Category Archives: Family

Don’t Label Me a Heretic Until You Give This Some Thought

I wrote the following words in September of 2010, nearly nine years ago. Since that time, my path has led me away from what you might call the traditional church and to involvement with a home church. When I discovered this article, I thought it was interesting because it provides the seed that germinated into what I do today with church.

I have been in church all my life. My father was a pastor, and back in the early days, the church nursery was in the sanctuary, on my mother’s lap. The first church building, very early in my memory, was in a Quonset hut that doubled as a mechanic’s garage during the week. In case you don’t know, a Quonset hut was developed by the Navy during World War II as a prefabricated structure that could be erected by unskilled labor. After the war, the surplus buildings were sold for $1,000 each, and many are still standing to this day. If you remember the barracks buildings on the old Gomer Pyle television show, you have seen a Quonset hut.

I was taught from the beginning that church was a special thing, a very good thing, regardless of the meeting place. Church has always been where I found my friends. It has always been church folks who have most cared for me, prayed for me, provided for my needs, and helped me to grow up, and continue to help me grow in my faith. I met my wife at church and together we have spent countless hours serving Jesus by serving the church.wyliffe

For many years I was the pastor of a church, and for many years I have worked as a church consultant. I have been in numerous churches of all types and sizes. Just a couple of weeks ago I met a young seminary student named Jeremiah from Colorado. When I asked about his home church, he spoke of one that my parents had helped to start several years before he was even born. I have preached in his home church and told him that I knew their building originally was constructed as a duplex and later transformed into a church meeting place. It is a small world sometimes.

I have worshipped with churches that met in storefronts, former restaurants, school auditoriums, a daycare center, homes, tents, a former shopping mall (I’m not kidding), a high rise office building, the back of a print shop, and just about any type of structure imaginable. Christians have been very creative, and that is a good thing. I have also worshipped in beautiful, elaborate structures, filled with Christian symbols and stained glass windows. I have preached in large auditoriums where most folks watched me on a screen, and just recently I preached in a church that had no need for a sound system of any kind. Once I even preached to more than 7,000 people in a convention center.

I have worked with churches that were pastor-led, deacon-led, family-led, and poorly led. I have been immediately challenged about a point I made in a sermon, thrown out of a funeral, had a chicken slammed on my desk in the pastor’s office, listened to name calling and accusations during committee meetings, lied to, threatened, asked to referee a business meeting and a bunch of other stuff I can’t even remember. I have even left a church service early because I was afraid they were going to drag me up front and try to heal me. Just about the time I think I have seen everything at church, something else happens.

Through it all and in spite of it all – I love the church. I have given my life to the church, and it saddens me to ever see a church struggle. I cannot comprehend how disgruntled pastors or angry church members can viciously destroy a church.

I say all of the aforementioned things because I have a lingering question in my mind about the church that I think is important. First, I will state the question and then I will explain why I am asking. The question – should we invite lost people to church?

Your first reaction will be the same as mine, “Of course we should, that is what it is about.” That is what we have always been taught. The church has been given the Great Commission, to go into the entire world and preach the Gospel. Since I can first remember, I have understood the importance of inviting my lost friends to attend church with me. If they come, they will hear about Jesus and get saved. Even if I can’t muster the courage to bear a personal witness, at least I can invite them to church with me on Sunday. Church is where people go in order to be saved.

But, is that the way it should be? When the church gathers on Sunday morning, is the purpose to provide an evangelistic event?

That seems to be the way it is in most evangelical churches. I know some preachers who refuse to close a service without offering an invitation for salvation, even if nothing in the entire gathering led up to such an invitation. The reason this has become an issue for me is I have been doing considerable thinking about the way we do church nowadays. There are some trends in the church that disturb me, and probably you. Especially disconcerting is the move toward making church entertaining. Simultaneously, we have emphasized the importance of making church a comfortable place that meets everyone’s needs. For example, the idea of having church without state-of-the-art childcare is considered heresy.

Don’t bail out on me yet because I want to offer a thought. We all would agree theologically that the church consists of believers, followers of Christ. We have been told from childhood days that the church is not a building, it is people. When believers get together, it is essentially a gathering of the church, or in modern terminology – a church service. As believers, we desire to gather with other believers for the purpose of encouragement, prayer, strengthening, admonition, and just because we like to be with people we love.

I frequently wish the New Testament recorded more of the history of the early church, so I wonder what the gatherings of those first believers were like. They were a persecuted lot, so they often met in secret. To attend one of these meetings meant that you were serious about your commitment to Christ. They probably did not bring non-believers. First, why would they want to come and risk potential persecution? Second, it was probably not possible to trust unbelievers. Evangelism most likely took place in their homes, markets, street corners, and other gathering places.

Consequently, when the church (believers) gathered, it was for the purpose of worship, sharing the Lord’s Supper, instruction, fellowship, giving an offering (I had to get that one in there based on 1 Corinthians 16:2), and encouragement. If it was a gathering of believers, there was no need for evangelism. If I am correct that it would have been rare for non-believers to attend a church gathering, there was no need for evangelism. If that is the purpose for the gathering of the church, why do we structure our current church gatherings around the purpose of evangelism?

Before you go off screaming and accusing me of being some type of liberal heretic, let me hasten to add that I believe evangelism is an extremely important, even crucial task of the church. My question concerns the evangelism that occurs when the church gathers for what we normally call “worship,” the term we generally use to describe our Sunday morning gatherings. Is that the place for evangelism? If it is, when do believers get to experience the things that are only for believers – worship, Lord’s Supper, instruction, fellowship, giving an offering, and encouragement (see previous paragraph).

Perhaps this is why we have “worship wars” and worry about being offensive by passing the offering plate. I am not suggesting that we do not have evangelistic gatherings. However, they will probably look much different than gathering as the church. At such a rally it would be appropriate to be entertaining, relevant, non-offensive, motivating, exciting, and appealing. We could blanket zip codes with postcards, advertise with slick campaigns, preach sexy sermons, and all those things that are not necessary for the existing church family.

The church gathers because we are the church. Sometimes we will want to conduct special evangelistic events. However, we will probably discover that evangelism is more effective in our homes, markets, street corners, and other gathering places (again, see previous paragraph).

The concern I have for the church is that we are building these huge churches (I don’t know, but there are probably 25 mega-churches within Sunday morning driving distance of my house), but the number of people actually attending church each week is decreasing. Go figure! If it is true that true believers will gather with other believers and the number of folks gathering together is decreasing, our evangelism is not working. We are probably just reshuffling the deck and losing cards in the process.

It is hard, probably impossible, to plan a worship experience that is meaningful for believers and also appealing to non-believers. It is stressful as a pastor to create a sermon that speaks to the saved and lost at the same time. It is unlikely that we need to communicate the same things to folks who have different priorities, different destinies, and different lords. It may be time to rethink how we are doing this whole thing; at least I am going to continue thinking about it myself.

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The War on Christmas is Over

The U.S. war with Japan came to an abrupt end when two powerful bombs were dropped on the island nation, and thousands were killed. It was unmistakable that the only alternative to surrender was death. Some wars end that way—with a big bang. Other times, wars just kind of fizzle out. People look around and realize there is no longer any reason to fight.

There has been an enormous amount of talk the past few years about the War on Christmas. To be totally honest, the only ones I hear talking about it are a few sour headed Christians who seem to be upset that the rest of the world doesn’t celebrate Christ at Christmas. Apparently, Happy Holidays don’t belong in their world.War on Christmas

I started to think about this so-called “War on Christmas,” and it dawned on me that the war is already over. I looked around and paid attention to the evidence, and sure enough, it appears the Christians have lost the war.

As an observer of culture, this is my list of evidence that Christians have lost the War on Christmas:

  1. Christmas Eve services at church begin as early as 1:00, or in some cases this year, on Sunday the 23rd. If I’m not mistaken, the word “eve” refers to the evening before an event. Anything that happens before 6:00 pm on the 24th is not an evening event. Of course, the reason we start so early is that people have too much other stuff to do on Christmas Eve—Santa is on the way. A Christmas Eve service in the early afternoon is like an Easter Sunday service on Saturday—oh wait, some already do that as well.
  2. The highlight of Christmas is not Christ but giving gifts to one another. Use all the metaphorical language you like, but the bottom line is that giving gifts to one another at Christmas is not a representation of God’s gift to us.
  3. Jesus is an extremely minor part of the way we do Christmas. Most of our attention is given to family, decorations, food, gifts, shopping, and all the other stuff that fills our malls our family rooms.
  4. Church Christmas programs are over in early December because people don’t have time as Christmas day draws near.

If you think that Christians haven’t already lost the War on Christmas, you are like the Japanese soldiers found hiding in island caves two decades after Hiroshima. You haven’t heard the news that we surrendered years ago. Before you post that next meme about the War on Christmas, make sure Christ is more than an afterthought during your celebration.

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The Silence of God

During my first few years of college, my father changed jobs. He went from being pastor of a local church to what was called, an “Associational Missionary.” Old-time Baptists will know what that means. For the rest of you, he was essentially a resource person for the Denomination to help churches in the state of Colorado.

He moved his office to the basement of our house. This meant bookshelves filled with interesting books, a virtual playground for a young man who had always loved to read. I distinctly remember one of the books that captured my fascination. It was a book of sermons by a German pastor, Helmut Theileke, titled, “The Silence of God.” Theileke was a pastor during the war, and the book was a collection of sermons preached to a congregation trying to survive Allied bombing.the_silence_of_god

The sermons are thoughtful, and I’ve re-read the book several times (I see it on a self as I write these words). However, I think it’s the title that made the book stick in my mind. In the five decades since I first read that book, I have heard the silence of God many times. If I’m honest, the silence of God is more common than the voice of God. In fact, even when He speaks, it’s often little more than a whisper.

I’ve heard the silence of God several times recently.

Yesterday afternoon we drove the few blocks to the nursing home where my mother lives. She’s soon to be ninety-three years old. After breaking her hip a year ago, she only gets around via a wheelchair. Other than that, her health is remarkable for a woman her age. If only her mind were as healthy, then I would not be writing about the silence of God.

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The Southern Baptist Convention: One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

For the majority of my life, I considered myself a Southern Baptist. I was proud to be so identified, and even spent a great deal of my time and energy promoting the work of the SBC. That ended a few years back, so if you want to claim that I’m not qualified to speak on this subject, I’m willing to accept your criticism. But, I will speak anyway.

SWBTS

This morning, I saw the announcement that the Trustees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary finished what they started (and should have finished) last week—terminating their relationship with Paige Patterson. To be honest, this should have been done a decade ago since the incident that precipitated their action occurred that long ago. Any objective observer who didn’t have the need for Patterson’s tenacity to fight other unrelated battles knew that his actions and attitude disqualified him for the position.

However, it took ten years for the Trustees to see the need to nudge him aside, and then another, even more, disturbing revelation, to realize he needed to be gone entirely. It was a slow, hesitant step, but at least it was a step forward. Probably too little too late but at least a move in the right direction.

Then two steps back.

A sizable number of Southern Baptist leaders were accepting of the Trustees’ original move to nudge Patterson aside and even celebrated that he would be allowed to hang around and enjoy the seminary’s generosity. Talk about being tone deaf. Many failed to recognize that his attitude and actions were a problem. It’s like they were saying, “Ok, in order to hold off bad publicity, we’ll make it look like we solved a problem even though we don’t really think it’s a problem.”

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect some of these are the same people who think Donald Trump’s sexual dalliances don’t matter and that the women involved in the #metoo movement should just shut up. Their continued support for Patterson was one step back for the SBC.

Step number two was taken by Al Mohler. Mohler appeared as the new President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville about 25 years ago—a few years after I graduated. Since that time, he has become one of the leading voices for the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Breathe

My daughter-in-law, Jaclyn, recommended that Sharon and I watch a movie last weekend. I usually take her recommendations with a grain of salt because she’s a big fan of “Grey’s Anatomy” but it sounded like a good story, so Saturday afternoon we took the plunge. The movie is titled “Breathe” and is the story of Robin Cavendish.

He’s not a well-known historical character but was of interest to me for obvious reasons. He was paralyzed by polio from the neck down at the age of 28 and required the assistance of a respirator for every breath for the remainder of his life. His experience resonated with mine in significant ways and it was a painful movie to watch.

He was a pioneer in many ways in dealing with his condition. He lived outside the hospital against his doctor’s wishes. He developed a means of getting out of bed and traveling with a breathing machine. He accomplished a great deal against all expectations and odds.

I had polio as an infant, age one. I avoided an iron lung by a matter of a few days when my condition leveled out. I was almost paralyzed entirely, but I was able to regain the use of my body to a limited extent. I always relied on a wheelchair and crutches to get around. As I’ve aged, my strength and mobility have decreased.Breathe

One of the qualities of Cavendish was his refusal to let others discourage him. Everything he wanted to do he was told that it was not possible. I frequently faced the same. Every school I ever attended, from grade school through graduate school, I was the first student they had ever had in a wheelchair. When I sensed God’s call to be a church pastor, I was told countless times it would never happen.

However, I was taught that anything was possible. I remember my father forbid me from using the word “can’t.” He always insisted that I try with the promise that he would pick me up if I fell. One of the few times I remember Daddy being angry was when a man from the Cub Scouts sat in our living room and told my parents I couldn’t be a cub scout because of the wheelchair.

When I was a pastor, we had a man make a presentation to our church and ask people to join him on a mission trip to Brazil. As I thanked him for coming, I expressed that I thought some of our folks would go with him. He quickly asked if I was going. When I told him that I couldn’t go, he asked if I had prayed about it. Not until then. We did, and a few months later Sharon and I found ourselves in Rio de Janerio. I had to keep learning not to say, “I can’t.”

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A Challenging Mother’s Day

We’re coming up on Mother’s Day once again. It’s true, as you get older, time flies. It seems that it’s only been a year since we last celebrated Mother’s Day. Anyway, I’ve been pondering about mothers. It’s a subject that should interest all of us, since all of us have, or had, a mother.

I have mixed feelings about my own mother this year. I have written before how she has been a special person in my life (see it here), and I will always be grateful for what she has done for me over the years. But it’s been a hard year for Mama.

She has been slowly (sometimes it seems quite rapid) losing touch with reality for several years. Consequently, she has moved from independent living to assisted living to memory care and finally a nursing home over the past few years. My brothers and sister have all been supportive of taking care of her needs, and my youngest brother has gone the extra mile of tending to her day-to-day requirements.Mama and Me

However, today was kind of a new low. Sharon and I went to the nursing home where she lives (a very nice place) to wish her happy Mother’s Day and give her a flower. She is typically in the TV room slumped over and sleeping with her head on a table. I think they try to keep her out of bed.

Today she was at the nurses’ station sleeping in her wheelchair. The nurse was joking with her apparently trying to liven her up. We greeted Mama and took her to her room so we could visit.

She was not happy to see us and kept asking why we were there. I tried to hand her the flower vase, but she wasn’t interested. In the past, I’ve always felt like she knew who I was even if she couldn’t call me by name. But this day was different. For the first time, I asked her if she knew who I was.

She replied, sounding quizzical, “You’re my old man.”

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The Greatest Christmas Gift

Leaving church on Sunday morning with a new outlook on life was not a common experience for Walter. He normally ended the hour of worship with a growling stomach and acute anxiety that he had missed the opening kickoff. But, today was different. Something the preacher said captured his attention.

He didn’t mind going to church, even though he would not classify himself as a steadfast believer. Walter had no doubts about the existence of God, and he rarely disagreed with anything spoken from the pulpit; he just had other interests. He enjoyed church because he loved sitting next to Sally. She was the love of his life, the apple of his eye, and every other cliché you can think of. More often than not, they would even hold hands for a good portion of the hour.

The amazing thing of Walter’s strong affection for Sally is that they were not young teenagers in love. Walter and Sally had been married for forty-two years. Yet, he was just as anxious to sit at her side as he had been when they first met as college freshmen. The years had brought them closer. In fact, since Walter retired six months ago, they spent most of their time together, and he had never been happier.Christmas-Gift

It was the first Sunday of Advent, a time that Walter always enjoyed. He loved everything about Christmas, especially the gifts. For Walter, giving a present was a process, including shopping, wrapping, hiding, and opening. His greatest joy every Christmas morning was to watch expressions as family and friends opened the gift he meticulously picked for them. For Walter, the first Sunday of Advent was the signal that Christmas was almost here.

The sermon by Rev. Wilson was about the gift of God that we celebrate at Christmas. He pounded home the notion that God’s gift was the greatest ever. He defined that gift as loving those who are unlovable. Rev. Wilson was not known for his oratory skills, but whenever he worked at it, he could be as convincing as any car salesman pushing an extended warranty.

Whatever he said on Sunday, he certainly captured Walter’s attention. In spite of the fact that Walter had been attending church for decades and that he had heard hundreds of Christmas sermons, something about the words of Rev. Wilson captured his interest. Like a child entering a toy store, Walter’s mind was racing with possibilities.

He decided that Christmas was about loving the unlovable. This was revolutionary to Walter. He had spent his whole life giving to those he loved. He could not remember ever giving a present to someone who was unlovable. He had never even given it a moment’s thought.

Walter and Sally put on their coats as they walked toward the church foyer. Leaving church was always tedious for Walter because Sally liked to stop and visit with too many people. She was accustomed to Walter tugging on her sleeve like a bored child. On this Sunday, Walter walked off and left Sally. He was in a hurry to speak to Rev. Wilson.

Waiting his turn in line with the complimenters and complainers, Walter finally reached the preacher. Walter stretched out with both arms and grabbed the Reverend’s hand.

“Pastor, you really spoke to me today,” he blurted out as he shook the minister’s hand like a rag doll.

“Thank you, Walter,” said Rev. Wilson in a tentative voice, “I was just trying to say what God laid on my heart.” He was somewhat stunned because he did not remember his words ever having an impact on Walter before.

Almost before Rev. Wilson finished his sentence, Walter said, “Pastor, I’ve got an idea about Christmas. You convinced me that Christmas is about loving the unlovable. That’s what I am going to do!”

Not sure what Walter had in mind, Rev. Wilson said, “That’s good to hear Walter. It’s always good to know that someone is listening when I preach.”

“Pastor, this is my plan. I’m going to find the most unlovable person in town, and I’m going to love them. That will be my Christmas present to them.”

You could still hear some skepticism, or perhaps it was simply reservation in Rev. Wilson’s voice, “That’s great Walter. I’ll be glad to help. Just let me know what I can do.”

Walter didn’t hear the last few words because he had already turned to look for Sally. She was finishing her conversation as Walter seized her arm and escorted her out the front door toward the parking lot.

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