The Myth of Tragedy

This week, a Congressman from Louisiana was shot by a deranged man (how else can you describe someone who did what he did). The heavily armed gunman stalked a group or Republicans practicing for a baseball game in an apparent attempt to make an obvious political comment. It was a tragedy in every sense of the word.

Shortly after the incident occurred, we began hearing that perhaps this tragedy will help bring us all together. A few thousand additional people showed up at the baseball game a few nights later, and a significant amount of money was raised, more than in the past. News stories were filled with calls for the need to come together.Tragedy

There has been a great deal of moaning about the dysfunction in politics and the sharp divide throughout the nation. Whenever a tragedy of any kind occurs, there is the notion that it will bring us back together.

That is a myth. Tragedies do not unify the country.

I realize you are going to remind me of the horrific tragedy of 9-11 and how the entire country came together. It appears we were united as a result, and all of us made the same commitment to make sure this never happens again.

However, I don’t think it was the tragedy that united us because that’s not what normally happens after a tragedy. Think about other tragedies that have occurred in the recent past.

  • Twenty young children were shot and killed at Sandy Hook.
  • A nightclub in Orlando was shot up, and forty-nine people died, and another fifty-eight were wounded.
  • Five police officers were killed and nine others wounded by a sniper in Dallas.

The full list is much longer. However, none of these events brought the country together. In fact, they did more to highlight our divide than they did to heal our separation. After each one of these incidents, people became more and more entrenched in their opinions about the causes and solutions for these events.

It seems to me that tragedies are ultimately divisive. When a tragedy occurs, it is important to assess blame, and we tend to place the blame on the basis of our preconceived notions. For example, when someone shoots and kills a group of people what do we do? We usually initiate a debate over gun control. When a police officer kills a young black man, what is the result? Often it is a race riot, and police supporters and minority spokespersons shout at each other while the rest of us pick sides.

If tragedies don’t unite us, what is the explanation for what happened after the horror of 9-11? We were united. We all agreed and were willing to accept tight restrictions on air travel. All of us were more watchful when we entered stadiums or gathered in large groups. We didn’t protest when they asked to search our bags. We all agreed that such measures were necessary.

However, it was not the tragedy that brought us together. It was the need for survival. We didn’t mind being searched before getting on a plane because we wanted to survive. Ok, go through my purse before allowing me into the stadium, because I don’t want to die.

The reason a heavily-armed crazy man shooting at a flock of congressmen doesn’t unite us is because it is not a threat to our survival. A police officer carelessly shooting a black teenager doesn’t unite us because most of us aren’t black, so we’re not worried about survival. It pains us to see dozens of deaths in a nightclub, but it doesn’t unite us because few of us will ever be seen in a gay nightclub. It’s not a threat to our survival.

We need to stop buying into the myth that someday a tragedy is going to unite our country. The sooner we accept this truth, the quicker we will get about the hard work, roll up our sleeves, sit down at the table with one another, and find the solutions to our divisions.

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When My Fist Meets Your Chin

I had a friend in High School named Rocco Bomareto. I’m not kidding, that was his real name. He was Italian, like many others in my high school, but I don’t think his family belonged to the Mafia even though it would have been a great name for a local mob boss. Rocco and I shared a locker for a couple of years, and we were an unlikely couple. I was a skinny kid in a wheelchair, and he was the state heavyweight champion wrestler for two years.

We had a new kid show up one year at school. You remember how it is with new kids—they have to make their way, so they often do strange things. This kid came in as a tough guy, wanting everyone to know he was not to be messed with. It only took a few days for us to realize the new kid needed to be put in his place, so Rocco took it upon himself to do so.

Rocco climbed on top of a covered walkway between two buildings. Three or four boys on the ground took the news kid’s motorcycle and lifted it up to Rocco who reached down with one arm and pulled it up to the roof. There it sat for the rest of the day. I don’t know how he got it down; we all went home after school.punch

Looking back now I can say that Rocco was wrong in putting the motorcycle on the roof. It was not a very caring thing to do, although it was kinda funny at the time. At the same time, the new kid should not have been surprised that something like this happened. After all, if you attend a school with the state heavyweight champion wrestler named Rocco, it is probably a terrible mistake to try and be the tough guy.

When I was in school, they taught us about the interconnectedness between freedom and responsibility. It was drilled into us that we could not continue to enjoy freedom if we were unwilling to accept responsibility. It seems that most of us understood that and we continued to enjoy the freedom of being an American.

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Why Are You Giving Money to Your Church?

It is probably safe to say that money is the most thought about subject. We spend an inordinate amount of time and energy thinking about how to get money, what to do with the money we have, how to survive without money, and myriads of other questions. Money is not only the “root of all evil,” but also it is one of the factors that control our lives. If money guides much of our lives as individuals, then it is equally correct to say that money guides much of the life of our churches.

I’ve never done a survey, but I suspect the biggest complaint people have about the church centers around the issue of money. You’ve heard people say, “All that church wants is my money.” We frequently hear stories about church leaders abusing money given by members and living extravagant lifestyles.

I have an extensive background in studying and teaching biblical stewardship. Even though my views on the subject changed over the years, the importance of the relationship between the church and money is something I still strive to understand.church and money

The ability of a church to raise funds is strictly dependent upon the intended use of the money. For example, in the matter of capital-fund raising, everyone in the business knows it is easier to raise money for a new sanctuary than for a classroom building. The most challenging capital fund project for raising money is debt elimination. It seems that paying off debt doesn’t excite church folks nearly as much as getting a new worship center.

When it comes to raising money for other needs, missions tops the list. Inspiring people to give to share the Gospel, especially in the far corners of the world, is not that difficult. Another good fund-raising project is children. When I was a pastor if we had children who needed money to attend camp all we had to do was make an announcement, and the money would be quickly provided.

Once again I will pose the question of what your church would look like if you took money out of the equation. In other words, if your church had no money, zero income, what would happen?

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The Unholy Use of Money

An entirely unsurprising announcement came out this week that a mega church in the Dallas area has decided to escrow their mission money. I’m not going to identify the church, but if you type these four words into Google it will pop up quickly – Dallas, church, escrow, money. The reason cited by the pastor is that he felt disrespected. That’s correct, a leader for the Southern Baptist Convention said something he didn’t agree with, so he has instructed his church to hang onto the one million dollars that would have probably been given this year.

At first thought, it sounds like a reasonable decision. After all, why should we support someone who disrespects us, or give to an organization that doesn’t share our values and opinions?unholy-money

What causes me concern is the use of the word “escrow.” The dictionary definition is “a bond, deed, or other document kept in the custody of a third party, taking effect only when a specified condition has been fulfilled.” What this church is doing by escrowing money they had originally intended to give to the Southern Baptist Convention is to allow someone else to hold the money until the issue has been resolved. (I seriously doubt if the money actually goes anywhere other than the church’s bank account.)

In this case, it appears the use of the term “escrow” suggests a threat—if you don’t change we are going to punish you by withholding our money. This money, a significant amount, is being used as a financial club to get their way.

I don’t have any problem if this church decides the Southern Baptist Convention does not represent your values and beliefs and then simply stops the support. Quit giving—plain and simple. However, once they use the term “escrow,” it suggests the money will still be there whenever the Southern Baptist Convention sees things your way.

Don’t try to force a mission agency to do things your way. Go find someone else you can support. Find someone who shares your values and is already doing the things you desire.

The concept of escrowing money intended for the Southern Baptist Convention has been a favorite among churches for decades as they have sought to gain and control power. The big irony for me is pastors get extremely upset whenever church members do the same thing to them. Have a significant contributor to the church walk up to the pastor after a Sunday sermon and say, “Pastor, I didn’t appreciate what you said this morning. I’m not going to give another offering until you apologize.” We would learn quickly if that pastor believed what he preached.

Using money to manipulate people is not right. Money is a tool to help others, to provide for the needs of others. It is not to be a source of power and control. That is exactly why money is so dangerous.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24)

It is next to impossible for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven. It makes me wonder if the same can be said about a rich church.

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Why I Quit Going to Church

 

During the past few years, Sharon and I have visited numerous churches. We were counting just the other day and realized we have been to at least two each of Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Assembly of God, Catholic, and non-denominational, in addition to countless Baptist churches. However, for the last two years, more often than not, most weeks find us not attending any church.

It is correct to say that we have quit going to church.

To be honest, I never thought I would make such a statement. I have been in church from the beginning. Somewhere in the Bible, it says, “In the beginning God created church and Terry was there.”Church storm.jpg

My father was a pastor, so our family life was centered on church. As I grew up, unlike many “preacher’s kids,” I never rebelled and left the church. I stayed with it—through high school, college, and my earliest working days. When I returned to college a few years later, it was to prepare for the ministry. It was time for me to become the preacher.

After seminary, I almost quit church. No church was interested in me being their pastor, and I was discouraged. After a short time, I was discovered and put back to work and once again the church was the center of my world.

Not true any longer.

Although I quit going to church, my relationship with Jesus is as strong as ever. I still pray, read the Bible, study scripture, share my faith, and jump on opportunities for ministry as much as ever. My level of trust in God, dependence upon God, and recognition of God’s presence has not waned.

When this first started happening, I thought there was something wrong with me. Even though I did not feel guilty for staying home on Sunday, I thought I should—at least a little guilt. But I didn’t. I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. I thought that at least I must be a rare person—an active church member who drops out and doesn’t feel guilt.

However, I came to realize that I am not rare. There are many of us, perhaps even millions of us. I have found a bunch who have traveled a similar path and ended up at the same location. These are people who love Jesus, who have been church leaders or active members and have quit the church.

The real question is why. Why did this happen? Why did I quit going to church? Continue reading

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For Those Who Don’t Make Resolutions

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, primarily because I’m not great at planning ahead. I used to drive my boss crazy when he asked what I was planning to do at a particular meeting. My reply was usually something like, “Planning is what you do on the way to the meeting.”

Since I don’t do resolutions, I don’t have any suggestions for resolutions you should make. However, I am good at giving advice. Consequently, I have some advice that will serve you well in the coming year. Since I am getting old, you can consider it advice from an old man who has seen much of life already.

  1. Learn to laugh more—especially at yourself. In other words, don’t take life, or yourself, so seriously. Lighten up and enjoy life. If you can truly laugh at yourself, you will not be so offended when someone else laughs at you (and they will).
  2. Don’t get upset or offended at every little thing. To be honest, there are few things that are worth our anger.resolutions
  3. You will survive every near-death experience except the last one. In other words, stop worrying about dying. It will happen someday. Prepare for it, if you have not already, and then get on with living.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be willing to question everything, even your basic religious beliefs. If you beliefs are valid, they will withstand the inquisition.
  5. Live with the awareness that the past world was probably not as good as the present and the present world is not as good as the future. Simply put; things usually improve over time.
  6. Trust God in every circumstance–even when He doesn’t seem trustworthy and especially when it doesn’t make sense.
  7. Strive to be loving toward others, especially those who are unlike you. Jesus understood this when He told us to love our enemies. By the way, this is also a good way to reduce the number of enemies in your life.
  8. Realize that you might be wrong before assuming that someone else is wrong.
  9. It’s ok to disagree, but it’s not ok to be mean and ugly.
  10. Don’t allow traditions to prevent you from appreciating new experiences.
  11. If you try and fail, it’s not the end of the world. Just try again.
  12. Make sure you have someone in your life who will pick you up when you fall. By the way, this person is usually found when you are busy picking up
  13. Understand that it would be an incredibly boring world if everyone was just like you.

I’m going to end my list at thirteen for two reasons. First, I have run out of ideas, and second, I want to demonstrate that I’m not superstitious.

The past year has been a good one for me. In fact, even though I have had some challenges in my life, I can honestly say that every year of my life has been good. That is not because of anything I have done, but because God has been especially good to me. Most of all I pray that you will see what He is doing in your life and experience the joy of walking with Him, even when it seems you can’t walk any further.

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The Human History of Building Fences

There are only two things you need to know about Luigi – he lived in a small seaside village, and he was a painter. Not a house painter but an artist. He spent many days sitting on the hill outside his cottage, gazing into the ocean, and painting what he saw. One day it all came together for Luigi, and he painted the most amazing landscape ever seen.

Being proud of his accomplishment, Luigi hung the painting in the front room of his small house and invited his neighbors to view his work. They did, and they were amazed. The picture looked as real as if they were gazing out the back window toward the real ocean. They couldn’t keep quiet and kept inviting friends to see the amazing painting. It was apparent that Luigi could not keep the painting in his small front room, so he wrapped it up and carried it into town to the local museum.artist

The curator was not interested in Luigi at first, but once the painting was unwrapped, he immediately grabbed it and hung it in the prime spot in the museum. Soon there were long lines of people waiting to see the painting. But there was a problem. The painting was so real that people were tempted to touch it just to make sure they weren’t looking out a window or that the water wasn’t real.

The curator couldn’t have people touching the artwork, so he positioned a small fence to keep people back. Yet the attraction was so great that many would stretch across the fence and touch it just to make sure. So he moved the fence back a few feet but still folks would climb on top of the fence and stretch just to touch. The curator had to build a taller fence, and eventually, he put a clear Plexiglas shield in front of the painting. Eventually, he even put a cover over the top to make sure people wouldn’t try to throw a coin or something else into the picture of the ocean.

Now people could not actually see the painting, so the curator printed brochures that described the painting and provided it for the people to read as they stood in line. The painting was just as beautiful as ever, and people came to the museum from all over the land, but all they ever saw was a nice brochure and a good fence. Continue reading

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