Thursday, April 29, 2010

Caution: Serious Radical Stuff!

I put the above Power Point slide up at the beginning of my lesson last Sunday after talking about how concerned I was that we weren't truly communing, fellowshipping, sharing, and interacting with our Lord's Support the way they did in the New Testament. After all, Paul's point in 1 Corinthians 10 & 11 is, if you can't use the Lord's Supper for what it was intended for - don't take it. If it's not about the Body - don't do it!

The reason I put that slide up was not to generate doctrinal panic or combat. I quickly put the next one up that had a huge red NOT across the top of the above slide. I did it to illustrate the principle that emotional reactions depend on our expectations. Some were thrilled and excited to think about such a change in how we do communion, and others, I'm sure, were close to having a heart attack just thinking about "violating" such a sacred "act of worship." I would guess that a few people, especially the few who come in so late they usually miss the communion anyways, had no reaction at all. It all depends on our expectations.

It was just an illustration, and I alleviated all hopes or fears quickly, and hopefully got my point across. But how do I really feel about making such a change? If it were up to me - and it's not, and if it could be done without masses of members keeling over with apoplexy - which it probably can't, I'd do it in a heart beat!

The way we do our communion in our assemblies in no way resembles what the early Christians did, and doesn't accomplish the purpose for which Jesus gave it - at least not very well. In Acts 2, 20, and 1Corinthians 10-11, the Lord's Supper was simple, was part of a larger meal, and was a tool to build relational intimacy as they shared, confessed, and encouraged one another as the family and body of Christ. Koinonia, the Greek word for fellowship, was never the mysterious, introverted, sacramental, every-member-lost-in-their-own-meditation-act-of-worship that we carried over from Catholicism. It is a togetherness, interactive, one-another-focused tool that God gave to His people to help them grow in love for Him and for one another. God doesn't do anything that doesn't contribute to His purpose of helping us have a deeper relationship with Him.

Frankly, while what we do isn't bad or wrong, and through focus and concentration we can get something good from it, it just can't cause the intimacy and build love for one another that God intended. The size of the group restricts it, our traditions won't allow it, and our time limitations make it unpractical.

In my humble opinion, it would be a much more effective tool in a smaller group setting like a Bible class, or even better, a small group meeting in someones home. For the reasons already mentioned, I wouldn't suggest changing anything, but there is NO reason the Lord's Supper can't be used anytime or place that Christians want to truly commune with one another and God.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Gnawing Witness?

When I was a child, I remember having this gnawing emotional indigestion telling me I should be good. I managed to ignore it or drown it out with the darker voice telling me "Do what feels good now!" Fortunately, it was a persistent gnawing, even when I challenged it with teenage rationalizing and young adult logic. Even when others were impressed with my "goodness" and helped me feel better about ignoring the gnawing, I was comfortable with the knowledge that I was "gooder" than most - after all, I was a minister, a presenter of the Truth, and a living example of what they should all hope to become (yes, again that is sarcasm). No, I wasn't a blatant sinner, a social bad guy, or even any different than anyone else struggling with evil, and I knew I had to depend on God's grace rather than see the day of perfection arrive. But the gnawing continued. There were things, mostly of the heart and mind, that robbed me of the complete peace a true relationship with God supposedly brings. Who knows when you're struggling with things like pride, selfishness, lust, and prayerlessness? God. He's pretty persistent, and - I guess, a pretty good "gnawer".
It's been a lot of years ago, but I remember when things changed - the gnawing went away - and that peace finally came. It happened when personal character became more important than personal comfort, and personal integrity became more important than popular acceptance. It happened when secret sins stopped being secret to God, which they never where, and Christ-like consistency replaced church-like correctness. Most of all, the gnawing of God went away when the presence of God was embraced.
At some point in every one's life, personal character, integrity, and consistency must to become a higher priority than all the distractions of life, the world, and Satan. Solomon learned and spoke of that around three thousand years ago. It has to be the best "wrap-up" of all time. He said, "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil." (Eccl.12:13-14)
We have a purpose, and we will have accountability. That's enough to gnaw at any body, but this is a gnawing that Tums can't help. The only way to stop it is to pay attention to it. It's a character issue.

Friday, April 23, 2010


And old buddy of mine (JV) sent me this picture, and at the risk of offending many who check out my blog, this was the caption under the picture:

"And thus, dear students, we have arrived at the formula for understanding women."

I emailed him back and told him "That'll preach!"

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Loveless Christians?

Jesus said the world would know we belong to him when they saw that we loved one another. So loving one another is the most important distinguishing characteristic of the Body of Christ. That also means that loving one another is our purpose, our goal, and the single most important quality He wants to see in His church. He didn't say that the world would know we are his disciples if we "seek and save the lost," though that is certainly something we must care about doing. He didn't say the world would recognized us as His people if we were the MOST doctrinally correct group on the block, thought it's clearly important to follow the Holy Spirit's writings, which also include the fact that "love covers a multitude of sin." He certainly didn't say the world would see us as His followers if we "do church" just like they did it in the 1950's - or the first century for that matter. Love for one another is the spiritual billboard that shouts to the world that WE BELONG TO JESUS! It's how we learn to know God, draw close to God, and build our relationship with God! Growing in love for one another is not A ministry of the church but THE ministry of the church. It's not an activity but a pursuit, a purpose, and a goal!

How arrogant and worldly is it for us to turn loving one another into an extra-curricular church activity, or a side benefit of fellowship? How much does it sadden God when we let anything in our church life become more important than loving one another? Whatever causes a person to leave a congregation, other than normal transitions in life like moving and transfers, is something that to them is more important than the love they have for one another. When someone mentions that they left a church because of something they didn't like in "the worship," they are saying whatever it was is more important to them than the loving relationships they have with the church family. As far as what Jesus wanted His church to being doing - they didn't "get it."

It's sad to see how much we've failed to understand the real purpose of the church, and how so many folks think "doing church" has little, if anything, to do with building loving relationships. I am so thankful for those who do - get it! I have a terrible mental picture of Christians standing before God at Judgment reciting all the "ministries of the church," and all the "acts of worship" they performed every Sunday, and all the neat "outreach tools" they invented and used, and God holds up His hand to stop the religious resume' reading and asks, "Yes, but did you love one another?" The Christians, with blank looks on their faces, stare at him and say, "Do what?"

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Buildings vs. Evangelism?

A long time friend of mine got a bunch of us preacher-types involved in an email discussion last week. The topic he tossed out was whether we believed the church spent money on facilities and staff salaries that could, and maybe should, be going to evangelism. At the very least, the premise was that the church spends too much money on buildings and staff - especially when compared to evangelism. I added my email to the discussion, but here are some thoughts that I didn't totally share.
There are few things in the church that members become more myopic, if not struck with selective blindness, than when it comes to church buildings and staff salaries. I can't tell you how many times through the years I've heard the "righteous indignation" of members who ranted about how much is spent on "administrative costs, employees, and facilities" rather than "the really spiritual" stuff like mission work, benevolence, and local evangelism.
First, I have to avoid the temptation of seeing this as a personal attack on my ministry, my value to the Kingdom, and a slam on our church family. Deep breath - count to ten - pray for guidance and patience!
Second, it's a fact, people judge the church, its staff, its office, and its facilities by one standard, and that is "What have you done for me lately?" If they don't see or hear about what happens, and/or it's not important to them, then it doesn't exist. Many members have no idea how much goes on at their building every day, or what their church office does for the church, or what their staff and elders are doing. They only know the building is used for a couple hours on Sunday, the preacher only works on Sunday, and the elders only have meetings. Be careful laughing at that. I feel confident that Satan laughs at it constantly. He loves it when members view God's work through selfish eyes.
Third, church facilities are not a waste of money and space if they are being used to teach God's Word, edify members, support the hurting and the needy, building love for one another, and are seen by the community as a force for good, a place for healing, and a place to connect with God. Yes, we're often not very practical or utilitarian about what we build, and yes, we tend to follow cultural and traditional models of what a church building should look like, but when they are humming 24/7 with good works that glorify God, they become tools not temples. And I have never seen my office staff do work that was "purely administrative" or self-centered. Everything the office does is to support this family of believers and the ministries we're involved in. In the business world facilities and offices may not be "the work of the company" or what the company produces, but that isn't true for a church family. As far as staff and staff salaries go, that's too big a subject for this blog. I'll just say this, if a staff person isn't worth the salary agreed upon with the church leaders, they should be lovingly removed. God said the laborer is worthy of their salary. It's up to godly people to evaluate and decide if that's true.
Finally, at least for this blog, evangelism is always available to use as a guilt whip. The most spiritual person on the planet can be made to feel guilty about needing to do more. Let me ask this question: If we took the hundreds of thousands of dollars we spent on our facilities and staff salaries, and got rid of all of it/them, and used the money for evangelism, would we really have a lot more conversions? If members where not being taught by capable and inspiring ministers, and we had no central location to connect with our community, rally the family, and build one another love, would we have more baptisms each year? I love "house churches"! We call them One Another Groups, but it's wonderful to get together with a larger family and give, praise God, and be encouraged - and pool our resources as a church family to carry out the Lord's work.
More money won't increase evangelism. Sharing the Gospel increases when godly people have a passion for Jesus that they can't hold back. It doesn't take more money for every member to be the witness for God that He called them to be.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Final Steps

At the risk of boring those who are not family folks with my porch again, I just wanted to let the world know that it past Final Inspection yesterday morning. I finally found time to redo the larger steps you see above - since they failed the first time. I'm sure family will immediately notice the HUGE difference in the top step that is now five eighths of an inch taller. I now have three steps that are about 7 and 5/8 inches each, and I'm sure that will prevent all manner of accidents from happening. (If you're new to my blog - yes, that is sarcasm!)
I was also able to get the side steps done and you will be happy to know that they are 7 and 5/8 inches each exactly & equally. Ironically enough, the inspector who has done all the other inspections, including the failing of my original steps, retired in March and the new guy who did the final yesterday never even pulled out his measuring tape. It's nice to have it over and behind me so I can move on to the things I really want to do to the porch. I have to admit, it was fun figuring out, measuring, and cutting the six new stringers for the two stairways. Stringers are those angled board that the step boards rest on. If some one had "splained" to me back in high school how important math would be in working on my house, I would have paid better attention. Any way, it's ready for family and friends to come visit and sit in the shade and enjoy the peaceful pond and critters. Of course, we've been doing that for several months now - but avoiding those dangerous steps that were off by an inch.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Does Anyone Know What TIme It Is?

I have come to accept the fact that there are things in life that I am obsessive about. I'm not OCD about them, but there are things that I have to daily repeat my mantra "It doesn't matter" regularly. I like to think that most of the things I'm obsessive about are things that are important enough to be worth the focus I give it. In truth, I don't think having routines or set ways of approaching things as being obsessive or "set in your ways." To me, things are driven by logic and and efficiency. I want to do things in the most time sensitive and economical way. I am obsessive about not finding out later that something could have been done a lot quicker and easier than how I did it. Most of the time, my routines come from a desire to not want to waste time thinking about how, when, or why I do something. We all chose our routines because they work for us and they give us a sense of direction without making EVERYTHING a huge decision.
How would you function if your watch, phone clock, and all other clocks were removed? I've thought about leaving my watch off, but I know I'd look at my bare arm over and over again all day. I've wondered about being obsessed with time. My wife jokingly accuses me of "eating by the clock" and not hunger. (Oops, it is just about time for lunch!) I usually divide many of the tasks that I do each day by blocks of time I want to give to them, and I do know that once I've decided on a time for something - it becomes LAW for me - and I have to remind myself "It doesn't matter" - and I relax.
I've decided to not feel guilty about using time. It doesn't own me, I just choose to use it to provide structure to my life. It helps me organize and be efficient. It helps me be a better steward of the time and talent God has given me. It helps me work better, but it also helps me relax - when the time comes, and it helps me put limits on when and how long I watch TV, read, use the computer, or work around the house. I would put my work ethic and effectiveness against any ones, and using time as a tool is an important part of that.
I'm excited about seeing what heaven will be like since it will be timeless. Will I spend eternity checking my bare wrist?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bird Battles

It started a little over a week ago. Our resident robins, and they are "Legion", decided that our new porch would be a great place to build their nest for the Spring. Last week, one mama robin had half a nest constructed on one of our beams in a matter of minutes. I've torn down about three half finished nests as they move from beam to beam, after I've tacked a bag on it to discourage them. I really hate for them to work so hard on something that I won't let happen when they can be doing the same work somewhere else - somewhere safe. But they are a persistent bird. They return over and over with mouths full of nest making materials and they have the hardest time trying to figure out why "their spot" is not available anymore. After trying to make plastic bags work for several days, I finally found a better deterrent - empty coffee containers that I've been saving for future painting plans. They are great for putting a little paint in and they have their own built in handle. Anyway, they worked great as a nest building deterrent. The robins, even this morning, are landing next to them, with mouth-fulls of grass, and wondering what these things are doing covering their nest sight.
I have three coffee containers and one bag on four of our beams. The one beam at the end of this picture is too far from a rafter for them to use as a nest sight. It offers no protection from the wind. They're not dumb.

You can see the befuddled robin on the railing. You can't see her mouth-full of grass. She is at a loss as to why that red thing is covering up her nest. If you look hard to the lower right you can also see one of our resident rabbits eating our grass.

This is a zoom pic through our window (with shades) so it's not so clear, but you can see the material in her mouth as she stares at the coffee can on her post. This is at the other end of our porch from the picture before this.

Now, back to the other end of the porch - the mama robin finally gave up and just dropped her nest material on the railing. It's hard to not let them build their nests on our porch, but it's not safe and I don't want bird droppings all over my porch either.
I am so amazed at their persistence and dedication. God made them to seek a nesting place this time of year, and they are totally focused on doing what He created them to do. It truly reminds me of something I share often. Man is the only thing in all creation that can and does chose to not do what God created him to do. But then again, man is the only thing in all creation that God wants an eternal relationship with, and love must always be a choice.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

What's The Motto With You?

Back when I was coaching the Jr. High basketball team in TN, I developed a short motto or mantra that I said to the kids at every practice. It was a threefold goal or purpose statement that described what we were, or should be, all about. Have fun, do your best, and glorify God. I really liked the simplicity, accuracy, and biblical focus of each part. I have used that as our purpose statement with our musical each year since we first started it, five years ago. I still really like it. It has become a life purpose for me. I believe it is what Jesus would tell us, if he were talking with us and giving us a simple focus in life. He does want us to enjoy life, and if we are his lights - his ambassadors - we should seek to do our best at whatever we do - from basketball to Bible Action to being "a living sacrifices" for him. When we do that, he will be glorified!
We are what we believe and what we believe comes from what we tell ourselves. This is something we can tell ourselves that will keep us focused on our loving Father, who has been driven by a desire to have a relationship with us before he said, "Let there be light." The secret to truly doing all three - having fun, doing our best, and glorifying God - is being in love with the One who loves us so much.

PS. Brothers of the "cloth" - it's an easy three point sermon too! It'll preach!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

A Blooming Monday

We spent a fun day yesterday taking Donna's mother ("Mither") to see the Missouri Botanical Garden. It is such a beautiful place with so many wonderful colors, smells, and sights. We did a lot of walking, but it was so neat to see so many different rooms of God's creation in such a small area. The above picture was in the large domed tropical forest setting and was full of all kinds of plants from all over the world. It was hard not to pause at this beautiful waterfall and think about the thousands of places just like this that few if any humans have seen.

This picture was actually taken just outside the entrance to the tropical building. These flowers were spectacular, even with a little overcast sky. It was a good place for a mother-daughter picture. It is always a blessing to have "Mith" visit us. She is an incredible godly lady who has been a source of encouragement to me and caused me to never tell a "mother-in-law" joke. I still remember thinking to myself, some thirty-eight years ago, that Donna was just like her mother and that made me look forward to being together for a long, long time.
We also had a really nice lunch at the little restaurant they have there, but the best part of the day was stopping at Fritz's on the way home and having some frozen custard. Hey - we did a lot of walking, and besides, my Concrete had pecans in it, and that's nearly health food!

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Non TN Titans

I just got back from seeing the movie Clash of the Titans. The best word I can think of to describe it is entertaining - especially if you like actions movies like I do. It was a neat remake of an oldie. It's amazing what they can do now with all the new computer graphic stuff they can put into movies. It's hard to tell the real from the computer generated.
The movie just reminded me of a point I was making yesterday at our monthly Preachers Meeting. As the title of the movie proclaims, it's all about the gods of mythology, who seemed to thrive on toying with humans and making their lives miserable. No one would admit it of course, but I think many folks think of God in a similar fashion. Many have no idea why He would give commands, make laws, and require obedience in carrying out things that seem to have no connection to anything except exalting Him. Many see God as coming up with all kinds of hoops for man to jump through and wonder if He gets some perverse pleasure out of putting burdens on people.
Our God is love. Everything He has ever done and will do, comes from His character as a loving Father. No, He doesn't toy with anyone, and He's never given man anything that was merely a hoop to jump through. What He does is always for a reason and He said that reason was to bring about a relationship with us.
Talk about Clash of The Titans? What about the clash of religious people who have no idea why God commands and requires what He does and why He gave things to us to help us? God is the most Purpose Driven being in existence. It would dramatically help us all if we truly took the time to figure out why God has done the things He has done. It will change the way we do what we do in His name! We might even start seeing things He tells us to do as tools to use rather than acts to perform.