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.