July 21, 2017

Eye Contact

As Peter denied Jesus for the third time, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” I can’t begin to imagine the eye contact between the two, but it gives me pause to know that when I stand before the Lord He will look straight at me also. No doubt my response will be similar to Peter's, “And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61,62 NIV).

July 20, 2017

Jealous

James cautions believers that friendship with the world is hatred toward God. While most of us know that in our mind, I’m not sure we understand it on an emotional heartfelt level. James said, “Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely” (James 4:5 NIV)? God is a jealous God (Ex 20:5), so it stands to reason that his Spirit within us is also jealous. We pray to God to feel the Spirit’s love, peace and joy, but I doubt any of us have prayed to feel his jealousy.

July 19, 2017

An Unknown God

I know a few people who describe themselves as spiritual, intimating that they know God, yet they are so inclusive that any belief system is acceptable to them. They claim to know God, but their actions deny Him. I see very little difference in these folks than the Athenians of Paul’s day. “Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22-23 NIV). I suspect that even in today’s church God remains unknown to some.


July 18, 2017

In Season

During some church visits I get the distinct feeling that a few pastors feel I’m there to judge them, rather than to write an article about the worship service. Recently I was greeted by the pastor prior to the service and when he publicly welcomed visitors he introduced me to the congregation joking, “I think she is here to critique this old boy!” The pastor exuded confidence and preparedness that reminded me of Paul’s charge to Timothy, “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).

July 17, 2017

Teaching With Authority

The pastor had us open our Bible and read along as he read one verse of Scripture, which was the foundation for the sermon. He then kicked the sermon into full gear and fired off no less than two dozen other passages of Scripture in rapid succession without hardly taking a breath. I was reminded of the crowds who went up on the mountain side to hear Jesus and his subparagraph sermon text included Salt and Light; The Fulfillment of the Law; Murder; Adultery; Divorce; Oaths; An Eye for an Eye; Love Your Enemies; Giving to the Needy; Prayer; Treasures in Heaven; Do Not Worry; Judging Others; Ask, Seek, Knock; The Narrow and Wide Gates; A Tree and Its Fruit; and The Wise and the Foolish Builders. “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28-29 NIV).

July 14, 2017

Spectators

In prison Paul was torn between his desire to depart and be with Christ, but the necessity of continuing to live in his body and have fruitful labor on earth, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21). I’m trying to imagine someone of Paul’s character coming to the point of death yet feeling they still had kingdom work to do. In essence being pulled out of the race and forced to become a spectator. The writer of Hebrews said, “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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:1-2 NIV). I suspect that many of us, especially as we age, fix our eyes on the Lord to take us home, rather than to keep us in the race.


July 13, 2017

Reconnecting

I was warmly greeted by the members of a small church; however, as I waited for the services to start it was the instrumental medley played on the piano that truly welcomed me and made me feel that I’d come home to the church of my youth. As each selection was played the words to the familiar songs flooded not only my mind, but my heart as well. “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” “Morning Has Broken,” “This is My Father’s World,” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” The psalmist, who seems to understand the yearning many of us have to reconnect with spiritual and emotional past, wrote, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Psalm 84:1-2 NIV).

July 12, 2017

Zeal For God’s House

Prior to the start of worship, a man welcomed me and with pride said, “We love our pastor!” He paused and added, “And we love each other too.” Following the service, I was getting into my car when an older gent came up to the door and wanted to talk with me. He said, “We’re a family here. I’ve been to every d*** church in this area and this is the best one. Three-years-ago I came for the first time and I haven’t missed a Sunday since!” Mentally I laughed because the old-timer was completely unaware of how easily the swear word rolled off his tongue. Obviously there are many different ways to express zeal for a house of worship. Jesus cleansed the temple of the moneychangers, “To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:16-17 NIV).

July 11, 2017

Sowing the Word

Generally speaking pastors preach to their immediate audience, which for the average church in America today is about 75 people. It occurs to me that pastors fail to give consideration to the secondary audience that will hear their message when it is retold. When I write articles about the churches I visit I listen carefully to capture good quotes from the sermon so that I can pass them on to readers. Once published in the online newspaper the pastor’s words have the potential to reach over 10,000 subscribers. It’s easy to underestimate the nuances of sowing the Word of God. Paul recorded, “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region” (Acts 13:48-49 NIV).

July 10, 2017

Missed Opportunity

Our local print newspaper has invited pastors to take turns being a guest columnist each week. A couple of the columns have had powerful messages and a few of them proved thought provoking. However, some of the columns have had the consistency of a Twinkie — full of sugar and fluff. The newspaper circulation is about 4,000 and while not every subscriber will read the preacher’s column, every column is an opportunity to spread the gospel to a new audience. Too often we forget the example of growth in the early church, “But the word of God continued to increase and spread” (Acts 12:24 NIV).



July 07, 2017

Class Dismissed

I attended a Mennonite church and after the corporate Sunday School gathering in the auditorium the speaker dismissed the group in an orderly fashion — first preschoolers, then primary children, followed by juniors. I laughed to myself when the next class to be dismissed was the women. It occurs to me that this denomination, by allowing the women to have their own discussion class, has found a way to work within the confines of Paul’s instructions for the church of his time period, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says” (1 Cor 14:33-34).

July 06, 2017

Deserving

Twenty-two-year-old college student Otto Warmbier, who was held for 18 months by the North Koreans, was returned to the US in a coma and passed away. In a Facebook post Kathy Dettwyler, University of Delaware adjunct professor, said Otto Warmbier “got exactly what he deserved.” Certainly it was not Dettwyler place to make a judgment on the college student and she has since been fired for her comments. The situation brought to mind the thief on the cross. For believers, confession and self-evaluation play a role in the Lord’s decision on what we deserve. One criminal said to the other, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:41-43 NIV).

July 05, 2017

It Rocks!

Many churches have a traditional service and a contemporary service. I recently visited the contemporary service of a liturgical church and most of those in attendance were over 70-plus years-old and a number had appendages of canes, oxygen tanks and walkers. As I sat in my pew a woman welcomed me, “We're so glad you are here. You’re going to love the service. It ROCKS!” In my mind I couldn’t help but laugh. I know what rock means in a charismatic church, but I wasn’t sure what to expect in liturgical church. The song selections, led by a five-member praise team, were praise songs, hymns set to a faster beat and one hymn set to an upbeat tune. While there was no toe-tapping, hand clapping or hands raised in praise, I have no doubt that by High-Church standards the service rocked.  

July 04, 2017

Spiritual Independence Day

“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen” (Rev 1:5b-6 NIV).

July 03, 2017

How Great Thou Art

During a recent visit to an acapella church the 30 people in attendance sang, “How Great Thou Art.” After the hymn the speaker noted that he had just come from a gathering of 630 people who sang the same hymn. He said, “A song has the same meaning whether you are in a crowd, or just with a few people. Our numbers are few, but that doesn’t hinder the power of God, or our acceptance of how great God is!” The psalmist wrote, “For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. 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 95:3-7a NIV).

June 30, 2017

Three Shelters

It is amazing the number of churches, denominations and fellowships who identify with the body of Christ, yet separate themselves from one another. Peter, James and John witnessed the Transfiguration when Moses and Elijah appeared talking with Jesus. “Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)” (Luke 9:32-33 NIV). Obviously, since Peter did not know what he was saying, neither do we. Jesus came to draw all men to Himself, yet Peter in essence suggested the Son of God share some of His honor and glory with prophets and patriarchs. The suggestion to put up three shelters has a hint of putting up three denominations, each with their own religious leader.

June 29, 2017

Transforming

Actor Josh Duhamel, who starred in Transformers, took his three-year-old son to see the first Transformers movie. The actor didn’t tell his son ahead of time that he was in the movie because he wanted the boy to be impressed with his acting ability. When the child saw his dad on the big screen he turned to him and said, “You know them…YOU know the Transformers?!” Duhamel laughed, “He thinks they are really real.”  I’m now trying to imagine people looking at us in awe because not only do we know God, but we have a personal relationship with His Son. Paul said, “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 3:19 NIV).

June 28, 2017

I Thank God for You

In my evening prayers I always thank God for my husband, children and grandchildren. I just realized that my thankfulness stems from having them in my life, that we have a good relationship and that they love the Lord. The Apostle Paul had a different priority and while he had family (Acts 23:16) and was apparently married at one time, there is no record of him thanking God for his personal family members. Rather, he thanked God for fellow co-workers in the kingdom. Paul said, “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints” (Philemon 1:4-7 NIV).

June 27, 2017

Shown for What It Is

In Portugal more than 60 people were killed in their cars as they fled a wildfire. Certainly there were believers among those who perished, but the blackened skeletons of burned-out cars stranded on a bridge show that there was no escaping the flames. One cannot look at the devastation without recalling Paul’s words, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor 3:12-15 NIV).


June 26, 2017

Enduring

During my church visits as I listen to the average 30-minute sermon it appears that extra-biblical content (articles, online jokes, denominational resources, anecdotes, illustrations and current news) outweighs the Word by about a three to one ratio. It occurs to me that many of today’s preachers are leaning on their own understanding (Proverbs 3:5) rather than the Word of God.  Peter said, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23-25).

June 23, 2017

Judas in the Till

In yesterday’s post the Saints and Sinners Encore event charges $30 per person, which includes a glass of wine. Since the “tunes of debauchery, doctrine and fun” are held in the Connection Church, one can assume tithes and offerings are used to some extent to sponsor the event. John wrote, “But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:4-6 NIV).

June 22, 2017

No Longer Acting in Love

An excerpt from a newspaper ad for Connection Church, a neighboring community church, reads: Sinners and Saints Encore...[organizers] present a rousing evening of drinking songs, gospel songs, and other tunes of debauchery, doctrine and fun in an all-new larger venue! Tickets: $30 per person (Glass of wine included with each ticket).” It should come as no surprise that entertaining and embracing the world is becoming more and more blatant in the church. Paul wrote, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall” (RO 14:19-21 NIV).


June 21, 2017

As One Who Has Authority

I keep encountering preachers who continuously ask the congregation for feedback during the sermon. It’s more than just prompting the audience to respond with an Amen, Hallelujah, or Praise the Lord. Pastors are coming across as though they are leading a Bible study rather than preaching a sermon. They ask members their opinions about passages of Scripture, “I think this is what is says. Don’t you agree that’s what it says? Do you know God loves you? Are you free? Can you be yourself?” These are not simply rhetorical questions, but the pastors actually wait for a congregational response. I suppose there could be some sort of edification or comfort zone in an interactive worship service. However, I’m trying to imagine Jesus, Paul or Peter stopping their message in mid-thought and asking for a collective Hallelujah. “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matt 7:28-29 NIV).

June 20, 2017

Strengthening the Church

I’m having BFO — a Blinding Flash of the Obvious. We don’t all go to church for the same reason, or with the same expectation. Recently I visited a charismatic church that had 10 big boxes of Kleenex dispersed at intervals amongst 33 chairs. These folks were passionate about healing, laying on of hands and the emotional experience. Another charismatic congregation wanted everyone to have their own experience…worshippers were invited to dance, sing, move about, or just meditate in their own space. While I enjoy church fellowship, my church attendance is not about the experience, but rather to hear the Word of God taught. Paul reminds us the reason we come together is not for ourselves, “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church” (1 Cor 14:26 NIV).


June 19, 2017

When You Come Together

Occasionally when I reflect on a church visit I realize I’ve gotten very little out of the worship service. Last Sunday the congregation I visited was attentive and respectful during Sacraments, but as soon as communion was finished it was as though someone hit a light switch and no one was engaged in the service, or in what was being said. This particular denomination doesn’t have preachers per se, but rather speakers that give talks and both speakers this day were women. Two thirds of those in the audience were younger children and while they weren’t disruptive or jumping up and down in their pew, there was a constant buzz of conversations amongst siblings and with parents to the point that I couldn’t always hear the speakers. Each lady read from her prepared script which included testimony, quotes from published articles, minimal Scripture and brief commentary. However, from my vantage point very few people appeared to be listening to the talks. Although it’s foreign to my thought process, I’m now wondering if some folks just attend worship services for the Lord’s Supper. Paul said, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26 NIV).

June 16, 2017

Measuring By Faith

During a recent church visit I introduced myself to the pastor and told him I would be writing an article about the worship service. When I asked about the average weekly attendance he said, “Oh…about 40.” The service that day had under 20 present, which is not unusual considering the unpredictability of summer church attendance. However, as I scanned the cozy auditorium I had to laugh — there were only 33 chairs set up for normal worship. All too often we in the church fall into the trap of using numbers as a measure of our ministry success. Paul said, “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” (Ro 12:3 NIV).

June 15, 2017

It Depends on You

A lot of old-timers lament that rural areas no longer seem as friendly as they once were where people waved at everyone they passed on the road, whether or not they knew them. A couple of days last week I incidentally made eye contact with drivers and bicyclists and to my surprise each one acknowledged me with a smile, a wave or a tip of the head. I suspect that friendlessness in the community, and for that matter in the church, has more to do with our effort to make eye contact than it does with waiting for others to be the first to extend the right hand of Christian fellowship. Paul said, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Ro 12:18 NIV).

June 14, 2017

Loaded Question

Prior to the sermon the Pentecostal pastor said, “Leave your place and pray for your neighbor…move around and lay on hands.” The pastor’s wife, who was setting in my pew, turned and said, “Do you need me to pray for you for anything?” While I appreciated the gesture, I was uncomfortable with the thought of putting myself under the authority of those I did not know. James said, “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. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:13-16 NIV).

June 13, 2017

Time and Chance

I arrived at a church at 9:45 a.m. for the 10:00 a.m. service. The time was posted in a public directory and on the front window of the facility, but as the pastor welcomed me he said, “Services don’t start until 10:30.” I asked about the sign in the window and he said, “Oh we really should change that. People kept coming into church late, so we just moved the time to 10:30. An awkward situation, the pastor made an effort to introduce me to people as they came in; however, the reality is that for me, what should have been a two-hour worship service took three-hours. In my frustration Solomon reminded me, “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all” (Ecc 9:11 NIV).

June 12, 2017

Setting Traps

Perverting the Word of God, the marque of a liberal congregation said, “Ruth & Naomi the first same-sex couple.” The gay pastor said he wanted to highlight to the community that there is a local progressive voice in Christianity and that the church will be posting similar messages throughout the month of June. However, the pastor then revealed the real motivation for the messages were in part due to the local association of churches attempt to change bylaws that would exclude churches that accept same-sex unions. He said, “Welcome to the First Amendment.” I can imagine Jesus dismissing such justification by putting the First Amendment in the same category as a denarius, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matt 22:20-21 NIV).

June 09, 2017

Straight Paths



For exercise I walk in an event center that is about the size of three basketball courts. I always walk clockwise and a few days ago a small beetle was walking counterclockwise around the edge of the polished cement floor. As our paths crossed with each lap I thought of the expansive floor that lay in front of him and the image of the children of Israel learning to trust God as they wandered in the desert for 40 years came to mind. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV).

June 08, 2017

Shall We Pray

In worship when someone says, “Will you pray with me?” or “Let us pray,” I assume the position…head bowed, eyes closed, ears attentive and an amen on the tip of my tongue. In liturgical churches prayers are scripted and worshippers read along with the prayers as the father or priest reads them aloud. I know because I peeked during one such corporate prayer and discovered I was only one with my head bowed while everyone else was reading along in the book. Let me admit that the Spirit within me leaped for joy when one of the prayers was the Lord’s Prayer and I could close my eyes, pray in unison with the congregation and say amen!

June 07, 2017

Sovereignty

I continue to be amazed and offended by reporters, political pundits and news anchors who tell President Trump what he needs to do, how he needs to act and what he needs to say. It’s not that they are questioning the President, but they are elevating themselves and their opinion above the office of the Presidency. People of faith do something similar when they try to tell God how to be God. Paul puts this type of scenario in its proper place, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use” (Ro 9:20-21 NIV)? 

June 06, 2017

Public Reading of Scripture

Responsive readings in the liturgical church service came from a Book of Common Prayers, a denomination hymn book, and a bulletin insert. In order to participate worshippers followed along with 23 different elements such as The Decalogue, the Doxology and The Prayer of Obligation — all located in different places and on different pages. In stark contrast, when it came time for three Scripture readings, one from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament, no one consulted a Bible. Certainly there is no right or wrong way to hear and read the Word of God. However, I was struck by the fact that worshippers appeared to be active participants with the extra-biblical content, yet passive participants as the Bible was read aloud to them.

June 05, 2017

Presentation

Sunday I attended a liturgical church and the sermon itself, which was preached from a pulpit, was fairly brief. However, much of the service with responsive readings and scripted text were presented by the pastor having his back to the audience. Standing before the altar and facing a cross the pastor’s voice was carried throughout the small auditorium by bouncing off the wall in front of him. Presentation wise, I got more out of the brief sermon than the scripted text. I’m now trying to picture Jesus having his back turned to listeners as he taught in the temple, on the hillside, or from a boat on a lake.

June 02, 2017

Served on a Platter

Kathy Griffin calls herself a comedian, but I think a more apt description is terrorist. According to the dictionary a terrorist is “a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” To see Griffin’s portrayal of a decapitated President Trump brings to mind the recent beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians by ISIS and the Bible account of the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod. As an excuse for terrorism ISIS hides behind religion, Herod behind saving face and Griffin behind comedy. A media terrorist, Griffin may have just made the fatal mistake of decapitating her own career.

June 01, 2017

Spiritual Virus

I clicked on an internet forward and immediately receive a virus warning saying Armageddon would begin if I turned off my computer. The warning instructed me to immediately call the Microsoft help center and I handed the laptop over to Bill who spent the next 30 minutes wavering between whether or not it was a scam. When the “Microsoft” representative wanted to take total control of the computer Bill hung up on the deceiver and it took another 30 minutes of talking to a real Microsoft representative to undo the few changes made to the computer. I’m reminded that believers must guard against a spiritual virus — cults, new age philosophy and modern day culturalism. Paul warned, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough” (2 Cor 11:3-4 NIV).

May 31, 2017

No Marriage in Heaven

Jesus explained there is no marriage in heaven, but the example presented to him by the Sadducees, which is not listed as a parable, has always bothered me. According to my NIV Study Bible being childless was, “…generally considered to indicate divine disfavor and often brought social reproach.” The prominent barren ladies of Scripture are Sarai, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah and Elizabeth. In my mind I’ve always included the woman who in succession was married to, and widowed by, seven brothers. When putting myself in her place I can only imagine the disgrace she endured being passed from one brother to the next and never having children. However, a closer look at the text doesn’t describe her as barren. Luke wrote, “Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too” (Luke 20:29-32). These brothers no doubt had other wives, but still no children. It’s possible that the woman did not endure as much disgrace during her life as I had originally envisioned.

May 30, 2017

Recalling the Word

About halfway through the sermon the pastor said, “Some of you may think things in your life are going good right now, you may not feel like you need this message…but six months, a year from now you might need this message!” I thought of Jesus taking the Twelve aside and predicting his death — that he would be mocked, insulted, spit upon, flogged, killed and raised on the third day. “The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about” (Luke 18:34 NIV). I can imagine Jesus thinking, “Six months from now you’re going to need this message.”

May 29, 2017

Memorial Day

For believers Memorial Day occurs not just once a year, but every time we gather at the Lord’s Table and partake of the emblems of bread and juice that represent the sacrificed body and blood of Jesus Christ. When Jesus was in Bethany a woman poured expensive perfume on the Lord’s head and the disciples were indignant and objected at the waste. “Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her”” (Matt 26:10-13 NIV). It gives me pause to wonder about the things I’ve done for the Lord and what, if any, will be told in memory of me.

May 26, 2017

The Word of the Lord

I’ve just discovered how often the phrase, “The Word of the Lord came to me…” appears in the major and minor prophets. As a mature believer I’m familiar with Scripture coming to mind at just the right time for the needed situation. However, I’ve not considered that, like waiting for an expected phone call, I should be waiting for and recognizing the Word of the Lord coming to me on a daily basis.

May 25, 2017

Soapbox

It is our job as believers strive to become more Christ-like. However, I’ll admit there are times when I can’t resist the temptation to publicly get on my soapbox and fight for justice, speak out against misuse of tax dollars and confront elected officials who fail to uphold their sworn oath of office. Jesus did not stand on a soapbox, but rather fulfilled the what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets.” (Matt 12:18-20 NIV). 

May 24, 2017

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Last week Roger Ailes, the 77-year-old founder of Fox News passed away. Ailes is credited with discovering and hiring commentators, news anchors and weather personalities. In reflection commentator Sean Hannity recalled that during auditions for the network Ailes would turn off the sound and see if an interviewee could communicate without words. We believers often forget that it’s our actions that are read by others. Paul said, “The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden” (1 Tim 5:24-25).

May 23, 2017

Fact-Checking

A local opinion columnist seems to always disparage President Trump and it strikes me that the writer has no connection to Washington DC, or firsthand knowledge of the President. I’d be curious to know if his readers ever fact check his column, or if they are content to let him simply recycle what he has learned from other news sources. During my church visits I’ve developed a great appreciation for those pastors who are not intimidated by people who fact-check the message and encourage their members to use their Bible. Paul was not speaking about immature believers when he said, “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). 

May 22, 2017

Judging the Judges

Within the space of 30 minutes I listened while elected officials displayed a double standard when dealing with two different vendors. One vendor, who always stayed within their budget, was verbally spanked for not being more progressive. The second vendor was a friend of the officials and there was not one word of chastisement even though he had falsified marketing data and had nothing to show for $8,750 of taxpayer funds. “These also are sayings of the wise: To show partiality in judging is not good: Whoever says to the guilty, “You are innocent”— peoples will curse him and nations denounce him. But it will go well with those who convict the guilty, and rich blessing will come upon them” (Proverbs 24:23-25 NIV).

May 19, 2017

Testimony

I spoke to a woman on the phone to verify their church worship time and she suggested I avoid the first Sunday of the month because that is a time set aside for congregation testimonials. “I don’t want to discourage you from attending, but sometimes people get carried away and you can’t control the message.” I appreciate the candor and I understand where she is coming from. John said, “We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son” (1 John 5:9 NIV).

May 18, 2017

Continued Plowing

I realize that I sometimes irritate family and associates by repeating an opinion. In my mind when people don’t respond I feel they haven’t heard me, so I re-state the situation. In their mind they’ve heard what I have to say, have no comment and want to move on. I’m now trying to apply the words of Isaiah, “When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil? When he has leveled the surface, does he not sow caraway and scatter cummin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field” (Isaiah 28:23-25 NIV)?

May 17, 2017

Willful Disobedience

My friend’s cat strolled up to the dining room table while we were visiting. Shaking a verbal finger to the cat Cathy said, “I recognize that look. Don’t you even think about jumping up on this table.” As though the gauntlet had been thrown down the cat jumped up on the table between us, flipped its tail and nonchalantly walked the length of the table before hopping off to the floor. There was no pretense of being sneaky, this cat was displaying in-your-face disobedience. Obviously the cat did not fear her master. It occurs to me that sometimes people of faith display a similar a characteristic when we fail to fear the Lord. "My flesh trembles in fear of you; I stand in fear of your laws" (Psalms 119:120 NIV).


May 16, 2017

The Body of Christ

I recently attended a church where a member declared that their denomination is the only one that has the Truth. Interestingly, during my various church visits I keep running into some of the same people that I just encountered at a different church. These folks are mature believers, one of whom is a retired pastor, and by all appearances the place they worship is not as important as the worship itself. People of faith need to be reminded that the body of Christ is not a building, a denomination or a particular fellowship. The writer of Hebrews said, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb 10:23-25 NIV).

May 15, 2017

Spiritual Valuation

The media reported that local residential property valuations for 2017 would increase an average of 15 percent. When my valuation came in with a 29 percent increase, almost double the average, I filed an appeal. In my mind the assessor’s valuation is far afield from market value. I’m now contemplating God’s assessment of my spiritual valuation and wondering how much my value has increased between 2014 and 2017. “May the LORD make you increase, both you and your children” (Psalms 115:14 NIV).


May 12, 2017

Pablum

During my church visits the sermons I’m hearing are on the soft and gentle side — peace, love and self-improvement. Rarely do I hear a message about the importance and immediacy of obedience to the Word of God. However, I can’t place all the blame on pastors when we in the pew seem to be satisfied with pablum. The Lord speaks to us today. “They say to the seers, “See no more visions!” and to the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 30:10-11 NIV)!

May 11, 2017

The Cure

My friends and family who are diseased are in the forefront of my mind and I preface my prayers by asking God to heal them. However, my prayers for those who’ve drifted away from the faith take on a different form as I pray for them to come to their senses and return to God. It never occurred to me that those who are diseased and those who are backsliders have something in common…both need healing. “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.” “Yes, we will come to you, for you are the LORD our God” (Jer 3:22 NIV).

May 10, 2017

New Name

I took a photo for an article and one of the subjects immediately let me know that she takes it as a personal insult if her name is spelled incorrectly. I have no idea if the woman is a person of faith. However, if she is a child of God, she may be in for a real shocker when she gets her new name. Jesus said, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it” (Rev 2:17 NIV).

May 09, 2017

Unopposed

During elections some candidates face criticism for winning when they run unopposed. It’s as though if they had any competition at all, they would not have won. Recently, after receiving an email from a critic, an elected official changed the narrative with her response, “It appears I need to also remind you that due to my proven actions/interactions, decision skills, reputation & direction, no Party chose to run a candidate against me.” Although Paul was speaking to a young Timothy, his words should encourage even mature believers that we too have the power to silence our critics. "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 3:12 NIV). 

May 08, 2017

The Righteous

The older we get the more we deal with the death of friends and loved ones. My grandma was a rock of Christian faith and there are still times I wish she were here and I could share with her my milestones. I know those who die in Christ are at peace with Him, but I’d not considered that in death we are also spared from evil. “The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death” (Isaiah 57:1-2 NIV).

May 05, 2017

The Money Bag

When a 501c3 (non-profit) starts making financial decisions that I can’t support I redirect my tithes, offerings and contributions to other charitable organizations. I’ll confess, if I were one of the early disciples I would not have contributed to the Lord’s 501c3 as long as Judas was in charge of the money bag. John said, “But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:4-6 NIV).

May 04, 2017

Political Flamethrowers

Small communities are notorious for power struggles and people wanting to be in control. Generally speaking citizens can ignore small pockets of divisiveness, but political flamethrowers are not satisfied with staying in a small pocket…they want to set the city on fire. People of faith are not immune from either being the pot-stirrer, or the pot that is being stirred. At Antioch, “The Jews incited the God–fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region” (Acts 13:50 NIV).

May 03, 2017

The Interest of Others

I’ve been trying to put my finger on what I dislike about worship services that lack structure and I am finally seeing a similarity between that type of church and a bar/lounge. In a lounge you can sit alone at the bar, or you sit with others in large or small clusters around a table. You are free to walk around, get another drink, or strike up a conversation with anyone else in the facility. You can lean against a wall and watch others play pool or throw darts and even though you are just an observer, you are included as part of the overall experience. You can listen to the music, join in with karaoke, or talk above and around the music. Everything is fluid, and everyone looking to their own interests and comfort. Paul said, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like–minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 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 2:1-4 NIV).

May 02, 2017

Daily Bread

I always thought the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today our daily bread,” was a request for the Lord’s provision and sustenance. It then stands to reason that I offer thanksgiving for the food the Lord provides. However, it never occurred to me that having either more or less than enough to meet my daily needs could hurt my relationship with God. “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:8-9 NIV).

May 01, 2017

The Lord’s Supper

Following the communion meditation worshipers were directed to the front of the auditorium where the bread and juice were available on tables and we were given three options. 1). Take the emblems back to your seat. 2). Pick up the emblems and take them to an area of the facility where you can partake of them in your family group. 3). Partake of the emblems when you pick them up at the table. In theory communion is made personal when worshippers are given time to examine themselves and then partake of the emblems when they are ready. However, my time for reflection was shattered as family groups talked amongst themselves, finished at different times and turned back to other activities. While some folks were still in line to pick up the emblems, those who had finished their communion went back to drinking coffee, eating grapes and bagels from the café and walking around the auditorium. Paul cautioned about taking the Lord’s supper in unworthy manner. “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…So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment” (1 Cor 11:20-21, 33-34 NIV).  

April 28, 2017

Mockery of Prayer

During a church business meeting the congregation was asked to pray about a decision where the answer has already been determined by the leadership. Since the decision has been taken out of the God’s hands the need to petition the Lord is a moot point. I can’t shake the feeling that in this instance the practice of prayer is either being mocked, or it’s being used simply as busywork for the congregation. God looks for sincerity in worshippers, “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen” (Isaiah 1:15 NIV).

April 27, 2017

Heaven and Earth Become One

I recently visited a family-friendly church where children played on the floor with dump trucks, elementary age girls danced in aisle, and people walked back and forth with food and drinks while visiting one another. Teens huddled together in conversation, young parents swayed with babies in their arms and bounced them on a knee. All this while the praise team lead the congregation in the worshipful praise song, “Here in Your Presence.” Needless to say, the lyrics were apropos, “Here in Your presence, we are undone; Here in Your presence, heaven and earth become one.

April 26, 2017

Visitors In Season

I arrived at a church at 9:15 a.m. for the scheduled 9:30 service only to read in the bulletin that the start time was 9:45. In fairness to the members, when they entered the auditorium they greeted me warmly; however, their normal routine was to have fellowship and café in the foyer prior to worship. I’ll be honest, I felt like a guest who misread the invitation and arrived 30 minutes early to the party where the host wasn’t quite ready and didn’t know what to do with me. Paul charged Timothy, “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). I’m beginning to think mature believers are more capable and comfortable with testimonials, meditations and witnessing than we are playing host to a visitor.

April 25, 2017

Expedience

I’m seeing a pattern of elected officials having to publicly admit, “It’s the first I’ve heard about it.” Employees seem to be waiting days, and in some cases weeks, before telling leaders about potentially explosive situations. It’s hard to know the employee’s rationale — stalling in order to come up with an excuse, thinking the situation will just blow over, or hoping with the passage of time it will soften the seriousness. I’m now wondering about Adam and Eve in the garden. Did they think God would never find out they had eaten from the tree in the middle of the garden? Would their punishment have been less severe if they had gone to God immediately? How long did they play hide-n-go-seek in the bushes before being confronted by God; a day, a week? Certainly it was long enough for them to sew fig leaves to cover themselves. It occurs to me that many of us maybe spending time sewing fig leaves and yet we know the day will come when God calls to us, “Where are you” (Gen 3:9 NIV)?

April 24, 2017

Post-Easter

Yesterday in his opening prayer the pastor said, “Father, I pray for those who go to church today for the second week in a row…the week after their annual obligation [Easter].” I chuckled to myself and then realized even we who are mature in the faith are not immune from feeling of obligated. The writer of Hebrews said, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb 10:24-25 NIV).

April 21, 2017

Uniquely Qualified

The last few years our city government started moving employees from one position to another, often creating positions and handing out flashy new job titles. It has gotten to the point where citizens are realizing that many employees are not qualified for the title they have. During a recent meeting one committee member said, “In the city you have a lot of people wearing a lot of different hats. Eventually your programs will fail.” I’m reminded that in the body of Christ where we are uniquely qualified for our appointed position. Paul said, “And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts” (1 Cor 12:28-31 NIV).

April 20, 2017

Western Hospitality

Some retail business owners look to local government and the chamber of commerce to help market their business. During a recent community meeting one retailer rejected that idea and said, “It’s businesses who are responsible for bringing customers into their own business.” The point made by the retailer is applicable to the body of Christ. It is our responsibility to offer the same type of hospitality in the church that we would offer to a visitor in our home.  Paul said, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Rom 12:10-13 NIV).

April 19, 2017

Desired Sacrifices

The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross replaced the Mosaic sacrifices. Describing the Mosaic sacrifices the writer of Hebrews said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made)” (Heb10:8 NIV). It gives me pause to think that even today many of us classify ministry, time and tithes as a sacrifice to God, but these could qualify as sacrifices and offerings that He does not desire. The psalmist David said, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17 NIV). 

April 18, 2017

Eating With the Enemy

Like most believers I’ve committed Psalm 23 to memory and all phrases are impactful — green pastures, quiet waters, and paths of righteousness. However, it wasn’t until I listened to an audio version of the psalm that I was struck by the phrase, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (vs. 5). I have to be honest, walking through the valley of the shadow of death sounds more appealing than being at a table in the presence of my enemies. “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6 NIV).

April 17, 2017

To Shame

There are always differences of opinion amongst believers and between various denominations. Recently in a public setting a liberal pastor in my community took to task a group of more traditional pastors for what he sees is their lack of loving support for gays. I find it very telling that the liberal pastor used the media to bolster his position, chastise his brothers in Christ and in essence, solicit community support. Although Paul may be talking about property disputes, I find his words applicable to this situation. “If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers” (1Cor 6:1-2; 4- 5 NIV)?

April 14, 2017

Good Friday

As it should be, we focus on Resurrection Sunday. However, I would be remiss if I failed to recognize today as a day of suffering unto death. “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit” (Matt 27:50 NIV). 

April 13, 2017

Cruise Control

My new car is packed with technology and it wants to save me from myself. If the cruise control is on and I drive to the left or right of center, it keeps trying to pull me back to dead center. I can set the cruise control on 65, but if the car in front of me is driving 55 my car will slow down if it feels I’m getting too close before I turn on my turn signal to pass. I recently drove on winding mountain roads and occasionally cut a curve and dodged a few rocks. My car assumed I was getting sleepy and the cup-of-coffee icon appeared on the display with the caption, “Please stop and take a break.” I’ll be honest, I’m tempted to disable all these helps because I don’t like a car telling me how to drive. Hmm…Guess that’s a similar reaction I have when the Spirit tries to keep me from sinning. “Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long” (Psalm 25:4-5 NIV).

April 12, 2017

Woodpecker

Woodpeckers are protected and when they stake out their territory it’s nearly impossible to get rid of them...legally. One persistent bird has taken a liking to my daughter and son-in-law’s house, but rather than attacking the wood siding on the house this bird is attacking a large metal roof vent. I doubt he can actually do much damage, but from inside the house he sounds like Rosie the Riveter. Sometimes we believers are not any smarter than this woodpecker and we just keep hammering on the hard hearts of friends and loved ones with our own wisdom. Paul said, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor 1:21 NIV). 

April 11, 2017

Homeless

My friend rails against the misuse of the word “homeless.” She contends that many panhandlers, vagabonds and transients are not really homeless, but rather living a chosen lifestyle. Today we hear a lot about the homeless and in many instances the label is used as a way to shame society. Paul told the Corinthians, “To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world” (1 Cor 4:11-13 NIV). Paul’s intent was not to shame, but to warn them as dear children of his way of life in Christ Jesus.

April 10, 2017

Worthy and Worth It

In the early years of my marriage major purchases such as appliances and vehicles where basic, low-end and no frills. I can now afford better quality; however, when I purchase high-end rather than mid-range I sense Judas whispering in my ear, “You should have gone for the economy model and the money you saved could have been given to the poor” (John 12:5). Recently I mentally lamented on an extravagant purchase, at least extravagant for me, when I heard a different voice say, “You’re worth it!” Believers can get into a similar mindset as we wrestle with Christ dying for us…we're sinners. Are we worth the price He paid for us? Well yes, yes we are!


April 07, 2017

In the Beginning God Created

In a proclamation my city leaders announced April 17-22 as Earth Week with this year’s theme, “This Land is Your Land.” The earth is not really our land, but rather it belongs to God the Creator. Paul cautions believers about God’s wrath against mankind, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen” (Ro 1:25 NIV).

April 06, 2017

The Reign of Trump

The enemies of President Trump are going to great lengths to make him out to be a failure in everything he does. At first I thought the sabotage would, in time, come to an end. Now I’m not so sure that making America Great can be accomplished in two four-year terms. In the book of Ezra the enemies of Judah and Benjamin were not allowed to help rebuild the Lord’s temple and they took offense. If my calculations are correct these enemies carried a political grudge through multiple reigns lasting 73 years. “Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia” (Ezra 4:4-5 NIV).

April 05, 2017

Mark of the Beast

A company in Sweden uses microchips to tag employees, similar to chips used in pets. The implanted chip allows employees to “…open doors, operate printers, or buy smoothies with a swipe of the hand.” In my mind I’ve always assumed the mark of the beast was a visible mark that would allow people, at a glance, to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Now I’m not so sure. John said, “He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name” (Rev 13:16-17 NIV).

April 04, 2017

Overlooking

During a church visit the pastor asked visitors to raise their hand and an usher would give them an informational packet from the church. As the usher walked down my aisle he focused on the opposite side of the room and went past my raised hand. With the collection of tithes and offerings the same usher again walked past my outstretched hand and looked in the opposite direction.  I didn’t need the packet, nor was my token offering significant. However, after the second instance, rather than simply feeling overlooked, I felt ignored. I couldn’t help but wonder who or what was on the opposite side of the room that was of such importance. “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Pr 19:11 NIV).

April 03, 2017

To Be Continued

After reading the sermon text the pastor noted he had three points to make. Point 1). Believers are called to follow Jesus. From there the pastor took us on a Bible Wilderness Tour with one passage of Scripture after another. While he did tie all his leapfrog thoughts together with Bible references and illustrations, I kept listening for point number 2). and 3). Realizing his time was up he made a quick summary and admitted, “I have a couple more points to make…” Worshippers laughed when he continued, “We’ll get to them someday.” The sermon was reminiscent of watching a movie I’ve recorded only to discover the last 10 minutes failed to record. “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, “Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow”— when you now have it with you” (Proverbs 3:27-28 NIV).

March 31, 2017

Fact-Check

During a church visit the pastor used the illustration of the Denver football stadium holding 75,000 people and compared it to believers being on the field with 12 legions of angels (72,000) as spectators watching us (Heb 12:1). Unfortunately, the pastor mixed up his stories. In the wilderness Jesus could have called 12 legions of angels, but the Hebrew passage refers to a great crowd of witnesses, those pillars of faith who have gone on before us. I can correct the pastor’s narrative in my article; however, I’m reminded of the importance of fact-checking even those in our fellowship who are schooled and in authority. Luke reported, “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).

March 30, 2017

Rejoice With Me

While sitting in his recliner my husband Bill dropped a needle. Visually we checked his clothes, the upholstered chair and the carpet. Next we ran our hands over every surface and when that failed we got a large magnet and covered every nook and cranny where it could have fallen. I had visions of someone stepping on, or worse yet setting on the needle. After half an hour, and as a last resort, we went to the Lord in prayer. I then started all over again and retraced our steps, but this time I included turning the recliner upside down. There in the carpet next to the imprint of the recliner’s feet, lay the needle. I immediately felt a kindred spirit with the woman in the Parable of the Lost Coin. However, as I revisited the parable I was surprised that the woman, who lit a lamp, swept the house and searched until she found the lost coin, did not petition God. Jesus concluded the parable, “And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:9-10 NIV).

March 29, 2017

That’s a Good Question

Talking heads, commentators and political-types are in the bad habit of prefacing their remarks to the facilitator with, “That’s a good question.” I’m never sure if they are using the phrase to compliment the facilitator, or if they use the pause as a way to collect their thoughts before answering. I’m reminded of God’s questions to Adam and Eve in the garden and it occurs to me that God could ask these same questions to believers today, “Where are you? Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from? What is this you have done” (Gen 3:9-13 NIV)? I can image our stalling to collect our thoughts and saying, “That’s a good question.”

March 28, 2017

Know Your Audience

Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer as an example of how to pray. That being said, it’s surprising how few of us follow the model prayer.  In corporate prayer people generally do pretty well acknowledging God and thanking him for his provision, but I’ve noticed that the person praying often rephrases the prayer need itself and says “Lord, Miss Sally has been battling cancer for years…” or, “Lord the economy is bad and people need jobs…” It’s as though the one offering the prayer is reminding God of worldly situations. I hate to admit it, but I almost want to laugh. Of course the Lord knows of Miss Sally’s long battle with cancer and that in the bad economy people need jobs. I suspect the speaker unintentionally mixes up who he is speaking to by combining petitions to the Lord with reminding worshippers the need for the prayer. Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7 NIV).

March 27, 2017

Like-Minded

Friendliness is one of the attributes I look for and write about when I visit local churches. Sunday I made an unannounced visit to the church my son and daughter-in-law attend. When Lydia, my 11-year-old granddaughter spotted me she hot-footed it back to where I was sitting and with a knowing grin said, “I’m going to sit with you because our church is a frrrrrrriendly church!" Paul said, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like–minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Phil 2:1-2 NIV).

March 24, 2017

Underserved

A local non-profit 501 3c “health” organization is soliciting funds to help with the defense of an illegal alien picked up by ICE. In my research for an article I realized it is not just political correctness that keeps the ire of taxpayers in-check, but it’s also deceptive terminology that keeps people in the dark. Rather than labeling people as illegal and undocumented, this health organization describes their clients as underserved. Luke, in his account of the early church, has a better example of what it means to be underserved. The Apostles learned that the Grecian Jews (widows) were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. “So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “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 23, 2017

Moses and Pharaoh

In the book of Exodus, after experiencing the plagues, Pharaoh asked Moses to pray for him. I find it curious that Moses did not pray in Pharaohs presence, but rather said when he left that place, or left Pharaoh’s presence, he would pray to God. Contrary to today’s practice, Moses did not make a public production, or offer a prayer where Pharaoh could hear the petition. Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matt 6:5-6 NIV).

March 22, 2017

Editor

I submitted an article to my editor and she changed some words in order to, in her mind, make it more clear. However, rather than clarifying, her edits changed the meaning of a couple of statements. I now have a whole new appreciation for keeping a text as it is written and not allowing modern day editors, commemorators and biblical experts clarify the Word of God. Of Revelation the Apostle John said, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Rev 22:18-19 NIV).

March 21, 2017

Measure of a Church

In a few instances I’ve had the opportunity to meet the pastors of the churches I visit and I’m starting to see a pattern of explanations when they tell me why the attendance is down on that particular Sunday — people out of town, holidays, illness, etc. Not that they are trying to spin the narrative, but it is surprising that attendance takes a hit on the Sunday that I visit. Maybe it’s a modern day phenomenon, but it’s interesting that in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation the measure of the church is never based on attendance. The Lord said, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev 2:7 NIV).

March 20, 2017

Woodpecker

Woodpeckers are protected and when they stake out their territory it’s nearly impossible to get rid of them...legally. One persistent bird has taken a liking to my daughter and son-in-law’s house, but rather than attacking the wood siding this bird is attacking an attic vent on the roof which has a large metal cap. From inside the house he sounds like Rosie the Riveter. I doubt he can actually do much damage, but it is bewildering that he returns multiple times a day. Sometimes we believers are not much smarter than this woodpecker and it’s not unusual for us to keep hammering on the hard hearts of the unsaved. Jesus sent the Twelve out with clear instructions on how to deal with those in towns or villages who do not accept the Gospel, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town” (Matt 10:14 NIV).

March 17, 2017

Lawbreakers

Sanctuary cities and states are using taxpayer funds to help illegal immigrants and I recently learned of a local nonprofit health network accepting donations under their 501 3c tax exempt status to help with an illegal immigrant’s legal defense. I find it disconcerting that the church does something similar by using tithes and offerings to aid illegals. Certainly people of faith can rationalize that they are helping the poor; however, they are also encouraging those who should and could immigrate legally to subvert federal law. James said, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker” (James 2:8-11 NIV).

March 16, 2017

Have Patience

We believers work hard on being patient and some of us wait months and years before we see a response from God in answer to our prayers. My own impatience was put in perspective when I read the Revelation account of the sixth angel sounding his trumpet. Realizing the four angels have been ready and waiting since creation to play their role in God’s plan gave me pause. The voice coming from the horns of the golden altar that is before God said to the sixth angel, “And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind” (Rev 9:15 NIV).

March 15, 2017

Adultery

I have a friend who, although he confessed and has been forgiven for having an affair, can’t seem to forgive himself. He continues to grieve over the damage and hurt that resulted from adultery. Some Pharisees and teachers of the law wanted to see a miraculous sign from Jesus and he answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matt 12:39 NIV). Jesus was speaking of spiritual, rather than physical adultery. However, it occurs to me that all of us, at one time or another, have been guilty of spiritual adultery…and yet we fail to confess and ask for forgiveness.

March 14, 2017

Know Your Audience

I like to watch “The Voice” on NBC, but I don’t always hear what the judges hear. One young man put on a great performance and the audience loved him; however, not one of the four judges turned their chair during the blind audition. Blake Shelton critiqued the man and asked him if he was performing on the stage during the audition because to Shelton’s ear the singer had a hard time getting enough breath and holding the notes. Shelton said, “You should be singing to the judges, not performing for the audience.” Some leaders of the Jews believed in Jesus, but they would not confess their faith because their perceived audience was the Pharisees. “…for they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:43 NIV).

March 13, 2017

Let the Children Come

I attended a Pentecostal church and the 45-minute song service was spirit filled with praise hymns, raised hands and swaying to the beat of the music. As the children were dismissed for children’s church one little pre-school girl skipped down the aisle singing, “I’m a little teapot short and stout…” Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt 19:14 NIV).

March 10, 2017

Mistaken Identity

In order to get stories for a classic cars series I go to car show events that are held every Friday night in local restaurant parking lots. I photograph the vehicles and then go into the restaurant to track down the owners and get the information about their car. One evening I approached a group of 20 car enthusiasts seated around one long table. With pencil and tablet in hand I took down names and phone numbers so I could later contact the owners and interview them about their cars. I chatted with a couple of ladies and Helen, the elderly mother of one of the woman, handed me her menu and said, “I’ll have the fish and chips.” We laughed and I understood how she mistook me for a waitress. Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Even today some people have trouble identifying Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt 16:14,16 NIV).

March 09, 2017

Displeasing to God

I can’t imagine being responsible for deliberately keeping someone from being saved. However, our predisposition and loyalty to our own denomination may in fact keep others from salvation. Speaking about the Jews who killed Jesus Paul said, “They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit” (1 Thess 2:15b-16a NIV). 

March 08, 2017

Super-Apostles

Our current city administration has systematically dismantled and combined community organizations (Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Development Authority, the Area Merchants Association, etc.) These entities, made up mostly of volunteers, are being replaced by paid employees of the city. This same scenario plays out in churches. When leadership wants to shape the church they eliminate ministries, volunteers and servant-leaders and replace them with staff who are in agreement with their vision. Even mature believers are not immune from the attempt to disenfranchise us from ministry. I like Paul’s way of handling such situations, “But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super–apostles.” I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way. (2 Cor 11:5-6 NIV).

March 07, 2017

No Foul

David, my 13-year-old grandson, was upset with himself for fouling out during his last basketball game. I, on the other hand, was proud of his assertiveness and aggressiveness. Comparing the basketball court to the spiritual court, many believers worry about fouling out. We are so afraid of offending others that we hold back, fail to take the shot, or let others denominate the game. Paul reminds us that in the spiritual game of life we should be fearless and support one another, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Eph 6:19 -20 NIV).

March 06, 2017

Dressed Appropriately

One of our local policemen wore plain clothes to a youth sporting event and I was surprised by his slim stature. It finally dawned on me that I normally see him in full uniform wearing a bulletproof vest, which gives him more of a muscular appearance. As a believer I’ve always thought of wearing the full armor of God as a personal thing...it’s never occurred to me that on any particular day others can tell whether or not I’m wearing my armor. Paul said, “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).

March 03, 2017

Writer’s Block

The term writer’s block is used when a writer loses creativity to come up with a new or continuing idea for their project. I sense preachers struggle with a similar block when I hear a sermon based on two verses of Scripture fluffed up by filler, video, jokes and anecdotes. Whether a Christian writer or a preacher, if we simply rely on our own understanding and creative ability we underestimate the power of the Gospel. “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double–edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb 4:12 NIV).

March 02, 2017

Prayer of the Upright

I have a friend who needs to make a life altering decision and she asked people to pray that she make the right choice. I’m struggling with the request because all indications are that she has already made the decision. At first blush her lack of sincerity seems to make a mockery out of the prayers offered on her behalf. However, the prayers themselves, misguided or not, may not be as important to God as are those who are offering the prayers. “The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him” (Proverbs 15:8 NIV).

March 01, 2017

Don’t Harm Yourself

People who contemplate suicide often don’t contemplate it all, rather it is a spur of the moment decision. An earthquake opened the prison doors and the jailer guarding Paul didn’t even check the cells, but rather drew his sword and was ready to kill himself because he thought all the prisoners had escaped. I don’t see much difference between the jailer and mature believers when we see our church seemingly going the way of the world. Speaking from experience, when church leadership blows off my concerns my initial reaction is to draw my sword and cut my own throat.  Whether it’s physical or spiritual suicide, Paul’s words to the jailer are applicable, “But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here” (Acts 16:28 NIV)!