Burning Bridges Instead of Reaching Out

There are many church signs with cute sayings. There are many with profound sayings, some with ones that are witty and some that show great creativity. Then there are those that are offensive or just downright rude, like the one I saw while taking my daughter to school this week.

What was on the sign? “If Christmas offends you than go to Thailand for 30 days. They don’t like it there either. Grow up or shut up.” I don’t really know why poor Thailand was singled out, as far as I know they have never gone out of their way to ruin anyone’s Christmas in south Georgia, but what bothers me is the attitude portrayed in the sign from a church  with the word “grace” in their name.

The unsaved are not the enemy. They are our mission. To unnecessarily offend them makes it ten times as hard to witness to them of God’s love. Christmas is God showing love to man by coming down and becoming one of us. It was for dirty, sinful, lost mankind that He came, not for the smug religious crowd. As a minister, this sign offends me. It also offends the unchurched in our community.

Wouldn’t it be better to hold a community party to celebrate Jesus’ birth? Maybe they could be proactive and do a food drive or help gather presents for the poor that would show God’s love in action instead of belittling those who have not yet experienced the grace of God. Come on church, live up to your name — show grace, the giving of a gift to someone undeserving of it this holiday season instead of being snarky and strident.  Telling a large segment of your community to “Grow up or shut up” simply shows them how childish and immature you are. Why would they come to your church for answers when their life falls apart?

Lost people act lost because they are spiritually blind and without hope. They are spiritually dead and incapable of acting any other way than what they do. So-called Christians acting the way this church did just shows stupidity. I know that is harsh but it is true. The sign may play well to the frozen chosen inside her walls but it embarrasses those of us going out and meeting people in the marketplace and introducing them to a Jesus who offers grace, mercy and new life. I truly wish that this church would grow up and until that happens, please – shut up so the rest of us can give a message of hope to our town. It desperately needs it.

Caving in to Culture

We all know about the erosion of Christian culture that has taken place in our country over the recent decades. Secularism has pushed many traditions to the side as more and more people get “offended” at anything that references Jesus. Unfortunately, the church has many times given up traditions in favor of cultural expressions that really have no place inside the walls where saints are to be equipped in the work of the ministry.

I cannot believe how many churches in my area bring Santa Claus into the service. This special holiday, where we focus on the great gift God gave us in sending His Son down to live on earth as a human, is muddled together with a mythic, magical person. How can the story of Mary and Joseph compete with flying reindeer? My wife and I visited many churches where pictures with Santa were offered and Santa was the star of birthday parties supposedly for baby Jesus. Young children cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy, especially when fantasy is continually reinforced by trusted figures.

We cry about “keeping Christ in Christmas” and then give them Santa? We try and teach the commandment not to lie and then tell our children Santa is real? What kind of mixed message is that? It is especially infuriating to me when the church is to be the repository of truth. The story of Jesus is so precious, so life-changing it must never be diluted by anything.

If you want Santa pictures go to the mall, schools, city Christmas events. Leave him out of church. I don’t care if adults whine and cry about it being harmless fun, that everyone does it or cannot understand the big deal. Church is to be where truth is proclaimed, Jesus is magnified and God worshiped We are in a battle for the souls of men and women, boys and girls and cannot afford to waste time trying to be cute and relevant.

Parents, I appeal to you, raise your children correctly. Let them know Santa is not real, he is just a story but that all good gifts come down from the Father of Lights. That you give presents to show your love and to reflect the love God has shown you, Pastors, take a stand. Keep Christ in your church and leave Santa to those who do not know Christ, who worship materialism, secularism and self. Ground your people, especially the youngest and most impressionable, in truth and love by grounding them in Christ.

Our God is a jealous God, He will not share His glory with another. Especially not Santa, especially not with His Bride, the church. .

The Other Marriage Issue Facing The Church

Same-sex marriage is not the only marriage issue facing the church today. While it may be the hot button issue right now, another problem has the potential of dividing the church even further. The issue I am speaking of is that of whether or not the church should even perform a ceremony that is civil as well as religious.

Some churches and pastors I know who are affiliated with the National Baptist Convention (some dual aligned with the SBC) are already performing wedding ceremonies that are strictly religious in nature with the couple who are married never filing a state marriage certificate. These are not same-sex marriages. They are between a man and a woman who for various reasons do not want to file a marriage license with the state. Many of these couples are senior citizens. Why would they not want to file with the state?

One reason is the marriage penalty. Food stamps and other benefits may be cut if a couple decides to get hitched. By having a religious ceremony, they feel they are married before God and witnesses but they can keep all their income. For many on fixed incomes or who are below the poverty line this is an attractive alternative. Why should vowing to love, honor and cherish each other cause one to lose income or help? Anyone who thinks you can feed two as cheaply as one hasn’t been to the grocery store lately. This is the primary reason for older couples and those struggling to stay afloat financially  to avoid registering their marriage with the state, in my research.

Another reason, one that is growing each day, is the thought that since many states recognize same-sex marriage, they have forfeited their right to recognize marriage for what the Bible says it is. These people do not want their marriage to be equated with that of an ungodly one. Some ministers I have spoken with have also used this line of reasoning. I believe that this line of thought will be growing over the next few years and cause many churches to examine their policies. I do not know of any denomination that has addressed this issue but I would really like to see the evangelical ones do so publicly.

In Scripture, there is no command for ministers to perform marriage ceremonies. In our culture and country we are given the privilege to do so as an agent of the state. Some states have slightly different rules and other countries have many different requirements as to who can perform/officiate the ceremony. The point is that it is a right given by the state, not a requirement given by God. A minister officiating the ceremony lends spiritual significance to the act. An “approval of God for the union” so to speak. That is why orthodox ministers refuse to perform homosexual marriages, marriages between believers and unbelievers and other circumstances.

My question to our evangelical leaders, our Reformed leaders, ministers and leaders of churches worldwide is this — is it valid, Biblically, to hold a religious only ceremony knowing that the license will never be filed to the state? Would that be valid in God’s eyes? Would it ever become acceptable policy in your denomination?

What are your personal feelings, fellow ministers, of acting as an agent of the state when your state may have a completely different definition of marriage as you do?

I believe this is an issue that is only going to grow and am curious as to how the church is going to speak to the issue. I rarely officiate at weddings anymore and have yet to personally run across this issue. Yet, I have friends whom I respect who are dealing with this in their churches right now and I can see the issue as unavoidable in the near future. So, council is asked for from those who read and share this blog. Let me know your personal beliefs and any official beliefs your church and/or denomination may have that may speak to this issue.

Review of Exploring Christian Theology

I conducted a review of Exploring Christian Theology: The Church, Spiritual Growth and the End Times by Nathan Holsteen and Michael Svigel for Bethany House Publishing. I was given a copy of the book to review. This was written for the lay person, not the theology student and was, overall, an enjoyable read. Here is a copy of my review on Goodreads:

This was an interesting theology book. It was written for the average church member who wants to grow deeper in the faith, but doesn’t want to take a seminary theology course. For the audience it was written to, this book does an admirable job, especially in the first part on the church and spiritual growth. The second half of the book, on the end times, was not as clearly written and I fear it will just make people all the more muddled. Overall though, I must say I enjoyed the writing style. It was refreshing to see theology written in a relevant way, with a sense of humor thrown in. As a pastor, I believe that this book would be helpful to any congregation, especially as it would give me (or another pastor) even more opportunities to dialogue with our (my) congregants about why they believe what they believe.

While I have quibbles in some areas (who doesn’t?) I do appreciate the effort they made.The best part about the book? The quotes and shelf space sections where they list a library of books for further study. If this gets more congregants interested in theology I am all for it.

When Life Reflects Songs

First, an apology for the lack of posts in recent weeks. Phase 2 of our re-location from Montana to the Eastern US is now complete. We have purchased property in Jeff Davis County, Georgia for Ta Ethne’s new home. This gives us access to Savannah and Jacksonville airports as well as 2 interstate highways. It also allows us to expand our donor base, something future growth will need. Thank you to all those who have been praying with us about this process.

Now, for today’s blog. At church this past week, we were singing a hymn, “Footsteps of Jesus.” One of the verses happened to strike me. It went like this:

Though they lead through the Temple holy, preaching the Word

Or in homes of the poor and lowly, serving the Lord

Why did these verses speak to me? Because I have been a pastor for the last 21 years, preaching the Word in churches across America and SE Asia. Now, as well as leading Ta Ethne’s ministries, I serve as a chaplain with a local hospice here in south Georgia. Oh, I occasionally preach and speak at churches – fill in, revivals, conferences and the like, but mainly I am in people’s homes, ministering to the dying. I have the opportunity and the privilege of meeting people when they are most vulnerable. I am able to serve families after death in learning how to cope with grief. Rich or poor, death comes to every person. Many I meet have no relationship with God. They would never come to hear me preach. I become their pastor by going into their homes and caring for them. They know I come not to get anything from them, but to serve them.

Being a chaplain has allowed me to use my whole repertoire of pastoral skills. It may not be as glamorous as preaching the Word in the Temple, but I hope it mimics my Savior in proclaiming hope to the hopeless, freedom to the captive and healing (ultimate healing) for the sick.

Continue to pray for Ta Ethne as we build community relationships and continue to grow in our mission to bring leadership training to churches worldwide.

A Tool or an Excuse?

In past years, I used to use spiritual gift assessment inventories with various congregations to help them discover the talents and gifts God had blessed them with. We would follow this up with studies on how to use those gifts in service to God through the church, community outreach, etc.  These last few years, I have hesitated in using such tools. My hesitancy was based on observations that they were being misused by the very people I was hoping to help. It seemed that once a gift was identified, it was hard for people to volunteer to do anything outside their “gift” area. Far from helping them, I felt I had enabled them to become lazy, giving them an excuse to not do anything out of their comfort zone. I do not believe that God only gives people one gift. I believe that many times God calls us to do things we are not gifted or talented in, so that He can show His power through us. A friend of mine argues that instead of creating specialists in the church, we need to focus on making generalists, people who can function in multiple ways. I agree. I believe that a church full of people cross-trained in many different areas will acquire the skills necessary because God will give them what they need to accomplish His purpose. How wonderful to have a church filled with trained pre-school workers, musicians, worship leaders, and grief counselors. How fantastic to have people trained in public speaking, how to develop a sermon or how to teach teen-agers. What a joy it would be to have a church full of people ready and willing to visit the sick, trained in apologetics or capable of leading a prayer meeting.

Maybe it is just me, but the more I see how spiritual gift inventories and tools are being used, the more I think it is just an outgrowth of our narcissistic society, wanting to know how special we are. Usually, we all know what we are strongest at and weakest in, and using the tools only confirms what we have suspected or known. It would be better to promote cross-training in all areas, so that like the Apostle Paul we can become all things to all men so that by all means we may win some of them to Jesus Christ. Lets go for a broad approach to finding out just how much we can learn to do for Christ, rather than using the spiritual cop-out of, “that’s not my gift.”

Watching the Flock

While attending a church service this week, the speaker made a very good point. His sermon was on being a good shepherd to the flock God has entrusted to us as pastors, just as He is a Good Shepherd to His flock. During the speaker’s message, he made this observation; while we are watching our flock, so are spiritual predators. We must be constantly vigilant in overseeing the safety of those God has entrusted to us. The shepherd has the responsibility for more than just feeding the sheep, he must also protect them. As King David fought off lions and bears that attacked his father’s sheep when he was just a shepherd boy, we, too must fight off those who would devour our Father’s  sheep.

It is our job to warn the sheep of danger. It is our job to point out theological errors they may encounter, dangerous cults, erroneous worldviews, and false teachers. We must point out these things because if we do not, our sheep will wander off and become mired in a quagmire of false doctrines that will render them useless to the Kingdom of God. Yes, we must feed our sheep solid food, great teaching from God’s Word. Yes, we must lead them to Christ, the Living Water so they can drink deep of His presence. We must also protect and defend them from dangers or we are not doing all our job requires of us. The staff has two ends – a crook to lift sheep to safety and a club to defend them with and drive off predators. Who is looking over your flock?

Disturbing Trends

Here at Ta Ethne we are very bothered by recent trends in our country. In the past week alone, we have had rulings in different states that undermine basic biblical and moral values. Sadly, these decisions are being applauded. One such ruling is that by Massachusetts on allowing students at school to pick whatever gender they want to be identified as and catering to their every whim. You can read more here: http://radio.foxnews.com/toddstarnes/top-stories/students-who-refuse-to-affirm-transgender-classmates-face-punishment.html
Another is the ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court who refused to allow prosecution of a mother who abused cocaine while pregnant and gave birth to an addicted child. Here at Ta Ethne, we have adopted such a child, one born in California hooked on so many drugs at birth a tox screen only turned up 3 NOT in her system. Such a ruling is absurdity at its highest point.
Even more upsetting, the fact that the current presidential administration is even considering helping overturn a California law describing marriage as between a man and a woman is beyond comprehension.
Our country is so far post-Christian that I believe God is going to judge her soon. The Church fell asleep decades ago and now has compromised to the point that the majority of her members are lost. Her influence has waned to the point where most Americans think of both the Church and her God as completely irrelevant. They are not atheists in the sense that they do not believe in a God, they simply have never even considered seriously whether there is or isn’t one.
The time has come for the remaining disciples of Jesus Christ to stand up, speak up and seek to overcome darkness with the light of truth. When we begin to fear God and His holiness more than the ridicule and persecution of unbelievers we might start to have an impact on our society. When we stop coddling fence straddlers and confront people with the need for repentance and holy living we might have a church Jesus is not ashamed to call His own. That is Ta Ethne’s stance — what’s yours?