Monday, October 31, 2005

The Preacher's Kid

"You have to watch out for the preacher's kid!"

Scary words for a preacher, let me tell you! But you know the stereotype: the preacher's kids are the rebellious ones, always sneaking around and getting into trouble. Dad is preaching righteousness and heaven while the kids are nasty and raising hell.

I'm a preacher, but I've never been the preacher's kid. My grandfather was a pastor, but he entered the ministry later in life so my mother was never really a PK. Her dad was a PK, but I don't remember him ever talking about what that way like. And I wonder what I've gotten my kids into.

Now don't get me wrong. I've known more than a few PK's in my life. My high school sweetheart was a preacher's kid. Another good friend in high school was a PK. I know they felt a little pressure to be good -- especially when they wanted to be bad. But then again, I think any kid of church-going parents feels that pressure to a certain degree. Still, I know there is more expected of the preacher's kid.

I ran across this post over at Uncle Sam's Cabin with the following thoughts:
Pastors' children are no better or worse than anybody else's children at being "hell raisers" just more noticeable because everyone's watching them. We hold them up as some how better than your ordinary average Christian and expect them to avoid making the same mistakes we ourselves make every day. All of those high expectations can put a lot of pressure on pastors and their families. Can you imagine being a kid in those kind of circumstances? Rather than turn against our parents and our faith (as some children of pastors do) my sisters and I closed ranks around our family. We'd seen too many others stumble and fall fracturing the relationships within their families to repeat those mistakes.

Every statistical study I have seen shows this poster to be accurate. PK's are not worse... just average. Still I know there is a lot of pressure on the kids, just as there is a lot of pressure on the pastor. There is a good chance that some of those PK's who fall are experiencing the results of a self-fulfilling prophecy. They're expected to live up to a lousy stereotype, so they subconsciously set about to make it happen.

Something about us, whether it's Western culture or just the human condition, wants to see those on the pedastal fall. We love to see those who claim to be so good turn out to be so bad. We relish watching the rich man who loses it all, and we resent the man who doesn't lose it. In the same manner, the world wants to see those who teach morality fall into immorality. Or better still, have their ongoing immorality exposed for all to see. Preacher's kids may be down a few rungs on the ladder, but they are still targets of those who want to feel better about themselves or about their own kids. When the preacher's son is caught drinking and vandalizing or when the preacher's daughter ends up pregnant and single, some feel a certain amount of vindication. That's sad.

I'm grateful that I don't feel the pressure that many pastors feel. I hope that translates the same way for my kids. They are under enough scrutiny just being my kids, let alone being the pastor's kids.

As you pray for your pastor, don't forget to say a prayer for the spouse and the kids.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Gifts for the Birthday Girl... and for me

Today was my daughter's birthday. She's turning four. Since she's the baby of the family and the only girl, she gets a little special attention. Today it was a tea party birthday with a couple dozen friends, relatives and others munching on tea sandwiches, birthday cake and pink punch. Oddly enough, as I type this I realize that nobody had any tea. Go figure. But we had our share of little ones running wild. I see ponies and coloring books and doll furniture piled into heaps. There's still wrapping paper and assorted torn boxes and warranty cards strewn across the living room floor. I'll get to the cleaning part soon enough.

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The picture above is my daughter's birthday cake. My wife made it herself. Truly amazing. I think she even surprised herself with how well it came out. It's tough for her to surprise me anymore, as she is always accomplishing things out of the ordinary, but this cake was really something. In the same way, I watched my wife sit at this computer for around eight hours one day last month. She was figuring out how to get rid of a virus we had picked up somewhere, and no one was going to tell her she couldn't do it. Eventually she got it figured out through ingenuity and tenacity. Or maybe it was just stubbornness. Either way, she was a marvel to watch. When she sets her mind to something, it's rare that she can't succeed. She is truly a gifted person who is a gift from God.

My oldest boy played guitar at church this morning. He led the congregation in singing the old Andre Crouch song, Soon and Very Soon. He's really a great kid -- almost 14 years old now. His one drawback is that he looks and acts too much like his old man did at that age. Hopefully he'll work out of that. Next weekend I will have the incredible blessing of baptizing him. Words cannot express what that will be like.

The middle child missed the birthday party today because his football team had a playoff game. He plays fullback and inside linebacker and has had a great season. The team lost today in the semi-finals in overtime 13-12. Next year he'll be playing Junior High football. It seems like only yesterday that he was our 3 year old imp with a smirk on his face and a twinkle in his eye. The boy is growing up. He's a people person. I've known that since kindergarten. I dropped him off outside his classroom and watched him turn the corner and enter the room. Then I heard a dozen or so classmates shout his name in unison -- sort of like when Norm would enter Cheers on television. He's still that way. A very caring and special person. I can't wait to see what God uses him to do. The possibilities are endless.

It looks like my daughter may have finally run out of steam this evening. She's had a huge day. She was surrounded by older girls at the party. She's always hung out with older kids. It's probably mostly because we are always around kids my boys' age, but she gets along fine. She was telling me earlier this week about what she'll do when she becomes a boy like her big brothers! It looks like she still has a bit to learn, eh? But around here, she's still the princess. Or the queen, depending upon the day.

I write all of this, not to brag, but to recount some of the things God has given me far beyond what I deserve. It's almost like it's my birthday every day. I could sit and concentrate on the lousy stuff in my life. The money situation isn't great. I need to get a part time job. Church attendance has been disappointing. I'm getting older and need glasses to read. But that stuff is all nothing compared to the incredible gifts I have been given by my Lord and Savior.

Happy birthday, dear daughter. And thank you, dear God.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Hmmm... Blog or New Truck?

My blog is worth $31,049.70.
How much is your blog worth?

I assume the person willing to give $31k for Attention Span is locked away somewhere...

Friday, October 28, 2005

Forced to Pray

Have you ever embarked on your day, fresh and ready to take on the world, began your business, planned what you would be doing later, thought about where to have lunch and what was on television that night or getting back to that book you're in the middle of, and then... someone asks you to pray?

That happened to me recently. It was going to be a busy day and I had a lot on my mind. I hadn't done devotions in the morning -- usually I do that at night when I'm more awake. I hadn't stopped to thank God or even ask Him for something. But as I attended a meeting a couple of hours after I tumbled out of bed, the chairman began by asking each of us to bow our heads for prayer. As I did, I let out a little gasp. How could I have left God out of my morning? How long would I have gone without any acknowledgement of Him at all? Lunch? An afternoon drive? Dinner? Bedtime?

I was glad that the speaker paused before beginning that prayer. I needed that time to collect myself and bring myself into an attitude of prayer. I hadn't been in that attitude all morning. I had been absorbed in myself. I had not been forced to acknowledge my God and Savior, and I had quite easily avoided doing it. Way too easily.

If you are like me, you have to be intentional in your relationships. I know it works that way with people. I can easily drift off and ignore people for days, weeks, years. And once in a while I find that I can do the same with my family, and even my God. With my family, it's easy to get around the problem. My almost 4 year old daughter demands attention -- usually at the most inconvenient times. My boys will go off together or close themselves off separately where I don't see them for hours at a time. I even find myself ignoring my wife too often for my liking. At least with her, we wind up in the same bed at night so we generally at least bump into each other!

But the one that worries me is my relationship with God. Some days it's not like the deer panting for streams of water. Some days it's not like my soul crying out. Some days it's more like a commitment we keep pushing toward the back burner. "Don't mess with me God, I'm on a roll here!" And it really upsets me when I catch myself doing that.

"Lord, forgive me my wrapping myself in selfishness and not desiring your presence. Show me that You are not interfering, but beckoning. Grant me the restlessness to sense how much I need You and the strength to lean upon You."

Talkin' Salvation

Evangelical Update is back! After lying dormant almost three months, chris has started a new discussion about salvation. You are invited.!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Content of Our Character

In the past couple of days, the topic of race and racism has been everywhere. I first noticed it when ESPN baseball analyst and former Reds second basemen, Joe Morgan, brought up the fact that there are no African-Americans on the Houston Astros. To be honest, I hadn't noticed or even thought to look. Morgan, for his part, wasn't crying racism. Instead his point was that fewer blacks were playing baseball as kids, so the number in the Major League was dwindling. And being a black former ballplayer, he was disappointed that not as many were following in his footsteps.

At about the same time came some remarks from Air Force football coach Fisher DeBarry which caused an uproar. After a humiliating loss, Coach DeBarry noted that the opposing team, "had a lot more Afro-American players than we did and they ran a lot faster than we did. It just seems to me to be that way. Afro-American kids can run very well. That doesn't mean that Caucasian kids and other descents can't run, but it's very obvious to me that they run extremely well." From that point there have been all kinds of cries of racism and hatefulness. Now, I doubt Coach DeBarry is a racist. More likely he's just repeating common folklore perpetuated by black and white alike. Blacks are fast, white guys are slow... that kind of thing. Stupid stereotypes are what they are. And these are spread and joked about no matter how shaky the foundation in truth. The movie White Men Can't Jump played off that stereotype a number of years ago.

Isn't it funny that so many folks can't shake the fear and distrust of other races? It's a very touchy subject. Mel over at Actual Unretouched Photo had an interesting post about a 3 year old bi-racial child she babysits for. The child felt the need to tell her that his Dad is black. Now there are a lot of other things going on in that child's life, but for some reason race was on the boy's mind. It had suddenly become important.

Growing up in the sixites in a small midwestern town, it was years before I saw anyone of another race. These days my boys attend school in a different small midwestern town and have known kids of other races since they entered kindergarten. I remember my boys asking why one boy's skin was a different color, but a "That's the way God made him," was a good enough answer. My boys harbored no hatred -- just a little curiosity.

I was talking to my youth group last night about this whole idea. Twelve kids, aged 10 to 16. And they all seemed to be a bit confused by the topic. The thought of hating someone for skin color or even going to a rival school seemed pretty silly to them. We talked about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. looking forward to the day when a person wouldn't be judged by the color of his skin but by the content of his character. One 13 year old girl who attends our youth group sparingly spoke up and said, "Why would you hate someone before you get to know them? I have friends like that and I just don't understand it." I didn't have a great answer for her.

As a white guy, if I was walking down a dark city street and saw a group of six black teens wearing gangsta clothing approaching I would fear for my safety. But by the same token, if those six teens were white and sporting the same attitude I'd fear for my safety as well. The only difference I'd feel is that the black teens could be more likely to hate me because of my skin color. But that's just a generalization too. My real fear would be being outnumbered by a group of people who seem proud of their love of violence.

In the comments to my last "real" post, Gary Means told about the racist teaching he encountered in an Oregon church back in 1972. I know I've read Philip Yancey's recollections of growing up in a racist white church in the deep south of the sixties. With all my heart, I hope these stupid ideas have faded from the Church. But I know better. People are too in love with what they've always believed to consider the truth, let alone see the truth.

And I think it comes down to the fact that Dr. King's dream for a colorblind society is still not reality. We humans like to categorize people into groups. And we don't simply use race. Sometimes it's ethnicity. It could even be hair color, vocation, school district, age, or favorite sports team. We love to pigeonhole people. After all if we can judge a book by it's cover, then we don't have to put forth an effort to get to know them. We can dismiss giant chunks of the population who don't meet our qualifications. No need to talk to them or consider their plight.

I see this attitude outside the church and inside the church. I've already posted extensively how I see churches give sparingly to a Central American church, but think nothing of dropping large amounts of money on their own luxuries. I see folks want to reach out to suburbanites and ignore those in the inner city except for token efforts. And I still see some folks who have some racism come to the surface on occasion. But I'm done making excuses for these people. No more, "They don't know any better." Or, "That's the way they were raised." Or even, "They're too old to change." As humans we cannot harbor hatred toward people of other races. And as Christians we must be the first to look at character instead of skin color.

Good Reads - 10/26/05

Some stuff that's too good to pass up from around the 'sphere:

Kevin at Short Attention Span expounds on a subject near and dear to my heart -- the selling of a church's soul. Are churches serving people or capitalizing on potential revenue sources? Read "Purpose Gets Left Behind" Churches.

Michael Spencer of Internet Monk is posting along the same lines. Here is his discussion of little churches trying to be like mega-churches, even when they don't have the resources. It may be long, but the Monk makes some good points.

The emuser is back! For now, anyway. His posts at bemuseme may be few and far between, but they are definately worthwhile. Read Family Ties and realize that pain and love often go hand in hand.

Shane at Wesley Blog posts about "Why I'm Addicted to Urban Ministry" and shares his heart about not just doing short term missions, but living that mission for a huge blessing.

And don't miss The Potluck at Christian Carnival XCIII over at White Ribbon Warriors. And thanks to Bill for stepping in at the last minute to host.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Fighting Indoctrination

These two girls were all over TV and talk radio the past few days. They are 13 year old twins Lamb and Lynx Gaede from Bakersfield, California, who are a pop duo named Prussian Blue.

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Pretty innocent, you say? Look again. These sweet little girls are singing about white supremecy and Nazi heroes. Nasty stuff. One interview with the twins had them explaining how they wanted to correct the "myth of the Holocaust" and other similar views. How did they come to sing hate-speech? Who molded their minds into such twisted founts of misinformation? Mom and Dad, of course.

Dad is a real piece of work. He puts a swastika on everything that doesn't move and a few things that do move, including branding the Nazi symbol on his cattle. April, the girls' mother, is certainly outspoken. "Well, all children pretty much espouse their parents' attitudes," she said. "We're white nationalists and of course that's a part of our life and I'm going to share that part of my life with my children." They've done more than share -- they have indoctrinated their girls with racism. And over the past few days, the country has gasped over such brainwashing.

But the parents' point is correct; they're just passing along their values to their kids. Isn't that what every parent does? Ex-jocks pass on their love of sports to their kids. Animal lovers share that with their children.

Let's not forget that Christians pass along their faith to their kids. No, it's not just Christians, it's people of every faith. But let's talk Christianity. We drag our kids to Sunday School (sometimes kicking and screaming), teach them prayers for bedtime and mealtime, send them to church camp, buy them Bibles with pictures, and teach them memory verses. Some denominations even take kids through catechism, for crying out loud. Is that any different than what Arayan-Mom and Nazi-Dad are doing?

The truth is that we are supposed to train up a child in the way he should go. We are supposed to pass along the knowledge and the faith we hold dear. But something almost magical is supposed to happen at some point. Our children are supposed to go from believing "because Dad and Mom say so," to believing because they have investigated the truth.

Some folks never get past that point. Their reasoning never goes beyond, "That's the way I was raised." Critical thinking never enters into the matter. "If it was good enough for my Dad and for his Dad, then it's good enough for me." The truth is, that's not good enough. Even for Christians.

I'm always happy when people tell me they've given their lives to Jesus Christ. But it also distresses me when I see that so many have no depth in their relationship with their Lord and Savior. Their faith seems to be more cultural than spiritual. Church attendance is a natural, but living a life which looks different than the rest of the world is unheard of. And for many, it's because Mom and Dad's Christian life was incredibly shallow as well. Nod during the sermon, bow your head to pray and sing out during the hymns... oh, and don't forget to shake the preacher's hand on the way out the door of the church. Like father, like son, like grandson.

One of the things I tell my congregation is not to believe what I tell them from the pulpit without checking it out first. I figure if Paul commended the Bereans for checking out his messages, I have no right to be offended by people checking up on me. After all, truth is supposed to be what it's all about. Certainly in some areas of doctrine it is hard to determine absolute truth, but it's downright impossible to get down to truth if we are satisfied with whatever somebody else told us -- even when it's someone we respect. Like Mom and Dad.

Hopefully the twins of Prussian Blue will reach the point where they seek truth instead of parroting the hate-speech of their parents. Better still, perhaps they will seek the real Truth.

Hopefully all of Christ's followers believe because of what they've learned and what they've experienced and not just because of what someone told them. But even I am not that optimistic. It is incredibly tempting to be lazy in our faith. To trust the preacher on television or our favorite author. To do as Mom and Dad told us. And to make the same mistakes those folks make.

We need to seek truth. And to seek Truth. We have to be courageous to check out what we've heard, to commit our minds to study and learning. We must do as the Bereans did. It's just too bad that we live in a day where the world calls us to stay busy and go along with what we're told. It seems there's never a Berean around when you need one.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Not the Most Popular Subject

I spent one day this week at a small seminar. I say it was small because the host staff outnumbered the paying students two to one! Just a half dozen of us paid to take part. Perhaps it was because it was a relatively small town, but I think it likely had more to do with the subject matter. The seminar dealt with the death of children. Nobody wants to even think about that possibility.

It's not natural for parents to bury their children. Even a 90 year-old mother shouldn't still be around for her sons' funerals. It's somehow wrong. Yet it happens every day. How does one survive such a loss? How can I comfort someone who is going through the grief of losing a child?

At the seminar were five people who had gone through the heartache of burying a child. Two were a husband and wife whose 16 year old daughter had been killed in a car accident just over a year ago. She was swerving the car back and forth to please her 10 year old sister. It was just the way their Daddy had done on occasion for a little fun with the girls. Only Daddy didn't lose control. Little sister survived and ran for help, but it was too late to save Jessica. The mourning was intense for the family, as you might imagine. In fact, it affected the parents so completely that their church asked them to leave the fellowship because they didn't know how to deal with them!

One woman had lost a 10 year old son back in 1999. He was a youth motocross rider. Pretty good too. He was also a gregarious, fun boy. The woman and her husband loved motorcycles and took the boy and his older brother on the regional motocross circuit. It was a way of life for the family. Then one day at home while practicing, the boy crashed and died a short time later. The boy's memory has been honored in many ways -- two baseball fields are named after him, a sports Mental Attitude Award, and an annual motocross race. But Mom and Dad still have an empty spot in their hearts and in their lives.

Another woman lost an infant girl to a brain tumor about 18 years ago. Being her first child, she had to deal with the question, "Am I still a mother?" Even after that many years, it was evident that the grieving process was ongoing.

Those four people made up a parent's panel to share their experiences and expertise with those attending the seminar in order to teach us students how to help folks in this situation. I realize that I mentioned earlier that there were five people there who had buried a child. The fifth was me.

It was odd, since I took the seminar to gain insights as a caregiver, to sit and relive the events of more than 15 years ago in my own life. I was there as a paid learner, but I felt like I was sitting up front with the parents' panel. I have struggled with the same feelings. I have had to figure out how to answer the question, "How many kids do you have?" without forcing the questioner to hear the whole sad story. I too, sat and wondered what would have happened if my wife and I had done things differently.

My first son was born back in 1991. It had been a very troubled pregnancy. My wife woke up one night in her 16th week with a wet bed. Although the first doctor assured her that her water hadn't broken, a month later a specialist confirmed that indeed that was the case. For some reason known only to the Almighty, my wife did not go into labor immediately afterward as 99+ percent of women do. Instead she was put on bedrest for the remainder of the pregnancy. Many of the next weeks were spent in a hospital bed. Other weeks were spent in a recliner, hoping that the bag of waters would repair itself. If it didn't, the baby's lungs would not develop enough to breathe with or without a ventilator. It didn't.

When my son was finally born in my wife's 32nd week, he was swept off to the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. The first few hours went well and we started to get our hopes up. Then late in the afternoon, the NICU called us to prepare us for what was to come. His oxygen levels were going down. It didn't look good.

We spent a lot of time holding him. Tubes and wires were wrapped up in the baby's blankets. Monitors were beeping assorted warnings. The jet ventilator kept making a horrible racket. Finally, just before one in the morning, the end came as I was holding him.

The four on the parents' panel did a good job of expressing many of the feelings I went through, but some of it just cannot be explained. There is no way to verbalize the grief, the guilt and the overwhelming loss my wife and I felt. Even though our situations produced similar emotions, each case was somehow different. The parents of the 16 year old have a clothing ministry dedicated to the memory of their daughter. The mother of the 10 year old motocross rider has a shelf of trophies, pictures and assorted memorablia from her son. Even the mother of the infant girl has certain treasures from her daughter's fight with that tumor.

My wife and I have a picture. One picture. It hangs on the wall to my right as I sit here typing. It's not a cheerful picture for most people. There is white tape across his face, holding the ventilator tube in place. Monitor patches are on his chest and side. One of his legs is pointed in an awkward position. It had been stuck that way inside my wife's body since there was no womb full of fluid to float around in. I have a copy of that picture for my wallet, although very few people have ever wanted to see it. It's scary. Not scary-looking, but it's a reminder that life is so very fragile, and even a normal process like pregnancy and birth is not guaranteed to be trouble-free.

Sometimes I am grateful that I have little to remind me of my son. I don't have to wince every time another of my kids gets on a motorcycle like the one woman from the panel does. I don't have to watch my child's friends grow up without him. But at the same time, I have so little of him to remember. Such a tiny baby with such a tiny lifespan. No shelf full of mementos. No other people to tell me stories about what my child was like with other people. A blessing and a curse all at the same time.

The death of a child is something none of us wants to ever face. Yesterday I visited a first time mother in the hospital. Her baby had become sick before she was even one day old. They rushed the baby to the NICU, not knowing what was wrong. As I entered the mother's hospital room, the doctor was there saying that everything looked good for now. Mom seemed calm while I stayed and visited, but I know she spent much of the rest of the day worried and in tears. The thought of a possible loss like that is overwhelming.

I encourage you, if you know of someone who has lost a child, don't shy away from talking to that person. Don't be afraid to ask about the child. Use the child's name. It's music to a parent's ears to hear someone else speak the name of their dead child. We don't want that life to be forgotten. I know it can be uncomfortable, and you probably don't know what to say. Sometimes words aren't even necessary. Remember Job's friends? They sat with a grieving Job for a week without speaking a word. Their compassion was shown in their presence. It wasn't until they opened their mouths that they promptly inserted their feet inside!

There are many of us. And we all continue to grieve in one form or another. We don't "get over it" in a year. That's a stupid and harmful myth. One of my favorite memories of my Dad's dad is from the day after my son died. This tough old bird stood there with tears streaming down his face telling me about the 5 month old daughter he had lost some 50 years earlier. The empty spot doesn't fade away quickly. But God does fill it up with His mercy and His grace. We don't always get a good answer to the "WHY?" question, but in His love we learn to trust Him to make good out of the unthinkable.

God was very merciful to my wife and I. We prayed that we still wanted a baby. Two days short of 10 months later we had another son -- not to replace the first, but it did cushion the pain a bit. But more than fifteen years after the fact there is still a feeling of loss and grief. I've seen how God has used that horrible experience to mold both my wife and myself into Christ's image. We have been used to help other parents through their own grief. But it still doesn't make sense. And I cannot wait to see my son again when my own time here is over.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Big Church-Little Church Blues Part 3

You'd think I'd be able to make myself clear in just one post. But evidently I'm going to need three for this one! In part one, I chastised the poor stewardship I saw in a big church. In part two, I chided small churches for needing to keep control of their own little clubhouse instead of looking to serve God. But my friend Steve at whatever took the idea of evangelism based upon stewardship to the next level:
If it's about stewardship, then let's stop trying to evangelize in Muslim countries. The costs and risks are great, and the "return on investment" has been historically minimal. It's just not fertile ground for evangelism. That money would be better spent in Africa, Latin America, or the former Soviet states, where converts can be gained at a much better cost-per-convert. And Europe, from what I hear, is tough. In fact, if you're going to spend evangelistic money in a Western country, it would probably be better spent in the States. People just aren't as receptive in Europe. Wouldn't God be pleased if we used His money to gain the most converts-per-dollar? It's just good stewardship.The thing is, nonChristians are nonChristians no matter where they live, and we have a responsibility to go after them with the Gospel. If it's less expensive in one place than it is in another--so what? Converts are converts. They'll all be asked the same questions by St. Peter. So, while my church may be spending less money-per-convert than a church in my city's suburbs, I view it as a matter of context. Do what's necessary to reach the people around you.

While I appreciate what Steve is saying, I want to make sure I'm not pigeonholed as promoting evangelism solely on a cost-effective basis. Because I'm not. Although I'm not discounting the need for good stewardship, I'm not going to live and die by it.

And I'm not trying to do away with evangelism efforts to the surrounding community -- even to those communities where everyone makes over $100,000 a year. I just don't think we need to spend excessively to impress them enough to get them in the door. We must remember that we are to pick up our cross daily. It's not about getting the best coffee or the fanciest sound system and lighting. A church which caters to a desire for luxury reinforces the idea that there is no sacrifice in being a Christian. I must have missed that part of Scripture.

But again, it's not just a big church hangup. As Mike from Life on the River wrote in a private email: "Large churches do spend more on their facility because they can. Smaller churches would if they could. Many people come to church for self-serving reasons, regardless of size." Yup.

That's precisely what I've been getting at for two and a half posts now. Too many of us see the church as a service to us. We ask, "What can this church do for me?" instead of "What I can do for the Kingdom through this church?" Evangelism becomes showing off. We fight to have our own way. Churches spend and spend to make their own facilities more cozy and impressive while not putting the same kind of effort into the lower economic classes.

Steve is a part of an inner-city church plant, so I know his heart is in reaching people for Christ -- especially those who would be ignored by many church planting experts because it costs so much to reach them. I agree. It's not about church size, it's about church heart. If our heart is to reach as many people for Christ as possible and to disciple them to become conformed to the image of Christ Jesus, then we won't be singing the Big Church-Little Church Blues. We won't be fighting to keep control. We won't be spending unnecessarily. We will be looking to glorify God and not ourselves. And that, my friends, is where we need to be.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Big Church-Little Church Blues, part 2

In my previous post, Theophilus, I may have come off as a little too hard on big churches. That wasn't my intent. I was actually trying to come off as a little too hard on big churches AND small churches. It was just jump started by what I consider extravagance in a large church. I guess it's just easier to see the questionable funding items in a big church. Let's face it, they stand out like a pimple on a supermodel. But I didn't mean to leave the small church out of the scrutiny. Re-reading, this was my only real criticism of the small church:
"I can even find waste in my own small church that would be better served building church walls in Central America."
Not hard-hitting, I realize. So in the interest of equal time, I am posting a segment from an email discussing the whole post. The author is Mike from Life on the River. Here is his example of small church waste:
For example. Small churches (and this is coming from a small church pastor) spend almost all our funds on two items. Salary and building. Most often we are paying a large percentage of our income to maintain an outdated and under utilized facilities when there are a dozen other similar facilities with like-size congregations that believe almost identically, worship almost identically, live in the same communities and attend the same schools, root for the the same sports teams, and in general have most things in common as a culture and community, but stubbornly desire a separate pastor, building and opportunity to compete and control. We treat our "churches" as personal opportunities and personal kingdoms to express personal power and opinions.
Is this really the body of Christ? Is there anywhere in scripture justification for this? Does this reflect all believers having everything in common? Does this reflect the apparent unity of identity all believers had in each community (a single church entity meeting large and small groups in a given city)?
Likewise with staff. Our small congregations then want to staff our building and organization with a pastor, preferably full time. To do so we often provide sub-par salaries and require that the pastor live in a church owned house, which may or may not be well maintained, so that we can save even more money. The salary and the housing is often something few or any in the congregation would be willing to accept, unless very desperate, and even then might not. We then view this pastor as our "leader" who must follow our instructions, meet conflicting expectations, make us healthy without changing anything, and act as the congregational referee between small church gossip and criticism and power struggles. Pastors are to lead a pseudo family unit, but only with the blessing of the true patriarch or matriarch of the congregation. In reality, most of our small church pastors end as employees charged to do all the teaching, all the administration, the marrying, burying, and visitation.

Mike has a couple of very good points. Little churches, like our larger counterparts, have our own way of wasting money in order to remain as lords of our own lives. C'mon, we can admit it... that's what it's about. Sure we do ministry in our little church. Of course the coffee shop at the mega church houses many an evangelical discussion. But how efficiently? Mostly we find ways to remain in control and glorify ourselves.

Two similar small churches employ two pastors, pay two heating bills, and maintain two buildings which sit empty 160 of 168 hours each week. And they may actually see a new convert every few years. A large church with a couple of thousand in attendance every weekend make better use of a building, but spend money on features and ministries which bring in only a few more people. Yet I'll go back to my point about the churches in Central America which are built for less than a week's offering in most large churches.

So why is it that we put our money where our bodies are and not where it can do the most ministry? Most people will drive around town to save an extra penny a gallon on a tankful of gas. Shouldn't we be as thrifty with ministry money?

But we're not. We prefer to spend the money where we can see it spent. Where we can use it. Where we can show others how well off our church is -- whether it's the huge new auditorium or the small church which can afford it's own pastor. We may see people come to Christ, or we may not. We may see a number of lives changed, or maybe just a couple. We may help a group deepen a relationship with Jesus, or we may sit happy in our little clubhouse -- but what a nice looking clubhouse it is.

Yet a week's offering builds an entire church building in many countries. Another week's collection will take care of a pastor and his family for months. But we can't see that in person, and we can't show it off to others, so... well... what's the point?

What a sad mindset! Do we truly consider the lives of two people in our own town to be worth that much more than the salvation of a few hundred who live in a third world nation? Do we honestly believe that an American or a Canadian or someone in our own town is more important to God than a Nigerian, an Afghani or a Honduran? If you look at our actions, you'd be hard pressed to claim otherwise.

I've rambled for two long posts about all of this and I think I can sum up this way: Our actions indicate that we care more for our own comfort, our own control, and our own ego than we do about most anything else. Our motives are impure. Our effectiveness is limited. We may be preaching all the right words to the community around us, but our actions speak louder than those words. We should show people that they matter to God, but not by buying them off with cushy chairs and half-price latte. We must communicate God's love, not exercise our control of our own little church family. We need to use what God has given us to reach the world, not just to entice the people around the corner who need a bribe to show up. There's got to be more to it than having a church building on every corner, some of which with lobbies the size of mini-malls. We must die to self-serving and live for self-sacrifice. We have to take it seriously. Or our worship will continue to be tainted by a desire to glorify ourselves or our church or our denomination instead of glorifying the One who truly deserves it.

God help us all.

See Part 3 here.

How People Find This Blog

Oh, the strange routes people take to get here. Here's a new google search to get here: "Where to buy deer bait in Kalamazoo, Michigan". I'm at a loss trying to figure out what I wrote to show up on that search!

Sadly, as I've mentioned previously, people have been getting here by searching for "nude wife pics" and "naked wife" and the like. A couple of those searchs I wouldn't think of spelling out for you here. Here's hoping they poke around a little when they get here. In fact, if you want more hits for your blog, try stringing together a bunch of buzzwords like those and watch the site meter numbers spin!

I always wonder about those who get here after googling "KKK Robes." Perhaps I should start selling them. Wal-Mart has sheets on sale this week.

One surfer was searching for "Christian Curses" when stumbling in here. Isn't that a little like "Jumbo Shrimp" or "Viking Morality"?

And finally, some find Attention Span by visiting Christian Carnival XCII over at World of Sven's Theology Blog and simply following the link. Ah, the simplicity of it all!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Men Have Sports

It's a sports fan's dream time of year. Baseball playoffs. NFL and college football. NHL. Nextel Cup. Even the NBA preseason and college hoops right around the corner. It's enough to make the ESPN family of networks blow up like a feasting tick. And me, being a man... well, I love it.

I'm not trying to sound sexist because I know there are plenty of women who enjoy sports. There are plenty of men who just don't get into a lot of stick and ball activities also. But for the most part, sports are for men for the simple reason that it is a base language for men of all ages.

For example, there have been many times when I've been in a situation to carry on conversation with men I don't know well. Of course when they find out I'm a pastor, a nervous sweat starts to flow down the nape of the neck of the average guy. So I easily move to Man Language -- sports.

"Did you catch the Notre Dame game last weekend? Some game, huh?"

Now both of us may not have seen any more of that game than the score in the newspaper the next day, but chances are it will begin a conversation which could last as long as necessary (usually until our wives come back into the room). It's a starting point, at the very least. At most it's common ground... a base which the two of us can share.

There are a lot of men who won't give me the time of day when it comes to "any of that God stuff," but if I want to discuss the race last Sunday or the best NFL defense ever (the 1985 Bears, if you must know), then these guys will act like my long-lost relatives. It's a comfort thing. It's non-threatening. It becomes a common language.

I've noticed it with my boys as well. Sure they will talk to me about other things, but we really connect when we talk sports. Their opinion is no better than mine, as our fantasy football team performances clearly show! They appreciate my years of experience plopped on the couch in front of the Game of the Week, and I appreciate their desire to know everything about the game. We can always talk sports. Specifically at our house, it's NFL football, IndyCar racing and occasionally Major League Baseball. Then there's always the teams the boys play for. Sharing a common love for a game, for sports. It was the same with my Dad and myself. My Grandpa too. Sometimes the only thing I could even talk to my Grandpa about was his Dodgers. It was a common language.

Why is it that Christianity cannot be a common language? Maybe because it makes people nervous. Too many strongly held opinions. But then again, have you ever tried to get a Packers fan and a Bears fan to civilly discuss which franchise is better? Hint: put on fireproof underwear and a suit of armor first. Sports fans have strong opinions, but we're not warned to avoid discussing politics, religion and sports, are we?

But people shy away from talking about their faith or lack thereof. I think part of it could be the lack of one vital piece of equipment -- a scoreboard. It isn't obvious enough who the "winners" are. The Christians don't look different enough. We don't intrigue the unbelievers. Our lives don't show the joy we supposedly feel inside. Far too often, there is no proof that we're any better off for showing up in a church building every Sunday morning. We know we're saved, we know we are filled by the Holy Spirit, we know we are to be serving our Master, but our actions make us look like the people who live for material gain and instant pleasure.

Sports is a common language for men. We assume that the other guy has at least a passing interest in sports, but we can't assume that the other person has any kind of interest or even tolerance for Christianity. Christianity isn't a common language because most people rarely see it practiced.

Funny. Jesus said that His disciples would be easy to pick out. We are to be the ones who stand out because of the way we love each other. How sad that we spend our time incognito.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Good Reads - 10/14/05

I received a lot of good comments on my big church/little church blues post. I have more to clarify as I've continued to toss all that around in my head, so part two will be coming soon. In the meantime, here are some good reads:

Mark Daniels on Dr. James Dobson's political ideas. (A tip of the ol' ballcap to Kevin at Short Attention Span.)

Hammertime on Heresy and The DaVinci Code over at Team Hammer's Musings (part one of a series).

And a site to watch: -- The blog description reads: "All the stupid things that pastors and churches do. And names will be changed to protect the stupid." (A tip of the ol' ballcap to Todd at Monday Morning Insight.)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Big Church-Little Church Blues

Yesterday I was inside a big church. Not my church, mind you. My church is rural and small. This was a large church I was unfamiliar with. At least I call it a large church. Maybe to you it's just a normal size or a little bit bigger than normal. Some may attend a church that makes this one look tiny. All I know is that my entire church building would fit inside this church's lobby! I had to use a map, complete with a "You Are Here" sticker in order to find the church offices. The coffee shop and bookstore were each closed, but there were around a ka-jillion people dribbling basketballs in the gym.

I wandered the halls, looking for the person I needed to meet. There were a few signs and the aforementioned church map, but I had a hard time figuring out what each of these rooms were for. It reminded me of walking through a school building after hours -- kind of institutional feeling. The facility was obviously built to handle a large number of people. I never even saw the sanctuary or auditorium or whatever a church that size worships corporately in. I can only imagine what that must be like.

As I walked, I have to admit that this small church pastor's mind was filled with covetous thoughts. I saw plenty of things that I wanted to in the back of my truck and bring home. I saw plenty more that I would have needed a crew of building movers and a much bigger truck to take! I thought about the ministry which could be done with facilities the size of the local elementary school. Upward basketball... concerts... recovery groups... all great outreaches. With a physical plant like that, the possibilities are endless, right?

So what do I do with a church that fits in that other church's lobby?

My denominational district meetings were always interesting. My district included a very small church, some churches of around 100 in attendance and some larger ones. The second largest church in the denomination sent over a dozen staff to these meetings. They would each give a report on their own portion of the church's ministry. While some of the reports were occasionally inspiring, for the most part it was like listening to tales of ministry in other countries. When they saw a need a new ministry would begin to meet that need. Volunteers would be found, space in the church building was utilized, and people would be given anything from the Gospel to a cup of cold water in Jesus' name. It was wonderful. I'm sure there were many problems, but that's not what they talked about. Their reports were wonderful stories of ministry making a difference in many different lives.

But I live in a different world. In my world the same handful of people are the volunteers for every church activity. In my world there is no available space on Sunday morning or Wednesday night. In my world we see needs but cannot even hope to meet most of them. We pick a few and do our best, which I guess is what I do as an individual as well.

I think it's natural to harbor some resentment for those who have more than ourselves. The poor resent the middle-class. The middle-class resent the rich. The rich resent the filthy rich. That's part of our materialistic society. But that's not the way it should be in the Church. I hope I never fall into that trap.

But I looked at the coffee shop and bookstore in that big church yesterday and I saw a big pile of money. That pile of money could have been sent to Nicaragua or Sierra Leone or Jamaica or Ecuador or Mauritania and have accomplished much good for the cause of Christ. Instead it goes to make middle to upper class Americans more comfortable being in a church building. Is that really a good trade-off? I can even find waste in my own small church that would be better served building church walls in Central America. Where is that line? What is the proper balance?

Churches are planted where they can reach people who can, in turn, support the church. Meanwhile those folks who could never financially give enough to get a church going fall through the cracks. And large churches who could support such a church plant choose instead to build more classrooms or install new technology in the auditorium.

I've mentioned Mark Waltz's book First Impressions, where he talks about all the "Wow-inspiring" features at his church meant to show visitors that they matter to God. I understand his logic. But at the same time there are thousands of people who need only a thatch roof and mud walls to be shown that they matter to God. And I've come down to the question: How should we be working to show people they matter to God? Is it by pampering them with shuttle buses from the parking lot and discounts on cafe latte? Or should we be encouraging those people to do as John the Baptist told those he baptized:

John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and
the one who has food should do the same." Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?" "Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay."

Is that accomplished at a coffee shop? No. Of course the coffee shop isn't evil, but neglecting those in need is. Sure we're all doing something for those less fortunate, but are we sharing with those who has none?

I'm not sure where I'm going with all this. But I do know that over and over again it is impressed upon me just how much we waste trying to make it easy to be comfortable in a church. But comfortable is the last thing we should be. I see repeated attempts to bring Christ to the pagan suburbanites and precious few tries to show God's love to the people in the low rent district. And it bothers me that, like everyone else around me, I seek to make myself, my congregation and anyone who comes in the church doors, comfortable. The more comfortable we get, the less we grow. Yet we never seem to get it.

Maybe I'm just dealing with middle-class guilt. But it's just not right.

Part Two is here.

Part Three is here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Dressed to Code

The things athletes will say. The National Basketball Association is trying to "dress up" it's image in the corporate world. So, Commissioner David Stern has set down a new rule: Players travelling with the team are to wear shirts with collars, blazers and dress slacks. Maybe even a necktie. Gone are the baggy pants, t-shirts or throwback jerseys at the post-game press conference. Apparently the hip-hop image of the league is hurting it's chances at corporate sponsorship.

This has brought about many stupid remarks by the players. Philadelphia's Allen Iverson claims, "It sends a bad message to kids. If you don't have a suit when you go to school, is your teacher going to think you're a bad kid because you don't have a suit on?" Apparently the do-rags and gangsta clothes must impress the teachers. Right.

But my favorite comes from Marcus Camby, center for the Denver Nuggets. It seems Camby is pleading poverty: "I don't see it happening unless every NBA player is given a stipend to buy clothes." That's right. He thinks the teams should shell out the money so the players can afford to buy dress clothes. The average salary of an NBA player is $4 million a year. This year, Marcus Camby is making $8 million. Maybe he should check the Goodwill Store.

The good news is that this week's Christian Carnival is "come as you are." The 91st edition is up at Matt Jones' blog. Enjoy. No stipend needed.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Life's Direction Change

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It's one of those movies that, much to my wife's displeasure, I must stop and watch whenever I find it on television. I'm not sure why that is, but The Princess Bride is a sure stop on the remote control tour of the channels. Maybe it's so I can watch wrestling legend Andre the Giant act without using a bodyslam or throwing an opponent into a turnbuckle. Perhaps it's the joy I get in watching Wallace Shawn as Fezzini lose a battle of wits in an "inconceivable" manner. Or possibly it's to see a Wonder Years-aged Fred Savage wearing a Walter Payton jersey. (By the way, which character are you? I'm Valerie, Miracle Max's wife. Yes, that's embarrassing.)

One thing I do know: there is a line at the end of the movie that really sets me a-thinkin'. The Spaniard, Inigo Montoya (portrayed by Mandy Patinkin) has spent his entire life searching for the man who murdered his father. He trained to be an expert swordsman and enlisted help to find the scoundrel. Over and over Inigo rehearsed what he would say to that man when he finally caught up to him -- "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Vengeance was his whole life. Eventually Inigo caught up to his father's killer and dispatched him after an amazing show of determination and skill. As he was making his escape, Inigo spoke aloud about the uncertainty of what lay ahead. "You know, I've been in the revenge business so long I don't know what to do next."

That line always stirs my imagination. Imagine having one goal in life and then accomplishing it only to find that you still have much of life remaining. Or, let's take it another direction; imagine having one goal in life and before you reach it, finding out that your goal is not what you should be aiming toward.

I have known people whose main objective in life was to become rich and famous. I don't know about the rich part, but none of them are currently famous. And there is at least one who realized that being rich and famous wasn't all that important in the first place. She went from seeking glory for herself to seeking glory for God. But what a change that is! And that change in direction is what we are called to do with our lives.

That life change is what the prophets called repentance. The best definition of repent that I know is "a U-turn on the road of life." A 180. A complete change of direction. So as Christians, we are to steer away from where the world points us and toward the place God wants us.

When the folks made their way out to see John the Baptist, his message for them was to repent. Most didn't think they needed to repent, but John pointed out that their lives should show the fruits of repentance. If there was repentance, there should be fruit -- evidence that their lives' direction was different. The Pharisees were sure that their genealogy was their evidence of worthiness, but they were wrong. True repentance has nothing to do with ancestry. It has to do with turning from pleasing one's self to pleasing God. And it is hard.

In fact, it's downright impossible. On our own we can make a left turn or a right turn. We can take a 45 degree angle. We can twist back and forth. But our destination never seems to be where it's supposed to do. We've lived so long for our own pleasure that we don't know how to live any other way. After the rush of coming to Christ dies down, we are faced with the tough stuff. The temptation of going back to the way we were. The pull of materialism. The call of selfishness. And that U-turn tries to come full circle.

But God knew what we'd be going through during this process. He gave us a gift. Himself. The power of the Holy Spirit within us. That's the only way it works.

We must repent of a sinful life, but we must also repent of our individual sins. Everyone seems to have a pet sin or two we have a hard time turning over to God. It may be greed or pornography or pride or gossip or lying or any number of things, but to live according to God's wishes we must repent. That may mean many times when we don't know what to do. Like Inigo Montoya, we've lived one way for so long that we don't know how not to live that way. But God knows how. And He enables us to do it if we truly repent. Sometimes that repentance must happen again and again and again.

"Lord, help me to lean on you for strength to live my life for your glory and not mine."

Monday, October 10, 2005

Pastor's Either/Or

I got this from Monday Morning Insight: Not really a meme. Call it a game for pastors.

Basically NIV, although some of the verses hidden away in my heart come complete with the "thees and thous".

Megachurch or Small church?
Small church anyday. The interesting arguing point would be the definition of a small church. I prefer around 150-200.

Dress: Sunday Tie or no tie?
For myself, I'll usually wear a tie. Sometimes when it's cold, I'll wear a mock turtleneck with the suit or a blazer. An older pastor once told me to always "look like a pastor." While I thanked him for the advice, I rarely look like a pastor except for Sunday morning. It is then that I feel like the people expect a pastor to look like a pastor. In truth, my congregation has always told me they wouldn't care if I showed up in a clown suit and bunny slippers! Personally, I think they'd prefer it so they'd have something to keep their attention during the sermon!

Pro Rick Warren or Anti-Rick Warren?
I believe I've covered this one pretty extensively. In fact the search that brings visitors to this site more often than any other except "attention span" is "Rick Warren wrong." In short, I'd say that I firmly straddle the fence on Rick Warren. Read the post for my reasoning. Incidentally, I just got a visit over the weekend from a person searching for "nude wife pictures." The search brought up the Christian Carnival post. I'm betting that's not what they were hoping for!

Sermons: Manuscript or no manuscript?
In my first year in the pastorate, I typed up a manuscript. After a few months, I realized that I never once delivered the sermon as typed. Not even close. Anymore, I'll type out the outline, fill in some notes to steer me through (so I don't forget something I have planned) and that's it.

Ever 'heavily borrow' sermon material?
Illustrations, sure. Ideas, yes, although I'd never use someone else's outline. I usually disagree with most people's outlines!

Ever use someone elses' sermon Word for word?
Not a chance.

Communion: bread or cracker?
Bread. I'd rather not be crunching during Communion. I grew up in the Church of the Brethren where during the Love Feast we used real live unleavened bread. That's still my preference.

Contemporary or Traditional?
Yes. Don't ignore either side or you miss out.

Women Pastors or Guys only?
My denomination was one of the first to ordain women. It's still stated to be important in that church. I've always disagreed with it -- women as Senior Pastors, that is. Not because of ability, but because of role. I have no problem with women in the pastorate aside from being the senior pastor.

Ed Young or Erwin McManus?
I've never read McManus, so I can't give a great answer. I do enjoy Ed Young, though. Don't always agree, but I enjoy.

Rob Bell or Rick Warren?
Again with the Rick Warren??? As far as Rob Bell, I just picked up his book, Velvet Elvis, last week and am just getting started on it. I'll have to let you know on that one.

Ginger or Mary Ann? (or for you ladies, Gilligan or the Professor?)
I've always been a sucker for redheads, but Mary Ann wins hands down. (Apparently Gilligan isn't going to escape my consciousness this month!

Multi-Site or Church Plant? (or both?)
I'd have to go with "both" here because I'd hate to say that either is bad. I'm not huge on multi-site ideas, but there are places where it could be the best alternative. My beef is that we focus on attracting the Yuppies, but we ignore the low-income neighborhoods and many people who can't provide us the funds to sustain what we consider to be "good ministry." My friend Steve at whatever unloaded on this idea last week. I recommend reading his thoughts.

Root beer or Bud light?
Pepsi-Cola. But in the above question, there is only one answer for me -- root beer. I've posted recently on this as well.

Seeker Sensitive or Anti-Seeker Sensitive?
I don't mind seeker sensitive if it doesn't "dumb down" the worship to the point where believers aren't being fed. Willow Creek does seeker services on the weekends, but does what I consider "real worship" during the week. That I can handle. But we shouldn't shoot for converts only to neglect worship and discipleship.

Purpose Driven or Anti-Purpose Driven?
ARGH! Perhaps people are so anti-PDL because the subject is always being brought up? See above.

Saturday Church or Sunday Church?
Yes. Also Monday Church, Tuesday Church, Wednesday Church, Thursday Church, and Friday Church. We should always be and act like the Church. Now, when do I prefer services? My body clock is set for Sunday, but aside from that I don't think I really have a preference.

What do you think? Anybody have strong opinions on any of these one way or the other?

Sunday, October 09, 2005


I got pounded last night. My congregation did it to me. It's an old tradition, dating back farther than anyone can remember. Our church has had only one pastor serve for more than five years in it's 100 plus year history. Well, two, counting me. The church is located within driving distance of the denominational seminary, so many years were spent with pastoral students serving until they graduated and moved into bigger churches. That meant a new pastor every two years or so.

To help out a new pastor fresh out of school, the members would present their new pastor with "pounds" -- a pound of flour, a pound of coffee, a pound of sugar, and so on. Since everyone gave a pound, the tradition was called a pounding. Today it's an excuse for celebrating Pastor Appreciation Month. I received no pounds, just some cash gifts, which was fine with me. Years ago, those "pounds" were needed by the pastor's family since the salary was so small. I am constantly amazed how those itinerant preachers lived on next to nothing. Oh, the horror stories I've heard from retired ministers. I'm not sure I could have put up with the poor pay, the forced shifting from one church to another with not even a house to call one's own. I salute my predecessors for all they put up with to answer God's call.

Last night, I was reading through an update from our Global Ministries department. In it were three requests for funding from churches in the Central American country of Nicaragua. Two churches were trying to build some makeshift housing for their pastors. A third was trying to get enough money to finish building their place of worship. These congregations did not simply need to wait a month until the payment schedule worked out, or solicit one of their members to make a nice offering -- they did not have money to finish these projects. The church trying to finish their sanctuary is lacking only $264. But that money isn't forthcoming unless someone in the States steps up. The two churches building housing for their pastors' families are shy $253 and $612. That's all. But the projects are dead in the water until people send them the needed funds.

Living that way is lost on most of us. Even if my little country church was $612 short to finish a building project, it wouldn't take us long to come up with what was needed. A $250 donation would probably be covered by one family. In bigger churches, single gifts of that size happen every week, many times over. Yet in Nicaragua, a pound of this and a pound of that would indeed make a huge difference in the lives of these people.

I deeply appreciate the pounding given to me by the people of my congregation. But it seems that those gifts would accomplish a whole lot more a couple of thousand miles south of here. Something just might have to be done about that.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Kid Brother

You are Rerun!

Which Peanuts Character are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Is this good, bad or indifferent? There's only so much stock I can put in a quiz with less than 10 questions, one of which is my astrological sign!

Why do we take these quizzes?

(A tip of the ol' ball cap to reverend mommy)

Friday, October 07, 2005

Asking for Trouble

I'm told it's an old joke, but I had never heard it before. I stumbled across it a month or two ago on somebody's blog, I don't remember whose. Anyway, it was about a man who had been lost at sea twenty years previous. Miraculously, the man had managed to build a radio and contact authorities to come rescue him.

When the rescue party arrived, they marvelled at what they saw. This man who had been stranded all alone for twenty years had built himself an incredible city! Three large, beautiful buildings and many small ones were situated along tree-lined streets. The head of the rescue party asked the castaway how he had been able to do all of this wonderful work.

"I had learned how to build as a young man, and with all the time I've had on the island I was able to make all of this. Like this building here. It's my house."

The party looked at it. It was a large Cape Cod styled home with a huge front porch and a swing. They were amazed. Curious, the leader of the search party asked, "What's that big building down there with the huge steeple and the beautiful windows?"

"Oh," said the man, "That's my church. Isn't is great?"

"It certainly is," remarked the party leader. The others in the search party nodded their agreement.

But one member of the party had a confused look on his face. "If that's your church, then what is that other big building over there?" he asked.

The look on the castaway's face turned sour. "Oh, that?" he replied. "That's the church I used to go to!"

That joke rings true for many of us. We can find fault in a church, even if there's no one else to blame the problems on but us. What a shame. We long for a perfect church and find that human beings are prone to messing it up.

As a pastor, there is always the temptation to look at the problems in my church and say, "Wouldn't it be nice if I was pastor at Last Memorial Church? That church has such a great ministry already, the people are friendly, the facilities are top notch..." and the thoughts continue. Yet if one would goin and talk to the pastor of Last Memorial Church, he'd likely have a different perspective on the matter. You see, he'd know about the infighting and backbiting. He would be aware of the leaky roof and the lazy janitor. He is already fed up with the choir director's complaints and the board members who threaten to leave the church whenever the order of service is even slightly altered.

We seek a church which will cater to us. Whether pastor or attender, we want our church to be perfect for us. No problems. Nothing that rubs us the wrong way. And none of us can find such an animal.

I've often been pointed to the First Church -- the one described in the Book of Acts -- as the perfect church. "Why can't our church be more like that church?" they cry. "Why can't our church be perfect like that one?"

It's interesting that when I read through the book of Acts and see the details of the First Church, I see chapter five where a couple try to look like big patrons while actually skimming money off the top. I see chapter six where the members were having a big fight over the Meals on Wheels program for senior citizens, which threatened to divide the church by language. I see chapter eleven where Peter is being criticized for associating with sinners. And I see chapter fifteen where a Council has to be called to settle a major dispute. Is this really the perfect church? Of course not. There are sinful human beings involved. Yet the First Church grew and pleased God in spite of those problems. Perhaps even because of them.

We tend to deny problems. Or we think we can get the good without the bad. If I want a piece of chocolate cake with zero calories, then I'm out of luck. In the same way, if I desire a church body with no problems, then I'll never be happy. But not only that. Problems are useful in helping us grow and mature as believers.

It has often been pointed out that a person needs to be broken before they turn to Christ. Their confidence in self must be replaced by the realization of just how puny and selfish we are, left to our own devices. When we have little difficulties we have the potential for little growth. When we have major difficulties we have the potential for major growth. And if that is true, shouldn't our prayer be, "Lord, bring me more trouble!"? But when was the last time you prayed that prayer?

The fact is simple. Whether in church shopping or in everyday life, we beseech God for the Garden of Eden. Instead we get the Garden of Gethsemene. Why would God allow that? So we can grow and mature -- as believers and as a church.

As Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5:
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.

Even in our suffering and our problems, God is conforming us to the image of Christ Jesus. Why then, would we seek to avoid problems?

"Lord bring me trouble!"

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Bowl on My Shoulder

It's funny how God works. Maybe it's more funny how much it takes for God to get my attention.

Last night I was teaching a Junior High class on Youth Night at church. We were talking about the Bible and how else God could have chosen to communicate with His creation. Of course the popular method among the kids was to have God tell us what to do at every decision. No problems with discerning God's will that way! Wondering which way to turn? God will just simply appear and tell you to turn right... or left. Trying to decide which pair of pants to wear? God will tell you which pair looks better with that shirt.

Looking for a tangible example of what I meant, I reached around and found the only thing within an armlength: a small wooden bowl. Placing it on my shoulder, I used it to illustrate a small version of God sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear to make a left at the intersection and telling me to pick out the new khakis.

With that bowl on my shoulder, we discussed why that wouldn't be such a good way for us to be directed by God. After all, if God told us exactly what to do at every moment -- what to say, when to raise our arms, how to fix our hair -- then how would we ever learn to make decisions for ourselves? How could we make a real choice to follow Him? How would we mature as human beings and as Christians if we didn't have to think about things? God gave us principles in Scripture and He wants us to read those words and hide them away in our hearts. He wants us to seek Him in prayer and in meditation upon what the Word has to say. Then when decision time comes, we know what pleases God and what does not. God sitting on our shoulder may be the easiest on us because all we have to do is follow instructions, not actually go to the trouble of using the grey matter in our collective craniums. But God created us to be thinking beings, seeking God's face by taking His Word and applying it to our lives.

I spent much of today with a group of pastors from my denomination. We are in the midst of a big structural change from headquarters down to the local church. In the past, the country was divided into geographical areas. All churches within each area were grouped together as a conference. The conference was led by an elected superintendent. Larger conferences were further divided into districts with district superintendents. Each conference had it's own set of commissions and committees to take care of regional business.

But this summer, the denomination voted to get rid of much of the bureaucracy. The regional conferences will be history at the end of the year. The superintendent will no longer superintend. We are left with one national organization. To bridge the gap, each local church and pastor is to join a group of other churches and/or pastors in a "cluster."

We've been told that a cluster is to have around five to seven churches and handle a lot of accountability and encouragement functions, as well as doing some common studies together. That's really all we know about clusters at this point. None have been formed. It's a little like choosing up sides to play a game on the playground, except there are no captains and no teams. The guys from headquarters were there to give us that much of an idea. We pastors are left to get the thing organized at the grassroots level.

At our meeting today, we spent a lot of time walking around with quizzical looks on our faces. "What do you think it should be like?" was the most common comment of the day. We brainstormed. We theorized. We ate. (Hey, pastors are usually ready for a good meal at any time of the day or night!) And we considered who we'd like to have in a cluster with us. Those who think like us or people who challenge our thinking? Pastors of bigger churches, smaller churches or of our own size? Older pastors? Younger pastors? Living nearby or a cluster using the Internet for much of the communication? We left the meeting with a few ideas, but relatively few answers. I'm sure we'll get it all figured out in time, but it still seems a bit up in the air right now.

On the two hour drive home it hit me. Or rather, God hit me. I had sat last night with a bowl on my shoulder, explaining that we don't have God giving us every little answer. But in our denomination over the years, we've had a strong central structure laying out the entire organization. We never had to come up with these answers ourselves because the rules were drafted long ago and ratified by the governing body. So now we find ourselves for the first time with a few guidelines and no one giving specific instructions. We have no bowl on our shoulders. We have to be the thinking beings our Creator designed us to be, seeking His direction.

I think I can understand a little better just how scary it is to try to make godly decisions when you don't know what the Bible says. With little or no input, it seems an insurmountable problem to distinguish God's will from any common thought in your head. So why would so many who wear the name of Jesus Christ neglect private Bible reading and study? Why do we seek the bowl on our shoulders with ready answers instead of growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ through the revelation He has given us?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Christian Carnival XC - A Three Hour Tour

Just sit right back, and you'll read some great stuff this week at Christian Carnival 90! I am honored to be hosting this edition at Attention Span. For a theme this week, I am going to float back to my youth. One of the memories of my childhood was riding the bus home from school, going inside and turning on the television just in time for one of my favorites: Gilligan's Island. Yes, it was a stupid show. But it was my stupid show. I must have watched each of the 98 episodes at least 60 times. I still occasionally revert back to show dialogue in everyday conversation (which could explain why people don't like to talk to me for long!)

What's the appeal in Gilligan? Perhaps it's the simplicity of the characters. Seven stranded castaways, each with the same goal of getting off the island, but with their own personalities and backgrounds. This week our carnival entries will be categorized by castaway. So turn off the radio, get comfortable in your hut, grab a piece of Maryann's coconut creme pie and dive right in to a lagoon full of great thinking. Hopefully after this three hour tour, you won't find yourself longing for the world's idea of civilization.

The Skipper Posted by Picasa
We begin with the Skipper, Jonas Grumby, an old salt in these waters. The Skipper is a mighty sailin' man. And he's the man in charge... the Captain. Since he outranks us, Skipper will oversee posts dealing with religious figures from the past and present.

We'll start with another in a series of posts from Mark at Psuedo-Polymath examining a pair of heroes -- David from 1 & 2 Samuel and Achilles from Homer's Iliad. This is called David and Achilles: Reflections on Feminity.

Is it a festival or a crusade? John Luke of Blogcorner Preacher invites us to Come for the Festival -- a Luis Palau festival evangelism event this weekend in Washington D.C. He laments the need to dress up the cross of Christ in the trappings of popular culture.

Did Jesus Revise the Law? is a look at the sometimes common view that Jesus revised the standards of the law making it higher and more stringent than the Old Testament. This post refers to a series of older posts written by the bloke the outer... that argues that the Law and Commandments of the Old Testament should not be viewed in a legalistic manner and that right from the start, God set out to create a relationship with His people that is based on love, mercy and grace.

The Headmistress from The Common Room discusses Francis (of Assisi) and Clare and their effect on Europe.

Was St. Ignatius' desire for martyrdom a holy quest and an indication of insanity? Next week's Christian Carnival host Matt Jones of Random Acts of Verbiage explores the story in St. Ignatius: Holy or Insane?

At Part-Time Pundit, John Bambenek digs into the Crucifixion in Broken But Not Beaten: Death With Dignity.

Thurston Howell III Posted by Picasa
Next up is the millionaire, Thurston Howell III. Mr. Howell is a man of power and authority -- a chairman of many boards. He wields influence. Senators and Congressmen all pay him respect. And so, with Mr. Howell's approval, let's look at posts featuring the high, the mighty and the matters of world importance.

The amazing capacity for coincidence and history converge and call for action in small town diners, national museums, or the entire world on the brink of war. Phil from Another Man's Meat examines how so many things come together in Convergence.

Ilona from truegrit wrestles with the idea of a Christian response to war in Warfare.

Bruce of Sprucegoose notes that while America reacts and defends against terrorism around the world, al Qaeda moves its manpower and munitions to areas surrounding Israel. Read more in How Goes the War?

A technique recently proposed would, if successful, produce human embryonic stem cells from oocytes (unfertilized eggs) without any use of human embryos. Martin of Sun and Shield considers a moral objection to using oocytes for such a purpose in his post Natural Law and Oocytes.

The blogger, Angry in T.O. claims that the hard left says the real danger to the world comes from Jews and Christians. But don't listen to their words. Watch what they do. By their actions they seem to be telling a very different story. It's all in Moonbats and Art: Highlighting the Difference Between Words and Action on the blog Angry in the Great White North.

A controversy over a university ministry and a Catholic dissident group is the subject of University Ministry Advertises Dissident Group on The Triumvirate.

Mrs. Howell and her man. Posted by Picasa
Mr. Howell would be nowhere without his wife, the social butterfly, Lovie. Mrs. Howell is known in all the best social circles and registries. Whether sending regards to Prince Ranier and Princess Grace or making preparations for the annual Howell Cotillion, Lovie is impressed with the things of the world, so let's look at posts dealing with worldliness.

Are God's blessings given as a reward for our faith? In Is God Santa Claus?, Alan at Imago Veritatis heard a sermon this past Sunday portraying God as a cosmic Santa Claus, ready to hand out the goodies if you will just ask Jesus into your heart. While this is typical evangelical fare these days, it radically misses the point of Jesus's call to discipleship.

What would happen if a Recovery Band played in a park and met a homeless man who is seriously drunk? Louie of The Marshian Chronicles found out what did and didn't happen on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Read along as he guides us through his thoughts and experiences in Meeting Mr. Bear.

Sometimes as he looks around, Bill from White Ribbon Warriors feels like the church in the US is "overfed and underexercised". He wonders if sometimes we don't need to rediscover the GO factor in taking the message of the Gospel from beyond the walls of the church building and to the streets, malls, offices, and other places we go. Be challenged to Rediscover the GO Factor.

Diane from Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet wonders why a recent study in England would show that in countries with a higher religious devotion, especially among Western nations, there is a higher crime rate. In other words, the United States, although more religious, has
a higher crime rate than less religous European countries. Discuss it with her on More Religion Means Higher Crime?

Lennie from Cross Blogging offers a brief discussion on the Pro-Family legislation in Wisconsin contrasted by the anti-family rulings about Nude dancers in Oregon and the 1 man-2 woman marriage in the Netherlands in Culture Wars Rage On.

Financial contentment may be a sore subject for some but it is sorely needed message in the church today. That's the point Brad from Happy Mills is making in his post Is "Just Enough" Too Much?

And L.C. Staples of The Staple Gun discusses the relationship between Capitalism and morality in Incurable Capitalism.

The Professor Posted by Picasa
Next up, the professor, Roy Hinkley. We're not really sure what he is a professor of, but we know he should get a Nobel Prize for developing so many uses for the common coconut. There's nothing the professor doesn't seem to know, including scientific names for butterfly species, obscure tribal languages and a little bat anatomy. And so the professor will oversee our more intellectual fare.

Chad from Eternal Revolution never disappoints and What Is the True Reality? is no exception. If you ask readers of fiction why they like that genre, most often they will tell you that it provides an escape from reality. Chad asks if that is backwards. Is it possible that the dream world of fairy tales and mythology offers a more accurate glimpse into true reality than the material world?

Sherry at Semicolon blows the shofar in celebration of Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish new year's celebration has some lessons for Gentile and Jewish Christians. Read Shanah Tovah.

Why Study Genesis? Rey from The Bible Archive points out that most studies of Genesis end up spending so much time refuting evolution that we miss some important things in the first book in this introductory post to a study of Genesis.

A Request to Any and All Calvinists goes out from philthirteen to help him make sense out of five examples of why he thinks TULIP is an incomplete definition of salvation.

This post by Abednego at Parableman raises questions about Romans 14 and disputable matters, in particular regarding whether masturbation counts as such a gray area. Read Biblical Silence as an Argument for Individual Conscience.

Was Pilate scared of truth? Are scientists afraid of truth? What is Truth? anybudee from What is God Saying To You? asks the questions.

Matthew of Journey in Search of a Soul blogs about Thomas Merton and his ideas about freedom in Free Speech.

Prayers for the dead? Jay of Deo Omnis Gloria asserts that we should be doing it and that Jesus did it twice in Scripture. His post is called Prayers for the Dead.

Cadmus of cadmusings delivers a beautiful written response to the questions and statements about the actual integrity of the Bible. With The Origin of the Bible Pt. 1 he begins a series concerning the Bible that presents its origin, history and validity

Ginger Grant Posted by Picasa
The island would be nowhere without a little sex appeal. The redhaired siren, Ginger Grant is happy to provide. As a movie star, the lovely Ginger is all over the entertainment scene like Joan Rivers on a red carpet. And so let's retire to the Bamboo Lounge for posts dealing with entertainment and technology.

Over at Cerulean Sanctum, Dan cuts through all the hype about blogging and wonders if it's truly advancing the Kingdom of God in Christian Blogging: A Waste of Time?

Celebrities are on the mind of Sara Horn at Faith at the Front. She comments on the recent celebrity rants against the Iraq war and why they don’t know what they’re talking about. She also reflects on the important religious freedom for Iraqi Christians that she saw first-hand as a writer covering stories in Baghdad. Read Out of the Mouths of Celebrities.

Bob Sterling at remarks about the similarity between the new Ipos Nano and his new Gideon Bible in the humorous Steve Jobs and God Team Up to Relaseas Bible Nano.

Maryann Summers Posted by Picasa
If Ginger's not your type, perhaps it's Maryann. Miss Summers, cute little Kansas farm girl, lives an ordinary, simple life. So we'll let Maryann lead us into carnival posts dealing with living the Christian life.

Paula at Listen In posts about a revealing remark made when her cat comes up missing showing her how much she needs to learn about love and forgiveness in her relationships. She calls it Pet Therapy.

Ever been blessed by a sign? HeyJules from Faith or Fiction? is pretty sure she was. She explains as she tells about going to meet her new spiritual mentor in Satan and the Jiffy Lube Sign.

Here's one from Rev Bill who asks "Do You Really Want To Follow God?" Many people try to
blame others -- or even "the devil" for the fact thatthey can not seem live the life Jesus calls us to live. The one to blame is really ourselves!

Donna-Jean at Liberty and Lily muses about her blessings and the needs of the Gulf Coast in her post The Apple of His Eye.

Robin of Write Thinking writes that God the Father doesn't expect us to become Christlike in an instant. It's a journey made up of many steps toward Him. Explore that idea in Baby Steps.

If you've been through any type of suffering, you have a good idea how important hope is. David from All Kinds of Time examines this idea in Hope in a Time of Suffering.

Susan of Sisters' Weblog: It Boggles the Mind asks why Christians look forward to heaven when, as Jesus said, it is only going to "pass away"? Read Heaven Will Pass Away.

Ever felt stereotyped as a Christian? Have you felt the onus and stigma of being a believer of the book? Bob Cooley takes a look at Self-serving Secular Smugness over at N With Both feet.

In Autumn Fire, a photograph of fiery autumn leaves leads to reflection about finishing well in the Christian life at Points of Light. Don't miss the spam and response in the comments!

Kim at Sharing Spirit found herself wrestling with the whole idea of the choice we have to believe. That's belief, complete with action, not just lip service to our belief. Explore belief and doubt in Believe.

Speak the truth in love we are taught, but for some that's easier said than done. Hope from A Song Not Scored For Breathing blogs about how truth is spoken in the context of a marriage in her post The Full Monty.

And as we Runalong with Pastor Mark, he gives us a short Parenting Quiz.

Gilligan Posted by Picasa
And our seventh castaway is our first mate, Gilligan. Willie Gilligan, according to the show's creator, Sherwood Schwartz, but you'd never know that watching the show. What you notice about Gilligan is that he always messes something up. It may be by eating the professor's glow-in-the-dark dye or forgetting to tie a message to a homing pigeon, but whatever it is, Gilligan is sure to have ruined any chance of a rescue. So it is only right that Gilligan introduce this section dealing with failure and sin.

Ron at Nothrern 'burbs blog submits one of his posts in his series on evil. It's All My Fault examines the cause of moral evil -- and here's hint: it's in us, not in God.

Over at A Firm Nail, Nailman drives another one home in Valuing God's Word. We are reminded through the story of King Jehoiakim, to not just listen to sermons, but to remember them and apply them in our lives.

Penitens from A Penitent Blogger reflects on how God's grace can overpower obstacles to repentance in Repent Anyway.

MWC at Mr. Smith in Washington comments on judgmentalism and what he is learning as he repents of it. Those of us who find ourselves critical of others' behavior will be especially interested in Confessional: Repenting From a Critical Spirit.

Richard blogs his thoughts about John the Baptist's call to repent in Repentance over on his blog dokeo kago grapho soi krastistos theophilos.

And that's the tale of our castaways, they're here for a long, long time. They'll have to make the best of things. It's an uphill climb. The first mate and the Skipper too will do their very best to make you more than comfortable in your tropic island nest.

So join us here next week, my friend, you're sure to get a smile. From seven stranded castaways (and a lot of great bloggers) here on Gilligan's Isle!

Thanks for watching our show! Posted by Picasa