Monday, October 24, 2011

The Hurting People We Never See

Last month I wrote about my friend's encounter with two busybody church ladies, and what happened when they literally backed into one another. One woman insisted the other was lying about the circumstances surrounding the parking lot fender bender, and was going to "tell Pastor Dave" about the deceiver.

My friend is an officer who, after more than 30 years, he has seen it all. But, it's the nasty trash talk that comes out of the mouths of so-called "Christians" that continues to dismay and confound him.

He worked a minor car accident the other day in which a truck driver was sideswiped by a passing vehicle while standing outside his truck. He's lucky his injuries were minor. Anyway, he was a large man, and he was missing a few teeth. These facts are important to the story.

My friend was taking the accident report from the visibly shaken man. When asked if there were any witnesses, he said his driving partner had seen the whole thing from his seat inside the stalled truck. Before speaking with the witness, the officer chatted a bit more with the victim, and he was struck by how kind he was. He wasn't angry with the driver who clipped him, but in fact he was concerned for the man's well being.

The officer complimented him on his gentle spirit and remarked at how calm he was. He said, "My partner is the angry, mouthy one. I find it easier to just relax and try to be a gentler person." He explained that the man who often accompanies him on long-distance trips could be a preacher because he knows the Bible so well. However, he always makes fun of people who are "fat" or "ugly".

As the sweet man nursed his wounded arm, he continued the conversation.

"My wife is overweight and she's very, very self-conscious. She is the kindest and most beautiful woman in the world - to me. However, she rarely leaves the house because of people like my friend over there."

The officer listened sympathetically.

"That man claims he's a Christian, but the words that come out of his mouth are cruel and ugly. It's hard for me to travel with him because I know it's because of guys like him that keep my wife from even going to church. He even makes fun of me sometimes." Apparently the guy tries to share the gospel, but his testimony is clearly overshadowed by his mean spirit.

My friend never did quite understand why the gentle, albeit scraggly, trucker had to share the cab of the eighteen-wheeler with the caustic Christian, but he felt his pain.

I don't care how much someone knows about the Bible. People don't care about how much you know; they need to know how much you care. 

Every time you're tempted to make a joke about someone's appearance, think about the "kindest and most beautiful woman in the world" who can't even leave her home because of people like you.

Now, get off the pew and be kind to someone today.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Christian Isolationism

I attended a church event last weekend with an unchurched friend. It's always interesting to see us through someone else's eyes, and I love hanging out with straight-talking non-believers. You know, we really can be an odd bunch of people.

We speak a unique language called "Christianese" and we sing songs about blood and bruises and blindness. Our concerns are not the same as the burdens of the world, and my friend had a difficult time understanding a few things.

A well-known Hollywood actor spoke at last weekend's event. At one point she opened the floor up to audience questions. The attendees wanted to know which actors were Christians and how to get their children involved in God-endorsed film projects.

This line of questioning greatly offended my friend. She couldn't quite understand how it is that we talk about being salt and light in the world, and yet work so hard to isolate ourselves from the very people who need the salt and light. 

She's got a good point.

I remember an old camp song called, "Pass It On". The song begins with the words, "It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing." We used to sing that song like we believed it. But do we?

We preach sermons, teach classes, write blog posts, and challenge our kids to take the light of Jesus into a dark world. And yet, we can be the biggest isolationists. So, it's okay to be an actor, but only if we work with other believing actors in Christian film projects? What about doctors, lawyers, teachers, singers, and garbage collectors? Are they expected to treat, defend, teach, entertain, and serve believers only?

We talk about being an ocean of love, but many of us feel safer on our own island of like-minded separatists.  

Yes, I love seeing us through the eyes of the unchurched. They challenge me to get off the pew of isolationism, and walk in the light of truth. Pass it on.

Friday, October 14, 2011

An Excuse Called Grace

"Christians use grace as a blanket under which to hide all their sins."


I've written on this topic before, but it keeps rearing its ugly head. Many non-believers don't see grace as a free gift from God, but rather an excuse Christians use to cover bad behavior. My conversation with an unchurched friend of mine reminded me that this view of grace is very common.

When I've broached this topic with believers I often get the same response - "Don't look to people, look to Jesus." I remind you that the lost are looking to us hoping to SEE Jesus!

I'm going to try to put this in terms we all understand. I know quite a few vegetarians. In fact, I grew up in a meat-free home. Imagine knowing your best friend is a vegetarian, but one day you go out to dinner and he orders a steak. A few days later, you have lunch and you're surprised to see him order a big, juicy burger with all the toppings.

Your friend still tells people he's a vegetarian, but you doubt his commitment–what with all the meat eating. So, you question your friend about his commitment to the lifestyle. He responds with something like this: "Don't look to me, look to the vegetarian philosophy for truth and enlightenment. I'm not perfect, just forgiven."

After watching your friend enjoy a few slabs of prime rib, you finally realize he's NOT a vegetarian. He might want to be. He may claim to be. But, he's not. Does that seem judgmental? Not at all. He talks the talk, but he doesn't walk the walk.

If you consistently gossip, cheat on your taxes, lie to your boss about being sick, judge others, harbor angry bitterness, refuse to forgive, or are filled with pride and think yourself better than others, you might not be a Christian. You might want to be. You may claim to be. But you might not be.

Grace is a gift that God offers you and me. It is an honor for us to show grace to someone else who might be going through a valley of trial or temptation. It is not an excuse we pull out of our back pocket for our unChrist-like antics. 

Like it or not, people are looking to us for hope. They want to see Jesus. I know we're not perfect and they know we're not perfect. When we mess up we need to 'fess up.

Get off the pew of excuses! 

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Mormon "Cult"

So, Pastor Robert Jeffress of Dallas, Texas calls Mormonism a "cult". He has endorsed Governor Rick Perry as the Republican Presidential candidate because he's a conservative Christian, but warns believers against voting for candidate Mitt Romney because he's a Mormon.

Well, I'm not going to enter the "cult" debate. I'm well aware of the fact that many Christians agree with Pastor Jeffress. I'm more concerned about our bigotry.

During the election season of 1960, many Christian pastors and leaders warned the American voter against supporting John F. Kennedy. You see, he was a Catholic. America had never had a Catholic president. Many believed (and still believe) that The Pope was the antichrist.

President Kennedy was way before my time, but my study of American history tells me that the Christian fear mongering of that time is similar to what's happening today. I would hope that we would cast our vote based on an intelligent understanding of where a candidate stands on issues.

Look, the conservative Christian candidate is going to make judgment calls and cast votes based on his or her knowledge of the issue as seen through the prism of their Christian worldview. Likewise, the atheist, Buddhist, Mormon, Catholic, heathen, etc... will make personal and political choices that grow from their heart, beliefs, and personal worldview. We the voters must do our homework, find out where the candidate stands, and vote our conscience.

I know many Mormons. They are loving, concerned, generous, thoughtful, kind, and smart. I also know many Christians, atheists, Catholics, and heathens who are all those things. Once again, however, it's the Christian pastor who comes across as sounding judgmental and small-minded.

So, Pastor Jeffress, teach your congregation to walk as Jesus walked, love as Jesus loved, and vote as Jesus might have voted. Voting against Mr. Romney just because of his religion is not an informed vote–it's a bigoted vote.

Get off the pew of bigotry. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Clueless Cleric

Our children decided when they were teens that they wanted nothing to do with The Church. Pastors, parishioners, and pew sitters were judgmental hypocrites who would rather point fingers than build relationship.

That, sadly, was our church experience.

The other night I went to an event and sat at a table with a former nemesis – the pastor who decided I should be fired from my church job because I got involved with community theatre. Our kids were devastated when they watched the pastor's critical condemnations break my heart and spirit. I was angry at the time, not only because of how he treated me, but because his actions so profoundly and negatively affected our kids and their faith.

Despite the pain of the past, I'm always cautiously open to restoration. My former boss asked about the kids. I shared their comings and goings, including the fact that one of our kids is an atheist.

"You know," said the man, "one of our sons had doubts about his faith when he was fired from a church and treated so unfairly."

Now, at this point in the conversation I could have said, "Hmmmm....what a coincidence. You're the one whose actions caused my children to lose their faith." 

But I chose to listen.

He proceeded to tell me just a bit more about how hurt his son had been and how he again found his faith. I realized that he's clueless as to how his behavior affects people. He doesn't see himself in the actions of others.

I love the book UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. The book reveals the results of research that exposes how church outsiders see Christians, and how very clueless we are about how we are being perceived. I could've written that book a decade ago, and I don't need the Barna Group to give me research data. I've witnessed unimaginable hypocrisy first hand. According to the book and the data they collected, church leaders are woefully unaware of how their actions negatively impact both insiders and outsiders.

Get off the pew and look in the mirror. We are being watched, examined, hated, loved, emulated, and shunned. We're going to mess up, and when we do, we need to fess up. Being Jesus with skin on isn't easy, but it's who we ought to be.

Get off the pew!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Relying On The Kindness of Strangers

Several of my friends are looking for work. Many more are underemployed.

These are tough financial times, and more than ever we need one another. In the Tennessee Williams play, "A Streetcar Named Desire" a fading but still attractive Blanche Dubois explains how she survives when she says, "I always depended on the kindness of strangers."

My friend "John" was laid off from the job he loved a little over three years ago. He was asked to appear on stage at his church in a presentation of "cardboard testimonies". I think most of us have seen these displays. The choir sings an appropriately emotionally manipulative song such as "Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone" and people appear on stage holding a large cardboard sign. On one side is written a confession or need, and on the other side - words of hope.

The pastor of John's mega-church asked him to participate in Cardboard-Sunday just a few weeks after he became unemployed. The words, "I just lost my job" were written on one side, and "Trusting God" on the other. He, along with more than twenty transparent and hopeful parishioners used simple words to share their heart with a congregation of more than 5,000 that day.

Two weeks later John had lunch with his friend Mark. Mark had to know, "So, did you get a lot of job offers after Cardboard-Sunday?" "You know," John replied, "not even one."

I was surprised by that fact. Five thousand people–brothers and sister in the faith–and not one single person could offer a job lead? Literally hundreds of the city's leaders, business owners, and movers and shakers claim this particular church as their own. I know many of them were sitting in the pews that day.

There was a time when the church rallied to help their own in times of need. Then the government began offering welfare and food stamps to help the poor and indigent. The Church threw up their hands and seemed to say, "Whew! Helping the needy is no longer our job."

Blanche Dubois relied on the kindness of strangers. I wonder if The Church had failed her.

It's been three years since John poured his heart out onto a large chunk of cardboard. His family still struggles as John continues to look for work. Life is further complicated by health problems, broken cars, and leaky house pipes they can't afford to repair.

I believe that if a need has made its way into my circle of knowledge and influence, then I'm supposed to respond. I can ask around, spread the word, donate a little money here and there, send a card of encouragement, pray, pray, and pray.

Get off the pew, look around, really see the needs in your circle of knowledge and influence, and then respond. Get off the pew!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Truth In The Text

I received the following text message from my friend, who happens to be a highway patrol officer:
  • I have decided that a lot of church people are the meanest people I know.  I worked this crash at $#@%&* Church where two woman backed out of a stall and hit each other. One woman just informed me she is going to tell "Pastor Dave" about this, because the other woman is lying, etc. I'm like REALLY!!?? Geez! All this woman wants to do is trash this other woman, and it's a tiny fender bender! Both at fault. I told her I based my conclusion on the physical evidence and HER statement too!
My officer friend is a very spiritual person, but wants nothing to do with church. Guess what, that strong opinion still holds–and with good reason. The text message continues:
  • I told her it's a small little accident and there is no need for this to escalate. Oh no, not good enough! Now it's going to be a full blown church fight. 
My friend is very aware of the abuse my family has suffered at the hands of so-called Christians. I want to believe that our story is not the norm, but evidence continues to point to so much deep-seated arrogance and dysfunction among believers. My friend's text goes on:
  • So, it all reminded me of all that crap with you and your church and I felt like I wanted to just hug U....and kick this mean woman. She is just a shit stirrer. It's like junior high. I mean, this grown woman is running to the pastor like a child when it doesn't even involve the church.  She just wants to hurt the other woman.
Once again...Christians have the opportunity to model who Jesus is for the unchurched, and we blow it. The patrol officer nailed it. So many problems are caused when immature Christians run to pastors to fix problems that should be resolved solely by the two people involved.

My friend's final observation:
  • It's no wonder pastors get big heads when their members run to them like kids every time someone looks at them sideways.
Ouch. Get off the pew. Resolve a conflict, restore a relationship, and renew your commitment to be Jesus with skin on. And next time you're involved in a little game of bumper cars out there on the road, remember that you might've just been given the opportunity to witness to the investigating officer. What a privilege.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

When Pastors Choose Our Friends

Is it ever okay for a pastor to tell a parishioner who said parishioner can and cannot have as a friend?

An acquaintance of mine was in the middle of a casual conversation with her pastor the other day, when he told her that he would rather she not be friends with someone. She became understandably defensive.

“Are you really telling me with whom I can be friends?”

“I’m just telling you to be careful.” He went on to explain how the person in question was an inferior Christian and therefore – inferior friend material.

Jesus modeled for us the example of how to be friends with people we “ought not” be friends with. Jesus was totally politically incorrect when he approached the Samaritan woman at the well. He talked with her, encouraged her, challenged her, and then sent her off to become the first evangelist.

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” John 4:39

When we stand in the way of friendships, we reveal our own insecurities, judgmental heart, critical spirit, and phobias. So many pastors have become arrogant and prideful. They seem to truly believe they and they alone know how to make right and good choices. 

The number of pastor/teachers who seem to believe it’s their God-given right to literally direct every aspect of the believer’s life shouldn’t surprise me. I see it all the time.

Get off the pew and go make an unlikely friend today. Go. Go!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Tithing Kiosk

Well, we knew this day would eventually come, as we are a mostly cashless society now. That truth, frankly, is an easy excuse to not tithe, give, or donate. "Oh, I forgot to stop by the ATM on my way to church this morning and I ran out of checks a year ago. Sorry, I can't contribute to the offering plate today."

So, what is the answer to the I-don't-have-cash-on-me dilemma? The Tithing Kiosk.

I wonder...will people start impulse tithing? Will parishioners call the church office on Monday morning demanding a refund because they find themselves suffering from giver's remorse? 

Now that the Tithing Kiosk has been installed, I fully expect giving to go up substantially. We love giving to God's work, we love our debit cards, and we love machines. Well, this is a win/win.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Art - Takin' it back!

Art in the church. For as long as I can remember, this has been a controversial and often adversarial subject. 

I remember when I was pre-teen a music group was set to perform at our church. My family arrived early that evening because my mom was a greeter and my dad operated the sound system - which consisted of four microphones, four knobs, and one on/off switch.

The singing group arrived and before long all twelve members (six men and six women) were dressed in their matching lavender-colored maxi-dresses, polyester suits, and perfectly coiffed hair-dos. The piano player sat down at the baby grand to make sure the instrument was tuned to his satisfaction, a couple of players tightened the loose strings on their guitars, and then...dun dun dun. Are those drums?

The pastor stuck his head into the still mostly empty sanctuary, called the leader of the group aside. In a hushed whisper he informed the young director that drums were not welcome in this here church. "Those are tools of the devil."

True story.

Now days you can find a drum kit on nearly every single church platform in America - except of course, congregations associated with The Church of Christ, as they don't play musical instruments. It seems odd to me that rhythm instruments were not allowed in most churches until fairly recently considering the Psalmist says, "Praise him with crashing cymbals". He encourages us to praise Him with dancing, with stringed instruments, with the tambourine, with the harp, and with the trumpet. That's Psalm 150, by the way.

It wasn't until the late 1970's and early '80's that live drama became more of a church mainstay. I knew pastors in that era, however, who still preached against going to the movies or secular live theatre venues to see plays or musicals.

I believe all things were created by God, through God, and for God. I believe it because the Bible tells us so. Yes, He even created Hollywood, Broadway, Bollywood, and small town community theatre companies everywhere. I believe God Himself gifted Picasso, Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Van Gogh, and Monet with immeasurable artistic talent. God poured music into the hearts, minds, and piano playing fingers of Liberace, Barry Manilow, and Billy Joel. He created Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain.

Yes, art was created by God as a gift to His kids–a gift of beauty, inspiration, joy, excitement, energy, and life. School districts have cut their budgets down to nubbins, and art education is always the first to go. Perhaps it's time the church takes back that which we have so readily handed over to the world.

Proverbs tells us to "train up a child in the way he should go [according to his bent] and when he is old he will not turn away". The artists among us are being turned away - by the schools and by the church. I say we take seriously the admonition to train up these talented young people. We can nurture their talent and teach them God's amazing and unconditional awesomeness.

Come on Church. Get off the pew and start a children's choir, create a theatre company, find a place for young filmmakers, and teach young musicians. Find instructors who not only have "a heart for the ministry", but the talent and education needed to train up quality artists. There's nothing worse than the bless-his-heart-he-tries church artist. We're representing the God of the Universe, for heaven's sake. We need to bring in the first string players on this one.

I say it's time The Church takes back art. It is, after all, God's gift to us. We have no business complaining about the movies, television, music, plays, and comedy offerings out there today when we're just sitting in our pews and on our hands and not creating superior alternatives.

Get off the pew!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Christianity's Greatest Enemy

What is Christianity's biggest enemy today? Would you say it's Islam? Maybe it's Hinduism, Satanism, Atheism, or the entire Democratic Party. Perhaps you believe our enemies are members of the liberal media, scientists, HBO, The Rainbow Coalition, Al Gore, or The Walt Disney Corporation.

My answer might surprise you.

I think Christianity's greatest enemy is the Prosperity Gospel.

The faithful and hopeful are looking to Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, and the like to inspire them and to build their faith. If you just "have faith" the money will come, you will be healed, and all good will come to you. I wonder how these men would council the apostle Paul whose faith could not cure the "thorn" in his flesh, or keep him out of prison.

Of course there are Faith "Hall of Famers" who were definitely prosperous by the world's standards. I think of Abraham, David, Isaac, Job, and Solomon - just to name a few. But again, their faith could not shield them against tragedy, loss, brokenness, and deep heartache. Financial gain does not guard against sadness and disappointment.

This past weekend I attended a conference at a mega church in Southern California. As is always the case at these gatherings, there were several offerings taken through out the course of the two days. Each time the pastor took the stage before the passing of the buckets (or joy bags), he offered words of encouragement––a rally call of sorts. He told us how he and his wife now give 50% of their income to the Lord. Just last week he spoke at another church and one woman was so inspired by his message that she wrote a personal check for $20,000. This, he assured us, is what happens when you give your money away.

My friend has been attending this church for fifteen years and she gives a great deal to the ministry because of its unique outreach goals. She's also $50,000 in debt. She believes that Jesus is coming soon and she accepts the fact that she'll never be out of debt, so why worry?

Psalm 37:21 says, The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously. It seems that we easily claim the second half of that verse, but gloss over the first half. 

I've seen an awful lot of people give a great deal of money to ministries they whole-heartily believe in. But in the end, the ministry and its leader gets fat and prosperous, while the giver is left with an empty wallet and a broken heart. This just isn't okay.

Should we give to the poor? Of course! But, look at Proverbs 22:16–One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and one who gives to the rich–both come to poverty. Wow! Many of these prosperity gospel teachers do not see themselves as rich, but compared to the majority of their givers, their lives are opulent (generally speaking). When we give to the rich, we will come to poverty! Scary.

Do I believe in tithing? Yes. Do I think we should give to the poor? Yes. Do I agree our troubles are a direct result of our lack of faith? Occasionally. For the most part, however, this is life. We will have struggles and challenges and setbacks. When preachers add to the burden of our troubles by heaping guilt on us isn't fair, isn't right, and isn't Biblical.

Get off the pew and do what is right. Get out of debt so that you can give freely and without fear or anxiety. And remember; When you give to the needy, do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing so that your giving may be in secret. Then your father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:3-4.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Kingdom Minded or Church Minded?

It seems that every few months a new catchphrase rides a wave and washes over every church activity or gathering I encounter. Pastors jump on the catchphrase ship and sail out into the sermon ocean in hopes of capitalizing on the latest spiritually edifying craze.

Pastors, teachers, and Bible study leaders delve into, study, and impart their Christianese wisdom on topics like, "Let go and let God"; "What would Jesus do?"; "On becoming the emerging church", "It's not religion, it's a relationship", etc...

Lately, I've encountered a number of conversations and messages that could be titled, "Kingdom-minded, or church-minded?" Under which category do you think your church falls? I've been attending a few different churches in the past couple of years, and I see a huge chasm filled with differences between the two types of congregations.

The Kingdom-minded congregation recognizes that everything you do - where you work, where you live, and how you spend your leisure time - affords opportunities to be Jesus with skin on to the people with whom you come in contact. The church-minded body attempts to micromanage your life outside of Sunday, i.e., discouraging certain activities and friendships.

The Kingdom-minded church understands that God can use non-believers to teach and enlighten. The church-minded pastor refuses to read leadership books or attend conferences written by or featuring non-Christian speakers - regardless of their intelligence or experience.

A women's ministry director removed one of her leadership team members because she began attending Sunday services at another church. But wait. Are we not all one body? The church is not a building, but rather a family of believers from all over the world and from all walks of life, economic stations, experiences, and cultures, right? This women's ministry director is church-minded, and not Kingdom-minded.

So, of what mind are you? Is your loyalty to Father and His purposes, or to a pastor and his human whims and wishes? Do you live in legalistic bondage to a church, or the freedom and grace gifted to you by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?

Get off the pew and pray for the heart and mind of Christ.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Small Decision - Eternal Consequence

A pastor was quoted in the Religion section of the local paper.

[My mentor] taught me to be careful of even the small decisions because they could have great consequences in the future. You could have a bad day, but you need to be careful.

Great quote, right? Sound advice, don't you think? Except that this particular pastor has a long history of NOT following this thoughtful admonition. His inability to engage in loving confrontation is legendary. All over this city you can find wounded soldiers bleeding and suffering from his verbal stabbings and harsh condemnation.

Our own children walked away from the Lord after this particular pastor made a choice about me, which was based on completely false information. A small decision made on what was surely a bad day has had eternal consequences for my family.

Sadly, my story isn't unique. My friend's husband left her and she decided to take some time for herself. She'd always loved musical theatre, so she auditioned for a show with the local troupe. The pastor found out, but he didn't approve of the theatre. He kicked her out of the choir and she was encouraged to leave the church. She was left to go through a painful divorce without the love and support of her long-time church family. It took years for her wounds to heal, and today the scars remain.

He once fired a man who'd faithfully served on the church staff for 21 years. He gave no notice and no reason, except that "the time had come" (whatever that means).

A young piano player who was a new believer was excited to be a part of the church worship team. She really loved her new Christian family. One night a musician friend asked her to cover for him at a secular gig. This pastor found out and kicked her off the worship team - leaving the new believer confused, sad, and broken. It was 15 years before she stepped foot in another church.

A woman reported to the pastor that there was evidence that a person on the creative arts team was jealous of her. She manipulated and twisted the facts in order shine a false but incriminating light on the so-called envious one. If the pastor were a good leader, he would have told the informant to go to the other person directly and deal with whatever was going on. That's what Jesus teaches us to do, right? But, not being a fan of confrontation himself, he just fired the other person with no explanation. How do I know? I'm the other person.

Another heart broken, a family displaced, and teen-age kids at a crossroad make a decision to turn as far from God as possible. Who wants to serve a God whose church is so terrible and mean?

If you're a parent, you know how your heart breaks when the kids fight and mistreat one another. Imagine how God feels when his kids hurt each other with such force that the action has eternal consequences. Oh gosh, how sad.

Listen, the pastor's inability to take his own counsel (or that of a teacher) does not lessen the validity of the advice. Indeed, even a small decision can have great consequences in the future.

Get off the pew and (as Dr. Laura would say), go do the right thing.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Charlie Rangel, What?

Congressman Charlie Rangel is appealing to pastors to ask their congregations, "What would Jesus do?"

Mr. Rangel is suggesting that preachers encourage their congregations to call Republican representatives and implore them to raise taxes so more money can go to help the indigent and needy. This, Mr. Rangel believes, is what Jesus would do.

It's funny that Charlie puts himself out there as an authority of sorts on things Jesus would do. First of all, Rangel has been in big trouble for tax evasion and I'm pretty sure that Jesus denounces that sort of thing. The apostle Paul reiterated this in his letter to the Romans when he said, "If you owe taxes, pay taxes." (Romans 13:7)

James 1:27 instructs us to "look after orphans and widows in their distress". In other words, it is the church - the body of believers - who should be helping, serving, and meeting the needs of the less fortunate, NOT THE GOVERNMENT. So, no Mr. Rangel, I will not be calling my Republican representatives and asking for a tax increase.

Now, I must say here that I do believe the church has dropped the ball in this area. Or, have the needy stopped going to church? It's a complicated issue for sure.

I've seen a lot of financial abuse and ball dropping from the body of Christ. I know a family who has ten children and has been receiving subsidies from the church for many years. Dad works and mom home-schools the kids and they're not particularly needy, they've just had more kids than they can afford. I have trouble understanding how that fact has become the church's burden.

On the other hand, I've seen families whose children were lost to drug addiction. They begged the church for financial help to pay the exorbitant cost of rehabilitation. The church's response? "We don't pay for drug problems." Um.....?

Matthew 6:2-4 tells us to go about giving to the needy and doing so silently and without fanfare. Come on church, get off the pew, help the helpless, love the unlovable, reach out to the lost, and do the right thing. If we all pitch in, there will be no need for the Charlie Rangels of the world to guilt us into handing more of our money over to the government.

Monday, July 11, 2011

You're Son is Reading What?

My friend Lorie is a Christian singer/songwriter and has been since she was a child. She's now a grown woman with children of her own.

She was recently booked to sing at a church and she brought her kids with her. Her son sat quietly in the front pew while she did her sound check and prepared for the concert.

Now, I happen to have several friends who are singers and musicians, and many of them travel with their young children. Some of the kids are performers-in-training and they immerse themselves in the minutia - from the set-up, to running the sound board, to joining mom or dad on the stage, to tearing down and packing up equipment.

All Lorie's son wanted to do was read. And so, he buried himself in the latest "Harry Potter" novel. Big mistake, huge - at least in the eyes of the church finger-waggers.

Lorie was told she'd never be welcome back to perform for that particular congregation because she had an obvious character flaw - she let her son read "Harry Potter".

Oh, for heaven's sake. No really...for heaven's sake, let this kind of judgmental criticism go. Lorie's passion is to use her talent to tell God's story. When you squash her, you squash an opportunity for someone else to hear God's voice.

Get off the pew!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Not "Suited" for Church

A well known, revered, and respected pastor died last week. My heart aches for his family and for their loss.

Several people wrote letters of condolence that were then posted in the local paper. One of the writers said, "I never knew him personally, but every time I saw him on television he was wearing a suit. That's how I know he's a man of God - because he wore a suit in church. God's house deserves our respect."

"The Church" is the body of Christ - not a building. Our bodies are called "the temple of God", which indicates to me that I am God's house. A building is just brick, mortar, and glass.

While it's true that this man always wore a suit, I know that was not the criteria by which he'd want his life, teaching, and passion for Christ to be judged. Pastor was from a different time and tradition and even he acknowledged that traditions are fluid and ever changing, but Jesus's message of love, grace, and intimate relationship has never wavered.

Jesus didn't have a pulpit, a building, or a suit. I believe he made those intentional choices so we could walk free from the confines of tradition and rules, and uprightly in an intimate relationship with The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. Jesus never dressed like a traditional rabbi.

When I die I sincerely hope no one mentions my style sense, or lack thereof. Get off the pew of tradition and legalism. Jesus desires for you to walk in freedom. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Facebook Platitudes - Just Say No!


So, I was having a bit a rough day over the weekend. I know the small stuff shouldn't bother me, but there are days when I've had enough. Saturday was one such day.

Honestly, if you're going to go to the trouble of hating me, I'd just as soon it be for something I actually did to you personally. I don't even mind those of you who violently disagree with my opinions and beliefs. But if you use gossip to form an opinion about a person, and then you use that "information" to destroy that person's reputation - well that behavior is quite honestly at the bottom of the dung heap.

The weekend brought new, unexpected drama to my life, and I wasn't happy. I posted my frustration for all the world to see on Facebook - never a smart thing. 

Well, I got more than a few responses. My cousin believes she's a prophet. Every few months she sends me a note detailing a new and ugly thing the Lord has "shown" her while "in the spirit". At first I tried arguing with her, but that didn't work. She said, "when you decide to see the truth, my dear cousin, I'm here." 

Then I tried ignoring my cousin's prophetic ramblings, but they got louder. She took my silence as proof that satan has control over me.

Sadly, I don't respond well to her prophecies and platitudes. I'm easily frustrated by her.

It's easy to see why non-believers see us as crack-pots and arrogant know-it-all's. We assume we know more than they do. We sometimes gloss over their concerns with religious gobbly-gook when a spiritual answer is not even needed.

I've included a snippet of my Facebook post, and a few of the responses, including those from my cousin. She seems to be making wild assumptions. Among them is her apparent belief that she has the answer to finding joy, but I don't. She also throws in the small fact that someone wants to kill her? What?

We've got to love people. Telling them that the way they're feeling is "not true" is probably not the best approach. Get off the pew, people! Love. Respond. Act.

Me (on Facebook):
Not gonna lie...some days are harder than others. Life has taught me that liars win, cheaters come out on top, thieves never have to pay restitution, a reputation stolen can NEVER be replaced, and there are NO defenders for the strong! Please don't respond with spiritual platitudes. Respond with action! #takingresponsibility
Saturday at 3:30pm · Privacy: 

  • Friend, Friend and Friend like this.

    • Friend:  It sucks when cheaters win.
      Saturday at 3:34pm

    • Friend:  I've told myself before, when I've had moments like this, "I know where I'll end up after death and at least I have a clean conscience when I meet my maker." I hope that isn't a spiritual platitude for you. It's what got me thru the tough time after my divorce when I wanted to sink down to my ex'es level. He seemed to win all the battles with his dirty play.
      Saturday at 3:45pm · 

    • Cousin: 

      This in NOT true! I am a perfect example ... certain people have lied about me but truth prevailed! People who have cheated in my circle have been spanked by Father God! There are people stealing from me right now but I dont care b/c the Lord will deal with them! Family members have tried to ruin my reputation but character and integrity won ... it didnt happen over night but every step towards Jesus has been worth it! There is someone in my life right now who wants to kill me but I refuse to carry a gun b/c God is my Defender and He does protect the strong! When I first became a Christian many said it wouldnt last and they called me a "Holy Roller" but now they call me for prayer ... so God is good ... ALL THE TIME! I know this isnt what you wanted to hear but maybe its what you needed to hear, because I love you and sometimes we just need to be reminded of the TRUTH b/c it sets you free!

      Saturday at 3:53pm ·

    • Me:   I'm expressing what LIFE has taught me. Not God, not the Bible, not Jesus - LIFE. TODAY is a hard day. TODAY is a HARD day. It IS true that there are no defenders for the strong (in my opinion).  I never said I was denying God's truth - I'm talking about LIFE!!!
      Saturday at 4:06pm ·

    • Cousin:  I wish you would let me show you how to find JOY on hard days!
      Saturday at 4:10pm · 

    • Me:   I never said I didn't have joy. I just said today is a hard day. That's all I said. TODAY is a hard day. That's all.
      Saturday at 4:35pm ·

    • Friend:  I love how honest you are about everything you're feeling because I have those rough days sometimes and it's good to see someone so refreshingly honest about things.
      Saturday at 4:38pm ·

    • Me:   THANK YOU!!
      Saturday at 4:39pm ·

    • Friend:   You're welcome. :)
      Saturday at 4:41pm ·

    • Cousin:  Ok, just trying to help!
      Saturday at 4:48pm 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Character Revealed

A friend posted the following quote as his Facebook status today:  "It is impossible to learn anything important about anyone until we get him or her to disagree with us; it is only in contradiction that character is disclosed." Sydney J. Harris

Sydney J. Harris (14 September 1917 - 8 December 1986) was an American journalist for the Chicago Daily News, and the Chicago Sun-Times. But, this isn't about Mr. Harris. This is about disagreements and character.

It is no secret that Christians often use the Bible as an excuse to behave badly. I've written about many a "believer" who manipulates scripture for his or her own nefarious activities. It's shameful.

Pharisaical people are also great at twisting scripture to support their actions when others disagree with them. How great it must be to toss all personal responsibility onto God. You don't like the way I lead my ministry, raise my kids, honor my spouse, treat my neighbor, or do my job? Well, "God led me to do it this way". Who's going to argue with that logic?

It'd be awesome if my employer would let me palm off my responsibilities in that manner. I could not show up for work all week and say, "God spoke to me, and He told me I should take a few days off to refresh, renew, and fellowship with him." Hmmm...I wonder how that would go over with my boss? And yet, I've had Sunday School teachers use that exact excuse for not showing up on Sunday mornings with nary a phone call to cover their shift. And they get away with it!

I'm pretty sure God calls us to honor our commitments. 

Most of us sit in our church pews, bow our heads during prayer, raise our hands during worship, and drop a few bucks in the offering plate. And yet, there are people - brothers and sisters - sitting on the other side of the room with whom we argue and disagree. How we handle those conflicts is a reflection of our character.

The fact that we have misunderstandings and squabbles is a part of the human condition and most often unavoidable. How we deal with discord and strife, however, is a reflection of our character. When we blame God for our junk, we are a poor reflection of God's character. The majority of Christ followers would agree that God is perfect, so how can we blame our imperfection on Him?

It's not okay to use God as a cover for what I lack in personal character and honor. Owning up to my mistakes is hard and painful, but nothing of real value is ever easy. 

Now, let's get off the pew, take personal ownership of our successes AND our failures, and let's take seriously the task of developing strong characters within. Remember, it is in times of disagreement and dissension that our character is disclosed. We aren't fooling anyone. God longs to shine through us.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

When Did I Stop Believing?

When did this happen?

When was it, exactly, that I woke up and realized I could no longer defend "The Church"?

I was raised in a family that went to church every single weekend and at least once during the week. Mom played the piano and Dad operated the soundboard (when he wasn't napping during the sermon). My siblings and I sang, read scripture, and even served as greeters.

As I grew, I began to see and recognize The Church had its flaws. My childhood minister had an affair with the head deacon's wife and they eventually married. Come to think of it - most of my early spiritual leaders were a bit more randy then my naive pre-teen self could ever have imagined. The Church was not immune to scandal and gossip.

Even with its faults, I saw the good and gave grace to the bad. I bought into the bumper sticker mentality that said, Not Perfect, Just Forgiven. I praised the virtues of an almighty God who was powerful enough to create the entire world and everything in it, yet gentle and personal enough to love little ol' me and live in my imperfect heart.

And then - and I don't know exactly when it was - I stopped making excuses for The Church. We are messed up. We don't need to put stickers on the shiny bumper of our brand new SUVs. The whole universe knows we're not perfect. They also believe us to be Pharisaical hypocrites, judgmental bigots, critical homophobes, and crazy loons. 

Do they have a case? Are we those things?

I love The Father. He has rescued my family and me from unimaginable chaos. He delivered us from the prison of a gravely dysfunctional church body.

We've been called to be salt and light. But too much salt kills the flavor and drowns the uniqueness of the very food it's supposed to enhance. So often, I think that's what we think our job is - to smother anyone who believes differently and who acts in opposition to our haughty perceived perfection. 

We've got to knock that crap off!

I'll keep searching for the good, and speaking out against the bad. The Church is broken and I'm not gonna fix it all by myself. I can, however, be salt and light to a world searching and to a church hurting.

Today I choose to get off the pew!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Today's post is from guest blogger, Liz Stoeckel. This is being reposted with the author's permission.

I love, love the film “You’ve Got Mail”. I bet I’ve seen it 20 times! At one point Kathleen Kelly writes to her chat room buddy, NY152, “So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?” I’ve got the opposite issue. So much of the fiction I read reminds me of frightening experiences I’ve actually lived through.

People read books and think, “that doesn’t happen in real life”. I’m here to tell you—yes it does!

I’ve read every one of Nicholas Sparks’ romance laden, tear jerkin’, heart breakin’ novels. Hey, don’t judge me. He rocks. But Sparks’ latest book, “Safe Haven”, is messin’ me up! I’ve lived parts of this story!

The book is about the mysterious and beautiful Katie who appears in a small North Carolina town. Alex is a young widower with two small children. He immediately takes a liking to Miss Katie.

Katie’s past is slowly revealed, and her fictional drama is reminding me of my real-life chronicles. She ran away from her abusive husband. Not only did he hit her and attempt to control her every move, he also used Bible scripture to justify himself.

My ex-husband used the Bible to legitimize his bizarre antics. He wouldn’t go to the grocery story with me because “God hadn’t released” him. He spent hours in front of the television watching Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker because “God directed” him through their show, Praise The Lord. He stayed home and cast demons out of my closet while I was at work, then threw me up against a wall in an attempt to exorcise the devil out of me.

One evening we went to marriage counseling at the home of one of the pastors from our church. We got to the small apartment in Clovis before the pastor and his wife had a chance to get home from the Sunday night service. We sat on the patch of grass in front of the complex—my baby son asleep in my arms.

While we waited there on that muggy summer evening, Terry read scriptures to me. Better to live on the corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife, Proverbs 21:9 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord, Ephesians 5:22. Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting to the Lord, Colossians 3:18. And on and on.

That counseling session did not go as Terry expected. The pastor directed all counsel at my then-husband. He was not being a Godly leader—he wasn’t working and providing for his family, he couldn’t be called the Spiritual head of the home, and he was ignoring the Bible’s instructions to love your wives and do not be harsh to them. (Colossians 3:19)

At the end of our time together that evening, the counselor instructed me to not “use” any of the things said that evening against Terry. In other words, I was not to say, “I told you so!”

On the way home I asked if we could stop for a Sprite soda. Terry went ballistic, saying things like, “The pastor told you not to use his words to get what you want. I suppose you think you can ask me for anything now.” I remember being so terrified that night.

He eventually left Dallas and me at our apartment and he disappeared. I didn’t see him until the next day. Such ugliness.

My former husband has not been the only “Christian” to use the Bible as a weapon of mass destruction. I think I’ve accepted some of the abuse because I sincerely want to “hear” God and honor Him. People often use God as a hammer to beat people into submission.

I’ve written about the associate pastor who told me I was “on a dangerous path” because I asked “Why?” His boss had removed me from a leadership position that I loved and was good at. When I asked why, I was told, “Because I’m in charge.” Don’t ask questions…submit to the will and way of the leader—the man. These could’ve been the instructions of cult leaders like David Koresh or Jim Jones!

It’s not just men who are spiritual bullies – women do it too. Oh, our ways are subtler, but no less wrong. We gossip and call it a “prayer request”. We manipulate and claim to have “heard God” tell us truths He won’t tell you. 

Sunday at church the pastor challenged us. John the Baptist said, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” But Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is here, repent.” In other words, come have a relationship with me and hopefully that relationship leads to change. Real heart reformation rarely happens in the finger pointing, name calling, judgment-rendering call to “REPENT!” (Cue echo sound effect)

I grew up in a very legalistic and spiritually oppressive environment. I grew up believing that it was way more important to act religious than to know Jesus and actually have him as a friend. When I was young I was terrified of breaking the rules because God’s wrath would send me straight to hell.

As a young adult I went to the same kind of legalistic, fire and brimstone “do this” “don’t do that” kind of church. It was what was familiar. If I could change one thing about my past, I’d change what my kids learned about religion when they were little. I hope they one day see a clear picture of who Jesus really is—not the spiritual bully they grew up seeing in others.

Home churches are on the rise today. A friend told me the other day she chooses to forego the traditional church because everyone in the home church has “issues just like me”. It would be more honest to say that people at the home church ADMIT to having issues far more readily than the traditionalists, with their “Repent Now!” mantra.

To the bullies I say, no, I am not “too weak”! I’m the strongest person you’ll ever meet and I’ve survived things most people only read about in novels. No, God did not “tell” you some mean, oppressively religious thing about me. We talk everyday and HE thinks I’m awesome. And no, just because you’re a pastor does not mean you can manipulate and twist my words in order to prove I’m something I’m not. No!!

(You can find more from Liz Stoeckel at