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He has risen

Tomorrow on Easter, I will not be going to a church building and celebrate with fellow believers. Easter will look very different this year. I feel a little sad and disturbed.  Easter is the biggest day of the year for Christians. 

I love the big event. Churches around the world pull out all the stops for this special day.  They do special music, everyone is dressed up, we usually see the biggest crowds, those who don’t usually attend show up, there may be an egg hunt on the lawn, the preacher will have his sermon refined to a fine point and rehearsed to a place where he could do it without notes.  It is a wonderful day in the controlled chaos that is called Easter. All in the hope of a spiritual breakthrough for someone on the edges of the church. 

I’m sad that it won’t be happening this year. Or at least not in the way that I’m used to.

Yet then I must take a step back and come to the realization, Church is about more than the big event happening at your building. It’s about the big event that happened 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem when it was discovered that there wasn’t a body in Jesus’ tomb.

This is a time of social distancing and face masks.  For some, it is a time which, “the Church has left the building.”

There is a valuable truth to be comprehended here.  When the Church is forced not to meet together there comes to us a lesson.  That lesson is: the church is not a building, WE ARE THE CHURCH. Church isn’t an event you go to. It’s a people you belong to.

So as you gather around your blue tinged screens, watching a message or two, please remember and set your hearts on the founder. A founder who came out of the grave on the third day.

HE HAS RISEN.

HE HAS RISEN, INDEED.

Rocking the ark

I am human.  I have likes and dislikes.  I have preferences and predilections. I like historical understandings over hypothetical surmise. I would rather see real people in real situations over contrived and grandiose stories of dubious relevance.  I want the real over perception.

I have been accused to stirring up a little dust once and awhile.  But sometimes I become dissatisfied with all the plans and programs that live in the dusty edges of the church.  They become the more important.  The process of church growth seems to leave out the offer of God’s grace. The vital understanding of God is not in the forefront any more.  I thirst after the teachings and personal encounters with God and not another emotional pulling at my heart strings by one more repetition of five or six words.

The problem is that everyone of us want to “feel good.”  Bless the hearts of preachers and leaders of the church today.  They have a weighty calling and ever increasing pressure to “increase the flock.” At issue is the easiest way to get people to come the doors of a church and keep that attendance is cater to the “feel good” motive.  Ministers would rather empower with strength than to point out the foibles of a congregation.  No one wants their pet sin to be pointed out.  Much like the story of the Pastor in a rural farming town as he was shaking every hand as the congregation was going out the back door.  One unkempt farmer came up to the Pastor and said, “That was a great message Pastor, it was short and about someone else.”

It is all about programs and studies.  If we make the right graph in the monthly board meetings it will be enough to steer the church to success.  If we can categorize, pigeon hole, and delegate enough to keep the doors open, then that is good enough.  We don’t need spirit filled bible warriors.  We don’t need to study to rightly divide the Word of Truth.  We just need another subjective well-presented current psychobabble in three points with fill in papers in the bulletin.  Don’t ask me to think, just do what is expected and that should be good enough.

Youth and children’s programs are stressed because if kids can be kept happy and entertained, mom and pop are much more likely to stay put. Serious in depth deep dive bible study and sermons about bible doctrine are avoided! Let’s cut down on all that prayer time.  The Hymnal is just not relevant anymore. Crank up the canned and amplified music; made up of repeated lyrics set to the world’s latest music. Get toes to tapping and watch visitors come pouring in each Sunday. Then be sure to accentuate the emotional. Touch every psychological button possible with “feel good” sermons and viola! pretty soon a building program will be necessary. If declaring the whole counsel of God while at the same time trying to avoid the flesh is not enough to fill the pews, then let them remain empty! A few grains of wheat should be treasured above a ton of tares!

Honesty can be a terrible thing.

When we stop and spend some quality time trying to understand ourselves. What we find most of the time is dishonesty.  Not that we go around telling lies, making false promises, little innuendoes, and even go to the point of malicious slander.  But what are our popular examples? In the world of politics it is easier to brand someone a “racist”, than to make a intellectual study of their views and try to understand the underlying motives of the person. In our efforts to be relevant, we search social media for anything that would support the politically correct idea of modernism, and post and repost those thoughts, instead of putting your own ideas.  Advertisers subtlety ply the airwaves with the “greatest and latest”, and have to be followed by a litany of side effects, usefulness, disclaimers and other explanations of the claims.

I ordered a part for my old truck and they charged me immediately, their site says shipping in 2 or 3 days.  No part after a week.  Working through the phone tree and leaving 5 messages, I finally received a response that they would be shipping today.  Promises not kept.

Taxpayers evade their legal obligations. Religionists are hypocritical. Where is the honesty?

There are exceptions in every category I have mentioned, but dishonesty is so common in our modern society that all of us are tempted to practice it. I read the other day about self-checkout systems at stores and the commentator stated, “if you don’t cheat, you are crazy, the loss is so small they would not miss a few things.”  We can well rationalize our conscience, but that is simply dishonesty with ourselves.  It is well possible to get to a point at which our dishonesty overwhelms our better nature. The acts of dishonesty can be simple and easy to forget.  Never-the-less, when we are honest with ourselves that falseness cannot be ignored. 

Honesty with ourselves requires the examination of the why of our lives; the motives of life. We must get to a point where our desire to be honest outweighs any act. 

Honesty with ourselves requires the examination of our motives in all things. Honesty with self, will lead to honesty with others, for all men know that the conscious misleading of others has in its nature dishonesty with one’s self. We all know that every lie leaves us with something to confess or to rationalize. Your decision.

Just thinking. ?

Tear down that wall!

I wanted to post this picture to remind myself and anyone in my Blog-sphere, there is so much misconception of the relationship between the Government of the United States and religion. The founding fathers saw the excesses placed in government when the government was inextricably joined to a point there was no difference. Religion was the state and the state was religion. The issue was not the good of the church, it was the possibility of religion being able to control of the state.
You may well think I am splitting hairs here, but in reality, there is a vast difference between religion and the church. The words in our constitution say little about church; it refers to religion. They are not the same.
The church is a body of believers, caring, loving, freedom loving and wanting the best for the country in which it finds itself. Religion is more about standards, rules, boundaries.
Our beloved United States Constitution speaks of Freedom of Religion and NOT Freedom from church. There is a big difference.

If there is any hope for our country, there can not be a WALL between the two. They work together. This picture is trying to say they can’t. Our Country worked as a cooperative community until we reached a point that the church was seen as an enemy not an ally. Church must be the moral compass which points the pathway. The state may well choose another but whichever path they choose the compass still points the way. We don’t need a wall that separates separates we need a compass that always points upwards.

HOPE doesn’t save

I have been overwhelmed by an effort to understand or at least get some insight into the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament.  It is amazing the weaving of the web of Hebrew life.  I would think the people should all be walking around with neck braces due to the number of times the nation of Judah jerked up and down in a constant cycle of repentance, worship, apathy, excuses, sin and historical calamity.

The answer for the period from the division of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms to the final restoration and the rebuilding of the temple was the rise of Prophet after Prophet.  I watch the life of the people, the chosen people, the people elect, the people called to be set apart, fall again and again and again. I hear the voices of anguish and disappointment in the prophets words.  They were the only hope for the promised ones. 

It was not the hope of traditional worship, ceremonies, sacrifices, great walls, and beautiful temples.  They were not saved by their hope.  Hope goes away when an onslaught of calamity takes the best and leaves nothing.  Hope may well be instructive and may suffice for a moment or two. Never-the-less,  the decadence of the nation, the rejection of righteousness, the growth of priestly formalism, caused hope to simply die a cruel and wimpy death.

“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
    I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
    your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
    your public relations and image making.

I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
    When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
    I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
    That’s what I want. That’s all I want.

That was AMOS 5:21-25 The message.

What do you think?

Converts or Disciples?

The local congregation of believers I attend has been blessed with celebrations of baptism.  Mostly young teenaged youth along with a sprinkle (not meant as a pun) of young adults.  I am excited that the church still heralds this outward sign of an inward grace.  It should be a characteristic of any spirit-filled church.  The beauty and eagerness of these new creatures in Christ brought to mind the Biblical reference in Acts 16:5 “The churches were strengthened in faith and grew daily in number.”

As my strange and non-sequitur mind works, I started to wonder what is more important than converts to the faith.  I discovered after a couple of hours of research a phrase that has excited me, “The church is not commanded to make converts, but disciples.”  Is the goal of the church, if it is expecting long term growth, to fill the pews with converts or disciples?

One study by the LifeWay Research group compiled data on this question.  They broke their results into two groups.  Churches that have the most converts or “C” churches and churches that have the most disciples or “D” churches. This study was on churches with less than 250 attendees. 

Sorted by church priority, there were no appreciable differences between the convert oriented and disciple-oriented churches in this survey. There were some differences in the order of priority but basically very similar results.

But what stood out to me was the Disciple churches saw evangelism dollars as a higher priority than the Convert churches.  And secondly, the priority to provide for additional outside of the church activities was greater in the Convert Churches than the Disciple churches.  These two data points are remarkable in that the Churches that are making the greatest number of disciples spend more money on evangelism and less emphasis on outside activities. The third conclusion was the method of pastoral care and communications to the unchurched: In the Disciple Church pastors were seen as communicators with the unchurched and the Convert Church Pastors were seen as evangelizers.

So what am I to make of this wealth of data?  Churches that have less than 250 attendees mostly do the same stuff.  The exception is in the perception of the pastor as an evangelist for “C” churches or a good communicator for the “D” churches.

Just saying…

The Perfect Church

As the time passes in my stream of life on this side of heaven there are fewer and fewer responsibilities which I take upon myself. One of those responsibilities is the care and nurture of my two grandchildren. One is very close and I help teach lessons of life and nature. The other is across the country and I have little or no control to guide. I trust his parents to do their due diligences for my little one’s little one. Joe has expressed a interest in things spiritual like the Bible and church. His mother has taken my little man to church and I am overjoyed at the prospect of new understanding and burgeoning faith.

But there is a problem. My daughter-in-law disagrees with one of the teaching and seems to want to sever the church relationship. This is a letter I sent to her that both time and wisdom has impressed upon me.

“Dear daughter:

After much thought and personal study, I wish to address your concern about a specific teaching at the church you have attended. You point out a difference of belief between yourself and the church.  First there is no perfect church if they let people in the door.  Each has their own ideas, beliefs, rules, precepts, regulations, commands, and even prohibitions. But in reality they are just but small things compared the ultimate lessons of Love and acceptance.  There is no perfect theology (the study of God), each church creates a code of theology and try to hold it up as the best one.  But there is no such thing.  We are all just people with our own windows into heaven.  Do not give into the tyranny of stated do’s and don’ts.  Look for the best and you will find it.  Look for the little things that may separate you and you will also find them. 

Please don’t give in to the Nirvana point of view.  That view says, “I will not go to any church as long as it does not conform perfectly with my point of view.”  The Nirvana point of view would say, “seat belts do not save everyone in a crash, there for I will never wear my seat belt.”  Perfection will always get in the way of the good.  Don’t say to Joey or to yourself, “If it is not perfect, I am not going to do it at all.”  The Church will never be perfect as long as its measuring stick is doing, it must be about being. And the greatest part of being is Love.”

Life is like a River

The river flows quickly from its source. Rushing down from high cliffs carving its path as it goes. There is an assumed purpose to it. Pulled ever downward to the ever slowing lowlands. The river moves ever slower and slower to its ultimate end as it joins the ocean and is lost in its vastness.
My life has had its fast times, filled with purpose and decisions. Now as my shell slowly descends from the high mountain it deteriorates and my days of rashness and physicality slowly move to my end I in the totality of God, I must transition from the physical purpose to a more spiritual one. Now is the time for slow recollections and attempts to understand the life I have lived.
I guess Isaac Newton said it well, and I paraphrase. “My worldly usefulness is the last idol I am willing to part with—but the Lord will enable me to give even this up.”

Contrast

The world says, “Be first.”                                   God says, “The first will be last.”
The world says, “Get all you can.”                     God says, “Give to the poor.”
The world says, “Grow up fast.”                         God says, “Be like a little child.”
The world says, “Look out for yourself.”          God says, “Consider others first.”
The world says, “Fight for your rights.”            God says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
The world says, “Power and prestige.”              God says, “Submission and servanthood.”
The world says, “Say like it is.”                            God says, “Speak the truth in love.”
The world says, “Justice, revenge, hate.”           God says, “Mercy, forgiveness and love.”
The world says, “No justice no peace.”               God says, “With peace come justice.”
The world says, “Image is everything.”              God says, “You are made in His image.”
The world says, “Live like no tomorrow.”          God says, “Live in eternity.”
The world says, “Be the king of your world.”    God says, “Jesus is the king.”
The world says, “Entertain me.”                          God says, “Worship me.”
The world says, “Find your own way.”               God says, “I am the way.”
The world says, “Truth is relative.”                     God says, “I am the truth.”