Good News? Really?

As I have been working on my sermon series inspired by Caleb Kaltenbach’s book Messy Grace, I have really been challenged on a personal level. I have read the book twice now (the first time was for a review) and as I interact with the material again I am really turning things over in my mind. The primary focus of the book is Christians dealing with the LGBT community but I think Caleb’s conclusions would benefit us in our relationships with others as well. On page 58 he writes the following:

The gospel isn’t about who God is against. It’s about who God is for.

I sat here at my desk and read those two short sentences over and over because I believe they speak a truth that many of us in the Church have forgotten. It is a truth that I sometimes forget. Yesterday I wrote about the Pope and some of the things he said on his recent visit to the United States. If you read my post then you may remember me saying that one of the dangers we face (as Christians) is elevating our desire (need) to be right above our command to love. Once again, I believe it is crucial that we do not abandon apologetics and solid theology, but we can’t be so consumed with our pursuit of them that we forget our calling. We are to point people to Jesus.

The word gospel means good news. The Greek word it is translated from is εὐαγγέλιον (euangélion). The more I think about that, the more I wonder, “Am I really telling people the good news?” When I preach, teach, or just talk about Jesus to others, am I really giving them the good news? There are many times when our evangelistic (same Greek word) efforts consist of us telling others what they are doing wrong and how those things will lead them to hell. Oh, we include the fact that Jesus died for their sins and has made it possible for them to escape eternal damnation, but we seem to focus on the bad part of the good news. I don’t know if that makes sense to you or not, but when I thought about how I have approached evangelism in the past, it hit me like ton of bricks.

I used to think that it was a preacher’s job to go out and tell people that they were going to hell unless they changed the way they were living. So much of the preaching that I heard focused on the fact that we are all sinners and doomed to hell. Now don’t misunderstand me, I do believe that we are born with a sinful nature. I do believe that there is a hell. I do believe that Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead to save us. I believe all of that. I believe it is important for us to convey that. However, I believe that many of us have made hell the most important part of the equation. Love and grace and mercy get mentioned in passing, but the bulk of the message is “you’re a sinner and you’re going to hell.”

There HAS to be a balance between TRUTH and GRACE. Caleb says this over and over again in the book. We can’t sacrifice one for the other. We have to tell people about sin and its consequences but we have to show them grace at the same time. Caleb says that the fine line between the two is where we love. It’s where we get our hands dirty. The truth is, we cannot change a single soul. Only the Holy Spirit can convict people of sin. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to transform lives. I can’t force anyone to believe in Jesus and choose to follow him. What I can do is show them how he has changed me. I think I do that when I love people just as they are. Once again, I’m not saying that we never address sin. We have to. However, if we don’t begin with love, then I think we are damaging our efforts.

How can we honestly tell people that Jesus loves them if we aren’t willing to love them? Where is the good news in that? Can we see how absurd that is? Do we really believe that we can say, “Hey, Jesus loves you and he died for you,” when our attitudes and actions tell the person that we hate them or that we’re disgusted by them? Jesus reached out and touched those who were untouchable. He loved those who were unlovable. THAT is the good news. He never told people to remain in sin, in fact, he said quite the opposite, but he was willing to touch them as they were and let them experience grace. That is our challenge. We’re not going to get it right 100% of the time, but I believe that we should strive to. Think about it the next time you’re talking with someone about Jesus. Listen to what you’re saying. Are you really giving them the Good News?

Grace and peace

Pontifical Prolixness

There has been much said in the press and on social media about the Pope. He spent last week traveling and speaking and concluded his visit in Philadelphia on Sunday. Given the nature of his position, you can imagine that there have been wonderful things said and written about him. You can also imagine the amount of negative things shared by those who are skeptical or completely opposed to him. I am not Roman Catholic so I obviously don’t share the deep devotion of those who are a part of that group. However, I am not one who believes he is a minion of Satan and is ushering in the Apocalypse. I admit that I do have some concerns with portions of Roman Catholic theology and I myself would never convert. I can say the same for a lot of Protestant Christian groups as well. My intent today is not to critique the Pope or Roman Catholicism. I am not writing this to condemn or worship him either. What I would like to do is share a couple of quotes from him and then share my opinions on those. That is my ONLY purpose for this post. Perhaps we can have a discussion about all of those other things at a later time.

A Christianity which “does” little in practice, while incessantly “explaining” its teachings, is dangerously unbalanced. I would even say that it is stuck in a vicious circle. (Full text HERE)

As a pastor, I spend a lot of time studying. I also spend quite a bit of time preparing lessons and sermons. I think it is important for us to be able to understand and explain just what it is we believe. Lessons and sermons are part of that and I believe that I should prepare myself so that I can effectively communicate truth. However, I think it is more important for people to see me living out those truths in the way I live my life. It takes more than head knowledge. When I read the Gospels I see Jesus consistently rebuking the religious leaders of his day. When it came to all the laws and rules, they had it all figured it all. They were professional worshipers who were able to explain it all, down the smallest of details. The problem was that it didn’t mean anything to them. They had no compassion or mercy. Jesus told them that they looked fine on the outside but were dead and rotten on the outside.

I think one of the dangers that all Christians face is the idea that we must devote all of our time trying to logically defend and debate every one who opposes us. I’m not saying that we should abandon apologetics, in fact, many of us should take it more seriously. We need to know why we believe what we believe. We should help others understand what we believe. The danger arises when we elevate apologetics over sharing the love of Jesus. What good does it do to have a solid knowledge of doctrinal issues if you never actually go out into the world and get your hands dirty? We should teach people the truth. That’s part of the whole “make disciples” thing in Matthew 28. We can’t do that until we actually meet people and get to know them. Which do you think is more effective, telling someone that Jesus loves them or showing them?

Faith makes us open to the quiet presence of God at every moment of our lives, in every person and in every situation. (Full text HERE)

I really like this one. The original context was in a talk about the homeless. One of the things that has impressed me about Francis is that he seems to have genuine concern for the oppressed. When he first became Pope he shocked a lot of people by eschewing some of the things that his predecessors did. He has consistently reached out to those who are less fortunate. One of the most touching things he did was back in November 2013 when he stopped and embraced a severely disfigured man. HERE is a story about that encounter.

Pope Francis

I think one of the reasons it made such an impact on me (and millions of others) is because it looked exactly like something that Jesus would do. I immediately thought of the leper in Matthew 8. Jesus healed him but we sometimes overlook the obvious. He touched him. He wasn’t afraid or embarrassed to reach out and embrace someone who was untouchable. I don’t believe that Francis is perfect. I know that I don’t agree with him on everything, even some of the big theological stuff. As I said earlier, this post isn’t to discuss the office of Pope. It is to recognize that this guy, while serving in an extremely important role, has not been afraid to say and do things that look remarkably like Jesus. If nothing else, he has got me thinking about how I NEED to do more of that in my own life.

I don’t know how you feel about Pope Francis. I have some good friends who are Roman Catholic so I know they think highly of him. I have other friends who, well, they don’t. I am not trying to convince either group that they are right or wrong. Jesus said that you can judge a tree by its fruit. Right now that is all I am doing. Perhaps we need to have those other discussions. I am definitely open to them. I simply want to suggest that we listen to what the man says. Perhaps we all can find the truth that is there.

Grace and peace

Music Monday #1

I have scoured the internet looking for ideas on how to keep daily blogging creative and interesting. Many of the websites I’ve come across suggest having scheduled topics for each day of the week. On one hand, I really like that because I know what I’m going to be writing about. On the other, it could possibly become restrictive and boring. I realize that it’s my blog and I can always bend the rules when I feel like it. With that being said, I want to give it a shot, at least for Mondays. I typically take Mondays off from any kind of work there is. There are always exceptions but for the most part, I goof off and try to relax. I once considered making Monday the day that I look back on the weekend and discuss all that happened, but if I am writing seven days a week (which I currently am) then I already share a lot of the things that I am dealing with. So, I thought it might cool to devote Mondays to discussing music. Given that I like music from just about every style, this gives me a wide array of things to address.

I like singing hymns. I grew up singing them every Sunday. Up until about fifteen ago, the majority of the songs we sang in church were hymns. We did sing gospel songs and choruses but for the most, it was hymns. The church I consider my home church in North Carolina slowly transitioned from mostly hymns to a blended format to nearly all modern songs. While I don’t believe that there is anything inherently wrong with that, it does make me sad. I know that a lot of churches have made similar transitions with the hope of maintaining the interest of younger members. I know that there are generational gaps in the church when it comes to things like music. I agree that we need to aware of the shifts that happen and do our best to include all generations. That’s what makes me sad about this.

I think it is important for those of us who are older to accept newer music (even if we don’t like it) if it is theologically sound and it glorifies God. There are a lot of GREAT modern songs out there that fit the bill. 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman and Christ Is Risen by Matt Maher are just two that come to mind. However, there are a bunch of modern songs that are just shallow and silly. I don’t think we should add them no matter how good they sound. I also agree that they are many older songs (including some of our cherished hymns) that have bad theology and we shouldn’t sing them either. The lyrics of the songs should come first, regardless of what style it is.

So, I think the older folks should be open minded and give some of these newer songs a shot. However, I think we do ourselves (and the younger folks) a disservice when we completely abandon older songs. Some of them are powerful and speak incredible truth and our kids (and grandkids) should know them as well. There have been several modern worship leaders who have made an effort to reintroduce some of these hymns. Often times they are faithful the originals and simply play them in their own style. I think that’s great. Sometimes, though, they take the lyrics and write new melodies or arrangements. Sometimes they write new verses or tack their own stuff on to them. While I don’t believe there is anything wrong with that either, it doesn’t always work. I could name several that just absolutely massacred the original song. I will refrain from doing that because I want to assume that the intent was pure but the execution failed.

There have been quite a few that I do like. Casting Crowns took a song I grew up singing (One Day!) and put it to their own music. The result (Glorious Day) is quite good. It took me a while to adjust to the new melody but once I did, I really liked it. I still prefer the original, but I have absolutely no problem with Casting Crowns’ reinterpretation.

I want to close by sharing two songs. The first is the Casting Crowns song and the other is a hymn that we sang at Granville this past weekend. We sang it from the hymnal with the piano, but this shows that you can play a traditional hymn in such a way that it isn’t dead or boring.

Grace and peace

Lazy Sunday Night

This will be a short one. It has been a long day. I finished my sermon series on Romans today. That’s a plus. Next week I start a series inspired by Caleb Kaltenbach’s Messy Grace book. I am really looking forward to it.

We had our annual hayride and hot dog dinner tonight. There were people this year than last year, so that’s a plus as well. We piled into a trailer that was loaded with hay bales and then Dale pulled us with one of his tractors. It was a great night for it.

I guess there is supposed to be some super blood moon lunar eclipse tonight. I’m not even trying to see it. It’s too cloudy tonight. I’ll check out the photos and videos tomorrow.

I’m laying here, halfway watching the Denver and Detroit football game. It’s boring right now so I may go ahead and go to bed. If someone doesn’t score soon, I’m definitely checking out.

I guess that’s about it. I will try to write something substantial tomorrow. Until then, grace and peace.

S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y NIGHT!

It’s a bit late for me to be sitting down and writing. It will probably be Sunday by the time most of you who regularly check in actually read this. Today was one of those days where I honestly intended to do something and before I realized it, the entire day had slipped away. It happens to all of us. I got off to a slow start because I slept in. I slept in because I got in late last night after attending the deans meeting down at Sylvan Hills Camp. It’s all good. I have posted up here even later than this in the past but I try not to make a habit of it. My title for this is post is just me being a bit goofy. Many of you may know the reference but just in case you don’t, here’s a little video for clarification.

Yes, I just shared a video from the Bay City Rollers. For those of you who don’t know who they were, they were a Scottish pop band who had a hit here in America late in 1975 with the song I just shared. They had achieved success in Great Britain and did have other hits but Saturday Night was their only #1 song here in America. They are often lambasted as being a bubblegum group so their music isn’t taken very seriously. There were many groups that fell into this category and the majority of them only had one hit, if even that. They typically were producer controlled groups that manufactured pop songs that targeted pre-teen and teen audiences. While many of them were never taken seriously as legitimate musicians, it is undeniable that the songs they churned out were catchy and fun to listen to.

The “classic” period of bubblegum pop began in the late Sixties and only lasted a few years. There was a very brief resurgence in the mid to late Seventies with guys like Leif Garrett, Shaun Cassidy, and the aforementioned Bay City Rollers. Other groups that are often lumped into this category are The Archies, The Ohio Express, The Cowsills, The Partridge Family, and the appropriately named 1910 Fruitgum Company. More “serious” acts like Tommy James & The Shondells, The Sweet, and ABBA had some songs that might even be considered bubblegum. Probably one of the most famous groups to arise during this time of Prefab Pop was The Monkees.

I confess, I love a lot of this music and for good reason. There are some legitimately good songs that are nothing more than sugary, non-filling pop music. They sound good to the ears and I enjoy listening to them. Like any genre of music, there are some clunkers too. As I have been sitting here listening to a lot of these songs, I couldn’t help but think about spiritual bubblegum. There are quite a few preachers out there who deliver some extremely catchy sermons. They sound good and our ears perk up when we hear them. They taste good going down, all sugary and delicious, but once we’ve swallowed them…well…we’re still empty and hungry.

One of the reasons there were so many of these bubble gum groups (and later…boy bands) is because the public ate them up. One group would have a hit song and producers would churn out more that sounded just like it. There wasn’t much creativity or artistic merit driving them. It was all about selling more records. I think a lot of the bubblegum preachers are doing the same sort of thing. They realize that they have an audience clamoring for an easy-to-swallow message. It sounds good to the ears. The apostle Paul told Timothy that it was going to happen. Listen to his words.

1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV)

Some people do not want to hear a message that will challenge them. There are those who aren’t mature enough to handle it, so they look for something more palatable. Others do not want the conviction that comes with the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. They want feel good messages that affirm the choices that they have already made. Just as bubblegum pop tickled the ears, these watered down bubblegum messages tickle the soul. It is true that they sound good and the masses can easily relate, but there is nothing there.

I do think it is important to recognize that bubblegum doesn’t equal simple. There have been some extremely simple songs that spoke massive truth. Harlan Howard, who was a prolific songwriter, once defined good country music as being three chords and the truth. I agree. Things don’t have to be complex or confusing to be substantial. The same is true for the gospel. The gospel is simple but it isn’t without substance. Many of the preachers I consider bubblegum (and I’ll refrain from name-calling here) hardly mention the gospel. Much of what I have heard resorts to pop psychology and self-help mantras. Others churn out bumper sticker theology that is dressed in Christian terms but never really goes below the surface. It all sounds good and it does resonate with a lot of people but the truth is, it really doesn’t say much at all.

If I am honest and look at myself, I have probably dabbled in bubblegum myself. As a songwriter I KNOW I have. I have deliberately imitated popular songs with the hope of recreating them. As a preacher there have been times when I was tempted to water things down so that I wouldn’t offend. I have preached shallow sermons so that they would be catchy and easy to remember. I’m not proud of it and now that I am a full time pastor, I do my very best to make sure that I preach with as much substance as possible. My sermons may still be simple, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, I pray that they won’t be void of any substance and meaning.

This actually went in a much different direction that I intended when I started typing a little over thirty minutes ago. It’s funny how that works. I just planned to talk about pop music. I hope you enjoyed it anyway.

Grace and peace

A Wretch Like Me

There are days when I get up here and honestly don’t have much to say. Today is one of those days. I have been reading a lot and I have been working on various things but none of them are ready to share. I have a meeting down at Sylvan Hills Camp tonight for all the deans from this past summer. It’s about a two hour drive one way and then the meeting may go two hours as well. I have to leave here by 4:45 (at the latest) to get there for the meeting. If we finish at 9:00 I’ll get home around 11:00. It’s a long drive but it’s for a good cause, so I don’t mind.

I’ve been watching people on social media for the last day or so. I can’t even begin to sum up all of the ridiculous things I have seen. It doesn’t matter the topic either. President Obama? Check. Pope Francis? Check? Donald Trump? Check. Planned Parenthood? Check. Same Sex Marriage? Check.

Like I said, everyone has an opinion about everything. Truthfully, I’m no different. I have opinions about every single one of those things I just posted. Some of my opinions are very strong and I am passionate in my beliefs concerning them. However, I just cannot bring myself to rant and rave in a public forum, no matter how right I think I am. I think that a lot of people damage (even destroy) their reputations and their witness for Christ when they jump into these social media debates. I have been guilty in the past, so I’m doing my best not to cast the first stone.

The older I get, the more I realize how much I need God. Don’t get me wrong, I think that the world is a dark place and that we (as Christians) should be taking the light of Jesus out into the darkness. Can we really do that if we’re getting caught up in all these issues that distract us from the task? Is it wrong to have political beliefs? Of course not. However, I don’t think espousing my personal political leanings should come before my responsibility to tell people about Jesus. I just don’t.

Paul, in Romans 5:8, says that when we were still sinners, Jesus loved us enough to die for us. He didn’t wait for us to get our stuff in order. He didn’t wait for us to figure it all out. He didn’t wait for us to let go of all our sinful baggage. He loved us just as we were and he died for us. Now, I believe that because of his love for us, we should become living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). We should be willing to put him first.

I don’t know why, but there are too many of us who call ourselves Christians that believe those sinners out there in the world need to get it all together before we can reach out and love them. We want them to clean up and then come to church with us. We can’t have dirty, broken, and unacceptable folks sitting in the pews (or chairs) can we? Even though I know I am supposed to love people, regardless of who they are, I still struggle from time to time.

I never did like the song Amazing Grace when I was growing up. I don’t know why. It’s possible that it was due to the fact that we always sang it like a funeral dirge. It was so slow and depressing. I think it is also possible that it was because of the lyrics. It took a long time for me to quit believing that I had to be good enough. I couldn’t be saved if I wasn’t a good little boy. There was no way God could love…well…a wretch like me. On the other hand, there were those times when I thought I was doing it all right. I was getting all my check marks and little gold stars. I wasn’t a wretch. No way…no how.

It’s funny, Amazing Grace is now one of my favorite songs of all time…and it has nothing to do with the tempo. In fact, the version I’m getting ready to share isn’t exactly peppy. For me, now, it’s ALL about the lyrics. I know that Jesus loved me even when he shouldn’t have. I once was lost but now I’m found. He didn’t have to do that for a wretch like me.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

John Newton

When I Was A Boy

Today is a special day for those of us who are fans of the Electric Light Orchestra. Jeff Lynne (the founder and songwriter for E.L.O.) has released a new song. A new album (Alone In The Universe) is due on November 15th. This will be the first album of all original material from Jeff Lynne since 2001’s Zoom. Jeff did release a solo album (Long Wave) in 2012 but it consisted of cover tunes. It’s not as if Lynne has been sitting idle. He most recently produced Bryan Adams’ Get Up! and has made several live appearances over the last two or three years. In February of 2014 he performed at a tribute to The Beatles. He performed at the 2015 Grammy Awards with Ed Sheeran. He also headlined the Radio 2 festival in Hyde Park. That performance generated a lot of buzz because it was around that same time he dropped hints that a new album and tour were being planned. For those of us who are fans, the recent buzz of activity was long overdue.

I woke up this morning and the first thing in my e-mail was an announcement of the new song, When I Was A Boy. I immediately clicked the link and was taken to YouTube, where a temporary video is up. It has a photo of a boy sitting in a field staring up at the E.L.O. Spaceship. I assume this is the cover for the new album. I have now listened to the song four times. I have already read a lot of negative comments from people and the majority of them lament the fact that this doesn’t sound like E.L.O. from the Seventies. Granted, that is true, but you have to take a lot of things into consideration. When I first heard E.L.O. I wasn’t even a teenager. I was in sixth grade and just discovering who I was. I am now a grandfather. If my life and perspective have changed that much, how can I expect Jeff Lynne to be the exact same person he was then? He’s 67 years old. His outlook can’t be the same as it was when he was 23 (his age when the first E.L.O. album came out) or even when he was 53 (his age when the last E.L.O. came out).

It is true that sonically speaking, this doesn’t sound like the stuff from the Seventies. My response to that is, “Well…duh.” The technology used now is different. Digital recordings don’t sound like analog recordings. That’s nothing more than a fact. Jeff Lynne actually says that he doesn’t like the sound of a lot of the older recordings. He claims that he has learned and evolved as a producer since forming E.L.O. It makes sense that the stuff he does now (whether for him or for others) is going to sound different. He’s changed. However, if you have heard anything that he’s produced since the late Eighties (George Harrison, Tom Petty, Traveling Wilburys, etc…) you will recognize the “Jeff Lynne” sound on this. In many ways, it sounds like the two new tracks that he co-produced for The Beatles back in 1994 and I’m okay with that.

I know that there are always going to be people who want to fight and argue about things and I just don’t have time for that. I don’t know what happened with the band at the end. I don’t know why things between Jeff Lynne and Bev Bevan (the founding drummer) went south. I don’t know why Kelly Groucutt left the band. Some have suggested that Jeff and their manager took over so they could make all the money. I just don’t know. What I do know is that when you look at every album after the departure of Roy Wood in 1973, every song (excluding a couple of cover songs) is credited to Jeff Lynne. He wrote every song. In my opinion, He IS Electric Light Orchestra and whatever he releases deserves to have that name. I can honestly say that when I listened to this song for the very first time this morning, it took me back to the first time I heard E.L.O. when I was a boy. Thank you Jeff Lynne for bringing back the magic.

Rethinking Restoration: Whatever Happened To The “Offering” Song?

I know that the experience I’m about to share is not unique to those of us who grew up in the Restoration Movement. My wife, who grew up going to a Missionary Baptist Church, remembers doing the same thing. I have talked to folks from different flavors of Methodism and Pentecostalism and many of them recall this tradition as well. The experience, if you haven’t figured it out from the title, is the singing of the Doxology after the offering has been collected during the Sunday morning service.

The Doxology, if you aren’t familiar with it, is the sixth (and final) stanza of a hymn entitled Awake, My Soul, And With The Sun by Thomas Ken. There are different tunes that the words are sung to but the one I grew up with is commonly referred to as the Old 100th. In the hymnal I grew up singing out of (Favorite Hymns Of Praise), it was located on the inside of the cover. Every Sunday morning, immediately following the collection of the offering; the piano and organ would hit the opening chord, everyone would stand, and we would collectively sing the Doxology as the men walked back down the aisle and put the collection plates back on the table.

Outside of Jesus Loves Me, Happy Birthday, and the Alphabet Song, the Doxology was one of the first songs I knew from memory. I, along with everyone else in the pews, sang that song every Sunday for a good portion of my life. I was sitting in bed last night, trying to remember when the last time I sang it in a corporate setting. If memory serves me correctly, it was when I filled the pulpit for a small Freewill Baptist Church a few years ago. I remember being pleasantly surprised and overcome with nostalgia because I was getting the chance to experience it again.

We were talking about it at our board meeting last night and I asked folks what they would think if we were to do it one Sunday. Most of them smiled and said, “That would be nice.” Keep in mind, our three elders are all older than me so they have that experience etched into their memories as well. They tried to remember when Granville stopped doing it and couldn’t. As I said, I can’t remember when the church I grew up in stopped doing it. As I sit here and think about, I’m not so sure they did. We left and went to Stoneybrook after that congregation split. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe that Stoneybrook may have been doing it then. If we were, it stopped not long after we started attending.

I don’t bring this up because I am not a middle-aged curmudgeon who wants to take back the church from these silly whippersnappers. I actually love a lot of “modern” worship music, but I love hymns and old gospel songs as well. I believe that we must be willing to look at the way we do things and adjust them when necessary. However, I don’t believe that we should change just for the sake of change. At some point “traditional” became a dirty word. I don’t know why. There are some traditions that are good and still beneficial. We don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

So, will we be adding the Doxology back to Sunday mornings here at Granville? I don’t know. In order to do that I would have to have a convincing reason. I wouldn’t want to do it just because we used to sing it and I think we ought to bring it back. I have considered using as a call to worship. I have considered using it as a closing song. And yes, I have considered using it at the end of the offering. In all honesty, it’s not my call to make. I probably will discuss it with our piano and organ players. I’ll talk about it with the group of folks that pick out the songs. I will continue to talk about it with the elders. In the grand scheme of things, it’s really not that important. However, as I sit down and look back on my experiences in the Restoration Movement, it is one of those defining moments. What about you? What are you’re experiences (if you have them) with the Doxology? What would you think if the church you are in did it this Sunday?

Grace and peace.

Shame On Us: Redux

I promise that I will eventually get back to my discussion of the Restoration Movement. The reason I haven’t is that I am trying to address things that are happening in my life right now. Some of them are issues that I deal with as a pastor and some of them are issues that are affecting my family. A good number of them are just the result of getting older and (hopefully) more mature. All of the time I spend working on Bible lessons and sermons doesn’t do me a bit of good if I am not learning something about myself in the process. I haven’t been a “full time” preacher very long. In fact, I’m getting close to my second anniversary here at Granville Center Church of Christ. Before that my longest “ministry” was a weekend youth ministry that lasted for a little over a year while I was in Bible College. I did another weekend youth ministry for a very short time and then I served as interim minister for a congregation for about six months. Then I spent about eight months working with a church plant. That is the extent of my professional ministry experience prior to moving up here. Even though I am forty-five years old and have been serving in the church for the majority of my life, I am still a rookie when it comes to being one of the paid guys.

My post yesterday was prompted by a couple of things. The first is my daughter. For those of you who know my family, you know that she has been dealing with severe eczema for her entire life. When you look at her it is obvious that she has some serious skin issues. There are dry and discolored patches along with the places she sometimes scratches raw. Some of the medicines she has to take cause her to gain weight and have other issues on top of the skin problems. I have caught people staring at her and motioning towards her in public. It is only by the grace of God that I haven’t called them out yet. I usually stare back long enough to catch their eyes and let them know that I know what they are doing. It breaks my heart because she is my little girl and people are gawking and talking about her as if she can do anything about it. Not only does it break my heart, it makes me mad.

The second thing that set me off was seeing a Facebook friend (one who is supposed to be a Christian) call someone retarded after making a silly comment. I confess, in the past I have used that word in conversations without ever considering how others may have be affected. I have also used words like nigger and faggot when I was younger, without caring who might be offended. It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t using them in reference to African-Americans or homosexuals. The truth is, I usually wasn’t. However, that doesn’t excuse it. They are both ugly and hateful words REGARDLESS of the context in which they are being used. I feel the same way about the word retarded (or retard). I have dear friends who are the parents of children born with various disabilities. Those kids are some of the most beautiful and loving human beings I have ever met. To flippantly use a word like retard is one of the most hateful things I can think of.

I realize that these are just two possible situations where people say and think things about others without any concern for them. It’s kind of strange that in this politically correct world we live in, there are still certain groups of people who are openly targeted and mocked. The fact that there are sites out there which exist only to make fun of the way people look should tell us something about ourselves. I realize that some people try to justify their comments and write them off as joking. I’m not buying it any more. No joke is worth devaluing a human being created in the image of God. I know that there are people out there who are odd and who seem like they’re asking for it, but I want to ask you…is it worth it? I don’t expect everyone to understand where I’m coming from. However, I do expect those who claim to follow Christ to get it. Jesus went out of his way to help those who were unclean and oppressed. He was compassionate and had mercy on those who the world considered unlovable. I truly believe that a Christian should be defined by the love he/she has for God and for others. How in the world can we claim to love either if we participate in the intentional humiliation of those He loves?

Grace and peace

Shame On Us

I was walking through the Walmart up in Sayre today and as I looked around at all the people there I had a sudden pang of guilt come over me. There have been many jokes made about the people that shop at Walmart and most of them are cruel and insensitive. There is even a popular website where people can post photos of people that they see at Walmart and have others make fun of them.

It isn’t just jokes about the “People of Walmart” either. If you spend any time on social media (especially Facebook) you’ll notice all kinds of memes and videos that poke fun at others. It seems as if we love to single out those who are different or odd and then collectively laugh at their expense.

I remember a very popular image that made the rounds several years ago. It was only a second long and it featured an overweight little girl who was laughing and bouncing up and down on a couch. When looped and played over and over it was quite striking. I laughed at it nearly every time someone shared it. I never once considered that it was an image of an actual person. To me, it was nothing more than a cartoon.

Then one day I saw it and for some reason, it wasn’t funny any more. I asked myself, “Who is this little girl?” I wondered how she felt about having a rather unflattering image of herself splattered across the Internet. For the very first time, I saw her as more than a joke and as a child of God. She was fearfully and wonderfully made by her Creator and all I had ever done was laugh at her.

I searched the internet and found out who the little girl was. Her name was Jessica and by the time she was seven years old she weighed 400 lbs. The little clip that was shared on the internet had been pulled from a segment one of the day time talk shows had done on her. HERE is a video that was done on her after she lost a considerable amount of weight. I sat and cried the first time I saw it. I hope you do too. In yesterday’s sermon I quoted from Paul in Romans when he told his readers no to think of themselves more highly than others. How many times have I looked at a meme on Facebook or clicked on some image that someone sent me that made fun of a child of God. How many times have I laughed? I am ashamed of all the times I laughed at someone else’s expense. I pray that you are too.

Grace and peace