Category Archives: Ministry

All things regarding church, ministry, and religion

Put down your rock and go home

StoningJohn 8:1-11 tells the story about a woman caught in adultery, taken before Jesus by the religious leaders of the day. They didn’t value His teaching, but instead were looking to trap him by making him either agree to stone her according to the law of Moses (kinda goes against that whole love and forgive message He was preaching) OR have him say don’t stone her (which goes against the law of Moses).

Most of us know the story – Jesus said whoever has no sin should throw the first stone. And since no one was without sin except Jesus – the religious leaders were foiled again and went home, without stoning the woman. Jesus then told her that he didn’t condemn her either but added “Go and sin no more”.

I’ve heard many sermons about this passage and even a Christian Comic do a bit about it. Most of time the point is relayed that we all have sin and none of us have the right to judge someone else’s sins, however occasionally I hear the emphasis on Jesus’ parting commandment – sin no more. Opening the door to the idea that if someone is “sinnin’ more” then maybe we can pick those stones back up.

One person commented to me recently, “I wonder why everyone wants to talk about how Jesus told the crowd with rocks to go home but never wants to talk about how he told her to sin no more.”

My answer to him was simple and I think worth sharing with you – Because we are the crowd, we are not Jesus. Put down your rock and go home.

Just Enjoy the Bath

Early Bath

Enjoy the Bath

Leviticus 13:47-59 is entirely about what to do with garments that have mold – in the King James its translated as not just mold, but leprosy (often referred to in scripture as the disease of the flesh). People tend to gloss over Leviticus because it doesn’t seem relevant to our lives today, but I think this passage reveals something very important about the Character of God.
If we found leprosy on our clothes today, we would toss ’em, burn ’em, get rid of ’em quick. But God instructs us to wash it and inspect it – and if the stain persists, to wash it again – cut out the stain and wash it again, and inspect it again. When I first read this, I thought, all this for a shirt with leprosy???

But I think the point we can draw from this passage is that God isn’t willing to throw away something because of its imperfection. The stain of the flesh, that sin in your life, whatever it may be – God isn’t tossing you aside because of it. He will wash you clean, inspect you, and wash you again. He will tear out the sin but redeem you. Its who He is… and He loves you enough to patiently work on you…

And what does this mean for us? We want to be like Him – made in His image – transformed by his Love… How then can we point to the “stains” we see in others and say “gross” when we ourselves are still being inspected and washed by the Redeemer? Just enjoy the bath…

And I thought God GAVE his Son…

For God so loved the world, he gave sold His only begotten son Nintendo Wii… What??? I’m not a Walmart hater, but their latest commercial sums up the season in a single phrase:

Christmas costs less at Walmart

Only this year it cost one 34 year old man his life (read more about that here).  Every year I rail against the commercialization of Christmas, this year is no different.  Do we really need to “Buy Christmas”???  How much money have you spent on Christmas?  How much of that did you put on a credit card?  How much of your current credit card balances are from last Christmas?  Don’t tell me the economy is bad – Black Friday sales were up over 3% over last year, that’s over 10.5 BILLION in sales! (click here for source)

People say that Christmas is the season of giving, but that’s not what their actions declare – its the season of getting.  We get things for our family, we get things for our friends, we get things for ourselves, but we don’t give.  I’ve said this before and gotten many comments from people who disagree with me, mostly in the defense of their ‘gift giving’ habits – but I still believe we treat Christmas the same way we treat Halloween – no religious purpose, no religious intent, just another vacation day with a theme.

The funny thing is, people who refuse to celebrate Halloween are treated as religious zealots, and people that don’t celebrate Santa as part of their Christmas tradition, as bad parents.  My pastor talked about living in a Kingdom Culture this morning – a culture that fosters the Gospel.  As I look at the American culture, I see that we have so completely bought into the idea of a secular public life and a private religious life – a kind of separation of Church and State, with state being any area of our life outside of the four walls of our church.

I don’t really mind how we celebrate Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, or Thanksgiving.  I couldn’t care less how you celebrate President’s Day or New Year’s Eve.  But we seem for forget that as Christians, in the mix of historic dates and important celebrations, we have two truly Holy Day’s, Resurrection Sunday and Christmas.  When Easter is about bunnies and chocolate, Christmas about Santa and electronics – we’ve all but abandoned our faith.

A good friend of mine once preached a sermon titled “When Worlds Colloid”.  The point as I remember it was to tear down the walls of seperation keeping our faith from the rest of our life; a message that I think belongs in our pulpits this time of year more than any.  How many of those stampeding Walmart shoppers were Christians?  How many of them were living in the American Culture instead of the Kindom Culture?  Lets just hope they all got the door buster deals they were praying for – we all know that Christmas costs less at Walmart.

Happy Hanukkah!

Jesus Camp on A&E

Jesus CampA&E recently aired an independent film titled Jesus Camp. It features pastor Becky Fischer’s “Kids on Fire” camp in North Dakota “where children as young as six are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in ‘God’s army’.” The film follows a few of the children that attend the camp and their Christian families. In one scene a mother that is apparently home schooling her children (a sign on the kitchen wall reads, “Home sweet Classroom”), teaches her son that global warming is a political issue and that it isn’t a real problem. In another scene a little girl is praying that Jesus will help her bowl well at a youth bowling event. In yet another scene, another girl explains that God doesn’t go to all churches, that “some churches are dead churches, and in those churches the people do not act excited, and they sing 3 songs, and listen to a sermon, but God likes to go to churches where they jump up and down, shouting his name, are not quite and depending on how they invite him, He will be there or not.” At one point, Fischer explains to the children that warlocks are enemies of God and that if Harry Potter lived in old testament times “he would be put to death“. Two children in the film were watching a Christian ‘science’ show that asks, “Did you start with a Bang? Is evolution science or belief”. Fischer prayed over the sound system before a service, “Devil, we know what you love to do in meetings like this… no microphone problems in Jesus name“.

One crying girl that was given the microphone during a worship service states, “I just brake the chains over our nation, and proclaim the Lion of Judah over our nation”. Fischer goes on to say “this means war, are you a part or not?” Later, they brought up a cardboard cutout of President Bush and prayed over it saying “he has surrounded himself with spirit-filled people, so pray in the spirit over him”.

I was bothered by the film. I was uncomfortable watching it. At first I thought I was upset that this is how the world sees us, but then I realized that its not how the world sees us – its how we are. What bothered me was that I know this stories are not the exception. I grew up in the Pentecostal movement and scenes like the ones in this documentary were normal. It was as difficult to watch the entire film as looking in the mirror for the first time after being in a disfiguring accident. Do we really believe that God wants to help us bowl a 300, or that the devil caused a microphone to fail during a church service?

The film highlighted a few things that bother me: Our (the church’s) rejection of science, and our desire to outlaw acts of sin. Allow me to explain. Minister Rob Bell told me once (through his book, Velvet Elvis) “All truth is God’s truth”. Yet the Church as a history of rejecting observed scientific truths to protect its views. The earth had to be the center of the universe because we are made in God’s image and so we must be at the center of all things. The earth must be 6,000 years old, because that is all the time we can account for in the bible. There is no evolution because the bible says God made us out of dirt. Global Warming isn’t true, because… well just because we don’t trust those science guys at all.

1 Thess 5:21 says “Test all things; hold fast to what is good.” and Rob Bell said,”All truth is God’s truth”. If we learn through observed science that the earth 4.5 Billion years old, we should apply that truth to what we read in scripture and find a greater understanding of scripture. If science now tells us that the earth is heating up through global warming, why would we reject it? What if they are wrong? Do we believe the fumes pouring out of the back of our SUVs are good for the environment? Does the Bible not tell us to be good stewards of the earth? If science teaches us that there was a big Bang – should we reject it, or point to that beginning as proof that a creator began the universe with a spectacular explosion? If science were to observe that there is a genetic or chemical makeup that causes homosexual tendencies, will we also reject that? Or would we find greater understanding in that truth – would we reject that because ‘Gawd don’t make homos‘? Or would we realize that people are born blind, deaf, deformed, mentally and physically challenged and just because someone is ‘born that way’ doesn’t ring forth as an endorsement by providence any more than a down syndrome child is the will of God.

And what of the legislation of religion? We want abortion outlawed. I know I do. But as a church, should we seek to legislate morality through government or work to alleviate immorality through ministry? I don’t care if abortion is legal if no one wants to have one. Would our efforts be better served to reach those young women seeking abortion with the true gospel of Jesus Christ? Abortion is a selfish and desperate act from women who either don’t want to be inconvenienced by a child, or feel hopeless with no other option. Doesn’t Christianity address the selfish heart and reach out to the hopeless? I would love to see Roe v Wade overturned, but that victory must be won in the hearts of people, not in the courtroom or even in the voting booth. The reason “Separation of Church and State” is so revered by liberals is the idea that the morality of the few will govern the many. The church should reach the hearts of people, and once that has been accomplished, the people will change its laws. If our government were to pass a law that required abortions – I would say rise up, bare arms, revolt, but such is not the case.

What I’m getting at is this – as long as we teach our children that the devil is why the 9 volt battery in the wireless mic is dead, God helped you bowled a strike, Science is demonic, and government must reflect our Christian values, we are irrelevant, ineffective, and un-Christlike. I hated this film – because I hate the light it shines on us.

My final thoughts are this: I understand that not all Christians are reflected in this film, and I make no criticism of the faith of the people in the film. Their faiths seem fully genuine and some of the things said in the film were very good. I believe abortion should be illegal, and I believe global warming isn’t as much our fault as pundits would like us to believe. But I also believe the church should focus on the Gospel message more than politics, on reaching people more than changing votes. If we pray for so-called evangelical Christian leaders like Pres. Bush, let us pray even more for non-evangelical leaders, like Hilary Clinton.

Fixing the Glitch!

Have you ever seen the movie “Office Space”? Its rated R and has a lot of strong language, but if you get a chance to watch it on broadcast TV go for it. Its one of the most quoted movies around my office. Anyway, I recently found out about a situation that reminded me of a scene from the movie:

Bob Slydell: Milton Waddams.
Dom Portwood: Who’s he?
Bob Porter: You know, squirrely looking guy, mumbles a lot.
Dom Portwood: Oh, yeah.
Bob Slydell: Yeah, we can’t actually find a record of him being a current employee here.
Bob Porter: I looked into it more deeply and I found that apparently what happened is that he was laid off five years ago and no one ever told him about it; but through some kind of glitch in the payroll department, he still gets a paycheck.
Bob Slydell: So we just went ahead and fixed the glitch.
Bill Lumbergh: Great.
Dom Portwood: So, uh, Milton has been let go?
Bob Slydell: Well, just a second there, professor. We, uh, we fixed the *glitch*. So he won’t be receiving a paycheck anymore, so it’ll just work itself out naturally.
Bob Porter: We always like to avoid confrontation, whenever possible. Problem is solved from your end.

We fixed the glitch. I’ve always thought of this as a funny scene, but what if this really happened to you? You show up for work everyday but one payday, nothing gets deposited into your account? What would you do? How would you react? No one told you that you were let go, you got no severance package, no exit interview. Just no paycheck at the end of the week. Would you go back next week? In the movie, Milton thought it was an error with payroll. He kept going to work, asking around if there was a problem. Now, what if I told you this happens everyday in America. But, not to funny characters that mumble about their staplers – but to people you know and like.

Did you know that if you go to a small church (less than a few hundred) then there is a good chance your pastor didn’t get paid last week? If you are like me, you’re thinking, “No way, my pastor would have said something”. And like me, you would be wrong. I know a pastor today that hasn’t been paid in three weeks – but last Saturday night, he still spent time in his prayer closet seeking God for the people that would show up the next morning. I asked him why he kept working there and his response is what prompted me to write this blog – “This isn’t new – it happens to a lot of ministers”. I didn’t believe him – until I called one of my pastors from North Carolina. I asked my NC Friend – “Have you ever gone without a paycheck?” His reply – “Well Dale, you pay the bills of the church first because you have to keep the lights on. If there isn’t enough left over, then you don’t get paid”. I’ve confirmed this fact with four different pastors now – all of them in different parts of the country, all of them in different denominations.

Is this how we treat our pastors? Do you know if your pastor went without a paycheck this week? I dare you to ask him if he has ever gone without pay. The worst part about this is that I thought if people knew they would fix it. I’m finding out that in many cases, people hold back their regular giving on purpose because they aren’t happy with the pastor – so unhappy that they decide to ‘fix the glitch’ by ceasing to give! Find out of your pastor is missing paychecks – and fix that glitch! If you have to commit to give more, or just take up a special offering, do whatever it takes. The Apostle Paul said a workman is worthy of his wage (1 Tim 5:18).

I really do want to hear back from you on this – don’t just reply – ask you pastor, work to fix it if your pastor is missing paychecks, then reply to my post. I hope you can all say – I asked my pastor and he said he has never missed a check!, but I fear that will not be the case…

This isn’t a talent show

Recently at a church service, someone from the platform hit a sour note during praise and worship.  My wife elbowed me and made a sour face, and without thinking I said “Its not a talent show!”  I didn’t intend to be rude to my wife, I was thinking the same thing that she was regarding the malformed melody.  Blurting out as I did, it seems my comment was directed as much at me as it was to Stephanie.  I have often been caught up in the audience / performer mentality.  I believe we are in an entertainment seeking culture with television, movies, the Internet, and the many other non-interactive media forms we have heaped upon us in the last several decades.  I’ve often found myself deciding on whither a preacher was ‘good’ or not based on how entertaining he was.  I have had conversations where I commented that “if they can’t sing, they shouldn’t be on the platform”.  The problem is, church as I see it was not designed to be an entertainment outlet – and I repent for treating as such.

A friend of mine recently started a house church, due in part to the condition of the traditional church model as an entertainment venue.  He has ‘meetings’ instead of ‘services’, and in a recent post on his blog he pointed out the difference.  As I understood him, services are based on an entertainment model with a platform of performers and an audience of spectators but meetings are expected to be participatory (http://www.blog.godfidence.org/2007/10/15/house-church-clarification/).  I’m not sure how well the ‘meeting’ model would work in the traditional church service with a few hundred people in the same room, but that’s his point (as I understand it).

Is the traditional church model effective?  How does the traditional church affect the world around it?  I believe the local church building does have importance in our world today.  It can be an anchor in a community in a way that I do not believe a home based church can.  Still, the need to connect on a personal level is very real and a home based church makes a greater demand for that connection on its members.  By reducing the size of the congregation, the entertainer/entertainee dynamic is almost completely removed. 

The problem I see is our ability to affect change on a large scale is reduced when we reduce our mass (pun intended).  Ten people in a house church are easily ignored by a politician deciding how to vote on an abortion bill, and while the outreach would be significant to those that did receive it from a small house church, the impact that can be made in the community by a larger congregation is obvious.  In either case – we need more churches, traditional, non-traditional, large and small, in homes or in buildings – we need more churches.  To quote an entertaining preacher that I once knew, Hell is real and eternality is long – so I again repent for treating the church as another entertainment source.  It’s not a talent show.

Go Ironwood Eagles!

So, Friday night, Stephanie and I went out to eat using a gift card a co-worker had given me. When we got back to the house, we realized what a nice night it was and decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood. That’s when I heard the announcer. He was calling the local football game at Ironwood High School; it’s across the street from my neighborhood. We decided to walk over and take a look.

The lights were on, the stands were full, the sounds of whistles blowing, helmets clashing, and silly trivia from the press box filled the air. The band was playing, the cheerleaders were cheering, the color guard was color guarding (although one of the girls dropped her flag more than once). Young girls and boys were walking hand in hand while gazing into each others wide starry eyes. I forgot how much perfume high school girls wear.

Stephanie and I really enjoyed this unexpected night cap to our evening. As we walked back home with still more than six minutes left on the fourth quarter clock (the score was 41 – 6 Ironwood), I looked back at the stands. I couldn’t help but wonder if these young people knew my God. Has anyone told them about Jesus?  How can I be available to do the work of the LORD in the lives of these young people?