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.