Category Archives: Evangelism

American Christianity and Dementia

During the past couple of years, my family has walked the difficult journey of Dementia with my mother. She has moved rapidly from a healthy alert woman living by herself, to a senior living environment, to assisted living, to memory care, and now to nursing care. Perhaps the thing that is most difficult about the process is knowing that improvement is not going to happen.

I have often wondered what it must be like not knowing who you are or where you are. Forgetting your past and even your identity makes you do things that are totally out of character. A couple of times Mama has slapped one of her caregivers and even used inappropriate language. These are things that are completely unlike who she is and has been her entire life. Most of the time her caregivers speak about her kindness and sweet personality, but those ugly responses have appeared a few times.Dementia

I bring this up because Dementia seems to be an accurate metaphor for the American church. It seems as if the church is experiencing a similar debilitating disease, forgetting who it is and what it’s supposed to be. Let me clarify by stating I’m not referring to the church identified in the Bible as the body of Christ. I’m speaking of the American church—the church that embraced the notion that being a follower of Christ is equivalent to being an American.

It came on almost imperceptibly. For several years, Daddy talked about Mama losing her memory, but since none of us were with her every day we thought he was exaggerating. After he died, and we were more involved with her life, it was obvious she was struggling.

In like fashion, almost imperceptibility, the American church began to lose its identity and history. I’m certainly not qualified to write a history of the American church, but I can offer one example that suggests this might be the case—the issue of abortion.

It wasn’t that long ago, at least in my lifetime, evangelical Christians were not as singularly focused on the issue of abortion. The Roe v. Wade Supreme Court Decision allowing abortions was issued in 1973. Speaking about that decision, W.A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, spoke out in support of the ruling with these words: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” he said, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.” Continue reading

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I’m Embarrassed to be a Christian

I was born a Christian. That’s not a theologically correct statement, but it is a reality. There was never a time in my life when I could not be identified as a Christian. My father was a preacher, and even though I don’t remember, obviously, it’s likely the first place I was taken after birth was to church. That was the only place my parents ever went in those days.

I grew up in the church. There was no such thing as a nursery or a children’s program. I went to “big church,” held in my mother’s arms until I could sit and then I was placed on the pew next to her side. I stayed there until I was old enough to get permission to sit with a friend and his mom, but it was always at church.Embarrassed

I was eight or nine years old when I was baptized into the Christian faith after I made a public profession of faith. However, that experience did nothing to change my life. I had always lived my life as a Christian, so the fact that I was now “official” made no difference.

I was taught, and I memorized scripture. It was pounded deep into my consciousness, and God’s word became the guiding moral code of my life. It continues to be my guide for living to this day.

All my friends were Christians. I had friends at school, of course, but in my younger days, even those school friends went to our church. We didn’t do extracurricular activities that interfered with church plans. I’m not complaining. I had many friends from church, and I still have contact with many of them. I have always been a Christian among Christians.

I’ve worked a few non-Christian jobs over the years, but none of them stuck. Most of my life has been spent working for the church or Christian organizations. Even now, as I’m self-employed, much of my work is focused on Christian stuff. I am most well-known in Christian circles, and most of my friends are Christian, even on Facebook. Continue reading

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Broken: The Life and Times of Erik Daniels

Every person is broken in some way. Most of us get repaired along the way and become functioning contributors to the world. Others are severely broken, and despite the best efforts of family and friends, never are entirely repaired. Erik is the only person I have ever known who was completely broken and never had anyone care enough to help him put his life back together.

I met Erik when he asked me to write a book for him, a “tell-all” book about his life. He was living in hiding, using a fake identity, and facing a death sentence from people who were out to kill him and the doctor who diagnosed him. The 39 years of his life were filled with tragedies and horrors that would have broken most of us.Broken FC

As he told me his story, so I could write his book for him, he provided vivid details of abuse, violence, murder, drugs, and prison sentences. Beginning with a mother who cared nothing for him, a father who abandoned him, a stepfather who abused him, and a grandfather who molested him he became a hardened criminal as a young teenager. In prison, he was mentored by a leader of a hate group and international drug dealer.

Out of prison, his young adult years were spent with drug trafficking and murder. He arrived at a point in his life where his only goal was survival. He became good at surviving, but along the way, he damaged many others.

Although Erik doesn’t sound like the kind of person you want to befriend, after spending hours listening to his story and re-listening to the recordings, we became friends. We never met in person, I have no idea what he looks like. If he were talking in the next room, I would recognize his voice, but I wouldn’t know his face.

His story was painful for him to tell and painful for me to hear. I have tried to tell it for him so you can understand him like I do. He is not a lovable person. But he is a person who can be and needs to be loved.

“Broken” is Erik’s story, but it is more than that. It is my story. Telling the story meant a lot to him. Hearing the story meant a lot to me. I hope that as you read the story, Erik Daniels will impact your life like he has mine.

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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 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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Our Church Adventure Continues

The adventure that Sharon and I began a couple of years ago continued today at a Lutheran church. We have attended Catholic, Methodist, Assembly of God, Presbyterian, Independent, non-Denominational (although not sure the difference between those last two) and of course Baptist churches during that time. In fact, this was the second Lutheran church for us.

The first was somewhat unusual. It is the closest Lutheran congregation to our house, just a few blocks up the street. Although I have studied a great deal about Martin Luther in college and seminary, I knew little of the Lutheran church today. I expected to encounter a formal, liturgical style of worship, which is something I typically enjoy.

However, this particular Lutheran church was no different than any other church we have visited that is enamored with what is known as contemporary worship. It began with the first beat of the worship team. The base was so loud and the pounding so strong that Sharon almost had to leave.jesuscommunion

The most unusual thing that morning was the announcement that the men’s Bible study group would be meeting next week at a nearby brewery. If you attend and pay the twenty dollar entrance fee, you will not only be able to participate in Bible study, you will also receive two pints of their finest brew. That part does sound like something Martin Luther might have enjoyed, but it is not something I have ever encountered in church before.

But the Lutheran church we visited today was nothing like that. It was extremely liturgical, which I had deduced from their website, and I was looking forward to the experience. Although the liturgy was a little different than what I expected that was not the most noticeable thing about our church experience this morning. Continue reading

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Celebrity Preachers

Perhaps you heard about the young pastor recently who preached a twenty-four hour sermon. This was not a case of the Holy Spirit falling upon the preacher and inspiring him to keep at it. It was a planned event. He actually designed and advertised the sermon as a means of promoting his new book. By all accounts, he has been a successful pastor, starting and growing a rather large congregation. He had just finished writing the book and felt like the message would “change lives.” Speaking as a writer who has published a few books myself, I agree that if you do not have something important to say that needs to be heard, don’t bother writing a book. To be honest, when I heard about this twenty-four hour sermon, my first thought was that I am glad I have lived long enough that people have forgotten all the dumb stuff I did in my twenty’s. Hopefully this young man will live long enough as well.

The underlying issue of this whole business is preachers performing some kind of stunt in order to attract attention and draw a crowd. It raises the question of celebrity preachers. The basic definition of celebrity is quite simple. A celebrity is someone who is widely known. We have raised the idea of being a celebrity to new heights. There are magazines, websites, and television programs that exist for the sole purpose of revealing insights about celebrities. preacher

It is a viscous cycle–do something that get’s noticed, appear in a magazine or newspaper, other magazines notice, people follow you around, do something else, everyone notices, get on more magazine covers, do something stupid, one last burst of notoriety, loose all your friends. The amazing thing is that so many folks are striving to be celebrities it is almost like a chosen profession for some – What do you want to be when you grow up? A celebrity!

I do not have a problem with celebrity preachers. The issue that concerns me is preachers who strive to be celebrities without realizing the cost. I think it is safe to say that Billy Graham was a celebrity preacher. He is very well-known all around the world. However, he became famous by preaching. His celebrity was a by-product of his work. I don’t know him personally, but I never felt like he sought out the celebrity status, although he certainly knew how to utilize it. There have been many celebrity preachers throughout history – Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield. It might even be correct to say that Jesus was a celebrity preacher in his day.  Continue reading

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