Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cover Up

Alright already. I'm sick and I admit it. Happy now?

I hate letting the general public know that I feel bad.

But I caught something last week and I'm still not over it. I knew I needed to rest, but Saturday, we were hosting the Regional Christmas party for our denomination and I couldn't miss that because the church (and practically the whole world) cannot go on if I'm not there to run things.

When I got there, they had managed to get ready without me. Donnie had the room set up. Jay checked over the sound system. Jennica handled the entertainment. And Danny had the food going. But they still needed me. After all who was going to greet people and tell them where the bathrooms were?

We had just sat down with our food when my vision got fuzzy and I nearly passed out into my mashed potatoes. Kathy was out with the car, so I called a friend to ask for a ride. I put a lot of effort in preserving my dignity. "Please," I croaked with only the mildest tone of desperation, "Can you come take me home?"

Chick came to get me and helped me as I wobbled into my house. I swore him to secrecy—"Don't tell anyone about this." He crossed his heart. But he wouldn't leave me alone. Todd came over to check me over. Jennifer came with him. They both swore a blood oath that they wouldn't tell a soul.

Then Kathy and the boys came home and I made them pinky promise to keep it a secret. But now I had a whole church committee in my church living room and they all voted against me to go to the doctor. So I did.

I told the doctor that I needed to preach the next day, and sing in the choir concert, and rehearse with SonShine kids. I sort of resented the sweet tone of her voice when she told me that it was not going to happen. However she agreed to abide by the HIPAA Laws regarding confidentiality.

Kathy found people to fill in. Jim preached. Kristen led the SonShine kids. And the Choir somehow managed to do their concert without me—they even came by and sang Christmas carols to me afterward. I thanked them and told all thirty of them not to tell ANYBODY I was sick.

Maybe I need to remember that the reason we live in community is so we can cover for each other during times of weakness.

So now you all know I've been sick. Just keep it to yourselves. Okay?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tiger Woods

I have an idea about the latest news items concerning Tiger Woods.

How about everybody just leave him and his wife alone?

It's well documented that I don't follow sports, but even I know who Tiger Woods is. The public consensus is that he's very good at golf, makes a lot of money, and seems like a nice guy.

Does he have marital problems? Is it possible he's not always as nice as he appears in public? Is he a bad driver?

It's none of our business.

To put it bluntly, the TV, papers, magazines, and internet media need to shut up and butt out. This is not news. It's gossip about real people and they deserve the same polite respect anyone else does.

I feel bad for them. If they were in my church, I'd want to help them. If they were my neighbors I'd help protect their privacy.

At this distance, there's not much I can do except pray for them.

But gossip is a wicked thing. No matter how mean his golf game is.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Learning from Athletes

It's becoming a source of humor around here that I don't keep up with sports. People mention unfamiliar names with a tone of reverence and I'll ask about it: "It he a movie star or maybe a politician?"

When I make a faux pax, people roll their eyes and look each other with incredulous expressions. It's just going to have to be one of my adorable idiosyncrasies, and I don't see it changing.

However, I respect people who are into sports and I'm glad to see the kids involved in them at school. I think we can all learn something from the work ethic and what they call the psychology of winning.

I've noticed that the very best athletes have certain qualities in addition to special skill. They all work hard, above and beyond their regular schedule; they practice the basics and are always tweaking their performance.

The other thing they have in common is their ability to recover from errors. The greatest athletes miss the goal, drop the ball, get tackled, stumble and fall. But they always get back up, evaluate their mistakes, and correct their errors. Embarrassment is the least of their concerns—it takes away from the focus of winning.

Seems to me that this is good strategy for the rest of living, too. It makes one a better student, businessperson, and civic leader. It's also good for our relationships. How much better a friend would I be if I did not try to defend myself so much, but instead evaluated myself without shame so I could be an even better friend?

It's also true in terms of morals and spirituality. How much better a whole person would I be if I quit hiding behind pride, looked clinically at my mistakes, corrected my actions, and moved ever closer to God?

"One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14).

I will never be a good athlete. But I want to be a good servant of Christ.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hand-Me-Downs

We often speak with a tinge of embarrassment if our children wear someone else's hand-me-down clothes. I guess somewhere not so deep down I want to boast that I buy brand new, name brand shoes and jeans for my boys. However, like most people, my pocketbook can't keep up with my pride.

Hand-me-downs have always been a part of life. The book, Cheaper by the Dozen, is about a family with twelve children who worked to live as efficiently as possible. They tell how when the oldest boy shopped for a suit, his five brothers went with him to give their approval, because they knew one day it would be passed down for each of them to wear.

When I was a kid, I was always rather proud to receive some of my big brother's clothes. At first, they would be a little big for me, so I would stand as tall as I could and stretch my arms so my hands would show. My brother's clothes told me that I was getting bigger like him and was not a little kid anymore. Moreover, there was a nice feeling that my brother was with me when I walked in his clothes.

The Bible talks a lot about our clothes. God provides them for us and we are supposed to share them. Back then people tore them when they felt anguish. Jesus' clothes shone brightly when his glory was fully revealed.

Certain qualities are like clothes that we put on: righteousness (Job 29:14), strength (Is. 51:9), and humility (1 Pet. 5:5). The apostle Paul told us to put on God's characteristics as if they were His clothes handed down to us. We are to put on compassion, kindness, meekness, patience, and love (Col. 3:12-14)). When we wear the Lord's garments, we become more like Him, taking on a new identity "according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24).

I will never be embarrassed to wear God's hand-me-downs.    

Friday, October 23, 2009

Living in the Rhythm

He was a talented pianist and had a nice voice. He was sincere as he led the music in our devotional. He closed his eyes and rocked back and forth as he performed. And the whole thing irritated me so much I wanted to run from the chapel!

It wasn't him; it was the song--a little three line ditty about sitting back and letting God love us. We sang it slowly and repeatedly and I thought it would never be over.

See, I'm not at a place where sitting back passively and waiting for God to come to me is good. God speaks and acts powerfully in my life when I am active and serving. When I move, God moves. When I wait on God, he waits on me.

However, before I get too critical of the aforementioned musician, perhaps I should explain that he is active in prison ministry. He works with guys who have little else to do but sit. Some of them have chosen to follow Christ, so when they sit, they read their Bibles, pray a lot, and sit back to meditate. Some of them have never known love, so sitting back and letting God love them is just what they need.

Life is like that. Sometimes we are weak and slow, so it is time to sit back and spend quiet time with a loving Savior. Other times we are strong and energetic, so it is right to move with God in service to Him.

It's a rhythm. In the book of Acts, the phrase "get up" occurs often, usually after a disciple has been praying for some time. First we sit. Then we move. Then we rest until its time to go back to work.

This sounds like a simple process, but I think we have problems that stem from working when we should be sitting and sitting when we should be working. So if we're frustrated or angry or just plain worn out, perhaps we need to make sure we're not trying to go against the rhythm.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It's Not What I Know, but Who

On occasion, I'm challenged by people of other faiths or persuasions. One of the accusations leveled at Christians is that no matter how we say it, we believe that we are better and everyone else is wrong and unacceptable. They say we are closed minded and won't entertain any other viewpoints, even if we listen respectfully for a few minutes.

It's hard to argue with this. Christianity does make a bold claim: "There is salvation in no one else." (Acts 4:12). To a point, they're right. While I value being nice and reasonable, I do not agree that Mohammed is on the same level as Jesus. I don't believe that all faiths lead back to the same God. I can respect anyone enough to let them have their beliefs, but I do not have to agree with them to respect them.

Frankly, I don't like fighting from this corner. They can label me an elitist judgmental closed minded individual who insists that no one else is as good as me. But couldn't we come at this another way?

I'm not right. I'm not better. I just know about someone wonderful who makes me feel special and empowers me. I know someone who knows me and wants to be close to me. He offers me a future and a hope.

Does that make me better? No, it makes me grateful.

And this person gave me an assignment. I can't keep this gift to myself. I'm supposed to share it. When I do that, I mean no insult or disrespect. I have only good will which should be my only motivation.

 
 

Friday, October 9, 2009

Words Rightly Spoken

It never fails. If I say something with great emphasis, I have to come back and temper it because it was too extreme.

Previously, I wrote about how talking too much can be selfish, which is true enough. But a good friend made me think about it over some more. Like me, he likes to talk a lot, and he took my article to heart. He wasn't angry or defensive like some would be, but conscience stricken. He said he was going to work hard to not talk so much.

The thing is, I don't want him to be silent, even a little bit. He is enthusiastic, kind, and encouraging. He's smart and thoughtful. His words are always a blessing.

Some people don't talk enough. They don't say anything mean, but neither do they say the things that are needed. There are moments when someone desperately needs to hear that he is loved. We all need to be encouraged. We all need words of wisdom.

We're supposed to give people what they need. If we hold back important words because we're insecure, unaware, or just plain stingy, then that's a sin of omission.

"A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." (Prov. 25:11).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Stealing with My Mouth

When I was selling clothes at a department store, we learned to watch out for a particular woman who frequented our store. She would see a sales clerk and start talking fast and keep at it until the clerk looked around for rescue. If the clerk started backing away, she would follow, sometimes holding onto her victim’s arm to keep him from escaping. Finally, the clerk would look to the far end of the store and make up something about how he was needed somewhere else, then would hurry away.

As soon as he left the woman alone, she would swoop up as much merchandise as she could and walk out of the store without paying for it. We never caught her in the act, but we figured out what she was up to.

It’s a bizarre reminder to us loquacious people that we need to remember how much attention we demand from others, even if we’re not trying to shoplift.

Talking too much is selfish. It demands a lot from people who are more polite than we are. And we can end up chasing people away.

Perhaps it’s not the most severe problem in the world, but consider that if I’m slow to speech, I will hurt someone’s feelings less often. My dad used to tell me, “never miss a chance to be quiet, because you can’t unsay something once it’s out.”

The woman who stole from the store reminds me that talking too much steals from others. We give more to people if we stop talking and receive what they are saying.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Number 4 Comes First

I like the number “4”.

Most everything comes in threes. The three wise men, the three pigs, the three bears, the Trinity. We eat three meals a day. Jokes and stories often have three parts: The Priest, the rabbi and the protestant walk into a bar….

I prefer four. Four is more than enough. Four means there’s something extra. Something we weren’t looking for. Four means there’s an extra helping.

Four is the number of children in the family in which I grew up Four is the number of my immediate family now.

Four is when you are no longer a toddler, but are turning into a full fledged kid.

Four ruins the meter and flow of a story. It doesn’t quite fit—I like that in a number, and often in people, too.

There was Matthew, Mark, Luke—three perfectly synoptic gospels. Then John comes along. He doesn’t fit the pattern of the other three. He is grander, more eloquent, bolder, and deeper.

Peter, James, and John were the special three out of Jesus' followers. But then occasionally we see Andrew quietly adding himself to the triad. Without Andrew there would have been no three. Without him, Peter wouldn’t have met Jesus. Peter wouldn’t even have the name we know him by. Andrew also brought the boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus—five thousand families might have gone hungry without this fourth man—the one that didn’t fit in with history’s three.

Four is the surprise ending, the goal beyond the goal. Like strawberries to go with your bacon, eggs, and toast.

It’s the heaven beyond the earth, water, and sky.

Monday, September 21, 2009

She Was Mean

He was old and alone. His wife of many decades had died after a lengthy illness. He didn't go to church but he knew me from the senior citizen center, so he asked me to do the funeral.

I sat with him in his living room to talk about the funeral. “What can you tell me about your wife?” I asked.

Without a beat he said, “Well David, she was mean.”

That was about all he had to say. But I pressed him some. “Do you have any nice memories from when you were young.”

He shook his head. “No, David, she was mean.”

I tried once more. “Did she have a sense of humor?”

“No. She was mean.”

So I wrote in my notes: “MEAN.”

The one notable thing about her was that she was a true miser. She never spent any of her money. Every check she ever received, she would cash and then hide it away in the books on her shelf. After she died, they found tens of thousands of dollars in those books.

She was selfish, joyless, and bitter. No one came to her funeral except her husband.

I wonder if Jesus was so gracious as to allow her into the pearly gates, how would she feel about heaven? Would the throngs of angels and people singing praise be so much noise to her? Would she feel offended at the waste she saw in the lavish feast spread before her at the banquet table? Would it outrage her that the gold she held to so tightly was now used as pavement?

Would heaven be hell for her?

And what would she think that after the funeral, the old man took her money, married a woman half his age, bought a motor home, and left town?

She probably felt pretty mean about it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hospitality

The restaurant was swankier than I first realized, with shimmering candles and three forks at each place setting. The waiter had a fancy jacket and spoke in low tones that made me say, "huh?" a lot. I bolted upright when I saw the prices on the menu, more startled than when the waiter put the napkin on my lap for me. Even the soup was out of my price range.

So I slipped out when the waiter with the fancy jacket wasn't looking.

I once attended a church service where I felt the same way. The building was dark, expensive, and oppressive, with serious stain glass and stonework. The service itself was more formal than what I was accustomed to: stand, kneel, sit (play dead?). I had to sit in the in the front of the sanctuary (the back pews were taken by the regulars), so I couldn't watch what others were doing. I ended up standing when others were kneeling, sitting when others were standing, and so on. If I could have, I would have sneaked out, just like I did in the restaurant--it was just too fancy and high priced for me.

Churches and restaurants need to focus on helping people feel at home. Hospitality means a lot more than cleaning the premises and putting out the good dishes. Welcoming folks means we help them feel comfortable, accommodate their needs, and explain things enough so they don't feel awkward. We need to make an extra effort to lend dignity to those who would feel the most out of place.

Jesus had a way of making the uncomfortable feel honored. He spoke to foreigners, ate with tax collectors, healed the beggars, and touched the lepers. He also had a way of making uncomfortable those who were too satisfied with themselves. He confronted the Pharisees, embarrassed hypocrites, and defied religious convention. I wonder if he would have intentionally used the wrong fork at a fancy restaurant or stood when others sat in church!

I want to make my home and my church a place where Jesus would approve and the poorest beggar would feel at home.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Key to Unity

My friend Virgil is usually good for a quick word or two. Want to know how Obama’s doing? Virgil will tell you. Need a history on economics? Virgil has some thoughts. Want a religious discussion? Virgil can accommodate you. Need a good joke? Talk to Virgil.

On rare occasions, Virgil and I will come down on opposite sides of an issue. He and I are alike in that when we have an opinion, we’re not likely to change it easily.

We like that about each other.

I like people who will put a little oomph into their thoughts, and can do so without being mean. I like not having to worry about what they think because they’ve already made themselves clear.

The other evening Virgil was almost apologetic when he said that he probably talks too much at church and asks questions people don’t want to hear.

I replied that it’s people like him that keep our church functioning well.

And that’s the truth.

When people don’t talk to each other, the anxiety and resulting tension builds. Eventually someone blows and the result is spectacular. But if we ask our questions respectfully, address each other respectfully, and work to come to a consensus, that brings us a special quality.

It’s called unity.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

It Was Good

When I read about the creation in Genesis 1, I imagine everything forming as if an artist was making a painting in front of me.

First he draws the earth amidst the heavens with contrasting lights and shadows. Then he fills in the large land masses and defines the waters with brilliant blue. Then with lots of green, red, blue, and yellow, he paints a brilliant array of vegetation. Now sprinkle in some stars around a full luminescent moon against the dark part of the sky. And show a beautiful sun on the other side of the world radiating warm light.

Next he takes a smaller brush for fine detail and makes some fish in the water, birds in the sky, and animals on the land (I especially like the bald eagle and the black panther).

Finally, he adds the image of the man and woman--perfect versions of the human form.

Viola!

He stands back to admire his work. "It is good," he declares.

These are not lab notes scrawled by a student in biology class. I get a little sick that we try to hammer out a science curriculum from this poetic message.

The creation poem is a powerful statement about the sovereignty of God. It makes the bold claim that instead of many pagan gods, there is only one God who made everything.

And it was very good.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Struggling with God

The following is a partial response to the question in the comments section of the last entry. I’ll have more later. Feel free to add your own comments.

I think God especially admires the quality of perseverance.

Jacob of the Old Testament did not exhibit many noble traits like his grandfather Abraham. In fact, it’s hard for me to like the guy because he lied, cheated, and bargained unfairly. But God favored him because he was persistent. He kept coming back to God for a blessing. The story is told that he wrestled all night with an angel and would not stop, even after he was crippled, until he received a blessing. In the end, he got one and his name was changed to Israel, which means, “He Who Struggles with God.”

If we look back at the prophets of the Old Testament, we see that they often argued with God, sometimes quite bitterly. They challenged God, accused him of being unfair, showed anger that God had left them so alone. When things didn’t make sense they didn’t shy away. They asked the hard questions

God did not respond harshly. He honored them for their persistence. They are on record in scripture as being the greatest of God’s servants.

Now consider the challenge that JeezFreaked wrote in the comments section of the last entry:


Jesus has not kept any of his "promises" to me. For years, he has closed every window on my hands, slammed every door in my face…. I keep asking, seeking, and knocking until my knuckles are bloody. He knows where I am. I have no idea where he is. I've about had it with him. So I'm doing as you suggested, asking the difficult question, which is this: What do you say to people like me? You've already eliminated the stupid cliche answers, which I appreciate. But what's left? ---JeezFreaked---


Jesus made a bold promise to us when he said that when we seek, we shall find. Like JeezFreaked, I have felt a frustration because this promise has not always come true. I gave JF a short answer at the time, but I’ve been considering it since then.

Is it wrong to say I haven’t always found God’s promises to be fulfilled? Even if it is, I am in good company with Abraham, Elijah, Elisha, Samuel, and many of the psalmists. There’s also Nathaniel, whom Jesus called the “man in whom there is no guile.”

Some of those guys got their answers relatively quickly. Some had to wait all their lives to receive their answers. And some never got their answers during their lifetimes. But they are honored in history. Hebrews 11:39-40 says:

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

How do I answer JeezFreaked? Should I say that it’s a matter of patience and faith? Or I could give the more honest answer, which is that I don’t know.

What I do know is that there is honor and nobility in the perseverance.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Afraid to Ask

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8 NIV).

Have you ever noticed how much time and energy we spend discussing what this passage does not mean? And we’re always ready to answer the big question that might come up:

If this passage is true, why didn’t God give me what I asked for?

Well you didn’t ask in the right way.

There are some things you shouldn’t be asking for.

Perhaps God answered and you just didn’t recognize it.

Maybe God just hasn’t given it to you yet. You’re not ready for it. It’s not time.

God is going to give you something better than what you asked for.

Besides, you better be careful what you ask for, because you might get it.

All of these answers make me think of the fine print we use to get out of honoring a contract.

Some of us would rather figure out what we’re doing wrong than entertain the idea that Jesus made a promise he doesn’t keep. That kind of thinking gives us a tepid spirit.

Jesus made bold statements to inspire us to be bold, not timid. He likes the Peters and the Pauls of the kingdom—people who could be reckless at times, even make mistakes, but ended up doing big things because they weren’t afraid to ask, seek, and knock.

Why not ask the tough questions? Why not risk some disappointment or confusion? And why not get very specific in asking for what we want?

Are we afraid Jesus won’t keep his promises?

More later.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Room for Mercy

The guy had been hassling me for two years. By the eighth grade I had had enough of his name calling, stealing my stuff, and general threats. I was full of testosterone and righteous indignation and it was time to stand up to the bully.

It was going to be a one on one, no holds barred, kill or be killed West Texas brawl of gruesome brutality.

It was over in two seconds. I walked away with a black eye and busted glasses. He walked away with a smirk.

I was told that the reason he hated me so was because I thought I was better than he was. I denied it. I tried not to think about him at all if I could help it. I can see now that he probably thought I was better than him, which no doubt fueled his rage.

I was angry and embarrassed over that moment. But something happened about seven years later that gave me a different perspective.

I no longer lived in that town, but I was passing through with friends when we stopped for gas. I handed some bills to the attendant without really looking at him. But I recognized his voice when he said, “Sure do thank you, sir.”

It was the guy.

He looked exactly as he did in the eighth grade, right down to his ratty tee shirt and oil stained jeans with worn knees. Only he wasn’t really quite the same. He may have hit me a couple of times in the past, but I could see in his eyes that life had dealt him many blows since the eighth grade.

I was in better circumstances. I was two inches taller and a lot more confident. I was in college and married to a woman who could have been a model.

I was not better than him, but I certainly had it better. And I always had: A loving family, nice home, enough to eat, and a future. I don’t think he had any of that.

We didn't acknowledge each other. I don't know if he recognized me. This time when I walked away, he was not smirking. But neither was I. In fact, I couldn't figure out what I felt.

Without excusing his behavior, I now see that life was much harder for him. And I realize that my successes have occurred in the framework of the many advantages I was born into.

So there’s no room for pride or superiority. But perhaps there should be room for a little mercy.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Wild Girl

Rhonda tried to be a rebel even as early as the fourth grade. She was a loner, wore daring clothes, and didn't give a flip about school rules. She was the only girl I knew who got taken to the office to be paddled, just like the boys.

She may have been wild, but Rhonda had a sense of pride and dignity and she lent it to others if she was able.

One time during P.E. the class was playing softball. A little girl named Trina was appointed captain of the team by the coach that day. The rule was if you were the captain, you could choose yourself to be the pitcher. Actually, there was no choice—convention demanded that you be the pitcher if you were the captain.

But Trina was truly unsuited to the job. She threw too high or too low and sometimes she didn't even get it across the plate. She walked every one of the opposing team, which I happened to be on. I have to admit that I enjoyed the nice leisurely stroll around the bases with the assurance of an easy victory.

However, Rhonda refused to be walked. She swung wildly at the first pitch that actually made it over the plate.

“Hey!” we yelled in alarm. “Don't mess it up!"

If she struck out we'd be a little closer to having to field the ball. And heavens, if she got a hit, there was no telling how many of us who were on base would be thrown out before the ball was out of play! (We weren’t that good either).

"Don't do that again!" we admonished.

But she stared us all down and swung again, reaching high above her head in an attempt to connect. In the dugout we stomped our feet and gnashed our teeth. The score was eighty-seven to nothing, but we knew once we got out in the field, the tide of misfortune could quickly turn and take us down.

Another pitch. Rhonda stepped over the home plate to swing, and this time she connected. With a sigh of relief, we watched her make it to first base and no one was thrown out, and so we continued the leisurely slaughter.

Now that I am grown, I think I understand what happened.

Rhonda felt embarrassed for Trina. The little pitcher who couldn't was probably miserable, but she was trapped by convention. For a brief moment, Rhonda turned it into a competitive game with doubt as to the outcome. She may have been batting against Trina, but she was really offering her a shred of dignity while the rest of us hooted with celebration and/or derision.

As Rhonda grew into her teen years, she continued to get in trouble for not doing what people thought she should do. She wore tight, ragged jeans, and went out with equally restless boys.

One day she was riding on the back of a motorcycle with some fellow. I'm sure she wasn't being careful. She fell off, hit her unprotected head on the asphalt, and was dead in an instant. I didn't know about it until I saw her picture in the paper.

I really don't know much about her--only the things I've just written. I don't know where she lived, who her folks were, or even where she was buried.

I hope somebody still remembers her, though. Her defiance may have gotten her in trouble, but that's what made her stand alone against the crowd. It's what led her to be nice to young humiliated girls.

I like to imagine that her defiance would have sparked a fire in her to become something wonderful as an adult. Actually, she was something wonderful anyway.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Children's Christian Education: a Job Poorly Done

When it comes to teaching our children in church, we’re not getting the job done.

O, some churches are popular with the kids, where plenty of money is spent on safe, fun activities. But are we preparing our children? Are we making them strong so they can stand up to the trials that will come their way?

Not that I can tell. And I’m more than frustrated. I’m outraged

For one thing, we’re not teaching the right things in the right way.

Any professional educator will tell you that little children don’t think in metaphors and analogies. Their brains are not developed to handle that stuff yet. We start with information and rules because that’s what they can process. When they get a little older in middle school and high school they can perform some of the higher processing. So perhaps we should lighten up on the cute stories that illustrate a point and focus on actual scriptural content, where there are plenty of cool stories.

Children are at the time in their lives when they can hear the spectacular stories of the Bible and memorize powerful verses.

Don’t want them to see the Bible as superstitious? Want them to think responsibly? Fine. But let’s give them something to think about. We can’t teach children how to sift through the Bible and apply the appropriate material to their lives if they don’t first know their Bibles. AND THEY DON’T.

For nearly three decades I have worked with children who are growing up in church but are not being taught basic material from the scriptures. They don’t know the stories of David and Goliath, Noah and the flood, the plagues of Egypt, the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Daniel in the Lion’s den, the life of Jesus, and Paul’s missionary journeys.

One Christmas during children’s moment in the worship service, I asked them about the Christmas story and they told me about the poem “The Night before Christmas.” They also knew about the North Pole, the red-nosed reindeer, and the elves that work in the toy factory. But they didn’t know the name of the town where Jesus was born, or about the shepherds who first heard the angels’ announcement. At the end of our time, while the church listened in, I told them that while we had been talking, I was actually teaching a lesson to the adults who needed to do a better job teaching the important stuff.

I first started writing this to complain about children’s curriculum. Some of it (a lot of it) is truly horrible, but if I look, I can find some reasonably competent material out there. The blame for our children’s ignorance lies mostly with the adults of any church.

Which brings me to this point: parents are extremely erratic about getting their kids to Sunday School. We get them to regular school every day. We get them to every extracurricular event on God’s earth because it’s important. But when it comes to Christian education, it’s too much trouble.

I’ve checked the rolls in my own churches and a majority of the children attend only once a month.

There’s the problem with finding volunteer teachers. My goodness what a bunch of chickens we are about facing a group of children. For God’s sake, as well as theirs, these kids need us to teach them.

They need us to prepare ahead of time with study and meditation, They need us to show up early on Sunday, have our materials in order, and share information with them.

Is that a lot of trouble? Sure, but aren’t they worth it?

Then there’s Vacation Bible School. For years, I’ve watched teachers wrestle to make sense out of the lame songs, silly themes, clever crafts, and O yeah, maybe a story from the Bible thrown in if there's time. These are materials we pay money for. To borrow a phrase from Philippians, “I consider them as rubbish.”

I know I’m not alone in my opinions. I also know I’m not alone in my efforts to change things. But I feel alone, like a prophet standing on a hill shouting to a sleeping city.

Since I’m yelling, I will shout as loud as I can that I have not and I never will sit idly by. One by one, in every church I have ever served I have taught the children as well as the adults. I will never stop. I will hound the parents to do their duties. When I can’t find good material, I will write it myself.

So who’s with me out there?

Friday, August 7, 2009

I had a glitch in the system last night, had to redo the following post. I ended up losing the nice comment that my friend Don left.

The Coffee Caper

It was the first crisis in my first church where I was the senior minister (okay, I was the only minister).

The woman settled into the chair on the other side of my desk and cleared her throat to talk and I braced myself to wrestle with the weighty issues of the Lord’s business.

“Where’s the coffee?” she said.

I didn’t understand. “You want a cup of coffee?” I said.

“No, I mean where did the coffee go?”

I was still confused. “Did you lose your cup?” Sometimes I misplaced mine and had to search for it. Maybe I wasn’t the only one.

“No! There was a large can of coffee in the cupboard in the kitchen, and now most of it has gone.
I want to know what happened to it.”

“Maybe somebody drank it?” I offered.

“But that’s a lot of coffee! I want to know what happened to it. Who took it?”

That was the big crisis.

An awful lot of church business has been about issues on this level. Missing coffee, crying babies, unwashed dishes, and unwashed youths.

I am amazed and dismayed at how much time and energy I have had to spend on the silly stuff. Sometimes I laugh. Other times I pull my hair.

Now that I’m older and sort of wiser, I realize that this woman was probably distressed about other things unrelated to coffee. Missing beverages are just easier to worry about.

I wish I could redo that moment and say something like Jesus might have: “Martha, Martha,” he soothed his friend, “You are worried and anxious about many things, but only one thing is necessary.”

I should have hugged the woman, told her how important she was, and asked her how things were going at home. That would have been a more Christlike response which could have resulted in real ministry.

By the way, we never caught the character who copped the coffee. So the coffee caper crisis was never cracked and remains a cold case to this day.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Discipline of Fellowship

I’ve known many people who have been disillusioned with the church. Some of them have left their congregations in bitter disappointment, never to worship anywhere ever again.

Perhaps they were genuinely hurt, but they were wrong to leave church.

Consider the thought that the benefits for fellowship might include the conflicts we have with each other. It is an exercise in discipline, requiring us to forgive, be patient, communicate better, become humbler, and let go of anger. In short, fellowship demands us to grow.

I’ll grant that it is much more peaceful to be by yourself on the lake as you watch nature unfold in the early morning. We certainly need some quiet time. But that’s not where growth in spirit and character comes from.

Our relationships are where we get the rough edges smoothed out. It’s not particularly easy, but it’s good.

We grow as we develop the humility to be gentle when we’d rather fight. Fellowship demands that we learn self control. The touchy people in our lives inspire us to find just the right words (they’re like apples of gold, the Bible says). Perhaps only in church, where we work for more than just ourselves, do we find true spiritual discipline.

I’m sure someone is wondering at this point if I am thinking of a specific conflict we are having right now in this church. The answer is no—in fact, I’ve waited to write this when things are relatively rather smooth.

But they won’t stay that way because God’s people have to work hard to work together.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Remembering Why

When we talk about revitalizing a church, we’re often talking about more potlucks, ice cream socials, and kids’ activities. Maybe we’ll build a building or enlarge an old one. Yeah. Or maybe we’ll improve the quality of the music. And we could get another preacher—one of those hotshot fire breathing charismatic superstars that draw crowds. And by all means, let’s get a sign so we can say all kinds of clever things to those that drive by—that’d be cool.

We can draw all the members from the other churches away. We won’t worry that no one new is really coming to Christ. We’ll be the best and the brightest in town.

But will we honor God?

The church in America has been declining for the last forty years, and it has taken those of us in leadership nearly that long to admit it.

I know why it happened. We forgot why we exist.

We got so busy with our activities, public relations, and infighting that we forgot that our purpose is to help each other get closer to God. And people are still lonely for God. In fact, they’re desperate for him.

Frankly, so are we.

So let’s use our best tools—ice cream, music, and all the rest. But let’s remember why.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Impractical Religion

I have heard churches advertise themselves on the radio these days, promising that if you come to their church you’ll hear sermons that are practical.

This is a promise I just can’t make.

There’s a great deal about Christianity that the world would consider impractical. We worship Someone who refused to defend himself, but let his life be taken, and we try to be just like Him. We preach that real strength is found in submission and sacrifice. We value meekness, gentleness, and sacrifice. We teach that it is better to speak softly and not insist on our own way.

We tell each other to love our enemies and bless those who would harm us. We believe in being honest and keeping our promises even if it is painful to do so.

We encourage each other to give up a significant portion of their wealth for the sake of God—we call it tithing.

None of this is considered practical. Others would call us na├»ve and tell us that one can’t really practice these values in the real world.

By the way, how is it going in the real world? .

In the real world, people are brutalized with unspeakable violence. Our economy has taken a nasty turn because people have been selfish and dishonest. Children are losing their innocence at an early age. We live in a time of uncertainty and anxiety.

If that’s where practicality has taken us, perhaps it’s time to embrace the impractical righteousness of Christianity where we try to do things that are good and even beautiful.

So if you’re looking for practicality, don’t come to my church, because you won’t find it. Instead, you’ll find people who are looking to change the world to a less practical state.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Matter of Excellence

It was an old Dick Van Dyke episode—one of my all time favorite shows. The music swelled and the guest star stood to sing.

In the instant before he uttered a sound, I knew he was a real singer. Other singers will understand how I knew when I say that he stood straight, like a string was pulled taut from the top of his head on down. The weight on his feet was evenly distributed and one foot was slightly in front of the other.

He wasn't going to belt out a catchy pop phrase with a laryngitic voice. He was a real singer who made his whole body a musical instrument from his toes up. He used his lungs, throat, mouth, even his sinuses for resonance.

The song itself was beautiful with a true rich melody and a poetic message.

I know it shows how much of a sissy I am, but it got me all emotional.

How to relate it to others? It was like watching an athlete who trained all his life for a winning Olympic moment. Or like a mechanic who hears the first throaty roar of a his shiny custom made hotrod.

It was more than just good enough.

It was excellent.

The song got to me because in recent years I've grown weary of most of the music that surrounds us. And that's discouraging because music has been a big part of my life since before I could talk.

I'm tired of monotonous rhythm, nonmelodic melodies, and the standard key change at the third verse.

I'm sorry, but I'm also tired of a lot of religious music: the praise songs with their single phrases repeated over and over, and the same old hymns that I can sing in my sleep.

I hasten to say how much I appreciate the music of our own wonderful church choir. For that matter, I don't wish to criticize anyone's musical preference—if it does something for you, I'm glad.

I just want to say that I yearn for more than just good enough, and I'm grateful when I experience it.

It makes me remember that the time, effort, and experience that it takes to be excellent can be worth it. Whether it be in music, sports, cars, or education.

In matters of the spirit, too.