Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hell - through the eyes of a 10 year-old

“Imagine being 10 years old and realizing that this kind and wonderful man is going to burn in hell.”

That’s how my conversation with the 23-year-old atheist began. He grew up in a Christian family and he attended Sunday school and church each week. He believed every word of the Bible as it was taught to him.

When he was 10 the young man’s mom took him to an audition at the community theatre. He was a talented kid and he was cast in the role of “Boy Scrooge” in the stage version of the classic tale, A Christmas Carol.

The little boy immediately fell in love with the theatre and with his new extended family. The actors, the stage manager, the tech crew, and the director all took the kids in the cast under their protective and tutoring wings. The kids were called to a new level of excellence and they matured both as artists and as young people.

At some point along the way, my atheist friend learned that the director was gay. It’s not like there was an announcement of some kind, but there are few secrets in the theatre. A light bulb went off in the little boy’s 10-year-old Christian brain.

“Oh no! My director’s gonna burn in hell!”

The young man had been taught that homosexuality was an abomination to the Lord and was the worst of the worst of all the sins. Gay people—like all sinners—would die and spend eternity burning in the lake of fire.

He also knew that he had rarely experienced such kindness, consideration, and acceptance. The church can be a petty place for an artist. I wrote a post recently about how the misfit toys are drawn to a church’s drama department. The boy had experienced this firsthand and had himself felt like a misfit.

He knew he was called to a higher artistic standard than the one the church drama department had patterned for him.

He had watched his family be hurt and broken by church gossip and spineless spiritual leaders, but he still believed that God was the God of miracles and restoration. He’d watched the cliques’ form and the good church kids snub the prodigals. In spite of the bad behavior, he still trusted God.

He knew few people outside of the church and to some degree he assumed that gossip, lies, petty jealousy, and judgment passing was just a part of human nature. Now he was in a whole new environment where he was—for the first time—finding none of that. And yet…these new friends were sinners bound for hell.

It took the young man a few more years to really seek and search, and then allow himself to admit to his family that he was an atheist.

Listen, Jesus modeled for us the gospel of love and peace. He did not walk up to the woman at the well and say, “Hey, I know you’re a whore. Guess what? Unless you walk away from your heathen lifestyle, you’re going to burn in hell—for eternity!”

Jesus showed us that we are to love the sinner and to reflect who God is by accepting them where they are, and sharing with them the gospel of peace. Jesus went TO the lost and talked with them, walked with them, worked side by side with them, and loved them.

Jesus LOVED the lost.

He didn’t just hit them over the head with everything that was terrible about how they lived. Rather, He helped the sinner see how much better life could be with God. He didn’t focus on the sin. He lovingly lifted the veil from the eyes of the spiritually blind, and revealed God’s amazing plan for them.

Jesus modeled how to reflect God to the lost. He simply loved them, and people WANTED to have what He had.

My friend the atheist wants NOTHING that the Christian has to offer. Sad. So sad.

We’ve got to get off the pew and walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Get off the pew!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Banish the term"Christianity"

Dan Merchant wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the thought-provoking 2008 documentary, Lord, Save Us From Your Followers. In the film Mr. Merchant seeks to answer the question, “Why is the gospel of love dividing America?”

To find the answer to that question, Merchant put on a pair of white coveralls and stuck religious bumper stickers (both pro and con) all over his body. He called himself “Bumpersticker Man”.

Bumpersticker Man went all over America with a camera and a microphone, and invited people to check out his costume and share their thoughts about Jesus and Jesus followers. People all over the country openly shared their opinions and beliefs about God and the people who profess to be His kids.

Merchant found that most people who have a problem with Christians do NOT have a problem with Jesus.

When asked what Jesus was known for, the respondents said things like, savior, diversity, good guy, loving, saving the lost, dying on the cross, performing miracles (or magic), bearded, philanthropist, and sincere. One girl said Jesus was the “first punk rocker”.

When asked to give a word or two that describes who or what a Christian is, the answers were far different. The men and women on the street used words like, hypocrites, intolerance, hate, frightening, overpowering, rigid, scary, nothing good, psycho, out of touch, uneducated, etc…

We profess to be followers of the well-respected God-man who shared the gospel of love and peace. Even the people that profess to be atheists acknowledge that the mythical man called Jesus was supposedly a good guy.

So, why is there such a disconnect between who Jesus is and who His followers are?

Kip Jacob, the senior pastor of Southlake Foursquare Church in West Linn, Oregon offers the following explanation. “We don’t trust Grace. We feel like we have to be defenders of the truth.” Pastor Jacob goes on to ask, “What if the church was known not for what it’s against, but what it’s for?” Wow!

I went to YouTube and looked at tons of clips from the documentary, as well as several interviews with Dan Merchant. Everyone from Matt Lauer to the Reverend Robert Schuller treated Merchant with respect and kindness. The filmmaker deserves that courtesy because he shows respect to believers and unbelievers alike. He seeks to give a platform for open and honest dialogue.

I did find a video rebuttal to the film that I thought was interesting. A big man, with a full head of gray hair and a silver beard sat in front of his computer camera and recorded his thoughts about Mr. Merchant and Lord, Save Us From Your Followers.

The man calls himself “Curtlegger”, and he believes Dan Merchant should be worried about the day when he meets Jesus face to face. He’s pretty sure Jesus is none to happy with Bumpersticker Man.

Curtlegger believes that Jesus did not say people would know we are believers because of how we love the WORLD, but how we love one another—the unity between Christian brothers and sisters. He further insists that Jesus specifically told us NOT to love the world.

Uh…Mr. Curtlegger, how’s that love-within-the-body-of-Christ thing workin’ for ya? Our lack of love for one another is the single biggest reason the world does NOT see Jesus in us. We treat one another like…well…like crap!

If we love somebody, we go out of our way to learn the best of who they are. But we Christians aren’t very good at looking for the good in our pew-mates. We’re notorious for sitting on our religious high horse and perfecting our Pharisee impersonation. “Thank you God that I am not like that guy over there. His marriage is a mess and his kids are trouble!”

Jesus didn’t go around telling people he was right. He went around showing people God’s love. He didn’t just walk with the disciples and the believers, he hung out with people of the world. That’s right, Curtlegger, the WORLD! He loved. I mean He REALLY loved.

What if Christians were known NOT for what we’re against, but for what we are commanded to do…to love? Are you willing to banish the term “Christianity” in order to further The Gospel of Love?

Get off the pew. It’s covered with bumper stickers and titles. And you know what? It’s not all that welcoming. I don’t want to be a Christian. I want to be a reflection of Jesus!

Get off the pew!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Artistic Mediocrity

So…do you remember the “misfit toys” from the 1964 Christmas classic, “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’? The misfits were badly built toys—they were mistakes. The toys didn’t fit, they didn’t belong, and no one wanted them.

Rudolph was a misfit. He and his red nose were teased and laughed at. What could that mammal and his bulbous schnoz ever do for the reindeer colony?

About fifteen years ago I started using the term “misfit toys” to describe church drama teams. I have never seen a bigger flock of odd birds in my life.

At the time I was working with a church drama director who gathered up the most un-actor like people she could find and created a drama team. She spoke truth when she said, “they need to belong”.

This week I’m working with a group of volunteers who are acting their way through a week of Vacation Bible School skits.

My team consists of guys and girls who are without a real job and therefore have the time to volunteer their talents, such as they are. Their talent as a thespian (or lack thereof) is not what bothers me. It’s their inability to commit and invest the talent they do have.

The young men and women who make up our little acting troupe find the following character traits optional: punctuality, preparedness, and proficiency.

When it comes to art in the church, Christians think in terms of the five loaves and two fishes that Jesus used to feed the five thousand. We bring Jesus a fish and we expect him to wave a magic wand and create a whale right before the eyes of the audience.

Please understand this…Christians with true talent and abilities would love to use their gifts to share God’s love and truth with the body. They, however, don’t want to compromise—nor should they.

God gave us many and varied gifts and talents. The truth is, none of us are misfits. We belong somewhere. God created us for a place and a purpose—the stage may not be that place, however.

Rudolph found meaning to life when he discovered his unique value. Without him, the light would never have been seen.

We would never let the mechanic preach the sermon, the accountant do open heart surgery, or the chef teach a college physics class. Get off the pew of mediocrity and set a higher standard for Christian art. Get off the pew!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Turf Wars

“The church is like an old girlfriend. I have a lot of good memories and I wave as I pass by her house, but I’ll never be in a relationship with her again.”

I ran into an old friend last night and that’s how he describes the church he attended for 30 years, but left some time back.

What is it about a church that stirs such high emotions? I mean it’s just a building, for heaven’s sake! It’s four walls and a roof. But when people leave a church—for whatever reason—coming back is nearly impossible.

The people inside the building become a gang and the church property is their turf. When you leave and go to another church, you break the gang code and an all out turf war ensues. It all looks like a scene from the musical Westside Story.

The Eastside Baptist Jets battle the Southside Baptist Sharks for membership, musicians, and AWANA numbers. Gang members—uh…I mean, church attendees—sometimes sneak over to enemy territory to do a bit of undercover snooping.

You can almost hear the Westside Story score swell up as the sleuth slips past the barricade—uh…door greeter—and takes his seat in the back pew. Get cool, boy. Stay loose, boy. Come back with answers, boy.

What kinda programs are they offering? Do they ascribe to the big class Bible-study philosophy, or are they a small-group kinda church? Do they have a choir or a praise band? And the bulletin…is the artwork on the cover traditional or avant-garde? Do they put the lyrics to songs up on the big screen, or do they use hymnals?

A friend of mine was edged out of the church she’d grown up in. A couple of years later she decided to attend the Women’s Retreat that was sponsored by her former church. The women’s ministries director called her and told her it might not be a good idea for my friend to go to the retreat. It might be, she said, “a distraction”.

They were suspicious as to why my friend wanted to come back to the old neighborhood. Turf wars.

My friend went to the retreat anyway. Guess what, not a single fight broke out! In fact, God did a healing work during that weekend.

Come on people, “the church” is supposed to be “one body”. The building is just that—a building!

So, are you the old girlfriend, or are you the shunned lover? Do you know someone who no longer feels welcome inside the four walls that house your congregation? Get off the pew, break down the walls and barriers, and call off the gang fight! Say no to turf wars. Get off the pew!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

No reconciliation for you!

I called and asked for a meeting with the pastor. It’d been several years since we’d attended the church, but the emotions were still raw and the pain was still real. My child encouraged me to once again seek reconciliation.

I’d always been open to restoration with the Music Minister and I had sought it on a couple of other occasions. He, however, wasn’t interested. So, I went directly to the big guy—the man who’d been leading the church for well over 40 years.

I walked in the office and sat down in the overstuffed chair. It seemed like I was 25 feet from the pastor. He had the biggest desk I’d ever seen in my life. A lot of granite had to die for that desk.

The pastor was familiar with my story. He knew we’d been forced to leave the church, but he wasn’t aware of all the nuts and bolts.

I had no interest in recounting all the ugly details—I only hoped for reconciliation and restoration. I’d do whatever it took to forgive and be forgiven.

The pastor’s words shocked me, although I’m not sure why. You’d think by that point I would have understood that the condemnation and judgmental finger pointing was a part of the church’s DNA.

The minister folded his hands, leaned slightly forward, and in his finest Southern gentleman drawl said, “We don’t have to reconcile with you. You work in the theatre and therefore, you are a danger to our reputation.”

And, there it is.

I don’t even know what to say to that. All I know is the pastor needs to step out from behind the behemoth that is his desk, get off the pew, and see that Christians live in the real world. We have many and varied talents, and sometimes Christians dare to work in film, television, and the theatre!

There are times when I seriously can’t figure out what it is about Christians that draw people to God. That day, sitting in the pristine office of an old Southern pastor, was one of those times. I didn’t see Jesus in his eyes. I saw a Pharisee who effectively said, “Thank you God that I’m not like this person.”

Get off the pew!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Around Whom Do You Revolve?

A new pastor took over the reigns of our fairly large church a little over a year ago. He had the full endorsement of the search committee and he quickly won over the church family. He garnered 98% of the member vote.

And now? Well, he’s lost a few supporters.

Change is met with opposition 100% of the time. But, the change that’s taking place now has turned into a disturbing trend. Most all of the outreach ministries have been seriously limited, or cut all together. Unless it directly revolves around the Sunday sermon, it will no longer be allowed at our church.

To begin with, any ministry that reached a specific group has been cut. There is no longer a “Men’s Ministry”, or a “Women’s Ministry”. All meetings, retreats, and celebrations specific to one gender or the other have been cancelled.

Gone are the monthly M.O.P.S. (Mother Of Pre-Schoolers) meetings, and all weekly Bible studies. The AWANA kids have been relegated to tiny broken down classrooms so the gym can be remodeled into a second sanctuary.

Small home groups—numbering no more than eight people—have replaced Bible study groups. They are all required to study the same material—material that is based on the pastor’s weekly sermons. The Women’s Ministries leader has been reassigned. She now writes the pastor’s sermon-based studies.

The church gym was originally built to accommodate the huge number of kids and youth who filled the campus several times during the week. It’s going to be remodeled so it can accommodate the many services now held every Sunday.

The latest casualty of the new regime is a longtime favorite—“Gospel Music” night. One Sunday evening a month a favorite singing group was brought in to share God through song and old-fashioned fun. The church is always full on Gospel Music night and is a particular favorite among the 50 and older crowd. Those are gone now too.

The new pastor isn’t getting rid of the much-loved music altogether, he’s just rolling it into a new Sunday morning service. If you want to hear the old-fashioned Gospel music, you’ll now have to sit through the pastor’s sermon as well.

Each of the now six services on Sunday mornings will feature a different style of music. The Pastor’s sermon will then be preached live, or will be shown via DVD.

Bible studies, concerts, programs…anything that happens on the church campus must revolve around the pastor’s sermon. Does this strike anyone else as odd—maybe even scary?

Our new pastor has completely cut off most of the other body parts. He clearly sees no use for the many gifts and talents of the family. He acts as if he doesn’t believe God can speak to the congregation through anyone that isn’t him.

God speaks to His kids in many and varied ways. God’s love and truth can be shared during a basketball game, a musical event, or a **gasp** guest speaker.

Is your church pastor-focused or God-focused?

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18 (NIV) Have we set our pastor up for a fall?

Come on people, get off the pew and take a hard look at the direction the church is moving. Get off the pew!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Rhonda Gets A Divorce

Several years ago I sang in the choir with Rhonda. She had an amazing voice, a good heart, and was just as beautiful on the outside as she was on the inside.

One day Rhonda shocked everyone when she left her husband. She immediately became rich fodder for the gossipmongers. Everyone had an opinion about Rhonda and her husband. People took sides and the battle began.

Rhonda auditioned for a part in a musical at the local community theatre. That’s when the tongue wagging really got out of control. Rhonda was “living in sin” and she was clearly a “girl gone wild”. The choir director kicked her out of the choir and she left the church filled with sadness and loneliness.

A few months later I was home alone when there was a knock at my door. It was Rhonda’s husband. He had no idea I lived in the house. He was a contractor who was going door-to-door leaving flyers in an attempt to solicit business. When he saw me he immediately opened his heart.

“I’m very sad about the way Rhonda’s been treated at the church.” He sounded so genuine. His words surprised me. Wasn’t he the victim? Hadn’t his wife walked out on him?

He continued. “It wasn’t easy being married to me. I moved Rhonda from town to town and state to state every six months or so. I oppressed her and never gave her an opportunity to explore her unique talents. I always made the marriage about me.”

I was overwhelmed with a sense of guilt. I had listened to the gossip and I had participated in the harsh judgmental criticisms. I had assumed that Rhonda was being selfish.

Rhonda’s husband stood before me—he wasn’t playing the victim, but rather he was taking responsibility for the part he played in the destruction of his marriage. The fact that his wife had been the subject of unfair gossip and had been abandoned by her church broke his heart.

I’ve seen Rhonda several times over the years and I always go out of my way to listen—really listen to her words and her heart. She has shared her brokenness, her anger, her disappointment, and her loneliness. She has always thanked me for my kindness.

I saw my friend Rhonda last night. She is doing great. All the people who decided she was a woman scorned and therefore no longer worthy of their love and friendship—they are the losers. They’ve missed out on the friendship of a wonderful woman. They’ve missed out on seeing new growth come out of ashes.

Do you know a “Rhonda”? Yes, God hates divorce, but he loves His kids. I believe that our gossip and judgmental assumptions are responsible for putting the final nail in some of the marital coffins. It’s hard to see a reason to stay married to someone that everyone around you says is a horrible person.

We’ve got to STOP being meddling scandalmongers. If you know a couple whose marriage is falling apart please love them. As difficult as it is, I encourage you to not take sides, but rather to show both of them equal kindness.

Now go…get off the pew!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Discouraged? Us too!

We went to the theatre last night and we shared our table with a couple we’d never met. We introduced ourselves and shared polite chitchat.

The more we talked, the more we realized we had a lot in common with each other. We’d graduated from high school around the same time; our parents had attended the same school, and even graduated the same year. Each couple had three kids. Our children were just about the same ages as theirs. We discovered we even worked in the same fields and had similar interests.

It wasn’t long before someone brought up church. The conversation went something like this:

Us: Have you ever been to this theatre before?

Them: No. This is our first time. You?

Us: We’ve been coming to see shows here for years. You’ll love it.

Them: The theatre seems pretty full tonight. Is the turnout this good every night?

Us: The Sunday matinees are hard to get tickets for as they’re always full. The after-church crowd comes straight from the service, gets here for the all-you-can-eat buffet, enjoys the show, and gets home in time to be in bed by 5:30. It’s the perfect Sunday.

Them: Sundays are exhausting for us. We’ve got to go straight home after church and take a nap.

Okay, we aren’t the most stimulating of conversationalists, I admit. But that’s how we discovered we were all churchgoers. Turns out we’ve even gone to the same church, but at different times.

It didn’t take long for the topic of Christian discord to come up. I don’t ask for it or encourage this topic—I promise. People open up to me. The fact is people are disgusted with the constant barrage of conflict and backbiting among believers.

The couple told the all too familiar tale. The older their kids got, the more involved with church activities they became. Since they were there all the time anyway, they began volunteering for this ministry, that opportunity, and before they knew they were overcommitted. They taught Sunday school and worked with the kids’ choir. That’s what you do when you’re a member of a church, right?

Church members like the couple we met burn their candles at both ends, then we (the church) see to it that they get burned out. We treat volunteers badly. They are often under trained and overextended. We set them up for failure and then spit them out when they fail.

That’s what happened to the man and his wife. They are content now to sit in a different church then the one they had poured so much of their heart and hard work into. These are two talented people whose gifts could benefit the kingdom of God, but instead their talents have been shelved.

We suck sometimes. We are wounding our own and shooting the wounded. It’s just not okay.

Churches would be perfect if there were no people in them. I’m not talking about the normal struggles and frustrations that come with working side by side with other human beings. I’m talking about the mean, vindictive, ugly, self-absorbed behavior that breaks the spirit.

A pastor friend of mine always says, “People are no damn good.”

I meet more and more believers who have opted out of the church machine. They’ve formed home churches, online communities, and small groups. They’re not isolating themselves, but rather they are separating themselves from the gossip, lies, arrogance, and self-promoting pompous pretentiousness that gets in the way of seeing—really seeing God.

Show one another love, appreciation, kindness, benevolence, sympathy, and gratitude. God’s family (like most families) is dysfunctional and far from perfect, and that’s okay! Selfless love can heal the bad stuff. Get off the pew and show God’s love for your brothers and sisters. Get off the pew!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

One toke over the line...

Earlier this year I was in Los Angeles. On my way to the airport, I spotted this sign in front of a church.

That's one way to get 'em in the pew. I wonder if they served snacks.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Voting Day

Question…on voting day, do you care who or what James Dobson endorses?

Many voters color in the oval next to the name on the ballot solely because of the single letter that comes at the end of the candidate's name—“R” or “D”.

A few weeks before each election my extended family picks up a copy of the Christian Voter Guide and we gather for a “who would Jesus vote for” party. I’ll be honest—I’ve been known to **gasp** throw my support behind the unsanctioned candidate.

The primary election was held today in my state. One of the congressional candidates used to be the mayor of a nearby town. He’s an outspoken Christian who garnered the support of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.

The man who followed in the candidate’s mayoral footsteps is now a radio commentator who also happens to be a vocal Christian. The radio show’s host has nothing nice to say about his predecessor and congressional hopeful. In fact, he’s been down right nasty, calling the former mayor a liar and a thief.

Christians stand on Biblical truth, armed with the sword and the shield, and we come out swinging. Christians can be so arrogant sometimes!

I wonder—if the two Christian men were in a political race against one another, which one would win the endorsement of religious leaders?

Should a candidate, proposition, or ballot measure be pulpit fodder? Is it okay for a pastor to offer his opinion or advice on political matters? I’ve known church leaders who feel very strongly about staying out of this controversial arena, and others who feel a duty to inform—even going so far as to put up proposition signs around the church campus.

Look, we have an obligation to vote and to vote our conscience. We ought not be sheep who blindly follow the spiritual leaders. God gave me the intelligence and wherewithal to gather the available information and then to cast a discerning vote.

Don’t be sheep. Get off the pew—ask questions, educate yourself, and vote with wise confidence. Get off the pew!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Third time's the charm.

A couple of nights ago we went to a wedding reception. Don and Deanne were first engaged in 1980, but they broke up and married other people. It’s so great to see them together now—happy and looking forward to sharing many years of happy love.

When we arrived at the reception Don’s dad hugged us, thanked us for coming, and said, “Someone from the church has got to reach out and love my son.” His words broke my heart.

Don’s first marriage ended when his wife left him for another man. Everyone who knew the couple was shocked and saddened by the completely unexpected turn.

When a couple divorces they have to divide the furniture, wall hangings, dishes, and towels. They argue over custody of the kids, dogs, cats, and goldfish. If all goes well, each partner walks away with half the shared physical assets and the kids continue to thrive.

The saddest element of divorce is the division of friendships. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so awful if the husband and wife could sit with a mediator and weigh the pros and cons of every person in their life, then amicably agree to split time and custody. It doesn’t work that way.

Generally speaking, friends and family choose sides and everyone dons weapons fashioned from gossip, assumptions, lies, and judgment. It’s a terrible phenomenon and there are no winners.

The church supported Don in his divorce. After all, adultery is a church sanctioned reason for ending a marriage. Don remarried a year or two later and he stayed in the church’s good graces. That all ended when he divorced his second wife.

After his second divorce Don lost most of the remainder of his friends. His pastor warned him to “never step foot” in the church again.

"I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel, "and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment," says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith. 1 Malachi 2:16 (NIV)

There’s no doubt God hates divorce, but I know that I know that God LOVES the divorcee. Loving a friend and standing by him or her when their marriage falls apart is (I believe) what God calls us to do. Divorce is not a contagious disease. You won’t need antibiotics if you get too close to someone suffering the ravages of a marital break-up—I promise.

Sin happens when we break fellowship with God. We then suffer through our anger, bitterness, depression, and all manner of emotional distress. The sadness is magnified when we suffer alone and the people who should be Jesus with skin on abandon us in our hour of need.

Do you know someone who is out of fellowship with God or with the church? Get off the pew, pick up the phone, and reconnect. Send them a card or letter—anything to extend a hand of love and support. You won’t get infected, I promise you! Get off the pew!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Nepotism in The Church

Nepotism is alive and well—especially in The Church. Nepotism is defined as “Favoritism shown to relatives or close friends by those with power or influence.”

One of the mega-churches in town has all the members of one family on its payroll. The church hired the music minister’s son after he was fired from another church. The second son is the children’s ministries pastor, and his father-in-law is also on the staff.

At the same mega-church, a board member's son was hired to be the Junior High School Pastor. Unfortunately, that young man has never attended college and he is woefully under qualified to teach young people and lead a department. That is nepotism at its worse—and a bad way to run a business.

We’re certainly not alone in this practice, as there are companies all over the world—large and small—that are filled with co-workers who share the same DNA. There are certainly good reasons for doing business this way.

Sons and daughters are groomed from birth to be the perfect employee. I think of real estate mogul, Donald Trump’s family. The three eldest Trump kids all work for their father. I feel sure that “The Donald” saw to it that those kids got the education and experience they needed to be perfect vice presidents for the Trump organization.

Hey, putting your kids on the payroll saves a lot of time and energy that would have been wasted interviewing potential employees. When a father hires his son he can wave all those pesky background checks, and the exorbitant fees that go with them. After all, Dad knows about most of the skeletons in the family closet.

Kids follow in the footsteps of their parents all the time. It’s natural, of course, since we inherit strengths and talents from our Mom and Dad. Those traits lead us to jobs for which we are a good fit. In addition, we’re all drawn to the familiar—such as the family business.

Hollywood has its famous acting families. There’s the Barrymore family, Kirk Douglas and his boys, and Lloyd Bridges, who along with his actress wife, Dorothy raised actor sons Beau and Jeff. These are just a few of so many possible examples.

Christianity has its royal families too. Billy Graham’s kids Anne and Franklin have followed their dad into the family business, as have the kids of Robert Schuller, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and John Hagee.

I don’t snub the practice of nepotism in church hiring practices completely, but I do believe that those in leadership need to be careful. We must be very sure that the people on the payroll are the best possible man or woman for the job. We ought to hold ourselves to a high accountability—higher than most.

I’ve asked this question before…what is your church’s business model? We represent God to the world, and we should be setting the standard. Get off the pew!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Writing Notes

Have you ever written a note to your pastor, worship leader, or church board? Christians love to write notes—especially nasty notes!

It seems the worship leader gets the bulk of the condemning comments. We think we aren’t singing enough hymns, we complain about the horns being too loud, or we lament the “7-11” praise songs. Those are the worship tunes wherein we sing the same seven words eleven times.

We criticize the church board for how and where they spend money, we chastise the pastor for preaching too long (hey, we’ve got to get to Applebee’s), and we fuss over which version of the Bible is God-approved.

What do all these complaints have in common? They are focused on us—me, me, me!

The big bulk of the ugly notes received by pastors, worship leaders, board members, and church staff are motivated by a selfish desire to personalize church. We’re not always interested in seeing the big picture. Rather, we focus on the little self-portrait we’ve painted of our perfect church—with us in the center.

I have to use readers—the cheap little glasses that help me see the words in books, newspapers, and the like. They’re great for close up reading, but are completely useless for seeing things in the distance. Everything beyond the stretch of my arm is blurry and out of focus.

Are you looking at church through a close-up lens that prevents you from seeing the big picture? Are you so busy critiquing every element of each Sunday service that you have lost sight of the purpose of the church?

The church is one body made up of many parts. We represent many and varied tastes in music, literature, clothing style, and entertainment. Likewise, we represent a cornucopia of ideas—thoughts about how best to “do” church.

We should, however, have one purpose—to reach and serve the world for Jesus.

Take off the rose-colored glasses that keep you focused on your here and now self. It’s okay to offer suggestions and to let your opinions and heart be known. I encourage you, however, to check your motive before submitting that written critique. Are you concerned about something the church is doing that is contradictory to the word of God, or simply in opposition to your own personal taste? If it’s the latter…you might want to put your pen away.

Satan works hard to discourage a church staff and its volunteers—BELIEVE ME! He’s most successful when he uses parishioners to deliver the heavy oppositional blows.

So, put the pen back in your pocket. If you don’t like the way something in your church is being done, get off the pew and volunteer to serve. Get off the pew!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Come As You Are

I wonder if the church is ready for this kind of a "come as you are" campaign. Check out this video.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How could you?

“How could you turn your back on your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who gave you such a wonderful family?” Boy, mothers sure know how to pour on the guilt.

Whether it’s the family we were born into, or the family we inherited when we gave our heart to the Lord—sometimes we butt heads with the people we love and care about. The mere fact that I disagree with my loved ones now and then does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that I’ve turned my back on my Lord.

I can understand, however, the temptation to judge a person’s heart. We tend to hold to certain traditions and expectations and if others don’t look the part, we judge them. It’s a part of the human condition.

The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7b (NIV)

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a co-worker a year or so ago. One of the church’s former pastors was forced to resign after it came to light that he was having an affair. There was so much sadness and brokenness.

Because of the affair, two homes were destroyed, and a church family was shattered. When pastors fall (and they sometimes do), parishioners choose sides, faith is shaken, and heartbreak spreads like a virus through the body.

The former pastor’s name came up when my co-worker was recounting to me some of the biggest challenges the church has faced in her 30 years of membership. “That pastor is still unrepentant.” She seemed sure of the condition of the man’s heart.

“How do you know that?” I asked. She answered with authority. “It’s obvious.”

I didn’t press her for an explanation, as I really didn’t want to get caught in a gossip-fest with my cubicle mate. But I wondered what criteria she might be using to judge the man.

A few days later I was visiting with my sister-in-law when she told me that the disgraced former pastor had been the guest speaker at her church. She beamed as she recounted his story of sin, restoration, healing, and forgiveness.

I went on-line so I could download the podcast of his message. It was encouraging, powerful, and so inspirational. There is life after death and destruction, and the pastor was living in victory over sin. Amazing.

Whatever criteria my friend was using to judge the former sinner’s heart, her conclusion was wrong. In the same way, it is wrong to assume a person has turned away from God just because they disagree with a fellow believer now and again.

Are you sitting on the pew of finger pointing and name-calling? Well, get off the pew! God sees what the human eye cannot see. Sometimes we just have to trust the fact that He’s at work. Now get off the pew!