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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
July 03, 2017
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).