There is a weird sense of vindication when either, or both, experience low attendance, low offerings and low enthusiasm. One woman gratifyingly said, “They may have gotten the [new] building, but they also got the mortgage!” I’m thinking it may be easier to apply Paul’s teaching to individuals than it is to a split in the body of Christ. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self–seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor 13: 6-7 NIV).
February 04, 2015
A number of churches I’ve visited have gone through church splits and I’m detecting a pattern. Surprisingly it’s the church leadership, the pastors and elders, who seem to be leaving the facilities to start a new congregation. Those who remain with the old physical structure are small in number and trying their best to hold things together, but it’s hard to miss their rudderless state. Paul tells us of the importance of leaders building up the body of Christ so that we may, “…reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature…” (Eph 4:13 NIV). I’m now wondering if these leaders are failing to bring the whole congregation to maturity in Christ leaving some of them to flounder in immaturity. Paul describes what happens to those who remain immature, “…infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14b NIV).
February 03, 2015
I’ve attended a few churches who are proud of being all inclusive and on two separate occasions I’ve heard comments that gave me pause. One man joked, “Everyone is welcome here. He, she, them, or it!” In another situation a woman attempted humor, “Bring your spouses — whatever their sex is!” It strikes me as odd that people of faith purport to love homosexuals and extend to them the right hand of fellowship, but yet they make them the brunt of jokes and poke fun at their life style. “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Ro 12:9-10 NIV).
February 02, 2015
I visited a progressive church that is currently without a pastor. The woman filling the pulpit intended to play two video clips of comedian Robin Williams to illustrate a point in the message. One clip was an ABC News tribute, “The Life and Death of Robin Williams.” The second clip could not be located on the computer and the pastor made a spur of the moment decision to randomly pick another clip. Williams was beginning his stand-up routine when he said, “…to make English the second God damn language!” I winced for the congregation and then cringed on behalf of the empty wooden cross hanging silently beside the video screen. “All day long my enemies taunt me; those who rail against me use my name as a curse” (Psalm 102:8 NIV).