March 31, 2015
Five people went forward for prayer and the laying on of hands. While both of those things happened, I sensed the pastor would have liked for at least one of them to be slain in the spirit. Taking one person at a time the pastor mixed prayers for healing with, “Relax. It’s okay, just relax.” The pastor’s assistant braced himself behind each person ready to catch them if, or when, they collapsed. As though to encourage a physical reaction the assistant was instructed to put his hand on the individual’s back, or shoulder. When the individuals remained erect, others in the audience were invited to come forward in prayer support. I can find no biblical reference that ever tells believers to “just relax.” On the contrary, we’re told to put on our 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 6:18 NV).
March 30, 2015
I visited a church that is self-described non-denominational, but their bent is Pentecostal, including faith healing and talking in tongues. During the service there was a lot of, “Raise your hands if you’re forgiven!” and “Shout halleluiah if you are going to heaven.” At one point the pastor turned the audience loose with instructions to pray with someone. Stephanie, a 20 something young lady, came up to me and ask, “Do you need prayer?” I was taken aback and the first thing that came to mind was, “No, I don’t need prayer.” After her quizzical look and I followed up, “Well … I can always use the prayers of others, I just don’t need anything specific right now.” I suppose I found the situation awkward because rather than my asking for prayers, I was put on the spot to share a prayer need. “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 13:13-14 NIV).
March 27, 2015
I visited a church where everything that was said, even during casual conversation, was backed up by a Scripture reference. Shortly thereafter I interview a woman who backed up all of her thoughts by citing books and authors. I kept stopping the interview to tell her I needed her quotes and thoughts, not those of people she reads, admires and ascribes to. She finally said, “Well, I guess that’s from being associated with academia because you need to cite where your information comes from.” I’m reminded of the Lord’s conversation with Peter when he asked, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Peter suggested, John the Baptist, Elijah and Jeremiah. Jesus then asked, “But what about you? Who do you say I am” (Matt 16:16 NIV)?
March 26, 2015
I was surprised to learn there is an investor-visa program (EB-5) that allows foreigners to buy their way into the US. If a person invests $500,000 to $1 million in projects or businesses that create jobs for Americans they, along with their spouse and children, can live in the US and after two years become citizens. On some level it’s frustrating that American citizenship can be bought with a price; however, the practice is nothing new. Paul was only moments away from being flogged when he revealed he was a Roman citizen. His captor, on the other hand, had to pay a big price for his Roman citizenship. As believers we too need to remember that our citizenship came at a cost. “For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Cor 7:22-23 NIV).
March 25, 2015
I visited the Jehovah Witnesses who told me the purpose for their door to door ministry was to see if people were reading their Bibles. At the time I thought their motivation to knock on a stranger’s door and inquire about Bible study habits presumptuous. However, for the purpose of writing an article about the visit I took their response at face value. Last Saturday when a middle aged man and a youth came to the door I was prepared to tell them I read my Bible, but to my surprise they didn’t ask. The team simply commented on the beautiful day, handed me a piece of literature and said, “Have a good day.” I’m now curious if the JW’s are changing their evangelistic methods, or if these two individuals just chose to deviate from the denominational script. Unfortunately the spiritual landscape, Christian or otherwise, is littered with evangelizing programs, methodologies and formulas that produce little results. Maybe it’s time to give greater consideration to the second commandment. Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-39 NIV).
March 24, 2015
Last week I visited the “true church,” which should not be confused with the “true church” I visited a couple months ago. In the most recent instance this particular local denomination itself has fractured into at least five separate congregations, all using a variation of the same denominational name. The evangelist I spoke to has reached out to one of the smaller contingents to bring them into fellowship, but apparently the divisions between the churches is too wide to bridge. Paul addresses divisions, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not” (1 Cor 11:2022 NIV)!
March 23, 2015
I interviewed the CEO of a manufacturing plant that “makes the tools that makes tools.” She noted it’s sometimes hard for employees to connect with what they are making because they don’t have the big picture of how the part fits into the end product. Believers are often caught in a similar dilemma. Even though Revelation gives me a glimpse of the big picture, I’m still bewildered by some parts in my spiritual purview and I’d love to know how and where the fit in the spiritual scheme of things. The Lord said, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev 22:12-13 NIV).
March 20, 2015
A Christian blog site encourages churches to submit their name and prayer needs; and then each Sunday one name is published and readers are ask to pray for that church. Certainly Paul was a proponent of soliciting prayers for New Testament churches with whom he worked. However, most of the requests published on the blog site are for finances, building expansion and successful ministry outreach events. By comparison, the seven churches in Revelation had spiritual issues and the Lord instructed John to not only write down what he (the Lord) said, but also what John observed. It’s interesting that with all the issues and corrective measures directed at the seven churches, nowhere does the Lord ask them to pray for one another.
March 19, 2015
In a campaign to generate conversations about race relations Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has asked employees to write “Race Together” on customers’ cups. I’m almost speechless at the gall and arrogance of this man who thinks he can direct the conversations of his clientele. It would be interesting to know if Mr. Schultz drinks his morning coffee in a graffiti encrusted cup and talks to those around him about race relations. “Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matt 23:26 NIV).
March 18, 2015
I really dislike solicitors and often donate to a program grudgingly and out of obligation. Recently when I interviewed a community fundraiser I was taken aback by the enthusiasm she had for her job. Her personal belief is that everyone should be giving more than they do, both financially and with their talents. “I love putting people in touch with something that makes them happy. Giving makes people happy; people feel good when they give.” I think she unknowingly took a page from the Apostle Paul, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7 NIV).
March 17, 2015
A church whose mission field has changed is now looking to redirect their focus and they are considering reaching out to bikers — Hells Angels type. When I visited this church there was at least one biker in the group of about 25 people. I understand when planting a church that organizers need to have some idea in mind about who they expect to reach with the Gospel. However, once a church is already established the idea that leadership can just change the focus is curious. It seem to me that the ministry of an established church should be on the demographics of the people who are already attending. I have an image in my mind of a shepherd looking over the fence of his sheepfold and thinking maybe some of the sheep in the pasture need his attention more than the sheep in his own pen. Jesus told Peter, “Feed my lambs …Take care of my sheep …Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17 NIV).
March 16, 2015
Sunday I visited a church whose ministry started out focused on the homeless; however, the disadvantaged are now well ministered to through community organizations and other faith-based groups. Many people, as well as churches, support these other groups, so there is no need for an individual church to offer food, clothing and shelter to the poor. Strangely it feels like the responsibility for caring for the poor has been snatched from hands of church. And yet Jesus says, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matt 6:3-4 NIV).
March 13, 2015
For some time now I’ve been plagued by inconsistent and hard to replicate issues with the formatting and the cut and paste functions on my computer. I peppered my IT savvy family members with questions and while they were unable to diagnose or fix the problem, each gave me suggestions on how to maneuver around the glitches. I finally ask the right question, “Could it be the mouse?” Problem solved. Unfortunately we believers often counsel one another on ways to maneuver around our spiritual glitches, rather than saying the answer to the question is repentance. “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord …” (Acts 3:19 NIV).
March 12, 2015
I have a friend who is going through some difficult times and even though I’ve had some similar experiences, she rejects the idea that I know what she is going through. It’s as though no one understands, no one has suffered in the same way, and no one cares. I’ve come to the conclusion that she needs to be comforted, but in this instance I’m obviously not the one best suited for that role. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor 1:3-4 NIV).
March 11, 2015
As I interview women for a series of articles on leadership I’m seeing the pattern of leadership beginning during a child’s middle-school years with sports, band, or youth groups. Most of the interviewees point to one person in their youth who recognized their characteristics of dependability and responsibility and placed them in positions of leadership. I find it ironic that now as adults many of us no longer feel like leaders and we need mentors, classes and books to help build that skill set. We would do well to follow the advice of the writer of Hebrews, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:7-8 NIV).
March 10, 2015
I recently visited an independent Christian Church whose attendance is hitting an all-time low. While their average Sunday attendance has been seven to eight people, this day we numbered four. The pastor good naturedly reminded us that Jesus said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matt 18:20 NIV). This group certainly didn’t expect anyone at their service beyond their usual handful of people, but you would never have guessed it by their preparation and execution of the service. There was no pianist, but we sang all four verses of traditional hymns a Capella. The communion and offertory meditations were biblically sound and thoughtfully delivered and the communion tray held a few extra cups. The sermon was well prepared, organized and succinct. No one could have blamed this group had they presented a service less than their best, but they chose to fulfilled Paul’s instruction, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17 NIV).
March 09, 2015
My friend told me of an experience where the pastor’s wife took the family dog to church. Apparently the pooch has separation anxiety and couldn’t be left home alone. However, the dog didn’t just go to church, the owner carried him to the altar when she went forward to take the sacraments. Obviously the dog owner was putting the needs of her pet above then needs of fellow worshippers. Paul makes it clear that divisions in the church have no place when taking the Lord’s Supper, particularly that no one should put their desires ahead of others. “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor 11:28-29 NIV).
March 06, 2015
Years ago I listened to a speaker and afterward commented on the presentation. She let me know that any analysis or feedback immediately following her presentation was not good timing on my part. Obviously she felt I’d committed a faux pas. Her response set me back on my heels and my worldly nature kicked in, so praise and kudos are the only things you want to hear after a presentation. It is curious how often we feel we must set the stage and schedule our comments to coincide with when we think someone is receptive. Unfortunately many of us use this same thought process when we share the Gospel. However Paul said, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim 4:2 NIV).
March 05, 2015
In a recent blog post a preacher reminded readers that a pastor’s job is not simply sermon preparation, “…we do spend 10-20 hours a week in crafting a sermon but that is not all we do. Being a pastor/preacher is not a 40 hour a week job as you well know.” Certainly there are many fingerprints on a pastor’s job description, including his own. It occurs to me that I’ve never heard a pastor complain about being overworked when he is following the scriptural job description ascribed to by the Twelve Apostles. “…It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-4 NIV).
March 04, 2015
My grandma was in the nursing home under hospice care and on more than one occasion the family gathered to say our last goodbyes. I had to laugh at our presumption when the next day grandma would rally around and have a pretty good day. My brother-in-law is now in a nursing home under hospice care and doing something similar. On Monday he was bedridden, unresponsive and unable to eat or drink. On Tuesday he woke up, decided he should get up, take a shower, sit in a wheel chair and drink a glass of milk. “Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come? No man has power over the wind to contain it, so no one has power over the day of his death” (Ecc8:7-8a NIV).
March 03, 2015
During a recent church visit I was unfamiliar with the praise song selections. Surprisingly all the songs lacked the usual repetition we’ve come to expect with praise music. The pastor joked with the audience, “You don’t have to sing a song 50 times if you mean it the first time!"
March 02, 2015
I walked into a church, picked up a bulletin, slid into a pew and waited for what I perceived was the tail end of an adult Sunday school class to finish. However, as I listened to the woman behind the music stand I sensed I’d stepped into a business meeting. I was early for the 10:30 worship service, so when two women greeted me I verified their start time. One looked at the other and said, “What other churches in town start at 10:30?” As they began to rattle off different church names I realized they were trying to help me find someplace to worship. While the group of under 20 people dispersed and left the building, the woman behind the music stand approached me apologetically, “We aren’t having services today.” I learned that the bulletin was from the previous week, the pastor no longer filled the pulpit, and the church members were organizing to take a church inventory. The membership of this little church was heavy hearted and their countenance downcast — no doubt very similar to the loneliness experienced by the apostles as they waited for the resurrection of Jesus.