One local church has an intermittent attendee and an occasional visitor, but generally speaking the membership consists of the pastor and his wife and one elder. The pastor said, “We never know who will come, but it’s often just us.” Certainly the Lord is present when two or more are gathered in His name, but I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around maturing the church body with so few body parts. Paul said Christ is the head of the body, “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph 4:16 NIV).
January 30, 2017
During my church visits I’m seeing a noticeable downward turn in attendance from when I visited the same churches a year ago. Of three longstanding churches who last year had 20-30 in attendance, one closed their doors, another is down to three people and a third has only two families. I’m hearing a reoccurring theme in all of them — older members are dying, people are not dependable, many are traveling, people are out with the flu and some moved on to another church. From a visitor’s perspective it appears that as fellowship shrinks, so does preparation and enthusiasm for preaching the Word. The Lord said, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11 NIV).
January 27, 2017
I’m always amazed by people who seemingly just let things roll off their back. My personality is to take things and people more seriously, particularly in areas of a spiritual nature. I can’t help but take my own spiritual well-being seriously, but I’d like to learn to lighten up when it comes to other people’s situations. For instance, when people thumb their nose at the idea of sin, evil and salvation I’d like to be nonchalant and say, “Oh well.” Or better yet, laugh at them, “The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming” (Psalm 37:12-13 NIV).
January 26, 2017
In a recent advice column, a writer lamented that she was accident prone and with her most recent injury, rather than getting sympathy from friends, they teased her about her clumsiness. The columnist suggested that her friends may have compassion fatigue. I sometimes feel guilty over what feels like a lack of sympathy and empathy, but I’d never considered a spectrum for compassion. I can relate to compassion fatigue. “My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word” (Psalm 119:28 NIV).
January 25, 2017
We retirees are confronted daily with not being able to do the things we used to do. Generally speaking we accept our limitations and live without expectations that our physical or financial situation will improve with age. However, after reading the book of Job it occurs to me that I’ve sorely underestimated the Lord’s work in the life of seniors, “The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first…” (Job 42:12a NIV).
January 24, 2017
During one of my recent church visits a man holding a guitar said, “I’m the worship leader. I’m Matt.” A little later the speaker who delivered the mission moment praised the leadership of Matt and Bryan. Since the bulletin gave no names or identifications it wasn’t until I exited the building and shook hands with the pastor that I learned he was the Bryan spoken of earlier. When I mentioned the visitor’s dilemma in not knowing the name of the preacher and he said, “It’s probably okay if people don’t know my name because it’s not supposed to be about me.” I understand this form of humility, but in today’s church the phrase, “It’s not about you” has become a cliché. Certainly we need to be humble, but the Lord never intended for his disciples to be incognito. Scripture makes it clear that it’s important to know Simon son of John would be called Cephas (Peter), that Saul was renamed Paul, and that Judas son of James was not the traitor Judas Iscariot.
January 23, 2017
Over 70 congressmen and women boycotted Trump’s inauguration and I can’t help but draw a parallel to the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business” (Matt 22:2-5 NIV). There will be fallout for those boycotting the inauguration; however, boycotting the kingdom of heaven has eternal consequences.
January 20, 2017
It’s hard not to take it personal when you offer comfort to a friend or family member only to have your counsel brushed aside. The rebuff stings even though we may not have enough information, our counsel may have an agenda, or our type of comfort is not what they need at the moment. Job said to his friends, “I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all! Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing? I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you. But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief” (Job 16:2-5 NIV).
January 19, 2017
Last Monday we observed Martin Luther King Day (MLK) and a few people in our community are indignant that some government entities were open for business rather than closing their doors. Unbeknownst to some is the fact that government employees as a group often have a say in which holidays they want to take off. It’s understandable that, unless you are into skiing, snowshoeing or ice climbing, you would most likely pick Columbus Day in October over MLK in January as a day off. I understand those that want to celebrate and honor Dr. King. However, as believers know full well, you can’t impose on others your own sense of tribute and reverence for Someone. The psalmist wrote, “Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise” (Psalm 79:13 NIV).
January 18, 2017
Many of us avoid confrontation with a seasoned bully because we know we can’t win…and they are not going to change. More often than not we ask the Lord what “we” should do under such circumstances. I just discovered Nehemiah’s approach and I like it! Rather than taking matters into his own hands to stop the ridicule that was inflicted on the Jews, he turned to God, “Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders” (Ne 4:4-5 NIV).
January 17, 2017
In some cases, I find myself drawing parallels between Israel and America. As the world seems in disarray, I’m comforted to read about the relationship God has with nations while He seemingly works behind the scenes. There was a long time during the reign of Asa that Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach and without the law. Asa reformed Israel after being confronted by Azariah son of Obed and Chronicles records, “In those days it was not safe to travel about, for all the inhabitants of the lands were in great turmoil. One nation was being crushed by another and one city by another, because God was troubling them with every kind of distress. But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded” (2 Ch15:5-7 NIV).
January 16, 2017
I recently visited with a couple who are new to the community and they told me of their previous church experience in the metro area. “We went to a church for six months without anyone welcoming us, so we left and found a church where we were greeted warmly.” I’ve heard this type of critique before and I understand her point of view. However, I have to wonder at what point do people of faith remove themselves from the category of foreigner and become engaged and start to assume the duties of host. Paul observed something similar when he visited Athens, “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (Acts 17:21 NIV).
January 13, 2017
During a sermon the pastor spoke about the revolving doors of the church, “People going to other churches…they float in and they float out for a season. It’s not healthy.” While I understand his comment, I wonder about the intended purpose of the comments being inserted in the sermon. Occasionally churches leadership confuses shepherding with flock-ownership; however, Jesus makes it clear that He is the Good Shepherd and there is only one flock and one shepherd. Jesus said, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16 NIV). It’s possible that some of these floaters simply have not yet found the right pen.
January 12, 2017
Over the weekend the water pipes under my 93-year-old mother-in-law’s modular house froze and to add to the dilemma six skunks moved in to get out of the cold. Thankfully water line thawed out, but in a catch-22, the plumber refuses to go under the house until the exterminator gets rid of the skunks…which could be time consuming when setting traps. I hate to bring such an unspiritual stink to the Lord, but Peter did say, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7 NIV).
January 11, 2017
I recently had a one-on-one with a pastor who was passionate about making his message clear. I appreciated his desire; however, the longer he talked the more he seemed to turn our visit into a teaching moment. As a mature believer I have to admit I was somewhat put-off by what felt like his attempt to be superior and make me a student. 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. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Ro 12:3-5).
January 10, 2017
A panhandler held a black cardboard sign with silver letters that read “Jesus Loves the Homeless.” I understand the man’s endgame to be that he wants a handout, but that’s not what the sign said. My head spun thinking of all different messages that can be ascertained by those driving by and the usury of the Lord’s name. However, Paul has a different thought process about those who preach Christ out of selfish ambition, “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Phil 1:17-18a NIV).
January 09, 2017
Solomon asked God for a discerning heart to govern his people and for the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. The Lord was pleased with the request, “So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be”” (1 Kings 3:11-12 NIV). It would be extreme for me to ask God for the death of my enemy, but I have to admit that I wouldn’t shed a tear if they had a bad case of the flu, overslept for an important meeting, or had a diminished sphere of influence. I wrestled with the idea of the death of my enemy and it occurs to me that even though I wouldn’t ask for someone’s physical death, death takes many forms…the death of someone’s career, the death of their prowess, the death of one’s health.
January 06, 2017
One of my friends apparently signed up by accident for the online game Candy Crush. There are well over 2,00 levels to the game and when I play a pop-up will ask if I want to help friends out by sending them an extra life. The game keeps soliciting help for Ron who, unbeknownst to him, remains stuck on level one. It occurs to me that I have a few friends and loved ones who are spiritually in a similar situation. They may have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, but they just don’t appear to move beyond level one. Peter said, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Peter 3:18 NIV).
January 05, 2017
During one sermon a pastor said, “God’s love is, has been and always will be. God’s love doesn’t start when we get things right. God has always loved us. And His wrath is set aside through the cross.” Elements of God's love include mercy and kindness and it gives me pause to know that God can take his love away from us. After promising David that his offspring would succeed him God, through revelation to Nathan, said, “He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you” (2 Sam 7:13-15 NIV).
January 04, 2017
Saul’s disobedience caused God to regret/grieve/repenteth making him king. “Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel: “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions” (1 Sam 15:10-11a NIV). None of us want to disappoint God. However, it gives me pause to think that whether we’re a king, a pauper, or a middle-class American, our disobedience may cause God to regret the position in life to which we’ve been assigned.
January 03, 2017
I attended a Christian Science Society service where they read the opening scripted statement, “The Bible and the Christian Science textbook are our only preachers. We shall now read Scriptural text, and their correlative passages from our denominational textbook; these comprise our sermon.” As a group “we” didn’t read the Bible, or the denominational text. Rather both were read to us by two women known as Reader One and Reader Two. I was the only one to use my Bible and with almost 40 different passages of Scriptures I followed along as best I could with the biblical text. However, the speed of the reading and the lack of a hard copy of the denominational text made it, in my mind, impossible for a listener to be confident of the parallel being drawn. Paul reminds us that we have an individual responsibility in handling the Word of Truth, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15 NIV).
January 02, 2017
The election continues to divide friends, family and colleagues. I know one family, three generations, who continue to blame each other for Trump’s victory and are no longer speaking to one another. The election has given me to have a whole new appreciation and understanding of divisions caused by faith. Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’” (Matt 10:34-36 NIV).