Monday, August 27, 2012


Well, I’m back on the church music subject again. Saturday night I sat in the pews for the first time in a long time while someone else led worship music.  Our regular praise band is now deemed too old fashioned for the youth.  Our contemporary praise band was no longer contemporary enough. We were put out to pasture. I felt like the wife who is dumped after 20 years of marriage so her husband can take off with a younger woman. 

I remember many years ago when we sidelined the choirs because they were too old fashioned for us, so I guess it is payback time. I wasn’t stunned by the difference in the service though.  Instead of our two or three guitars and a piano it was just one guitar.  He was barefoot and in shorts. He played the same songs we did, only he raised the key higher than most people there could sing.  I wondered why this was considered better by the church leaders, and more attractive to the youth.  Lagging attendance made them concerned that Saturday night services weren’t meeting the needs and goals of the church board.  I felt the 50 or so faithful that came had their needs met, and besides I really wondered whether any music change would successfully attract youth on a Saturday night service.

I confess, I am weary of going into churches where they have to hand out ear plugs because the music is so loud it is damaging to your hearing, where it becomes performance art rather than worship.  Church leaders worry that once all these “old folks” die off there won’t be anyone to support the church and the doors will close.  That is a bit too business like and materialistic for my taste.  We should be concentrating on reaching out to individuals who can be touched by Christ on a personal one to one level.  Jesus didn’t worry about the band or the collections plate.  He didn’t concern himself with the men’s fellowship dinner or the ladies retreat.  He taught and reached out to people (yes, I know the healing was a part of it all that attracted the crowd, but the teaching was the main thing.)  Jesus taught in small groups and large.  People gathered around him informally.  They ate and drank as he spoke and moved freely.  Perhaps a format change that creates that informal setting is something we need more than a musical format change to attract younger folks.

To be fair, I have to admit that if that musical change is what it takes to get them to come to a church service, then it is time to make the change.  For too long we’ve held on to all sorts of traditions that don’t work. Even though I saw no significant difference in the music and felt that a barefoot post-teen leading music was hardly worth the effort, there were several new young people there.  Will they continue to come on a Saturday night, which is traditionally party-time and date night for most youth?  Will there be more than 50 of them?  I hope so, I really do.  The church needs to do everything it can to reach these kids with the gospel.  We are failing miserably at that all across our nation. But still I’m uneasy about this one.

And what of the 50 older people that already so faithfully come to that service?  I am fearful that all the older ones will get the wrong message and think they are not valued and will leave.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

When The Rocks And The Trees Speak...


Courage.  Courage is not the absence of fear, it is doing something in spite of the fear.  I was out in the woods today and found a tree growing out of a crack in a rock.  Stunted and deformed, it was vigorous and unyielding, nonetheless.  You see, the tree isn’t made to need courage or consider fear.  I grows where it is planted, giving it all it has to succeed in even the toughest environments.  It doesn’t know how to quit, and it doesn’t envy the other trees that are straight and tall and have life easy as they reach for the clouds.

We aren’t quite the same, are we?  We wrestle with fear all the time.  Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of humiliation…the list goes on and on.  Joshua probably had the same reaction when he arrived at Jericho after wandering in the desert for 40 years.  It was a securely walled city.  His spies had returned with the news that it was so well fortified that they should not attempt to take it in battle.  Two of them disagreed, and so did God.  In fact, God spoke to Joshua and told him “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and the valiant warriors.”  God used the past tense, even before the battle was engaged.  It was a done deal (it’s kind of handy being “outside of time” and knowing the outcome of things…especially if you have a hand in them.)  Joshua wasn’t so sure, I suspect.  All those warriors, city walls several feet thick…if only they had someone on the inside, and God provided that…a woman…a woman prostitute.  Hmm…probably not exactly what old Josh’ thought was the most useful person in a war.  He and his men were probably thinking of traditional battle plans like storming the walls, setting fires, sneak attacks in the dark, or someone inside to kill the night watch guards and open the gates.  Nothing seemed to be acceptable as a plan to most of his spies.  Then God spoke to Joshua and said basically to form a marching band and play your heart out as you walk around the city…”are you kidding? Seriously? This is your plan, God?”  I’m sure Joshua’s courage to go forward on this course of action was pretty weak.  Yet he did move forward in faith on God’s promise.  I’m sure the folks in the band about the sixth day were thinking this was all pretty silly and pointless, and yet on the 7th day the walls collapsed just like God said they would.

How’s your courage to do what God says?  Have you been told you will never succeed at anything, you’re a failure, is that part of your history?  I believe God wants us tolive our faith and be a success and a good example for our community.  But still we struggle.  As for me, I wonder can I daily really put my life on the line for my faith, literally or even figuratively?  I know I have a hard time sometimes, even with the little stuff.  Maybe you ask yourself the same questions sometimes.  Do I stand up and make my faith known to co-workers?  Do I believe God will bring me the person he wants me to have for the rest of my life as my mate?  Do I go along with the illegal or immoral behavior of my employer or friends?  Do I discipline my kids and raise them in the ways that God expects, setting an example every day. 

I think of the impossible things that have come to pass in my life by trusting God’s promise and wonder why I have such weakness sometimes in trusting that what he wants will happen. That gnarled and stunted tree in that crack in the rock doesn’t flinch at those challenges or any others, and neither should we. 

God has promised us “Fear not, I am with you.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Next New Thing

My Mother was a true child of the great depression.  She lived in a rickety little cabin of unpainted boards in Virginia.  I remember watching, as a child growing up, her putting the little pieces of several used up bars of soap together in a pot to melt them back into one big new bar.  I’ve never forgotten that lesson.

We live in an era of materialism and waste that has proliferated to a level unheard of in human history.  We justify that computer full of rare earth elements tossed into the trash, because it would cost more in labor to fix it than it is worth.  We consider a three-year-old car ancient and a “clunker” that has to be replaced, and it gets traded off to a car dealer in Mexico.  Our cars cost what whole houses go for in many places in the world.  The landfills proliferate, the toxic waste dumps get added, and we all wonder if they will contaminate our water with all our trash.  I went on a fire in a landfill dump recently and wondered if it was even safe to breathe the smoky air around me as I drove my fire engine into the site. There is an entire island many miles wide in the Pacific Ocean where trash from our rivers and beaches around the world floats as the various currents meet.. 

I am not much better than most at this either.  I do try to recycle most of what I can like computers, bottles and cans but it barely scratches the surface of what I consume.  But what this waste says to me about our culture’s insatiable appetite for more of everything is troubling.  You barely buy an Ipad before it is obsolete and you “have to have the new model” yet much of the world lives in abject poverty and hunger.  Those of us with an abundance of possessions and all the new toys and trinkets are not all that much happier than we were without them, and we often turn to drugs, alcohol and other forms of release to search for happiness.  We can’t see that things don’t buy happiness.  True joy comes in knowing God and living in that peace and expressing his love to others.  It comes more from giving than it does from taking and using.  I’m not saying that abject poverty is a whole lot of fun, but I know all our excessive materialism isn’t the answer, either.

Love In Action

I often find it hard to love.  I’ve been around the block a few times and I know from experience that the people that I have to interact with, or those I let even closer into my life, are by their innermost nature not going to be lovable sometimes, most of the time, or even all of the time.  They are going to do their best to put themselves first and me second (if I’m lucky) or third and on down the line to infinity.  It’s just the way it is. 

Yet, am I confusing “love” with “like” here?

Reading the Bible is an exercise in love.  It’s central theme is love…but what is love?  Webster’s says a lot about it.  It is one of the longest definitions in their dictionary…ending with “scoreless in tennis” (been there, done that!)  Most of their definitions relate to feelings and actions expressed to another.  Is love just a feeling of affection or an amorous sexual episode (that is if you’re not playing tennis!)  Or is it something more, and how do we relate that to our own attitude and behavior?  The Bible defines love, too.  Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is one of the best places to find that definition.  In the Bible’s simplest definition it says “God is love.”  Even Webster’s Dictionary recognizes that. I think that is where we need to take our cue about love and how we need to express it.

So, back to my problem.  I often find it hard to love, but am I confusing “love” with “like?”   Jesus didn’t command me to “like” one another.  He commanded me to “love one another.”   I once read a statement that sums it up pretty well:  “You may like someone because of who he is, but you love someone because of who you are.”  In the same way, God’s love is unconditional and he loves us because of who He is and not who we are.  That doesn’t mean he likes how we behave or how we relate to Him.  Still, he goes on loving us just as much.  It also doesn’t mean that we don’t wind up being disciplined by life or by God for what we are like and what we do.  That is the practical take away from all of this…that our loving someone doesn’t mean we completely overlook what they do.  Consequence is a part of life and learning.  Our patient, kind, and loving correction is expected as a part of our loving others.  I agree, by our nature it is hard to do when you don’t have the “like” to go with the “love.”  Still, that is what is expected and we should strive for in our lives.

Jesus said, “love one another, even as I have loved you.”  He loved us enough to die in our place.  I don’t honestly think I could do that for someone I don’t even like.  I’m human and very flawed…but I can understand what the message is and I can try to get as close as possible to that attainment. 

Will you?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Mocking Bird Sings

I have heard various forms of this comment in a couple of settings this week by different people, and to me that’s a hint that I need to pass it on.  The essence of it is that our country is full of people who mock Jesus and Christianity.  This is something that was not even thinkable in past generations on the grand scale we see it today.  What is more intriguing is that it is not at all politically correct to mock other religions.  In fact, you might be jailed for it as a hate crime and you certainly will be reviled and condemned for it in the mainstream media.  You might even be killed for it if it happens to be a comment made about Islam.

Satan is actively at work in our society to mock Jesus but not other religions or their leaders simply due to the fact that Jesus really scares Satan and those other religions don’t.  One person I know pointed out that this is a very real compliment in a way.  We are going to get into conflict with Satan only when we are standing against him!

There is a battle shaping up.  A big one.  We know how it turns out if we read the Bible.  The Anti-Christ will rule at some point.  Perhaps this will be the big socialist worldwide “nanny state” we are actively shepherding the nations toward, where the United Nations puts a leader in charge of us all?  I sure don’t know, but I do know that my “Get Out Of Jail Free Card” is stamped and valid and Christ is waiting for me.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Gay Marriage

Am I a proponent of Gay Marriage?  No.  I believe that accepting and even encouraging a homosexual lifestyle as “normal” is a sign of moral decay in our society.  Remember that as you read the rest of this, because that is only part of the story here.

I believe marriage is supposed to be a contract between a man and a woman.  That is the natural order of things, but contracts can be extended to just about anything between persons, corporations, and other legal entities.  Contract law is one of the most fundamental features that keeps our country going.  Interfering with the ability to contract would destroy our country.  The God bound contract is not the word “marriage” itself, it is the act of joining a man and a woman in God’s sight and under his blessing.  We are getting hung up and fighting over a word here. 

It is not illegal to be gay, in fact it is a protected status like being black or female or old.  It is not directly mentioned in the Ten Commandments either (yes, I know it is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, so is being divorced and so is being a drunkard...do we really want to go down this road…)  I have many gay friends and have nothing but love and respect for them as persons.  I think it is a harder life that usually none of them would necessarily have chosen on purpose.  I don’t believe it is the right way to live life, and I don’t believe God wants it that way.  I have no idea whether it is a choice, a biological causation or psychological in nature.  I don’t really even need to think about those things.  My only God commanded job is to love them as God has told me to love all who live in this world and fall short of what he expects…which we all do.  It is that simple.  I can’t endorse being gay any more than I can endorse adultery, stealing or whatever…but I can show love as God commands.  I can even encourage repentant gays into my church, just as I can repentant murderers, thieves, those who take God’s name in vain, and adulterers, etc.  Please notice I said repentant…not perfect and without sin. 

But there are still practical aspects to this controversy in our society that we have to deal with.

You see, I don’t get it.  Parts of this are just ridiculous.  Why would someone who is gay want to be married in a Christian church where the Bible is preached, and it is stated that unrepentant homosexuality is held as sin?  And why would we care if some other Church establishes itself and teaches that homosexuality is not sinful and marries same sex couples.  We practice freedom of religion in this country, remember?  It is even legal to worship Satan.  So, let the government stay out of peoples beliefs.  The government should not make a church marry someone that is outside the parameters of their faith statements, and the government should not interfere with churches that do accord that to gay couples.  Marriage among non-believers has been going on for thousands of years without the demand that it be regulated or blessed by anyone in a church.  I tend to think civil unions at least should be the norm in all states to solve the issues that gays bring up over the economic and legal issues that marriage usually covers. 

Passing endless laws to regulate many  “sinful practices” deemed inappropriate by the church is not the right path.  The Pharisees in the Bible took this to an extreme, and that legalism is what Jesus spent most of his effort responding to.  In our own society we’ve seen it with prohibition, and we see it still with prostitution and drugs.  And in spite of laws, prostitution and drug abuse is rampant throughout the U.S.  We hardly make a dent in it with our enforcement efforts.  I wonder sometimes if we spent the huge sums we do on courts and prisons on re-education and rehab programs for these non-violent “crimes” that we might not only save money, but save people as well.  It is a great place to put a faith based enterprise!

Our country was founded on the principles of free speech and free association.  This is so fundamental to our government that I can’t repeat it enough.  I believe the church as a whole needs to be about the business of spreading the gospel, building up believers and doing good works.  They have the right to speak out about their beliefs under the First Amendment.  Chik-Fil-A is a prime example, and the liberals who are making a stink about it should be ashamed of themselves for their vitriol…still it is their right to speak out as well (at least until Nancy Pelosi passes her current proposal to start paring down on Free Speech rights by changing the First Amendment.)  The mayors of Boston, Chicago and San Francisco have come out saying they will keep Chik-Fil-A stores out of their city.  The pro-gay marriage mayor of New York City has come out and said that “the owners of that company, having a position against gay marriage, are trampling on the rights of others, but those other cities are trampling on the right of that company to open a business.”  I think the Mayor got it half right.  Preventing a business from opening because its owners expressed a belief is trampling on freedom.  The right to express your belief that gay marriage is wrong is not trampling on freedom.  It is the right you have to express your opinion.  If you try to block that right Mr. Mayor, you are the one trampling the most fundamental right we have in this country.  No one at the company turns gays away from eating in the restaurant!  That would be illegal discrimination. That would be trampling on rights.

There are some who are postulating the argument that being against gay marriage is like the old civil rights controversy of saying blacks can’t come in a restaurant with whites.  They want to make it a discrimination issue.  I don’t think the analogy holds water if it violates the rights of freedom of religion and requires churches to marry couples against their core beliefs.  It’s more like saying a protected class is able to come in the restaurant and tell the cook that he must give them free food or must start serving lobster when it isn’t on the menu.

So this has been my “free speech exercise” on a hugely controversial subject.  I wholeheartedly respect your right to feel differently about it and to express yourself with respect and dignity for those who take a different view.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

I'll Hit You Up With A Text

We have come to the point where we interface with machines and technology in our society more often than we do with each other directly. I wonder if we have come to that point with God. Is our prayer to Him basically just another text message we snap off in shorthand with “u” and “LOL” and “TTFN.” Is there a relationship going on in our communication with God? Or is there a firewall and spam filter and virus protection that keeps us from really feeling a personal connection to God when we pray. My son-in-law recently tried to use voice-to-text to tell a friend directions to somewhere: “Take Inez and make a right on Date Street” became “Pick your nose and make a right on Tate on the left.” Are we communicating with about the same effectiveness with God? Sometimes I think what we do is develop that mistaken position that we are petitioning an “aloof unfeeling entity” rather than a loving personal God who actually cared enough to take human form and suffer incredibly for those who hated him. How personal do you want it to be! Our prayer is so much more meaningful to us when it is to a personal God that cares immeasurably about every syllable we utter and wants us to share in a personal relationship with him. I think we often tend to get into repetitious “form” prayers and don’t actually just have a heartfelt conversation with God. Conversations are built on the idea that someone is listening. We believe that is what is happening with God, don’t we? Why do we pray like we are leaving a text message that may or may not be picked up and responded to? I tend to think God says, "I'm glad you called instead of texting. It’s great that we got to talk and shared all that. I love you. And you know that mistake you said you made…I’m glad you mentioned it to me and I know you don’t want to do that again. Talk to you soon, I hope! Love you!” You can leave refreshed, forgiven, and at peace. A lot of times I think we fall into the habit of praying only when we are asking for something. I think of the times I wished someone I cared about would call just to talk and then find that the only times they’d call is if they needed something. I remember how that made me feel. Maybe, sometimes we should pray and just “listen” instead of asking.

What My Dog Has Taught Me

I have cats, too. What have they taught me…hmmm, not so much. Basically, they are the poster children for selfishness. They are like trying to push rope uphill or spitting into the wind. But dogs...I am constantly amazed about dogs…at least once you get past the stage of training them how to flush the toilet and put their dog dish in the dishwasher (OK, I can dream can’t I?) What is it that makes the kind of animal that craves your attention, always wags their tail and gets excited to see you and be with you, is there for you whenever you want, right by your side, gets protective of you and your property, and shows love to you in spite of how poorly you treat them at times. I think if someone made me eat off the floor and live in a two-foot square house, I’d be a little less than appreciative practically all the time! I’d be looking for the life that Snoopy has…flying Sopwith Camels against the Red Baron and leading all the birds on nature hikes would be my choice. Unconditional love. That is what most dogs are typified by. They don’t think “if he gives me a big dog house I will be nice to him.” They don’t say to themselves “if he gives me that dog food where they put all the bacon flavoring in it, I won’t bite him.” Dogs just naturally want to be by your side. I really doubt they consider themselves your pet. You are their “human.” You’ve all heard the cute and worn out saying Dog is God spelled backward. As trite as it may be, I think the analogy is a good one. God is Love…unconditional love. Once we get that, there honestly isn’t much else of importance to learn…except to model that in our interactions with one another. Dogs have figured that out…have you?