Saturday, May 31, 2008

I Got Your Cooperation Right Here, Pal...

The Bible in the picture over there is the one I carried to Russia and Latvia on mission trips, in 1997 and 1999. You may notice a lot of writing in it, which I shall explain.

Some years ago, on a mission trip to Nassau, I asked the ladies in a little impromptu Bible study I held, to sign my Bible. I'd been sitting outside while my teen-aged team members did the VBS inside the (unfinished) church building; I suggested to the moms sitting there, that we study Psalm 23, and we did.

Several of the ladies were lost when they'd brought their children to the VBS, but were saved when they took their kids home!

Praise God; I wanted to track their names so I asked them to sign their names as I didn't have any other paper to write on. That started a custom I still follow, to this day. On the pages you see in the photo, there are signatures from friends in Germany, England, Jamaica, and mostly Russia and Latvia.

I cannot tell you how meaningful it is just to see their names there, and remember the visits with them. I wouldn't take anything for that Bible, literally.

The trips to the old Soviet Union were in cooperation with the Living Word Church, an independent pentecostal church here in Pelham. Their pastor, Truett Murphy, who's seen playing the keyboard (he's the one without the vest, on the right, in the video I've linked below), died in his sleep a few years ago; the church was merged (by pre-arrangement of pastor Truett) into the Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, as their Pelham campus.

IF ... Living Word Church's sole purpose for existence was to get me to Russia (which it wasn't), God nonetheless did a mighty work with the church during its brief life. See .. I was 7-1/2 when WWII ended, and I grew up in fear of Russia (and Russians). In the late 40's, when SAC was formed, I used to lie in bed at night and hear bombers droning high, high over our home near Chicago, and wonder if they were Russian bombers coming to kill me. So ... when we went and worshiped and fellowshipped .. and fell in love with .. Russian believers, it was a thrill for me which, to this day, I cannot fully describe.

We seem to have a tough time cooperating with other Southern Baptists, depending what baptisms they insist on in their church, what they think about Calvin and his concepts, how they pray, who baptized them, whether they call a glass of wine with dinner "sin", who they'll let take communion with them, etc, etc ad nauseum. Yet here we were, two radically different churches, singing God's praises in community services and at Pastors' Conference meetings, irrespective of lots and lots of ecclesiological and perhaps soteriological differences. And if you're wanting to criticize that, folks, forget it.

Cutting to the chase ... I may post more about the trips later ... the video to which I've linked below was taken as we sang in the last evening's services in the Pskov (Russia) Community Center. We'd learned the song "Because We Believe", and had one of FBC's members, Russian by birth, translate it for us.

We had the words in English and Russian on the overhead screen, all the time; you'll see them in the video. But the last time through the chorus, we sang it in Russian.

The results speak for themselves, and I encourage you to watch it to the end. It's a little over 4 minutes long, and I still get goosebumps, and shed tears, when I watch it.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Easy Believism .. Round THREE??

Yeah .. I didn't know it, either, but then some more thoughts came crashing in....

Oh well. So here goes: We cherish the concept of salvation by faith alone, without the necessity of works. Last time I heard this preached, the reference was made that the "faith" referred to in James 2:24 wasn't "saving faith" but some other form of self-reliance on one's own merits. So I looked up the word and found that the word "faith" there is pistis; persuasion, i.e. credence; moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), especially reliance upon Christ for salvation ...

Sounds like bein' saved, to me.

But I wanted to be thorough, so I checked out "justified", which the verse refers to, which is originally dikaioo, meaning to render just or innocent. Which is what happens to us when we get saved, right?

Anyway, I have trouble getting past "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone." in the NIV, or worse yet, "You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone" in the NAS.

Hmmm. We can argue that all day long, and I certainly agree that NOTHING that I ever DID earned me salvation. And I've heard all the arguments along the lines of "when works don't follow, you really weren't saved by faith", but something about that comes up short for me.

Well it's one way or the other, but I do have to wonder: WHY DON'T WE TELL THIS TO EVERY DROPOUT FROM ACTIVE CHURCH MEMBERSHIP? It ought to be easy to do .. I mean .. we got MILLIONS of'em to choose from, so it seems. Perhaps it is that we don't really care, as long as the numbers are up there and the bills are covered.

There's another thing in the "routinization" of churchiness that bugs me. We have had a "revival" (I shudder to use that term....) at church most every year since we've been in the Baptist church. And every year, we hear 2 Chronicles 7:14 trotted out ... "...if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land", in the NIV. Guaran-doggone-teed to get you a revival and if we don't have one, it's because we didn't do that stuff right.

Right?

I don't think so. Why doesn't anyone ever include the verse immediately PRECEDING that one, in the sermon? I mean, doesn't THIS sound important?

2 Chronicles 7:13: "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people...", again the NIV.

Wow. God is telling us (if the passage DOES apply to us at all, and if it doesn't, then why do we hear it before the supposed "revivals" anyway....) that WHEN God does all that stuff to us ... dryness ... plagues ... starvation ... or the Spiritual equivalent thereof, and we're consequently in a heap of trouble, THEN we'd best turn from our wicked ways. So .. when the revivalist is planning a visit, are we saying that we are poverty-stricken, plague-beset starving people, spiritually speaking? If that were true, shouldn't the pastor have told us the dire straits we were in, say, the month before? Or 6 months? And what does that say about the ability of the the pastor to shepherd a flock successfully, if that's expected to happen to us annually?

And if faith without works is dead, and folks who never show up (except maybe Easter and Christmas) are in a heap of trouble since their works do not evidence saving faith, shouldn't we check out Ezekiel 3:18 where it says (God speaking) "When I say to a wicked man, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood", again the NIV, and be telling all the dropouts they're condemned to death?

Perhaps they .. and us, too .. should be reminded that Jesus Himself said ""Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' Matthew 7:21-23, NIV. Shouldn't THAT gem be shared with the "dropouts", too?

Why aren't we doing that? Don't we believe it?

Maybe "Easy Believism" .. the term .. applies to visible church leaders, as well as invisible church members.

I don't know. If I did, I supposed I'd be rich or famous. But there seem to be a lot of elephants in the sanctuaries, and I think it's time to shape up before we ship out. And I also know this ...(hang on ... here comes my favorite new buzz-phrase):

"Life is a DEATH SENTENCE .. but death is a LIFE sentence."

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

We Cannot Help But Speak........


...Of what we have seen and heard. At least that's what Peter said when the Pharisees told him and John to shut up. It sounded neat when he said it, so I will, too.

A group from our church, and from Living Word Church here in Pelham, went on a mission trip to Russia and Latvia, in 1997. We went back, to Russia, in 1999. Both cases involved our singing at Pastor's conferences and community outreach services.

During the 1999 trip, we went to a maximum security prison in Russia. It was probably as scary a thing as any of us had done up to that time, and three things about the trip stand out in my mind to this day. The first is what you see in the picture above (which is now the picture I use in my Blogger Profile, too). That's me ... the one not in uniform .. and three Russian Prison Guards. Standing there, we were a happy bunch of folks.

We'd gone to the prison to sing and testify to the inmates. When we mentioned that to one of the guards, he said (through our interpreter) "How about US? We enjoy this, too!" It's hard to imagine a "wake-up call" from a Prison Guard in Russia, but that was one.

Bigtime.

The guards were so happy to have us come, in fact, that they'd baked up some cookies and candy treats, whatever they're called in Russia, and insisted we stick around a bit after the show, to fellowship with them at a reception.

It is, to this day, one of the high points in my memory.

They'd also had prisoners in the shop make up some wooden things to bring back home; a breadbox, a magazine rack, etc. We brought them back and they now reside in FBC's display case in the upstairs foyer, along with similar memorabilia .. well, nothing is really very similar to that, particularly in impact .. from other trips.

The party was one of the things that stick most prominently in my mind. Another is the prisoners' demeanor in the show. We sang several numbers, in English .. with one chorus in Russian .. and there were a couple of solos. One was by an attractive young lady in our group.

Now, she really knows how to belt out a tune, and when she was groovin', she was movin'. If she had an evil twin, there's no doubt in my mind the twin would have been a terrific lounge singer. But, despite her attractiveness and her demeanor, there was not one incident that I could see, among the 200+/- inmates, of whispered remarks, elbowing and pointing, nothing. NOTHING. They sat and watched, and applauded enthusiastically when she was finished. I can only imagine what the reaction of inmates here in the states would have been, or for that matter, how differently most church members would've reacted. Yet there, in Russia, in an unimaginably depressing setting, the men acted as model gentlemen.

The last thing really prominent, 9 years later, is shown in the following video. We'd arrived a bit early on the bus, and were sitting outside looking at those foreboding gray walls. Suddenly, without prompting, someone started singing "While You Sing Over Me", that song based on a passage from Zephaniah. Fortunately, I had my video camera on as I'd shot the walls, so I recorded most of the song. A snippet is attached and I hope you can grasp the intensity and meaning that went into that impromptu concert.

I know we did.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Easy Believism ...Round Two

I didn't call the last one Round One, as I didn't know there was a Round Two.. And there wasn't, until some more ideas came crashing in to interrupt my train of thought.

One of the few times I've ever "delivered a message" in a church .. I didn't call it preaching but Pastor Calvin Mathews at Red Hills Baptist in Jamaica said it was .. I dealt with this subject in an indirect way. The message concerned why I though we were in the end times, and what I thought people ought to do about it.

I mentioned the resurrection thing and the importance of believing that with all your heart, first. I did that because that seems to be the hardest thing to believe about Him. Mankind has come a long way, but I don't think we're anywhere NEAR raising someone the third day after they die.

Then I focused on the other parts of Romans 10:9:

"That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Romans 10:9, NIV

I got to looking at the words. "Confess" means to agree with God, specifically... " homologeo", covenant, acknowledge .." . Now, I don't know a lot about the law, but I did study a bit of it in some insurance courses, and I know that, to have a contract .. which a covenant is .. there must be a "meeting of the minds". We have to be saying the same things, and meaning the same things.

OK. But then I looked up "Lord" and found... "kurios" .. from supremacy ... supreme in authority, controller ....

At least that's what Strong's told me.

So, if my High School Theology is right, we must agree with God, in HIS terms, that Jesus is our Supreme Authority, in order to be saved. It must literally be true, that Jesus IS our Lord .. our Supreme Authority .. or He isn't Lord in our lives.

What I asked the folks at Red Hills was this: How much of your life can you withhold from His control .. His Lordship, and still have it be true, that He IS your Supreme Authority? How about........

  • Assembling together for certain purposes.....
  • Your bank account.......
  • Your language.....
  • Your job....
  • Your home life, spouse, kids.....

I don't think there's anything. Nothing at all. You have to yield control of it all.

ALL.

I assure you I didn't deliver that simple message with any dynamism or eloquence. But something in it must have spoken to the people, as the invitation went on for about an hour. And this was at a church of 125-150 people who hear good preaching every week, and are a terrific bunch of Christians who always treat us just exactly as you'd expect devoted believers to treat their brothers and sisters.

Surrendering yourself thusly to Jesus is a pretty big decision, and not to be taken lightly. And I wonder why someone can surrender thusly and then fall by the wayside.

So. Maybe we HAVE made it too "easy".

ps: I wondered as we left, if that was some kind of "fluke" ... that there was some pent-up need for people to deal with God. Maybe there was, but I think God stepped in and affirmed what I'd said, a few hours later. As we were sitting around the (rented) house that afternoon, the phone rang. Neal Blackwelder answered it and said something like "Yes .. it was ... he's right here . do you want to talk to him?". It was the lady in the other half of the home we were renting. They'd always left the house before we got up, and didn't come home until after dark, so we'd never seen them. What she said was that she and her husband had visited Red Hills that morning, and had heard me speak. They called around some folks they knew and finally found us and called. She then said something on the order of "We listened to what you said, and have come to the conclusion that, if we're not pointing people to Jesus, our lives don't count."

WOW. I told her that MUST be direct from God, as I hadn't said anything NEAR like that, that morning.

AND NOW, as Paul Harvey says, the rest of the story. When we rented the house a week before, I met with the owner, paid him for the 10 days, and then witnessed to him. He was not receptive, so I asked if he might like to talk to someone from the Red Hills Church. He said "yes" and we left it at that.

SO.... when the lady next door said what she did, I said to her "Well ... I have your first assignment for you". She perked up and said "What is it?" I said "Talk to your landlord". She said she would do that.

God surely honored what I said that morning ... well ... it all came from Him, anyway, so I guess that makes sense. But it sure ruined my taste for "Easy Believism", seeing folks in the church, and even next door to our temporary home, react so positively to a challenging message.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Easy Believism ..... STEP RIGHT UP!

I said something the other day, without even thinking about it, that really rang a bell with me. It was this: "Salvation needs to be sought & bought, not told & sold." I don't know how theologically sound that is, but I've always been taught we should be wary of "picking green apples"; that is, selling someone on salvation when they may just be going along to get along. So ... here's my rationale:

When I look at Acts, and see the sermon Peter preached immediately after the big commotion when the Holy Ghost came upon them (I don't think I've ever seen a big ruckus in a church when the Holy Spirit came upon people....), I note that Peter simply told them the historical truth and the simple facts about Jesus, and the crowd's responsibility for His demise. The crowd's response was to ask what they must do to be saved.

Seems like it was a seller's market ... that is, the buyers wanted some of what Pete and friends had. A couple of random thoughts about that:

First, that relieves me of a lot of responsibility. I can't save anyone, anyway, and we usually say things along those lines, but act as though it's our task to "tell and sell" salvation. And it isn't.

M-W Online defines witness as: "attestation of a fact or event; testimony ... one that gives evidence; specifically ... one who testifies in a cause or before a judicial tribunal ... one asked to be present at a transaction so as to be able to testify to its having taken place ... one who has personal knowledge of something..."

Hmmm .. that sounds simple. A witness is supposed to tell what he's seen. But the church seems to have heaped on that, the requirement that we know the "plan of salvation" and be able to "lead someone to the Lord".

We're supposed to go sell the whole package.

Secondly, I don't think salvation is supposed to be "Told & Sold". Told by someone witnessing and Sold via leading questions, etc. Rather, I think the transaction should be more like "Sought & Bought". Sought, by someone to whom God has said "You will surely die", and Bought by surrendering your life to Jesus. Sort of exchanging your life for His.

In our zeal to see the Kingdom expand, we seem to have lost sight of the fact that the battle for souls is NOT ours. It's the Lord's. Our responsibility is to go and tell. To tell of what we have seen and heard (as Paul put it, anyway). Too often the "what we have seen and heard" comes down to a rehearsed, pre-prescribed (can you say "I had a life-changing experience", anyone?) "testimony", that rings hollow in the ears of keen observers. And we can ALL be involved in that process of telling others, from caring for seekers' children, to preaching the word, to telling folks, to teaching Bible to believers. It doesn't matter if we've memorized a "plan".

It's a body, remember, that's doing the work. And if we're saved, we're part of that body.

We've also lost sight of the fact that the biblical pattern seems to be tell the story, and then people respond. And I don't see a lot of prompted responses in the biblical tales, (think .. "is there any reason you wouldn't want to receive this gift of eternal life, right now?) either. We don't seem to want to wait for God to move in someone's heart, and will use all the right questions to lead them to the "right answers". I'm just not that comfortable with all that.

I'm reminded of a good friend who knew me before Jesus got hold of me, who later saw me testify to experiences on the mission field. He thought something like "If God got THAT guy there must be something to this religion thing", started going to church, and was subsequently saved. He saw something he wanted, and God moved in his heart to produced fruit that we seem to want to take credit for.

God even dropped a hint in the Old Testament. In Ezekiel, He tells us:

"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked man, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself." Ezekiel 3:17-19, (NIV)

I don't know how theologians interpret that, but it seems to me to mean that when GOD speaks to someone of their condemnation, we are under orders to tell them the remedy. It doesn't say we're supposed to tell them ourselves, and in fact, it may be that in so doing, we lead people astray. We cause them to say the words without any conviction of the Holy Ghost.

Now I don't really have any answer for the question of how to discern that, other than the thought that God honors folks who lean on Him for revelation rather than trying to simply reason something out. When we ordain someone as a deacon, they're supposed to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. We can probably spot the wisdom, but how can we discern the Holy Spirit? Are we to simply assume that if someone says they're a believer, that they're "full of the Holy Spirit?" I think that might explain why I've seen churches ordain as new deacons:

  • A man who said "We've never what you call "tithed", but if I'm elected deacon, I guess we'll have to start", and;
  • A man who admitted he'd had marital problems for 17 years, but things had seemed OK for several months (he divorced not long after), and;
  • A man who, while a deacon, dated a girl despite her father's specific instructions not to see him.

It really does puzzle me that the church organization which has the self-professed "most biblical" soteriology, theology, and ecclesiology, has something north of 50% of their claimed membership walk the aisle, join on our terms (they don't get to dictate those), and then fall by the wayside. Is THAT how Jesus would have us build the church?

I don't think so.

The need for an Ascol/Barber/Yarnell resolution on integrity in membership .. whatever you call it .. tells me something is drastically wrong in the camp. And it's been wrong for a long time, and nobody wants to really call it what it is.

I would, if I knew.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Baptist Identity? WHAT Baptist Identity?

There seems to be a lot of stuff flying around about discerning what the "Baptist Identity" is, and to define it so we can tell it when we see it. I honestly don't understand why people are trying to do that.

Unless I DO understand it, in which case I REALLY don't understand it. Uhhh .. unless I understand THAT, too, which would be really sad.

Really.

Before I joined the SBC, I figured Baptists were folks who believed the Bible, thought it was inerrant, believed that Baptism by immersion was the appropriate response to salvation, and that was pretty much it. But then, I got a copy of the BF&M ... the 1963, not the commie pinko 2000 version ... and read it. And, after reading it, I came to the conclusion that I'd been pretty much right. Well, other than the fact that, what the BF&M didn't say, shifted the matter into a whole different gear ... one of much, much more responsibility on the believer to know scripture and to grasp the realities of salvation by faith. And also one which called for more of a personal relationship with a Living Lord. Much more than I'd ever heard of, as a Presbyterian or Methodist.

So .. what's going on now? Maybe some Suits in the Towers have finally figured out that what I knew as a Presbyterian and Methodist, about being a Baptist, is all most Baptists know about being Baptist. And they may be right about that. I've asked a lot of church members about the BF&M and have YET to have anyone in the church tell me they'd read it. A few said they'd "seen it" and many more said they'd "heard about it".

When I read the Old Testament, I see a nation that mostly strayed away from God ans was called back to repentance and right standing by God's chosen Prophets, Priests, etc. Well, as the New Testament Israel of sorts (Check Galatians 3:29 for definition), maybe we're like that now. Maybe most folks aren't ever going to really "get with it" in the church. Maybe leadership has gotten so accustomed to "believer/priests" who don't act like it, that we've reverted to more of an Old Testament model of the church, than a New Testament model of the Body of Christ.

So maybe leaders do have to step up and refine and re-define and narrow the guidelines to bring the Body back where they think it ought to be. I don't know, but I figure there's a good chance that the church never did look like what the "definers" have in mind that it should look like now.

Things DO look different in a rear view mirror, you know.

In Dr. Paige Patterson's recent response to the flap about the declining numbers, he said two things that really resonated with me. One was this: "We lie to ourselves and to the world to count people as "members" who no longer have anything to do with our churches."

WOW. That's enough to explain a WHOLE lot of things, right there. Has anybody read this before: Proverbs 12:22: Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight. (KJV)

If we really believe the Bible, then we have to believe that our representation of 16.5 million members is an abomination to the Lord. And how much blessing do you really expect Him to pour out on a group that, for two years, has refused to even admit, much less address, a purposeful misrepresentation that God describes as an "abomination"?

The other thing Dr. Patterson said might be responsible for the decline in numbers, was "anemic preaching in our pulpits". If we do in fact have anemic preaching, might that account for people who join our churches according to our rules, and then, for the most part, drop out? Could it be that such anemic preaching might also bring the church membership to look pretty much like unchurched folks (i.e: divorce rates, etc)? Somehow, some way or another, folks don't seem to be getting the message.

As an old insurance salesman, I learned one point that might be apropos here: when someone says "The price is too high", they're really saying "The value is too low". In other words, if they don't want to pay the price of a life of devoted service to Jesus, if they don't want to tithe, if they don't want to take part in the work of the church, if they don't want to get into the word as they should, what they're really saying is ... I don't see the value! And where else can the cause of that be, than what Dr. Patterson referred to as "anemic preaching"?

Where else?

I don't know ... maybe things do need to change. Maybe parameters to need to be narrowed. Maybe we need to toss out the Calvinists. Maybe we do need to disfellowship folks who speak in tongues.

Maybe we need to do away with Baptist identity altogether.

If we do, that'd sure be the way to do it.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

We Do Keep Building Them

Temples.

OK, maybe not like this one. Not a lot of gold and silver, but plenty of polished marble, fine woods, beautiful carpet, perfect red bricks, etc. The best, of course, as that'll show God's glory.

Or will it? I mean, how could anything man-made reflect the glory of the God Who spoke the universe into existence, and Whose glory is only minimally described in the staggering description He gave in His response to Job and his buddies after He'd (apparently) had enough of their rationalizations.

Check Job 38 & ff. for details.

I'm writing this about 10:20 on Tuesday morning, and had planned to do some other stuff this morning. Other things were on my agenda, but God interrupted me a few minutes ago on the back deck, while Peg and I were having that last cup of morning coffee. What He pointed out to me was something like this....

For starters. I'd read an article .. actually a blog post by Jason Kearney this morning .. and it impressed me enough to print it out to read to my class next Sunday. And no, I'm not speaking against Sunday School, but I always want to challenge my students to see everything they do as part of their faith life, and their service to God, and not just something they do. In this case, go to Sunday School in the hour before the church "worship service".

Anyway, the article got me to thinking about buildings. I reflected that, in the Old Testament, God had Moses build a portable facility in which Moses could set up a Holy of Holies as they wandered around in the desert, so God could come down and meet with them via the high priest. It needed to be portable as God hadn't deeded them the land they were supposed to occupy.

Now, after they took title to Jerusalem and surrounding territory, God had the Israelites build a temple, including a permanent Holy of Holies, so God could come meet with them there. That figures, since they were now in their homeland.

Along comes Jesus and establishes the Master Plan for the redemption of (insert your favorite adjective, depending on whether you're a calvinist, arminian, or whatever) mankind. And, in the process, He drops a HUGE clue as to the nature of true worship, and the real nature of what the church is to be like, when He tells the woman at the well that one of these days, starting right then (apparently), they're going to worship God NOT in the physicality of God's creation (the mountains) OR in ANYTHING man has created (the temple) but rather in Spirit .. and in truth.

Some time after Jesus had left, come back briefly, and then ascended that penultimate time, God even tore down the temple which Jesus referred to as, apparently, having outlived its usefulness. And I don't see anything in the New Testament saying the church ever built another temple in which to meet. Which, of course, we do all the time.

I have heard that nobody ever wants to buy a drill bit .. that thing you stick into the end of a drill so you can drill holes. Nobody wants drills .. what they want is holes. They only buy the bit so they can make the holes. I suppose the same rationale applies to lawn mowers; who wants a noisy machine that you have to feed, care for, and then spend weekends fouling the air with, when what you really want is a manicured lawn? If we could figure out an economical way to do that by finger-snapping, we'd never buy a mower.

The bible tells us that, as the Body of Christ, we're supposed to do some things. Some of those things can only be done collectively, in a practical sense. Assembling ourselves together, prompting one another to love and good works, preaching and hearing the Word of God, things like that. So I guess we need a place to meet, but I have to wonder if that means we are supposed to spend millions to build a huge building, more to maintain it, so we can meet there. And I also wonder if thousands of us have to meet in one place to do it.

I've heard it said that the most under-used facilities, in the world, are churches. Schools meet six or eight hours a day, five days a week, for nine months a year. Churches meet for maybe six hours on Sunday, one or two on Wednesday, and that's pretty much it in most cases. Well, there's ongoing activity there for a few people, but that's mostly aimed at keeping the machine rolling, so to speak. And, when that topic (underutilization) is raised, the usual answer (that I've heard, anyway) is "OK, let's use the building some more". So, using the building .. since we invested so much in it .. becomes the purpose of some new plans? Isn't that backwards? Us becoming a servant of the building?

Buildings are like those drill bits and lawn mowers. We don't need them. What we need is a place to meet. However many of us need to meet together at one time. And I'm with Les Puryear on this ... we don't need to have thousands there to meet the way they did in the New Testament.

I have heard it said that, when a church builds their own building, the ministry turns inward. They take their eyes off the community and put it on the space inside the four walls. And I really think that's largely true. And maybe, if so, it accounts for the fact that the church today looks startlingly little like the one I see in Acts. Both in structure, and certainly in impact.

Isn't impact what it's about, in the first place? If so, I agree with Max Lucado (I think it was) in his statement that the ABC's of church growth .. the measure of our effectiveness .. are now Attendance, Buildings, and Collections. He said they'd almost assumed the status of a new trinity of sorts.

I do know this: the way we .. particularly Southern Baptists .. have been doing it has produced a body (16.5 million ,we still keep claiming) of which we cannot find 2/3 of the people, and in which 15 or 20% of the people do 80 or 85% of the work and give that much of the money, and over half do and give nothing at all.

NOTHING.

What's our goal, in the SBC? To have 25 million members, of which 8 million attend, and we cannot even locate 13 million? If it is, all we need to is keep on keepin' on. We'll get there.

God forbid.

And He may just do that.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Some Things Outlive Us

That somewhat fuzzy item in the picture is a coat hanger. A very special coat hanger.

I was rummaging around in the closet this morning, looking for a shirt to wear to my dentist appointment, and I stumbled across the hanger. It's not long on macho, being three-tone yellow and white, and fuzzy. But it's special nonetheless.

It started life as a run-of-the-mill plastic hanger, the kind you buy in bunches at Wal Mart. But it was originally bought by my Mother umpteen years ago, and she subsequently took colored knitting thread and wrapped it meticulously with the knitting stuff. She even made the little faux blossom you see.

She took pride to get it all just right. Then she gave it, and maybe a dozen others, to us.

Mom died 11 years ago this summer. But this little piece of work lives on, and I think of her every time I get something from the closet, and see the hangers.

In the spring of 1970, on a Sunday, I had what you'd call an epiphany. I was sitting on the steps of a run-down cabin in a campground in Southern Indiana, in the midst of Shamgar training. I had an assignment and it was spring, so I sat outside, there in the woods. I looked through the trees, across a valley, to a picturesque hillside dotted with cattle. I heard the occasional moo, and also a church bell ringing somewhere. What really made the moment was what God showed me there.

As I looked about, I noticed that every trace of man I could see, needed repair. The telephone pole was splitting and dirty, the wooden steps I was sitting on needed repair (as did the door, the screens, etc), the concrete of the short sidewalk was crumbling. Everything.

But, God also showed me that everything He made without our help, was beautiful. Trees were just filling with leaves, animals scurried about, the hills, the valley, the sunshine, even the cows ... all were alive, beautiful, regenerating and being renewed.

I thank God for all He's given us. we have a lovely home, part of which I just finished painting. There's a 20X28 screened-in deck out back, which my sons and I built ourselves. There are a couple pretty nice cars out there, and the house is full of the stuff you'd expect. Stuff that represents, in one form or another, the results of our work over the last 49 years.

I appreciate all that stuff. It's nice. And, just like the fuzzy hanger, it's an expression of someone's love for me. As the hanger shows me Mom's love, every time I think of it, so what we have reminds me of God's love for me. Or it should, every time I think of it. But at the same time, I know that 100 years from now, little (if any) of it will still be here, or have been of much eternal consequence.

We're prone to say "Why me?" when something bad happens to us. But I wonder if we ever ask "Why me?" when something good happens. I've talked this over with my SS class .. I posed the questions as to whether they knew anyone smarter, or harder working, or "better", than they, but who had less than they did. Most said yes, they did. I then told them that seemed, to me, to be evidence that what they had, what they'd accomplished, etc, was evidence of God's blessing in their lives.

I wonder if we see it that way.

Sorry .. chased a rabbit there....

Anyway, it's good to stop and take a look at our lives and our work. And to wonder how much of it will survive the cut, so to speak. How much of it, really, will be laid up in heaven. And, conversely, how much will be like the steps and the telephone pole, and the sidewalk, and will have decayed, crumbled, and rotted away.

I heard a poem, recited by Dick Capin (one of the founders of Capin-Crouse) in perhaps 1969. Dick said it drove his life, and it said simply "Only one life, t'will soon be past; only what's done for Christ will last".

My mom's hanger lives on after her. It shows me the love she had for her family, and reminds me also of the love she showed when she took me to Vacation Bible School when I was a young lad. That led, in the early 1940's, to my trusting Jesus to take me to heaven when I died.

In the end, Mom's little hanger may have some eternal consequences, too. Maybe God will find a way to use these thoughts in my life, for His glory.

Hope so.

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