Saturday, December 26, 2009

Prosperity Gospel - The Lie

"While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" Luke 2:6&7

I've attended, written, directed, acted in, sang in, and/or a combination of the aforementioned in dozens of Church Christmas Pageants over the years. Every one has been different, and yet strikingly similar in that the birth of the Christ child is ultimately the central focus of the pageant - the "reason for the season", if you please. It seems to me, however, that the focus turns away from Jesus and onto self so quickly and easily throughout the remainder of the year. Many clergy will take serious umbrage to that claim, and I get that. I know that the INTENT is to always keep Christ as the focal point in church, and that it would be politically incorrect to profess otherwise. But the truth remains, that "Christ" has been removed from "Christianity" in many of the mega-churches. Jesus was born in a no-frills environment, to parents who had very little. He didn't even have a cute little "going home from the hospital" outfit. Yet getting Jesus, along with "the frills", seems to be what a lot of the churches are selling these days.

Just before Jesus was crucified, He told his disciples to go from town and town and tell people what they had seen and that Jesus had died for their sins. He wanted as many as possible to know that He would come back for them. He went on and told his disciples they should have no personal belongings, but rather they should depend on the kindness of believers in each of the places they went. You can read Jesus’ instructions to his disciples in Matthew 10, Mark 6, and also in Luke 10.

Jesus does NOT say that having money or belongings is sinful. He does instruct us to refrain from flaunting our wealth, and to never draw attention to our giving. Matthew 6:1-4 instructs: "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." The Bible does tell us that the LOVE of money, not money itself is evil (1 Timothy 6:10), but there is certainly nothing wrong with HAVING money. We should never ever, however, let anyone tell us that following Jesus will LEAD to prosperity, as that is NOT what the Bible teaches.

The "Prosperity Gospel" as taught by Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, and Joel Osteen does not have its foundation in Biblical truth. Jesus came to earth in the humble surroundings of what was most likely a cave. His mommy didn't even have a receiving blanket to wrap around her newborn son. She was sent home without benefit of a pacifier or a hospital gift pack filled with diapers. His mother didn't get bouquets of roses, or colorful latex balloons that pronounced for the world, "It's A Boy!"

On this Christmas day, I remind you that Jesus came to offer us the free gift of eternal life - of salvation from sin and decay! He didn't come to promise us fat bank accounts, fancy cars, and castles on a hill. He does guarantee us a mansion located on a street of gold built just for us in God's kingdom. Get off the pew and hold one another accountable to the truth. The "prosperity gospel" is NOT truth. Period. Get off the pew and make sure the weak do not fall victim to this lie. Put on the belt of truth and march out with the shield of faith and the sword of the spirit. You've got the armor - wear it! Get off the pew!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Hurting Stranger

Overhead at the local Japanese restaurant: "I thought we were friends. It never occurred to me that just because I no longer attended her church, that our friendship would stop. I didn't think she would consider my leaving a license for her to slander me."

I don't know that woman, but my heart broke for her. I wish I believed her story was unique, but my experience is that it is not. "The Church" of the Bible doesn't have walls. "The Body" of the Bible is made of Christ followers, and when one part is hurting, the whole of the body SHOULD rush to heal.


Monday, December 14, 2009

It's Time To Wake The Sleeping Giant

Shortly after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral Isorku Yamamato, the Japanese fleet commander was speaking about The United States when he said, "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant". His words proved to be true, as shortly after that attack the U.S. entered into World War II. We had become apathetic in our pride, and we needed to be reminded of the truths and values that America had been founded on and the fact that those truths were worth going to battle over. I see the church as a sleeping giant and I ask you today, "What will it take to wake you?”

Christianity is under attack, and it's ugly out there. That truth is absolutely evident during the holiday season. "Happy Holidays" has taken the place of "Merry Christmas", and school choirs are no longer allowed to include "Silent Night" or "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing" in their Winter concert repertoires. Churches are being burned to the ground, believers are being fired from their jobs, and God's values are being mocked. Christianity is being silenced all over the world in the name of "religious tolerance", or "political correctness", when in reality our freedom to express and worship is under serious attack and we are not defending ourselves. We have taken a very passive and peaceful position from our overstuffed pews under the roof of our mega-church. Jesus told us to take up the sword and fight, and yet we sit still.

In Matthew, chapter 10, Jesus tells his disciples that they should not plan on winning any popularity contests as long as they were carrying the cause of Christ to the people. In verses 17 and 18 He says, "Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles." Jesus continues on in verse 34 with the admonition, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."

I am NOT advocating violence like the crazy radicals that bomb abortion clinics, or chant anti-American slander outside the funerals of soldiers. Quite the opposite! Jesus isn't telling us to pick up weapons of mass destruction, but rather we are to put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians, chapter 6). We are to take with us the sword of the spirit, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, and we are to walk in peace and know that we are covered with the promise of salvation. If the people do not receive God's word as truth, then we are to simply walk away. Matthew 10:14 tells us, "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town."

Wake up church! Stand for truth, speak truth, and support one another in truth! We are a sleeping giant, and I don't know what it will take to wake us, but I know we need to wake up! If people refuse to hear the truth, then we are to walk away and continue on, covered in the armor and carrying the sword of the spirit. Shame on us for sitting passively in the pews of our newly remodeled sanctuaries! As disciples, we should be uncomfortable until the whole world knows. Wake up, get off the comfy pew, take up the sword! It's ugly out there! Get off the pew!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Grace is NOT an Excuse!

I never cease to be truly shocked and saddened by the way believers treat one another. We say cruel things, we make rotten choices, and we gossip about and judge our brothers and sisters more harshly then any 12 men on a jury ever could. It is my belief that we forgive these infractions because "grace" dictates we do so. We study bumper sticker theology and we believe such truths as, "forgiven, not perfect". If we complain about mistreatment by a fellow parishioner, we are admonished to "show grace".

Christians are not expected to be perfect. We are, however, expected to always be in pursuit of holiness. We are expected (and rightfully so) to be Christ followers who are doing our best to be Christ LIKE. John 13:31-35 gives us wisdom as to how others will know we are Christians. They will know not by our actions, not by how much money we give to the poor, and certainly not by the size of the mega church we build or attend. But rather, they will know us by how we love each other. Read it from God's word; "When he was gone, Jesus said, 'Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him,[c] God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.'"

"Forgiven, not perfect" people like us should not be given a free pass to behave badly. Showing grace to our brothers and sisters does NOT mean that we turn a blind eye to sin, or even just plain meanness! I have seen example after example of Christians who say and do the most horrible things, but it is so often the one who calls attention to the bad behavior who gets the boot. The "whistle-blower" is seen as "intolerant" and "lacking grace".

Get off the pew and LOVE ONE ANOTHER! Holding one another accountable is not a sign that we cannot show grace, but rather it is the most loving and graceful thing you can do for someone we love. Telling the truth in love is what we are admonished to do. Ephesians 4:15 (New International Version) "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." Get off the pew and do not be afraid to speak truth in love!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Truth and Prophecy

In January of 1987, Oral Roberts preached a sermon in which he claimed that he would die by March if he did not raise $8 million dollars. Interestingly, his prophecy had been tweaked a bit. He had said in 1986 that God showed him that he would be dead by the end of that year if he did not raise the money.

When the money didn't come and Oral Roberts didn't die, the prophecy changed. I don't remember if the faithful donated all the money, but I do know that Oral Roberts is, as of today, 91 years old and living in Newport Beach, California.

The "death" vision was just one of several revelations by Reverend Roberts. In 1977 he claimed to have seen a 900 foot-tall Jesus who told him to build his City of Faith Medical and Research Center. I wasn't there, so I certainly cannot speak to the validity of the visions, but I can say that it is no wonder that unbelievers are so skeptical about these prophecies

It doesn't do the cause of Christ any favors to use grandstanding and fear tactics as manipulation tools with which to garner money from trusting followers.

You know, nothing pleases satan more than to keep raising doubts about God's existence in the minds and hearts of the unbeliever. One of satan's best tools is the Christian zealot, who (let's be honest) can come across as kind of crazy!

My cousin has given me a number of God-told-me-to-tell-you visions and prophecies. I love God and I want to hear from Him, so I'm always open to hearing His voice. If He chooses to speak to me through my cousin, I'm willing to listen. So, far, I am confident that God has quickly debunked everything my cousin has insisted is truth. In fact, some of her "visions" have been downright nutty.

God's ways are always orderly, with purpose, and never crazy. Get off the pew and weigh carefully what you say. Are your "visions" self motivated, or are they REALLY spirit guided? If they are God inspired, they will always be true and selfless.

Before you share that which you believe the Spirit has shown you, check it out with The Word, with trusted mentors, and bathe your words in prayer before you share them. Then, do it all again until you are sure! Get off the pew and be seekers of truth IN love! Get off the pew!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Integrity in Business

I am a committed Christ follower. I'm far from perfect, but I desire to be more like Jesus everyday. I absolutely love being around other believers, and I especially love being around transparent and "real" Christians. Confession: I will not do business with a company just because they prominently display the Christian fish on their logo or business cards. I also know many companies who are VERY hesitant to offer their services to a church or ministry because churches often expect a discount, or for the services to be donated. On the other hand, I'm personally acquainted with lots of people who will only work with someone they know to be a Christian. Their reasons are varied - everything from wanting to support a Christian venture, to desiring to work with friends, to a distrust of non-Christians. This post isn't about discouraging people from working with Christians, but rather to ENCOURAGE transparent honesty and integrity in and through your business.

My friend's elderly parents hired a Christian friend and contractor to remodel their vacation home. Three years later, the project that should have taken 9 months was still not done and the contractor was charging the elderly couple by the hour! But he was "a friend" and a believer. The contractor was taking advantage of a friendship and a shared faith. The project was eventually completed, but it went WAY over budget, and the elderly couple will likely never recoup their investment in their lifetime.

A co-worker shared with me the other day that she was struggling with how to help her parents. She had just learned that they had paid a friend and church member a great deal of money to perform a service for them and he had yet to deliver on his end of the contract. Mom and Dad had no idea what to do, as they believed they should not take the fellow believer to court. The contract they had with the gentleman consisted of little more than a handshake.

Many years ago a family member worked for a Christian run company. There were many weeks when the paycheck was late or didn't come at all. My family member would frequently have to ask the boss whether or not he could actually expect a paycheck on payday. It seems unconscionable to me that a professing Christian would run a business that way. Leviticus 19:13 says, " 'Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. " 'Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight." Withholding wages that have been earned is the same as defrauding and stealing from them! When the paycheck didn't come and the employees asked for their money, they were told they didn't have "enough faith". All the employees of this small company were even required to watch training videos which taught them the importance of tithing. Now, I'm certainly not discouraging tithing, but for a boss that wasn't paying his employees, that seems a bit hypocritical!

Come on Christian business owners and leaders - get off the pew and set an example of integrity and honesty for your community! Costumers should be drawn to us, not because of the fish printed on our Yellow Pages ad, or emblazoned on our business sign or letterhead, but rather because of our integrity. Get off the pew!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Affirm and Defend

In 2nd Samuel, chapter 13 we read the tragic story of David's daughter, Tamar. Tamar was a beautiful young girl with many brothers. One of her brothers, Amnon, fell in love with Tamar. The Bible says that Amnon was "frustrated to the point of illness on account of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her." A friend of his suggested that he pretend to be sick and then ask for Tamar to bring him bread and care for him. Amnon did exactly that, and when his sister was close to him and tenderly caring for him, he grabbed her and raped her. Tamar begged him to not do this "wicked" thing, but Amnon defiled his sister.

After the rape, Amnon looked at Tamar who was lying next to him and the Bible said he "hated" her. Wow! Amnon had allowed the sexual fantasy to take over his thought life to the point that his thoughts finally gave way to action. But as is so often the case, the very thing he thought he wanted, became the very thing he scorned. A guilty heart grows a hateful forest! Amnon pushed Tamar out of his bed and told his servants to bolt the door so he would never have to look at her again. Tamar had been wearing the ornamented robe worn by the virgin daughters of the king. When she left Amnon's room, she tore the robe, put ashes on her forehead, and ran weeping through the halls. Her brother, Absalom saw her and said, (vs. 20)"Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet now, my sister; he is your brother. Don't take this thing to heart." The verse ends with these tragic words, "and Tamar lived in her brother Absalom's house, a desolate woman." And we never hear from Tamar again.

Sometimes it seems the easiest thing to do is to quietly sweep sin under the rug. We hear of abuse, or neglect, and we turn a blind eye. This happens all the time in society, and just as often in church families. We don't want to make waves, or perhaps we are hesitant to ruin the reputation of a church deacon, teacher, or pastor, so we ignore the weeping woman running through the halls. We tell the offended to "be quiet now". Of course abuse doesn't have to be in the form of sexual battery to be abuse. Gossip, lying, stealing, and manipulation are all offenses that are too often kept quiet, but the victims of these sins are still victims. Tamar's pain was never affirmed, and no one came to her defense, and so she lived the rest of her days a "desolate woman".

I know a young man who was sexually assaulted by a Sunday school leader. For a period of time the incident was ignored and swept under the rug. The young man suffered in silence. Then one day a courageous pastor affirmed the young man's pain and promised to defend him, even if it meant personal loss to the pastor. There was public scrutiny and eventually a trial. The offender went to prison, and today the young man is emotionally healthy and serving the Lord. He had someone who affirmed his pain, and came to his defense. Without the brave pastor who walked with him, that young man might today be living in desolation.

Get off the pew and defend someone today! If you see an innocent person in your congregation who has been the victim of an assault of any kind - whether it is physical or emotional - be brave enough to affirm their sadness, and then defend them if necessary. Do you know a "Tamar" - someone whose pain has been hushed in order to save the reputation of her abuser? Run to her (or him) today! Get off the pew mighty defender!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Serving God - Mom's way or no way!

When I was about 15 I met a boy I'll call Timothy. Timothy was a bit of a wild child, but I adored him. It didn't hurt that he was really cute. Timothy was the youngest child in a very conservative Christian family. His dad was a pastor and his mom was a well-respected writer and speaker. It does seem to be a true fact that preacher's kids are the most rebellious, and Timothy was definitely one those p.k.'s.

Timothy's mom seemed to take a particular liking to me. I don't know what it was, but I'm pretty sure she had it her mind that I was wife material for Timothy. I spent a lot of time with the family - lunches, picnics, nights out on the town, etc... I was only 15, but I knew I was being groomed by Timothy's mom to be her son's wife. Timothy, however, was not interested in me beyond friendship. But, that friendship was incredibly special and I am grateful that it has endured for over thirty years. He's never been far from my heart, even though years and years would pass between visits. You see for such a long time, Timothy was off, as they say, living "in the world".

Over the years I would run into Timothy's mom on occasion. Even though we attended different churches, there was always the potluck here, or the retreat there, that would give opportunity for our path's to cross. After the warm greeting I would ask, "How's Timothy". I always got the same response - "Timothy is Timothy". Mom would then spend the next few minutes filling me in on the latest mistakes being made by her prodigal son.

A few months ago Timothy called me. It had been years and years since I'd heard his voice, and my heart warmed immediately. My friend! We talked for an hour, and then agreed to meet for coffee. After bragging a bit about our children and our families, he told me about his rocky road from good Christian kid, to rebellious teen, to prodigal son, and finally to the humble and grateful man of God that he is today. I was AMAZED at the work God had done in this man's life. I cried as I heard him tell of his love for his family, and his hope for reunion with a lost daughter. Then I asked the question, "How thrilled is your mom that you are now a Christian?" His answer broke my heart. "Mom is angry I'm not a part of the same church denomination as her!"

"The Church" is a body of believers - at least that's what the Bible tells us. The word “church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia, which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.” The root meaning of “church” is not that of a building, but of people. The church is the body of Christ, and Christ is the head of that body. Ephesians 1:22-23 says, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” The body of Christ is made up of all believers in Jesus Christ from the day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2) until Christ’s return. If you are spending time and energy whining about a member of your family or circle of friends because they are going to the "wrong" church, then get off the pew and rejoice that we are ALL part of the same body. There are no walls! That is a super cool truth! Now, I know there are cults, and I'm not suggesting that they are part of "the church". I'm talking here about all Bible teaching, God fearing, Jesus loving bodies of believers. There are some minor doctrinal teachings that separate the denominations, but we are ONE BODY! Let's get off the pew and celebrate our unity.

To Timothy's're son is awesome, and I am so proud of him. His story of rebellion and salvation encourages me!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Promises made...Promises broken

I've written before about the church's practice of parent/child dedications. These ceremonies are the stuff of which precious moments and just plain cuteness are made. Mom and Dad (and very often other family members) carry the baby up on the church platform. The pastor holds the oft-sleeping little one in his arms, and he prays for God's blessings on the child and on the family. The entire congregation is asked to support the parents in the raising of the child with their love, support, and prayers. The church family extends their arms toward the family in a symbolic laying on of the hands.

The other day I talked with yet another mom of not one, but two prodigal children. Her youngest son has been in jail for several months, and last week, her oldest son was arrested. I am once again struck by the overwhelming sense of loneliness felt by the parents of prodigals. It is a long, lonely road from the joyful and hopeful parent/child dedication to the cold, sterile walls of the county jail. Moms, in particular, carry so much guilt and feelings of responsibility for the way their kids turn out. "O" Magazine recently published an article by Susan Klebold, the mom whose son, Dylan, was one of the young men who carried out the student massacre at Columbine High School near Denver, Colorado. Susan has spent the past 10 years searching for peace, for solace, and for answers. She has expressed her apology for what her son (along with fellow student Eric Harris) did. She has written letters to the parents who lost children on that horrible day in 1999, but her therapist advised her against sending them because they would open and tear at wounds that will never fully heal. Some of the still grieving parents were interviewed and asked if they accepted Susan Klebold's apology. One father said, "It is too little too late. She should have apologized sooner." One father, however, said the apology was welcomed. Susan, it seems to me was the best mother she could have been. Her son (like most prodigals) was very good at hiding his dark thoughts from his mom. Why are we so quick to blame her for her son's sins? God is the perfect father, and His kids are a mess!

Susan Klebold lost her son on that horrific day at Columbine High School. Her grief is just as real and crushing as that of the other mothers and fathers. The families of the innocent victims have been covered in prayer and love since the moment the frightening live footage began streaming across our television screens. The families of the killers have been judged, criticized, questioned, and suspected. She was forever changed that day. "Dylan changed everything I believed about myself, about God, about family, and about love", Susan said. What happened to that beautiful little boy between the day he was dedicated and the day he trapped his schoolmates in the high school library? Remember all the people who raised their hands and promised to pray for that sweet little baby and help guide him into adulthood? Did they forget about their commitment to God and to that family? Babies and their families are dedicated nearly every Sunday in our church. Get off the pew, church. Even after the cuteness wears off, those babies you promised to pray for and help guide are still God's babies, and He's asked us to walk alongside one another. Reach out to a prodigal today. Get off the pew, church!!

Monday, October 26, 2009

There's a speck and a plank!

Marissa and Suzanne had known one another for most of their lives. They met in church when Marissa was still in elementary school. The girls were both a part of the youth choir that included talented kids of all ages. Suzanne was already in high school, so they weren't part of the same social groups, but Marissa loved being around "the big kids".

Life took Marissa and Suzanne in completely different directions. Suzanne got married and spent several years traveling the world with a Christian Music touring group, and Marissa went off to college. After Suzanne's marriage ended in divorce, she returned home and the two girls reconnected. They were both part of the church choir, had the same circle of friends, and discovered just how much they had in common. When finances became tight, it was only natural that the best friends would get an apartment together. They settled into a fairly typical single girl life - work, church, friends, weekends, dating, etc... Then....

Maybe it was the pain of Suzanne's divorce, I don't know, but she really wasn't into the dating scene at all. Marissa, on the other hand, had always dreamed of one day meeting "that guy" and getting married. She thought "Rick" might be that guy, but after about a year the relationship ended and Marissa was heart-broken. Suzanne's friendship carried her through. Finally, Suzanne made a confession - she was in love with Marissa. Marissa didn't know what to do with this information. They were both active in the church and Marissa knew that homosexuality was considered sin. The last thing she wanted to do was to tarnish Suzanne's reputation, so she kept this revelation to herself. Marissa moved out of the apartment the girls shared and she went about trying to move on with her life. It wasn't easy for a 30-something year-old girl to meet guys, but the Internet offered some interesting dating sites, so Marissa put herself out there. She met a guy.

I can't pretend to know what was in Suzanne's heart or mind, but I do know what she did. When she found out that Marissa was dating, she went to the church choir director and told him that Suzanne had met a guy online and she was involved in an inappropriate relationship. The choir director moved quickly. He called Suzanne and kicked her out of the choir and off the worship team for "not living a life above reproach". Marissa swears she hasn't "sinned" with the new boyfriend, but she's not believed. She's forced to leave the choir she'd been a part of for 20 years, and the church she'd been a member of for her whole life. She loses her circle of friends. One of these so-called "friends" sent her a card. When Marissa opened the card she was so touched, as on the outside of the card it said, "Thinking of You". On the inside, however, it had a hand written note that said, "When you decide to start making the right choices, we will welcome you back."

It's been several years and Marissa has never really recovered. She doesn't attend church, and she protects herself from relationships as she still has trust issues. What was Suzanne's motivation for taking gossip and lies to the music pastor? What was the pastor's motivation for removing Marissa without ever taking steps to discover the whole truth? Only they know what they were thinking. I do know that if Suzanne suspected Marissa was in an "inappropriate relationship" she should have followed the Matthew 18 principle for confrontation and reconciliation. I also know that Matthew 7:5 tells us that we are hypocrites when we are more worried about the speck in another person's eye, then the removal of the plank in our own eye.

We need to get off the pew and reach out to friends and family who are “living in sin”, or making “inappropriate choices”. God loves them, and we ought to love them too! If you know someone who’s been kicked out of church or a ministry because of their own bad choices (or suspected bad choices), get off the pew and love on them. Loneliness is a sad place to live, even though it has a crazy large population. In addition, there may be a "Suzanne" sitting in the pew next to you - someone who is hiding a secret. Get off the pew! Reach out!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ministry Servants

We live in a scary economic time and no one wants to lose their job. Unemployment can be especially frightening for people that are over the age of 50, as ageism is a very real fact in America today. So, people are willing to do almost anything to hold on to a job. Employees are working late nights and weekends with no financial compensation, and they are taking extra measures to keep their emotions and feelings in check so as not to make waves. Fear and intimidation are powerful tools.

Over the past few weeks I have become increasingly aware of just how negative the workplace environment can be for church employees. Because Pastors have the right to fire employees with little provocation and can decide to move in a "new direction" on a whim and at the drop of a hat, being a part of the church staff can be very oppressive. I've met a number of church employees who have said, "I don't dare express my dissatisfaction for fear it will get me fired." We're not talking about spiritual or Biblical debates here, but rather we're talking about an overworked, underpaid, and under-appreciated staff. Pastors love to tell their staff members that they are not just "employees", but they are co-workers in "the ministry", and as such they should be willing to make whatever sacrifice is needed for success. If employees are not willing to give it "their all", then they need to find another job!

Our "ministry" is our life. Every aspect of our life - our job, our children, our family, our friendships, and even our grocery shopping outings - everything about our lives ought to minister to those with whom we come in contact. The Bible is riddled with instructions for employers. They are definitely held to a high standard in God's eye. One example is Ephesians 6:9; "And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him". I am not suggesting that you pastors out there are threatening your employees. But if they are working in an environment of fear and oppression then they may feel threatened. If you have told your staff that they need to give selflessly and without fair compensation "for the good of the ministry" then you are may be taking unfair advantage of your employees.

Come on Pastors, get of the pew and be an example to the world. Most of you have families, and you go home to them - as you should. If you're not willing to work seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day for the ministry, then you really ought not expect that from your staff. Their ministries expand to their families and friends and they need to go home.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

You're Fired!

You know...a pastor is the only boss, and the church is the only type of company wherein an employee can legally be fired with no provocation and solely on the whim of the pastor. Because the church is a non-profit organization, they are not bound by laws that protect the employees, and those same laws protect the church from lawsuits that challenge often unfair business practices. Pastors are even better than mothers when it comes to using the phrase, "because I said so!"

We, however, are not unlike a four-year-old whose mommy can't find a good reason for the decisions they make. I, and so many people I know, have sat across the desk from a pastor and with tears in our eyes, and a quiver in our voice we've uttered the words, "but why?" "Because I said so!" Those four words break hearts and change lives. We understand budget constraints. We understand the consequences that come with breaking the rules put forth in the company bylaws. There are many legitimate reasons for firings...and we understand those. But "because I said so!"? Those words are hard to hear - especially when it means losing the job you love, the friends you work with everyday, and the paycheck your family relies on. Sadly, those words also lead to negative views of the church, Christians, and so often - God Himself.

The Ten Commandments can seem like a laundry list of "do"s and "don't"s, but the Bible then goes on to tell story after story after story that all answer the question, "but why?" We see, by peering into the lives of those who have come before us, why God has set up the laws of love in the way that He has. Come on pastors, get off the pew! Just because you have "the right" to use the words, "because I said so" doesn't mean that using those words is the right thing to do. We are not four-year-old children! We are men and women who deserve to be treated with respect. The tireless hours, months, and years of service we give to your ministry deserves better than "your fired because I said so". The way you (we) treat our employees and servants is being watched by unbelievers who are looking for a reason to trust us. The world is looking to us to answer the question, "what would Jesus do?" Jesus walked the earth for 33 years demonstrating how to treat people and how important it is to answer the questions, "who?, what?, when?, where?, how?, AND why?" Get off the pew!

Monday, October 12, 2009

What is our Business Model?

Every year Willow Creek ministries, which operates out of the Chicago, IL area, sponsors something called, "The Leadership Conference". This is an incredible 3 day event that happens in Mid-August each year and is simulcast all over the country (and other parts of the world as well). The Leadership Conference is an amazing time of challenging inspiration. Leaders share their visions, their successes, and their failures, so that church and community leaders might learn. Church leaders have been attending this impressive event every Summer for many years.

A few years ago, a large contingency of Spiritual leaders decided to no longer attend the Willow Creek event because they were offended by the non-christian business leaders that had been asked to speak. Apparently they didn't see the value in learning from the unsaved. We can be so arrogant!

Jennifer has been on staff at a church for a year and a half. She was hired to assist the part-time music pastor and as part of her duties she created the screen media for each of the Sunday services. She created the files which projected the words of the worship tunes up on the screens as well as the pastor's notes, and she chose the creative backgrounds as well. She's very good at what she does and her talent and intuition is appreciated by staff and parishioners alike. She is, in fact, so good at what she does, that she has been asked to create the screen media for all services held at the church in the past year and a half - Christmas Eve, Woman's Ministry events, Men's breakfasts, etc...

Six months ago a new Senior Pastor was hired and he immediately added services and responsibilities to Jennifer's plate. Jennifer's hours doubled, but her pay remained the same. She was becoming exhausted and overwhelmed. In the "real world", large successful companies would never get away with making these kinds of demands on their employees, but this is church. Sometimes it seems that we translate "heart for ministry" to "slave labor".

Last week Jennifer went in to talk with her boss. She brought with her a list of ideas - ways they could simplify and streamline, and ways to be a bit more efficient. Her boss listened and wrote down all her ideas and seemed to be sympathetic to Jennifer's exhaustive plight.

After listening and making notes, he looked at Jennifer and said, "The pastor has decided to move in a different direction and you are being fired."

Jennifer loves her job and was excited about the new pastor and the new direction he will be taking the church. She was really looking forward to being a small part of this new adventure. This is not the way you treat faithful, honest, gifted employees.

"The world" doesn't treat employees this way and it is no wonder that the Willow Creek team invites un-churched world business leaders to teach the church. But shouldn't it be the other way around? The church should be setting the standard and the business model for the world. After all, Jesus himself is our teacher and role model.

It is often said that if churches were run like businesses they would be so much more successful. Get off the pew people. We need to stop running our good people ragged, then discarding them when we decide to go in a new direction. Anyone who is willing to work twice the hours she's been contracted to work for the good of the ministry, is someone who is willing to move and grow in a new direction.

Jennifer has the talent, the motivation, the drive, AND the heart for service and ministry. This is another example of a good person being used, worn out, then thrown away and unnecessarily wounded. Get off the pew Church! We should be setting the standard--the business model. Get off the pew.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jack and Diane, cont...

My previous post was about "Jack" and "Diane". They had been high school, then college sweethearts. Diane was crazy about Jack and he adored her right back. Jack's mom was apparently less enthusiastic about the relationship, and one day she took Diane aside and informed her that she was "praying" Diane "out of this church and out of my family". Diane lost Jack, AND her church family. She was left hurt and angry. Jack and his family were what I call, "church royalty". You know the kind of family I'm talking about. Church Royalty are the "in" families - the kids are all plugged in and mom and dad are power volunteers. Their thoughts and opinions hold a lot of weight, and it's in the church's best interest to keep the "royalty" happy. I do know that the previous statement oozes cynicism, but you totally know what I'm talkin' about here. A few close friends supported Diane, but the church family let her down and she became seriously disillusioned with Christians, and sadly...with God. There are days when her negative feelings really bubble to the surface.

Diane is a brilliant actor, singer, and dancer. Yep, she's a triple threat and directors are thrilled when she walks into their audition. Diane thoroughly enjoyed working as an actor with the local theatre company, and for a time she did shows at night, and worked in the box office during the day. Groups would often come in and buy out a performance for a company party, a family reunion, or a benefit for a worthy cause. The theatre is a beautiful intimate space and it seats 150 audience members. It was the holiday season and the box office was especially busy when a church pastor walked in to make the final payment on his reservation. He had bought out the theatre for a performance of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever", and the church staff and a large number of parishioners were looking forward to a night out. Diane smiled and said, "How can I help you?" The pastor said, "Well, I know you told us we could invite 150 people to the show, but I have 10 more people who want to see the show and I'd like to pay for the extra people." Diane explained that the theatre only seated 150 people, and there was no way she could accommodate the pastor's request. He looked at Diane and said, "We are a church. We do NOT turn people away."

In Matthew 22, we read about how the Pharisees try to trap Jesus by asking Him about paying taxes. "Pay Caesar what is Caesar's and God what is God's." Of course it is noble that the pastor in this story did not want to "turn people away", but he signed a contract with the theatre for 150 seats and honoring that contract meant honoring God. What the pastor didn't realize was that he was furthering Diane's bitterness toward Christians. After what happened with Jack, his family, and her church, Diane lost her faith in God and God's kids. After his comment about not turning people away, the pastor who wanted more seats said, "you need to find a way to accommodate us", and he threw his check at Diane. He walked out of the theatre and Diane yelled out, "That is why I hate Christians!"

Come on believer, it is great to have a "we don't turn anyone away" mentality, but please respect the rules when dealing with businesses. When you act honorably, you are representing God in the truest light and salt way. When you act dishonorably, you're still saying something to someone about who God is, but it's not very nice. You might be talking to a "Diane" - a broken soul who is looking for a reason to trust again, or perhaps, a reason to keep NOT trusting. Either way, you are out there representing the God you claim to serve. Get off the pew and honor your contracts, as that truly honors God!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A lil' ditty 'bout Jack and Diane

"Jack" and "Diane" were two kids who had known one another since Junior High. They both grew up in Christian homes and they met at church. Jack and Diane started dating right around their junior year of high school and they were an awesome couple and so dynamic. It really was inspiring to watch those two talented and energetic personalities work together. They created an energy and synergy that was unmistakable wherever they went.

Jack and Diane were not without their faults and struggles - like the rest of us. Diane had a bit of a rough start in life. Her dad walked away from the family when she was just a little girl and her mom had remarried and then gave birth to Diane's little sister. The family floundered and searched for "something" for a long time, but finally found peace in having a relationship with Jesus Christ and a home in their church. Every once in a while, however, Diane still found herself missing her dad and asking questions that seemed to have no answer. Jack's family was wonderful. They welcomed her with open arms and Jack's mom even offered to mentor young Diane. Between Jack, his family, and the church, Diane found grace and solace. Diane and Jack both believed that one day they would marry, and after dating for a couple of years and serving as Junior High team leaders at church, they began dreaming about their future.

One day Diane was studying at Jack's house and when she left, she forgot one of her notebooks. The next morning she called the house and asked Jack's mom if she'd found the notebook. Yes, it had been found. Jack's mom said, "I'd really love to talk with you. Why don't we meet for coffee? I'll bring your notebook and we can chat." Diane was looking forward to having some alone time with Jack's mom and she remembered Mom's invitation to mentor her. This, she thought, would be a new chapter in her relationship with Jack and his family. They met at the appointed time and place. Jack's mom greeted Diane and gave her the notebook. Then, almost immediately, she pulled out her own notebook. She began to talk to Diane.

"In my hand", Jack's mom said, "I have a list of all the things I believe you've done wrong in your relationship with my son." Diane was stunned. Wait! Jack's mom went on. "For months now I've been praying you out of our family, and out of the church." Diane had barely spoken a word. Her head was spinning. "Does this mean you won't be mentoring me?” she thought. This thought was fleeting, for she clearly knew the answer to that question. In what seemed like a flash, Jack's mom was gone. Later that afternoon Diane's phone rang and her world changed forever. "Diane, it's Jack." Fighting back tears, he said something about it being "over" and that they "weren't right for each other", yada, yada, yada. When she showed up for church on Sunday she discovered that she would no longer be serving as a Junior High team leader. There was no real explanation, but Jack's mom had indeed "prayed" Diane out of the family and out of the church. Well, maybe she didn't "pray" her out, but somehow Mom had made it happen.

Several years ago I was standing in the buffet line at a woman's retreat, and I heard one guest tell her friend how she was "praying my daughter's boyfriend out of her life". Hmmm..... Wouldn't it be better to start praying someone "into" the kingdom, instead of "out of" the church, or the family? I KNOW what it feels like to want your child to get away from negative influences, believe me! But I also know that every person who comes into our life is another opportunity to share the gospel - to be Jesus with skin on. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus tells us to "love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you". Pray FOR your enemies, not AGAINST them! The latter, the Bible tells us, is the way of the world (SIN), not the way of the Lord!

Diane's walk with the Lord was forever changed that day. The truth is, that was the day she walked AWAY from God. Get off the pew believer, and walked TOWARD your enemy. If you can't bring yourself to physically be in the presence of your persecutor, then you need to love them and pray FOR them, not against them. Get off the pew!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Celebrate Recovery!

Alyssa is one of the worship leaders at our church. Like so many of us who work, or have worked, at church she has had to find ways to deal with the inevitable gossip and hypocrisy that goes on every day among God's kids. Alyssa finds strength in our church's Celebrate Recovery program.

Celebrate Recovery is a ministry for people recovering from addictions. These brave and awesome people are not recovering from just drug and alcohol addictions, but anything that has gotten in the way of life - pornography, work-aholism, emotional and physical abuse, etc... CR address all our "hurts, habits, and hangups". Alyssa just loves the openness and transparency of the wonderful, authentic attendees. Yesterday Alyssa made a statement that has really stuck with me. She said, "I go to CR on Thursday nights so I can have the strength to face the congregation on Sunday." She says that being around people who have real problems and who speak openly about their struggles is what gives her courage to face the people that "have it all together".

Shouldn't it be the other way around? I mean, shouldn't going to church on Sunday give us the sustenance and strength to go out "into the world" for the rest of the week? Shouldn't the Sunday experience be one that gives us insight into how to love and accept the addicts out there? Alyssa is right! It is when we are around authentic Christians, warts and all, that we learn to love and minister to the hurting and helpless. Sitting on a pew next to the perfectly dressed "I've got it all together and you should to" pew-sitter doesn't encourage and revive us the way honest truth telling can.

Wouldn't it be amazing if our churches moved away from the "traditional" service and into houses of real celebration! If parishioners started openly sharing their "hurts, habits, and hangups" and talking about our daily struggles AND our daily victories, our churches would be a welcome respite from an oft crazy and over-whelming life! I want to be in THAT kind of a church. Get off the pew!!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Yep, all the stories are true

All the stories in this blog are absolutely true. Many of them are about me, but the names have all been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty. I LOVE the church and I LOVE God's kids, but the world doesn't always see us in the most positive light. We deserve much of the criticism. They are watching how we treat one another, and we aren't always very kind to our own family members. However, I totally believe that if we would accept our foibles and weaknesses and let God shine His light into that which has been hidden in darkness, we could attract people in a new and exciting way!

Get off the pew and let the world see your scars. Let them see your weaknesses. Let them see that we have to turn to God for strength and forgiveness on a daily basis. Show the world that we really believe that ALL things are possible through Christ who gives us strength! We don't offer the world a promise of perfection! We offer the world a promise of forgiveness and hope!

Get off the pew!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hurricane Church

Miss "V" was a worship leader in a vibrant, growing, exciting church. She is a gifted musician, has a beautiful heart and an unwavering love for the lost and hurting. Several months ago Miss "V" found herself in unfamiliar territory. She had an unexplained hole in her heart. She was unfulfilled in her personal relationships and she was in pain. Like so many of us, Miss "V" began looking for ways to fill that hole - a drink now and then with her church friends (yes, her church friends), shopping, selfish pursuits, etc... Nothing was filling the growing abyss in her heart. Finally, she turned to the church leadership and confessed that she was struggling. She asked for help and support. Instead, she was told that there was no room at that church for someone who was "weak" and "confused" - at least not in leadership. And just like that...she was no longer a part of the church family she loved and leaned on.

Okay, I totally get the fact that if you are in church leadership, you (we) should live a life above reproach. But, Miss "V" wasn't living in sin. She hadn't fallen. She hadn't killed anyone. She simply admitted that she was (gasp) human! She wasn't asked to simply leave her leadership role, but she was asked to leave the church all together. Why? We Christians have a tendency to shoot our wounded. When a racehorse breaks his leg, he is no longer able to pull his own weight (both literally and figuratively) and he is put down. I've seen more than a few spiritual racehorses lose their footing and suffer a break. More often then not, we shoot them.

On August 28, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the southern coast of the United States with devastating force. While the initial damage to New Orleans and other cities along the gulf shore were not crushing, the break in the levees and the ensuing floods proved to be catastrophic. The survivors of that deadly storm not only lost their homes, but they lost their neighborhoods. A house can be replaced, but a neighborhood? Counselors will tell you that the emotional recovery from a hurricane can take years and years, because replacing a neighborhood is much more difficult than simply rebuilding a structure. Hurricane survivors lose their grocery store, their pharmacy, and their local sandwich shop. They also lose the neighbors who shared their street for 10 years, or 30 years, or 50 years. When we lose our church, we don't just lose a building! We lose our place of worship, our social group, our volunteer outlet, the neighbors we pray for and wave at each and every week, and sometimes - our job. We lose our whole life! Hurricane Katrina swooped in, did her damage, and swooped out without stopping to help one single victim along her destructive path. Churches do the same thing. Like a hurricane, they cut a big chunk out of someone's life, then never look back to see the death and mayhem left behind. We're talking about lives here, people! Living, breathing, fragile lives!

Miss "V" is still suffering. She's looking for a neighborhood to replace the one she was forced to leave behind. She's still cleaning up the mess left by "Hurricane Church" and she misses her friends and neighbors. Be gentle with her.

We've gotta stop shooting our wounded. I'm not advocating letting sin run amok and without accountability, but we are dealing with real flesh and blood people. Are you, in your fervor to grow a church leadership who is above reproach, roaring like a hurricane? Slow down. Get off the pew and look behind you. Have you swept over someone who needs help getting up? Miss "V" will be a "been there, done that" advocate for God's grace, but only if we love her and welcome her back to the neighborhood!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

It's Not Gossip...It's Discernment

It's crazy easy to make big sweeping assumptions about the people closest to us. It's certainly easier to jump to conclusions then to actually communicate. This is a problem, and it's a particularly big problem in the church. Of course we don't call it "assumptions", we are Christians and we speak fluent "Christianese". When we are gossiping with believers about other believers we use spiritual sounding words like "gift of discernment" or (like one friend used to say) "spiritual antenna". My friend used to say, "Whenever I'm around so-and-so, my spiritual antenna goes up", and then she would go on to tell me how she suspected so-and-so of adultery or some other bad behavior. But it's okay because the gossip session always ends with "we need to keep the family in our prayers".

One afternoon, after months of conflict, I was finally able to get a woman who I had considered a dear friend to tell me what I'd done to upset her. She made many accusations, including this one: "One day you were walking towards me in the hallway at church. When you saw me, you turned and walked the other way. I have no choice but to assume you are jealous of me." What? What!!!?? No choice? Assume? Really?

Eliot Spitzer was the governor of New York and he had to step down in disgrace when it was revealed that he was a frequent costumer of a prostitute. The irony was that Governor Spitzer had been a vocal opponent to prostitution and had been trying to shut down illegal sex rings for years. Psychologists came out in droves to explain to John Q. Public that it is human nature to condemn the same flaws in others that we are trying to hide in ourselves. We think that by deflecting attention off of us, we will successfully hide our sins from the world.

Several years ago a much loved local pastor had to leave the pulpit when knowledge of an extra-marital affair came to light. Just a few weeks ago an acquaintance of mine told me that the pastor hadn't changed and was not repentant. I asked her how she knew that. "I just do!" That pastor, however, has become a public speaker who encourages others and helps people find healing and restoration. I am not inside the pastor's head and I can't begin to assume to know his heart. I do see, however, that what Satan meant for evil, God is using for His good and glory.

We don't know what motivates people to say and do the things they say and do. Heck, we don't always know what motivates US! It would serve us, both personally and corporately, if we were quick to communicate and slow to assume. Do you sit in your pew and point out the weaknesses, sins, and foibles all God's kids? We're just like you - sinners saved by grace. Let's stop pointing fingers at each other. Instead, let's give one another a hand of compassion and support. Let's get of the pew of gossip and onto the road of peace and restoration.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Serving The "After Church On Sunday" Crowd

Like you, perhaps, I have many family members who work in restaurant service. There is one thing they ALL agree on - they hate serving the "after church on Sunday" crowd. Maybe they're all grumpy because the pastor preached too long. Perhaps they're ticked off because someone cut them off in the church parking lot. Whatever the reason, many of the eatin-out-on-Sunday Christians are just plain rude!

Often pastors of large churches show up for lunch at a nice restaurant with their entourage in tow. The pastor talks loud, calls the waitresses "honey", and waves obnoxiously at parishioners as they come into the restaurant. These church leaders absolutely act like they are rock stars!

The older female Sunday costumer is one of the most feared among restaurant wait staff. They are picky and finicky, and oh so nasty if their order doesn't arrive in their idea of a timely fashion. I've heard of food getting sent back because it wasn't the expected temperature, wasn't presented as pictured on the menu, or many other minor infractions. Costumers have left evangelistic pamphlets, or "ask me about Jesus" business cards instead of a tip. The finicky tightly wound church ladies will sometimes leave a couple of quarters, or a few dimes for the tip on a pretty big bill. The rock star pastor, however, is often the worst tipper. They'll pay for the meals of their entire entourage, then leave a piddly couple-a bucks for the hard working server.

Listen servers are some of the hardest working people out there. They work long hours, are on their feet nearly all day, and have to smile no matter how rude the patron. They, like you, sometimes have a bad day. Many of them are supporting families and children and they depend on the tip money to put gas in their tanks, or food in the tummies of their babies. Your server may be looking for "something" to make their life worth while and maybe that something is Jesus. When you come in on Sunday dressed to the nines, your server KNOWS you've just come from church. Your witness to those workers begins the minute you pull into the parking lot. You are Jesus with skin on to your server. What does the picture you are painting look like to the single mom or young father who serves you your Sunday lunch? When you get off the pew - take Jesus with you. You might order up a steak AND serve up a good healthy helping of God to a person in need. Get off the pew!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely!

“Maria, you are on a dangerous path.” Today, several years after hearing those words on the other end of the phone line, the memory still stings. Maria had asked a question of a pastor and now she was being warned by an associate pastor to stop asking such questions! Unbelievable!

Absolute power corrupts, absolutely! Who among us would challenge that statement? I submit to you that none of us would! After all, we only have to look at politicians to see living examples of how power corrupts. Surely power and corruption never happens in the church…right? Well, we all know the answer to that question. Corrupt happens! Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Baker, Ted Haggard, Dr. Jeremiah Wright – these are high profile religious leaders whose names and less than flattering stories come immediately to mind. These men have corrupted their families, friends, and the reputation of God, His people, and His message. These men didn’t start out as powerful spiritual leaders, but like all of us, they started simply and quietly. As their ministries grew, their power grew. As their power grew, people around them stopped asking questions. The only way to avoid pride-fuelled corruption is to keep people close to you, and then give them permission to be honest and to hold you accountable.

Pastor H. had seen Maria’s gifts and talents in the area of the performing arts, and he had enlisted her help in growing the ministry in his church. There were several other people on the creative arts team, as well. Maria loved being a part of the team and these people were more than colleagues – they were friends. For several months before the phone call, however, there had been discontent stirring among the team members. Why is it that the choir and drama ministries in churches are always so full of…well…drama? Okay, that’s a whole other blog, for sure! Anyway, one day Pastor H. called Maria up and asked her to step down from the team. When she asked why he said, “I’m in charge and I don’t want you to make me feel like I’m in a box. This is my decision.” Maria wasn’t questioning the pastor’s authority, “but,” she said, “you’ve just made a decision about my life and my ministry and I want to know why.” “Because I’m in charge.” And, that was that.

It was soon after that conversation with Pastor H., that his associate, Pastor B. called Maria. “You are on a dangerous path. You should not question men in spiritual authority over you. This trend is very dangerous.” Um…. that could not be further from biblical truth! 1 John 4:1 tells us to “test the spirits and see if they are from God” because “many false prophets have gone out into the world”. Listen friend, if you’ve got a pastor who won’t let you ask “why”, that is a major red flag about the man and his ministry. He should be able to support his decision with scripture. Matthew 23:13 warns teachers and church leaders with these words, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” If Maria had been a baby Christian she might very well have walked away from God altogether. After all, when a religious leader says, “do this ‘cause I said so”, that’s really cult-like and I would advise any young Christian to run screaming from that leader, and into the arms of a more mature believer!

It would be several years before Maria learned the truth. It seems that one of the other creative arts team members was saying things behind her back and that team member eventually won the leadership position that Maria had once held. Maria not only lost a ministry she cared deeply about, but she lost a family she had trusted and loved.

Is there discontent on your church team? Settle it! Are you a pastor in leadership over a rowdy rag-tag group? Look, it is your job to seek the truth, follow the principles of reconciliation found in Matthew 18, and to teach your team to work together as one body. Is someone coming to you with suspicions or gossip about another believer? Remind both the gossiper and yourself of the truth found in 1 Samuel 16:7, “man looks on the outward appearances, but God looks on the heart.” I’ll go one further here – man can ONLY see the outside, God ONLY sees the hearts. Don’t make assumptions about your team members, as that’ll destroy a team faster than anything. Get of the pew! Be seekers of truth and peace!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sitting Next To The Walking Wounded

I learned yesterday that a woman who attends our church took her own life this past weekend. Mary was a wife, a mom, and a grandmother! She was struggling with deep depression and in the end – the loneliness and sadness won and she ended her pain in the only way she could. I guess…

This blog is called, “Get Off The Pew” because I wanted to challenge you and me to do just that – get off the pew, out of our comfort zone, and into the body where we can affect change and really touch people. Each Sunday I watch people come into the church and sit in the same pew, with the same group, week after week after week after week. A couple Sundays back I saw a woman count the pews as she came down the aisle – she had to make sure she got her seat! One Sunday morning several years ago, a woman came down to the second row of the mega church we attended and saw a stranger sitting in the pew where she and her husband usually sat. She tapped the shoulder of the lady sitting in that spot and said, “Excuse me, but this is our seat.” The visitor smiled and said, “Oh I’m sorry, I’ll move.” I wonder what went through the mind of the regular attendee when the stranger was introduced to the congregation as the wife of a new staff pastor!

I want to issue a challenge. This Sunday, shake things up a bit at your church. Sit in a different pew! That’s right – mix it up! Hey, if ya wanna get really crazy, attend the 9:30 service instead of the 8:00! Strike up a conversation with the people who regularly occupy a seat on the other side of the sanctuary. You might find a new friend. You might find someone who is terribly lonely and sad, and who is just dying for someone to sit next to her and give her a reason to hope. The walking wounded are all around us! Who knows, you might end up sitting next to someone like Mary – and maybe, just maybe, your touch will be enough to keep her from killing herself. Get off the pew. Get off YOUR pew!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Church Cyber-bullies

A friend stopped me at church yesterday to share her frustration and fear. A bit of second hand information reached the ear of one of the church gossips, and she has decided to give my friend a piece of her mind. In today’s world juicy gossip can be spread among friends and enemies alike in a matter of a few nanoseconds, thanks to email, cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, blogs, etc…. A few words sent out into cyber-space can bring giggles and joy, or they can inflict pain and needless suffering. My friend is experiencing the latter and she is being cyber-bullied by a member of the church family!

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center (yes, there is such a place!) cyber-bullying can be identified as, “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” Cyber-bullying has grown to epidemic proportions in the United States. You may remember a Missouri mom who was charged with several felonies when her Myspace Internet hoax resulted in the suicide of a 13-year-old girl. The mom was eventually convicted on several misdemeanors, but that doesn’t change the fact that the grown woman is a cyber-bully whose cruelties lead to the death of a child! When a church bully goes after a fellow parishioner, there is rarely any real consequence because everyone encourages grace. More often than not, the innocent victim leaves the church and the bully wins!

A woman who calls herself a “Christian”, has been posting hateful messages to my friend’s Facebook in-box. The Christian has taken a very pious position and is calling my friend names and has even threatened to go the church leaders to let them know “the truth”. I say, “Bring it on”. Many of us have been bullied by the name-calling and rock-throwing of loud church Pharisees. These stone-throwers are very often masters at manipulating scripture to prove their own misguided point, and they confuse their victim by misusing God’s word. In Matthew, chapter 4 we read that Jesus was tempted by Satan. Satan said in verse 6, "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: " 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' But Jesus also knew scripture and He wasn’t going to allow Satan to twist God’s word to scare Him into doing something that was outside of God’s will for Him. Verse 7 - Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'

Matthew, chapter 18 gives clear instructions on how to handle knowledge of wrong doing (sin) of a fellow believer. We are to first go to the person privately and express our concerns. Then, if there is no resolution, we take someone with us to bear witness to what is being said. If there is still no resolution, we are to go the church, and if the church can’t resolve things – we wipe their dust from our feet and move on.

My friend is being accused of something that NEVER HAPPENED!! Gossip is a TERRIBLE thing and it eats through people and churches like piranha on a gold fish! So, the gossip wants to “reveal” my friend to the church leaders? Bring it on! If, however, my friend can convince the church piranha to follow the instructions of Matthew, chapter 18, then she will have won a friend and spared others from suffering the same kind of stoning. Get off the pew and put an end to church gossip and spiritual piranhas! Come on people…Get off the pew!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Kickin' Kids Out of Church?

David and Katie were an average family with three kids who were just going about the daily routine of raising their growing family. David and Katie had been Christians all their lives, and were raising their children in the church. All three of the children were dedicated to the Lord by a pastor the family loved. A child dedication is a very special celebration in Christian churches all over the world, wherein parents promise to raise their children in the ways of the Lord, and the church promises to support the family emotionally, and prayerfully. David and Katie loved their church family and trusted their pastor and friends with all their hearts.

David and Katie’s oldest son, Michael, had always been a difficult child. He was burdened with ADHD and he seemed to have little control over his impulses. Katie was often exhausted and overwhelmed. She remembers picking 5 year-old Michael up from Sunday school one day and the teacher just looked at her and said, “Michael was very bad today. Michael, tell your mommy how bad you were today.” Over the years Katie would often be stopped in the hallway at church, where people would say things like, “I heard you don’t believe in spankings. Michael needs a good spanking”, or “I heard you let Michael watch ‘The Power Rangers’. That show is making Michael crazy”. Katie was broken over the fact that her child seemed to be the subject of gossip. The odd thing was, Katie DID believe in spankings, and she diligently monitored what the children watched on television. They didn’t watch “The Power Rangers”.

One day when Michael was 14 years old, the Junior High Pastor at the church called Katie into his office. He sat across the desk from Michael’s mom and said, “I’ve given Michael chance after chance and all he does is bite me in the butt. He's too hard. Please don’t bring Michael back to our services again.” Katie couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Is that what Jesus says…’You're too hard, and I’ve given you chance after chance’?” The pastor pointed his finger at Katie and said, “Don’t you throw Jesus in my face!” Where were the people who had stretched their arms forward and prayed over this child when he was just a baby? There were no prayers, there was no support – there were just words, “don’t bring him back”.

Michael floundered over the next few years and eventually ended up trapped in a cycle of drug addiction and jail. He eventually went to prison.

How can we keep this kind of thing from happening to another family? Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” I believe this scripture is not only about WHAT to teach, but HOW to teach. Train a child up in the way HE should go – according to his bent – and the truth will live in him forever. If a child is an athlete, get him involved in Fellowship of Christian athletes. If your daughter is a dancer, start a dance troupe at your church (yes, I said “dance” and “church” in the same sentence).

If you know a mom who is struggling to raise a special needs child, get off the pew and pray with her, give her an afternoon off, or just call her up once in a while and give her a chance to just talk. You know the kids who hang out in the parking lot of the church on Tuesday night before the High School mid-week service smoking their cigarettes? Get off the pew and go hang out with them. They are fringe kids, but they’re reaching out. Reach back! Are you a children’s pastor, or youth pastor at your church? Remember that every day may be the day that a child makes a choice – the choice to serve God, or the choice to walk away. You are there. Get off the pew and make a difference in a child’s life…or in the life of his frazzled mom!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I'm a sinner. There, I said it!

Okay, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we KNOW we are not perfect. Christians are not perfect. There, I said it out loud. If you ask the question, "what is a hypocrite", most non-believers will say, "Christians!" Why do you suppose that is? No doubt we could debate that questions for blog-eons, but the simple truth is we don't practice what we preach - plain and simple. We are human. We are imperfect. We know we're not without sin, the unbeliever knows we're not without sin, so why is it that we can't say, "I know that you know that I know, so I'm gonna stop pretending that you don't know!" Romans 3:23 says, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". All! Okay, let's say it together..."ALL have sinned". That means you and me!

I have found that one of the greatest stumbling blocks in our evangelism is that the unchurched see the sometimes awful way we treat one another. Oh sure, it's easy to love the drug addict, the homeless wino, or the Africa orphan. After all, they need Jesus and we want them to know Jesus. But when it comes to loving and caring for the other members of the body of Christ...well, that can be a real challenge. What was the last thing Jesus did with His disciples before He went to the cross? He washed their feet! John, chapter 13 lays out the story beautifully. Jesus wasn't afraid to deal with the real dirt. So often, when the lives of the people in the pew next to us get messy and dirty, we move to another pew. We cut off the body parts, just when they need us to pump life saving blood into them. Jesus didn't do that! Jesus walked right up to the dirt and the mess, and washed the feet of the disciples. Then Jesus, in verse 14 says, "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another's feet".

In this blog I want to bring into light that which has been hidden in darkness - the fact that churches, temples, and synagogues are filled with dirty, messy people, who just like me, have been saved by grace. Ephesians 2:8 tells us it is "by grace you are saved, through is a gift of God". 1st Corinthians 4:5 says, "He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive His praise from God." Let's shine a light on the fact that we are ALL sinners and that we do not think ourselves to be higher than anyone else. We just want as many people as possible to know about the awesome gift of salvation. We want the world to know that we are just like them - sinners!!!

Come on, who's with me? Get off the pew and tell your story. Were hurt by another believer? Were you cut off just when you needed the body to love on you? Did someone push you off the pew or out the doors when they discovered your life was messy or dirty? Let's shine a light on something that's been kept a secret in most churches...we are SINNERS! The good news is we are SAVED sinners. That's worth shoutin' about. Get off the pew!