Thursday, January 9, 2020

Which is worse, the wrong church or quitting church:

I suppose it’s only natural to think “all” of our perspectives are “always” right. This has to be so, otherwise we would change our minds so we could then have the more correct point of view. This idea becomes interesting to me, especially when it concerns religion. Not all churches are on the same page theologically or doctrinally, so while we might disagree with certain churches, let me ask you: Would or wouldn’t it be better for people to attend the “wrong” church than to not attend church at all?

For example, your children might not attend the same church they did growing up under your roof, but wouldn't you rather they worshiped with a different church than not at all? How you respond to this question says a lot more about you than you might think.

So if we disagree with a certain denomination/non-denominational church, what happens in that congregation might be more beneficial for your loved one than you know. Your loved one attending the church you don’t approve of will more than likely be singing songs to God, hearing Godly messages, and reading Scriptures. They might even be praying for all we know? I’m guessing there might even be a sense of community they experience there too?

But, you say, they are “being led astray by a false doctrine!” And, that church does “it” wrong, whatever “it” is, you fill in the blank. Perhaps, or maybe not. Maybe they are reading their Bible for themselves for the first time in their life, and comparing the Bible with what they hear weekly or with what they’ve been taught all their lives.

Unless we are a cult leader, we should never be afraid of people searching for the truth on their own, without us, or without our help. Children and people we care for or mentor need to have an ownership of their faith. They need to be able to defend what they believe, not because of what we say or think or because of what “our church” stands for, but because of the conclusions they draw from their own study and worship.

Who are we to limit how the Spirit moves within any congregation, or in the lives of our loved ones? Just because we are uncomfortable with it, or it’s too liberal/too conservative, it might be just where God wants your loved one. There’s no telling what they bring to the table from your tradition that can help that other church, just like there’s no telling how that loved one can grow in a different setting.

Pray more than you pester. Scratch that, don’t pester at all, start to pray more. Ask nicer questions that show you are interested, instead of voicing harsh assumptions. Express your love more than your hatred or fears you’ve shared through the years. And, and this one is big, trust God more than you trust yourself to guide that other person you are so worried about.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

What should we make of Christianity Today Magazine Calling for Trump's removal?

This morning I unfollowed the Twitter account of Christianity Today. 
The reason?  Their piece on removing Trump was nothing less than hypocritical on their part:

Why do I think CT magazine is hypocritical and a bit insincere in their proposition that Trump needs to step down?  Even if they are right about Trump's presidency being compromised, the magazine has reached a new, low level of hypocrisy. 

Time and again the CT piece points to the moral problems they see with Trump.  Why are they suddenly the moral police for politicians, and why have they remained silent in regards to so many other politicians, especially the previous administration? 

I cannot recall the magazine ever recommending the Obama administration remove themselves.  For example:  #1, Joe Biden under the Obama administration certainly went further than Trump ever did with the Ukrainians in Biden's threats to withhold American dollars unless Biden got his way:

 #2, Have we ever had a more pro-LGBT, pro-Abortion, pro-Planned Parenthood president than Obama?  If Trump's character/morals disqualifies him from office, what about the stances Obama took? 

I do not like a lot of what Trump's past holds.  Yet, since taking office, he has done quite a bit for Christianity and people of faith.  I cannot say how sincere he is in his faith or what his position with God is, that's not for me to judge.  I also do not feel I need to defend Trump.  That's not what this is about.  This is about a "Christian" magazine that is not about politics but is supposedly about faith, misspeaking in complete error (Technically Trump is not impeached until the House delivers the articles of impeachment to the Senate, which they so far have not delivered) and hypocrisy. 

CT magazine has the right to whatever stance they think is correct, but for me, I think they have lost their way.  My guess is they are attempting to be hip and relevant, and perhaps reach a new audience to boost their sales?  I'm no longer interested in their perspectives, and I'd say they will lose more of whatever influence they had due to this blunder of theirs. 

Friday, December 13, 2019

How can we better support grieving people

When terrible times hit you the hardest, you won’t need anyone to tell you to grieve or how to grieve, we don’t need to be taught that. But, I do think we can all learn how to better support other people while they are grieving. 

I’m amazed at the dumb things that can come out of our well-intentioned mouths. We shouldn’t feel like we have to have the perfect explanation or the just-perfect words to comfort people who are agonizing over a death, loss, or tragedy. When anyone, for example, suffers the loss of a loved one we feel a bit anxious and we try our best to comfort them. Unintentionally, we often say things that are either callous or that possibly makes matters worse.

Yes, people who experience the loss of a loved one want to make sense of their suffering and they wonder how long their pain will last. But, they really don’t expect you to explain away or solve their problem.

People who grieve do not need to ever hear, “God needed another Angel,” “They’re in a better place now/they aren’t suffering anymore,” “Everything happens for a reason,” “God never puts more on you than you can handle,” or maybe the worst phrase we can offer, “I know exactly how you feel.” Instead, what they really need, most often, is a gentle hug and a listening ear.

Those in the midst of suffering aren’t expecting you to solve their problems or provide answers to the hard questions. Sometimes they simply need to know you are praying for them and you are there for them.

My dad passed away last week and I’m still getting a lot of support from our church, friends, and family. When my mom recently passed away in September, I received comforting calls and cards and messages from people far and wide. One of the kindest gestures that truly touched me was a card informing me that Jeff Fleming sponsored a tree for the Keep Kingsport Beautiful Tree Fund in honor of my mom -- it sent an emotional message that resonates deep within my soul to this day. My mother would’ve appreciated Jeff’s kind act and it meant a lot to me too. Any act of kindness and support goes much further than some of the silly phrases we fumble through when we don’t know what to say.

Being present for someone while they are hurting, offering your help through small acts of kindness, listening to them or simply sitting silently and crying together without trying to fix the situation is more powerful and convincing than sharing a silly canned speech about pain and suffering. Again, save your pearls of wisdom for another time because a warm hug and a listening ear will do them more good than our words ever will.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Ditching, scrapping & quitting Church

People quit “going to” church, I get it. Actually, I really get it, I've felt like throwing in the towel before. Not all of our children participate in a local church, not all of the time. I’ve seen the dark side of church politics & abuses of power, of church rivalries, of squabbles over gray areas, and I’ve been on the brunt end of churchy--elitist’s snubs. I've also read the stories of churches that embarrass their communities.

In case you don’t read any further, please remember, none of that really matters since the “church” didn’t die to save your soul. Jesus did.

My guess is, you aren’t happy with how Washington DC is run, regardless of your political position or party affiliation. I’ll take another guess, even though you aren’t happy with our government, you still vote, still pay your taxes, still obey the law. I’ll even go a step further, I’m guessing you haven’t relinquished your US citizenship. Here’s where my analogy probably breaks down, because you can break the law and you don’t really have to participate much in your country to remain a citizen. But then again, we have a different view of citizens who disregard our laws, take advantage of our nation, and never contribute to the greater good.

Flawed systems do not give us an excuse to quit. Jesus is, was, and always will be perfect. The church? She is a work in progress. When we confuse the two, then there are problems.

Some of our actions as Christians have tarnished the image of the church -- the reputation of the church suffers from our poor choices and bad behavior. There are plenty of good reasons why so many unbelievers have a tainted view of the church. On the flipside, there are a lot of good and healthy churches out there, and, some people might just be looking for an excuse to discard the entire notion of church participation no matter how good or bad their local churches are.

On top of that, faithful attendance in a local church is not the equivalent of faithful allegiance to Christ. Even though I think a lack of participation in the Body which He died for might show a lack of faith in the Jesus who shed His blood for the church.

So, do you have to “go” to church and participate to “get into” heaven? After all, Hebrews 10:24-25 seems to indicate we shouldn’t neglect gathering together: “Consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The word in that passage for “meeting together” in the Greek is different from the typical Greek word for “church” or “assembly.” The word in Hebrews 10:25 isn’t the word for the assembly, it is more aligned with the idea for being synchronized and bonded together in commonality. I like that a lot. Gathering together, not just for a worship service, but to be joined together and living in christian community. It’s a beautiful notion. It’s easier said than done.

On the note of “not forsaking the assembly” we need to keep in mind, we don’t “go” to church. We, the people, we are the church. Jesus didn’t die for a building, or for a denomination. He died for the souls of sinful people. Church is when we gather together, wherever, and we celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, church is when we gather with the purpose of making disciples and sharing the Gospel with a lost world. Maybe if we hadn’t lost sight of the Great commission, maybe we wouldn't be in the mess we are in now.

It’s not my place to say your soul is in jeopardy if you don’t belong to a local church. It is my responsibility to encourage you. I want to encourage you, please don’t give up on the Body of Christ. She fights over stupid issues. She makes a mess of things. She doesn’t always get along. She’s probably similar to a few of our family reunions through the years... She’s still the Bride of Christ. And, at times she needs you probably more than you need her.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

What a dying friend taught me about hospitality

I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the topic of hospitality. I’ve known for years and I have preached about how hospitality is essential for strengthening Christian communities; nothing bonds people more than sharing time around a table. Our door at home is an open door and our adult children have carried on themselves, what we have modeled for them their whole life. We’ve hosted small groups in our home over the years -- more times than I can count. I’ve trained church leaders in hosting groups in their homes. I even helped put a book together on hospitality several years ago. But unexpectedly tonight, I learned something new about hospitality.

Even after all of these years of practicing the habit of hospitality I discovered something I hadn’t considered. How did I learn this? Sandy taught me. Sandy who? Sandy is a member of our church, but you may know her as well as a local hairdresser; she owns Attitudes Salon on Center street. The ever fashionable and cheery Sandy taught me something valuable about hospitality and I’ll never forget her lesson.

You see, my wife and I have enjoyed having a hospitable home for as long as I can remember, but, I’ve kind seen hospitality as a one-way blessing and somewhat as a chore -- yes a labor of love is probably a better term. But still, being hospitable requires some work, or so I thought. And, I’ve thought about all of the people “we’ve” blessed by opening our home to them. By work, I mean I have thought in terms of all of the meals we’ve prepared, and then the dishes to be done, and of course the prerequisite vacuuming and dusting before everyone arrives, whew. As for the directional-blessing, I have always thought about how the folks who received the gift of your hospitality are, well, they are the ones being blessed by you.

But, tonight I saw hospitality through the eyes of Sandy, Sandy who has inspired my wife and me for quite awhile as we have watched Sandy face health battles that would've left me crying in a corner and probably grumpy and not very nice. Tonight, Sandy was resting comfortably in her living room, in a hospital bed.

Pouty, whiny, cranky? Not Sandy. She remains steadfastly cheerful, optimistic, strong, and she has the most positive outlook I’ve ever seen anyone have. Quick-witted and funny as ever, she said a few things tonight that opened my eyes to a deeper truth about hospitality.

Here’s what Sandy taught me, hospitality doesn't merely bless the visitor, it blesses the host. Sandy shared how much she loves people and how she loves having company over. I know that doesn't sound profound or earth-shattering, but the more I thought about her words, the more I saw how much I’ve misunderstood the topic.

We enjoy having people over and sharing meals, sure. Also, I never took myself for a Martha (she’s the one who is complaining to Jesus about all the hard work & preparation she was doing, in Luke 10:38-42), I love to cook, especially grilling, and while I’ve never been bitter about having houseguests, I have always seen hospitality as hard work. More importantly though, I really hadn’t understood how much of a blessing having company over can be for some people.

I’m not recommending you invite yourself over to someone else’s house just so you can bless them, though that occurs to me that’s kind of a funny thought, “Hey I’m coming over, just wanted to bless your day...” I am saying, when you offer to host a meal you’ll be blessed and when you receive an invitation into someone’s home, you might brighten their day and bless them more than you knew you could.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

What do you look for in a church and what are churches "selling"?

There’s an adage from a former generation that I can remember my old fuddy-duddy Bible professors quoting often, it went something like this, “What you win people with, is what you win them to.” Their point was, if you entice people to come to church, for example by inviting teenagers to “church” pizza parties and ski trips, you’ve won them over to those events -- but that is all. Their lives aren’t any different, they aren’t any different as a result of those events.

My question to you is, if you are church shopping, what do you look for, or, if you are trying to bring people to church, what reasons do you offer them? In other words, what role do preferences, comfort-zones, and tastes play in these decisions for you?

Most likely if you are attending worship services somewhere regularly, you feel pretty comfortable there and the church you participate with suits your tastes. It probably attracts people much like you, there’s not a lot of diversity, I’m guessing. I’ll take another stab in the dark and guess the church doesn’t stretch you too far, challenge you too much, nor does it expect too much from you. Does that sound like an opportunity for you to take up your cross, die to yourself, and give everything up and follow Jesus or does it seem like we’re missing the point of it all?

Churches today seem to focus more attention and energy on attracting people with inflatable castles and concerts while grasping at ways to retain the temporarily gathered crowds, than on helping people experience transformation. It seems like we’re catering to the shallow consumerism, the type that offers a major production on Sunday mornings but leaves people unchanged on Monday mornings.

It’s kind of like a refurbished college campus with big shiny new dorms, a Chick Fillet in their food court, and well manicured lawns -- but with a poor curriculum and sleazy professors. Would you really want to send your kids there...?

On the other hand, the church in the Book of Acts was focused on devotion, commitment, community, and changed lives through submission to the Holy Spirit and depending on the Scriptures. The church in the Bible way back then freely used terms like sin, repentance, and she had the audacity to tell people to “Be born again.” The church then wasn’t worried about offending sensitive people nor was she interested in wowing people with an on stage performance or helping a crowd feel “moved, stirred, or fed.” Nor did she employee mood-lighting and emotional music from the worship/praise team during the collection...

Before I’m misunderstood, let’s not confuse our mission with our methods here. Our mandate according to Jesus (Matt 28:18-20) is to develop followers of Jesus, “18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The way we disciple people Jesus was fairly silent on. So I do not have a problem with being creative in how we reach & teach people.

But let’s face it, in reality, we’ve followed the marketing pattern of Starbucks, big business CEOs, and major advertisers more than we have embraced the simplicity of discipleship. Discipleship isn’t sexy or flashy, so it doesn’t really seem like it will work. Have we really changed, has human nature really changed in the last 2000 years or what’s going on? Sadly, we’ve given into the idolatrousness of celebrating our own accomplishments while neglecting the “great” commission.

Again, before I’m misunderstood, we don’t have to forfeit an invigorating worship service for transformation -- this isn’t an either/or issue as in you are either relevant and lively or you are truly a follower of Jesus. That’s not my point at all. Yet, church leaders who cave to the pressure to “perform” and dazzle the masses never experience true peace. They are constantly worried a more attractive, interesting, hipper congregation will steal their flock. Here’s a little secret, a more exciting church is always on the horizon, just waiting to launch.

Where’s the fruit though? I’m all for being excited about church and for having enthusiasm in all we do, but I’d prefer to see it paired with sustainability.

There’s a difference that’s seemingly lost on many church-goers, and this is my point: There’s a difference between an experience and an encounter. Too many churches are “selling” an “experience” these days and the sheep are missing an encounter or mistaking that experience as an encounter with the living God of the Bible. I know our churches are well-intentioned and do so without malicious intent, yet we are perpetuating a malnutritioned, self-centered church-culture that does what feels good but misses out on what’s actually best.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Do we really practice what we preach?

Recently I had a conversation with someone who was recently divorced. Their marriage was in rough shape for many years, and regrettably, there were many mistakes made by both spouses. The person I spoke with said, “You probably think I’m a horrible person. I know what people are saying about me.” I assured them even though I had heard the stories going round, I didn’t think they were a bad person.

I shared that after all of my many years of being in ministry and after thousands of hours of counseling people, I know that in those situations no one is fully to blame and no one is fully innocent. I responded that I have the ability to withhold judgment and that I can form my own opinions. I referenced the woman caught in adultery in John chapter 8 and pointed out the way Jesus handled that situation.

The whole conversation got me thinking. Are we truly like Jesus or do we lean towards being more like the Pharisees, who we can’t stand? After reflecting on that long conversation, I wondered: How well do our churches welcome spiritually wounded people? Would we accept the woman the crowd wanted to stone, or would we have judged her? How do we view and respond to people who blatantly sin?

Could your church really embrace someone with a tainted reputation? What about you, personally, could you? How do you view people who stumble and fall? Do you look down on them harshly, feel superior to them, or simply shake your head in disgust? Or, can you truly love on them the way they need to be loved?

It’s easy to deceive yourself, assuming to yourself that you offer grace as much as you believe in grace. And it’s easy to say you are non-judgmental. It’s another story to practice all of that. Almost everyone thinks they are more grace-centered than they are. So, how can you tell if you really are a person who extends more grace than criticism?

For starters, grace oriented people do not see the world in terms of “Us and them.” It’s all “Us.” We are all basically the same, despite our many differences. The moment you begin the separate yourself mentally from the riffraff and the more you see the faults in others, the less grace is truly reigning in your heart. Have you ever asked yourself, how was Jesus mistaken for a drunkard and glutton and are people ever confused about you because of the people you associate with? Jesus never loved from a distance, why do we think we can?

Also, people who have more grace than others do not feel the need to correct other people. If your first thought when you see someone struggling is to think through what advice you could offer, you probably are unintentionally judging them. People need acceptance more often than they need advice. Is there a place for advice and correction? Sure. But your advice is not a starting point when others are down. A listening ear, a warm hug, and friendly smile can often do more than all of the “right answers” we might offer.

In the story of the prodigal son, do you know what the real difference was between the father and the older brother? The older brother was more interested in comparing while the dad was deeply interested in connecting. The telltale sign of the judgmental person who thinks they are grace-centered is how often they compare others to themselves and them feel better about themselves afterwards.

I feel a bit jaded by most church-goers. We can quote the Bible, have a ready answer, and basically be know it alls -- while doing very little. And when it comes to being able to help people who have been drug down by sin, we keep our hands as clean as we keep our distance. In other words, we know all about how Jesus ministered, in our head, but our hearts are hard. I wonder what would happen if we let Jesus swing the gavel or wear the judge’s robe for awhile and we just picked up the servant’s towel for now?