Category Archives: Jesus

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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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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Hanging On to a Prize

While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?”  Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”   Mark 5:35-36

One of the best experiences is living in a neighborhood where there are lots of other kids to play with. At age eleven, our family moved to Thornton, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. It was a nice middle-class community filled with kids. On top of the fact that there was always someone to play with was the added bonus that the Lily boys, who lived two doors down, were avid baseball fans.

It is impossible to calculate the number of hours we spent playing imaginary games of wiffle ball and home run derby.  The best arrangement was to make our front sidewalk home plate and the home run marker was the big elm tree in the Carabello’s front yard. If you made solid contact with the plastic ball, it could be lifted over the top branches for a score. field-goal

There was an added mystique about the Carabello house. It was the residence of the neighborhood hero, Bob Carabello. He was only a few years older than other kids but he was a regular on the high school baseball team. That automatically qualified him as someone special.

It was an exciting day when Bob qualified for his driver’s license. Shortly afterward he got his first car, a Chevrolet Corvair (notice I said Corvair, not a Corvette). As I recall, the Corvair was a box shaped car that looked like it had a tumor growing in the middle. The engine was in the back which automatically qualified it as a novelty. It has been listed by Time Magazine as one of the worst cars of all time. In spite of the unpalatable nature of the vehicle, at least it was a car, so we were all envious.  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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Second Amendment or Second Commandment

If you did a survey among Americans who claim to be Christians, I’m confident more of them could identify the Second Amendment than could identify Jesus’ Second Commandment.

What, you didn’t realize Jesus had a list of commandments?

Jesus was quite persistent in resisting those who would make Him a legalist. They brought a woman to Him, directly from an adulterous bed, hoping to make Him choose legalism and obey the law. When asked why He allowed His disciples to harvest grain on the Sabbath, He moved beyond the reading of the law to the meaning of the law. After being called out for not washing His hands before a meal according to the rule of law, Jesus reminded His host that cleanliness comes from the heart, not from the wash basin.

Finally, Jesus was cornered by a lawyer. If you want to find a true legalist look for the nearest lawyer—that is what they do. The lawyer asked Jesus to identify the greatest law of Moses. He wanted to know what Jesus thought was the most important law.2nd ammendment

Since this man was an expert on the law, he already had an opinion on this issue. He was either expecting Jesus to confirm his own opinion, or to offer an opposing position that they could argue.

Jesus provided an answer that would be quite agreeable to the lawyer—love God with all your being. But He didn’t stop there, saying there is a second commandment of equal value. The second commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

That’s tough!

I think it means when my neighbor is hungry I should be just as diligent in feeding him as I am in feeding myself when I’m hungry.

I think it means when my neighbor is cold I should make every effort to keep him as warm as I do myself on a winter night.

I think it means when my neighbor is hurting because of a loss (a death, injury, or relationship) I should sit down and grieve with him.

I think it means when my neighbor has screwed up something I should be helping to make things right just like I want others to help me make things right.

I think it means when my neighbor is mean and angry I should forgive him just like I want to be forgiven.

I think it means when my neighbor has stupid opinions I should be gentle and understanding like I need others to treat me when I have stupid opinions.

I think it means I want the best for my neighbor just like I want the best for myself.

Jesus’ second commandment is a hard one, but it actually makes His first commandment visible. In other words, how does anyone know if I actually love God? I can tell you that I do, but I might be lying, perhaps even lying to myself. But in tying these two commandments together, Jesus gave us a way to show that we truly love God by revealing how much we love our neighbor.

Do you understand what that means? It means I cannot claim to love God unless I love my neighbor. If I don’t care about my neighbor’s hunger, or his lack of clothing, or his hurting, or his need for help and forgiveness then I don’t really love God.

Jesus’ Second Commandment might be one of the most important things He said.

It is sad that so many will wrap themselves in the protection of the Second Amendment yet fail to comprehend the Second Commandment. If you read them carefully they are almost opposite in meaning.

The Second Amendment is designed to allow me to protect myself, while the Second Commandment is designed to allow me to give myself to others.

The Second Amendment gives me license to kill someone who wants to steal my stuff, and the Second Commandment gives me license to give my stuff to anyone who needs it.

The Second Amendment focuses on my need to take care of myself (and my family), but the Second Commandment focuses my attention on the needs of others.

It causes me to wonder what would happen if Christians (just those who actually follow Jesus) were as adamant about demanding their Second Commandment rights as they are about the Second Amendment rights. Perhaps we would stop hating and killing one another and start loving and taking care of one another. Or more importantly, at least for me anyway, what would it mean if I took Jesus’ Second Commandment more seriously? How would that change my life? Perhaps it’s time to find out.

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