Sunday, July 26, 2009

FEED ME!

A young mother I know was relating an incident that occurred not long ago. She had bumped into an older woman who had been missing her and her family in church.

My friend told her that they had been visiting other churches and were considering a move. When pressed for an explanation, she began to describe their frustration with the lack of biblical substance in their church. She explained that the influences on her children were not compatible with and supportive of the fundamental biblical doctrines and the Christian values that she and her husband were teaching at home.

That explanation seemed to surprise and bother her questioner who thought it strange that the young couple would be so concerned about biblical teaching. After all, their church offered so many wonderful accouterments, benefits, and various attractions for members of all ages and preferences. How could anyone not be satisfied?

When I heard that, my first thought was that THIS IS A NO-BRAINER. Christians need the solid meat of the Word; not quick snacks and spiritual junk food.

This young mother has small children and she knows, instinctively, what they need. As infants, they needed milk; they demanded milk; they screamed for milk, and they could not survive without it. As they grew, she began to feed them solid food. Without food we die. We require it for growth, nourishment, health, and satisfaction.

So there is a good reason that God uses words like milk, meat, and bread as metaphors for His Word. It is what we need for our spiritual health and growth. Even Jesus, himself, when tempted by Satan said, "Man shall not live by bread (physical food) alone but by every Word that procedeth out of the mouth of God." Matt. 4:4. Just like the monstrous plant in The Little Shop of Horrors, we should crave the meat of the Word and demand from our pastors, "FEED ME!"

I think it is interesting that, when Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” He followed with this command, “Feed my sheep.”

The Apostle Paul instructed Timothy to “...preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” 2 Tim. 4:2

Neither Jesus nor Paul instructed pastors to be entertainers, social workers, activity directors, or event planners. They simply charged them to FEED THE SHEEP.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Do I Really Want An Orthodox Church?

A few years ago I was part of a group of church leaders who were asked to submit in writing, our evaluations of our pastoral staff and to provide reasons for our approval or disapproval.

I protested at the outset; I believed the process would be unbiblical, fruitless, divisive, emotionally stressful, and just plain stupid. Nevertheless, the “powers that were” insisted that we should proceed. We were assured that our input would be anonymous and confidential but I knew better.

I revealed, what I believed to be, a careful and objective analysis of leadership that was ideologically and philosophically conflicted concerning the ecclesiastic work and purpose of the church.

Basically, it boiled down to this; there was a recognizable division among leaders where one side possessed a sincere, evangelistic desire to affect changes in our worship services, practices, and programs for the purpose of being more relevant, attractive, and acceptable to contemporary cultures and the local unchurched community. On the other side was an obvious attempt to preserve traditional and conservative methods usually associated with orthodox Christianity.

I maintained, without interjecting my opinions, beliefs, or preferences, that both ideologies could be wrong but it was highly unlikely that both could be simultaneously right. Therefore, I concluded, there was tension and conflict in leadership that was confusing to the people.

Now, it is not my purpose here to expound any further on the nature or the result of the rift; I simply want to point out that my entire six-page analysis was wasted and lost over my use of ONE WORD.

When they received my input (which they asked for), one of them became fixated on the word, “orthodox.”

“Orthodox? Is that the kind of church Ralph thinks we should have?” he asked.

The truth of the matter was that I offered no opinions or preferences at all. I simply made the case that they had the ability to decide, among themselves, what would be their ministry direction and what practices they would employ to realize their objectives. Once they were united in purpose, they should openly declare it and defend it so that the people could make informed decisions about their support.

I guess it was just ignorance on the part of my critic but, I admit, I was disappointed that he would criticize the word I used without understanding its meaning. My guess is that he errantly defined orthodoxy as a style of worship and liturgical practices usually associated with some liturgical churches.

I am not a Greek scholar but, as near as I can determine, the word derives from two Greek words.
Ortho - meaning correct or straight as in orthodontics (to straighten or correct teeth) or orthopedics (to straighten or correct bone structures).

Dox – from which we get the word, doxology (having to do with the form of worship or praise).

So orthodox Christianity would be defined by worship and teaching that is doctrinally straight and correct according to the authoritative Word of God.

Yes! As a matter of fact, I guess that really is exactly the kind of church I want.






Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Back Again


I love blogging. I enjoy writing and this venue has given me a creative outlet to vent my thoughts and a place to archive them.

Unfortunately, I have been distracted with a difficult project at work for a few weeks and unable to post anything.

Last week my wife and I were on a relaxing and much appreciated seven day cruise vacation to Mexico with our daughter and her husband, celebrating our 40th anniversary.

Now I'm back and I have so many things I want to write about that I don't even know where to start.

I just need to get busy writing.

Later.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Christians Embarass Me

I was talking to a waitress one day who told me that she doesn’t go to church because most of the Christians she knows act like hypocrites. She sees them in the restaurant after church on Sundays. They wear their Sunday clothes, put on their Sunday smiles and talk their Sunday talk. They all hold hands, bow their heads and corporately give thanks to God for the food and fellowship. And then the most amazing transformation takes place. They begin to complain about the food and the service, they are rude to the waitresses and they leave lousy tips. Regretfully, I had to agree with her; I’ve seen them too! Sometimes Christians embarrass me with their behavior. I think it would be better if they would keep quiet about their profession so no one would know.

Alexander the Great received a message that one of his soldiers had been continually, and seriously, misbehaving and thereby shedding a bad light on the character of all the Greek troops. And what made it even worse was that this soldier's name was also Alexander. He sent word that he wanted to talk to the errant soldier in person. When the young man arrived at the tent of Alexander the Great, the commander asked him, "What is your name?" "Alexander, sir," he replied. The commander looked him straight in the eye and said forcefully, "Soldier, either change your behavior or change your name."

This story has a lesson for each of us. When we call ourselves Christians, we are identifying with Jesus Christ. Does our behavior honor the one we represent or are we an embarrassment to Him?

“If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.” James 1:26

Friday, July 10, 2009

Don't Confuse Me With The Facts, I've Already Made Up My Mind.

“All Things Considered" is a commentary program of national public radio. Some time ago, Dr. Drew Westen of Emory University, a well respected psychologist, was commenting upon how our feelings can predict our political decision irrespective of the facts. Westen studies the way that psychology and politics intersect, and he says a familiar format in cable TV news works with the way our brains are wired. Here is what he said:

"We've grown accustomed to hearing two versions of every story, one from the left and one from the right, as if the average of two distortions equals the truth. You've seen this on TV. The journalist provides the skeleton of the story; it's then up to partisans to try to graft flesh onto one side or the other of its clanking bones.

"For example, I heard a news anchor begin a segment about missing explosives at the al Qaida munitions dump in Iraq. He described claims that weapons were missing and then handed it over to a Democrat and a Republican to dress the skeleton in red or blue. In fact, however, the munitions were missing, and the subject of the debate that followed, when they disappeared, was a question of fact, not interpretation, unless, of course, Democrats and Republicans live in different time zones.

"Unfortunately, this format--from the left, from the right--capitalizes on a design flaw in the human brain. We have a tendency to believe what we want to believe. We seek information and draw conclusions consistent with what we want to be true. I've been studying this kind of emotion-driven political thinking over the last several years, and the results are sobering. For example, during the disputed election of 2000, we could predict whether people would believe that manual or machine counts are more accurate just by knowing their feelings towards the two parties and the two candidates.

"When people draw conclusions about political events, they're not just weighing the facts. Without knowing it, they're also weighing what they would feel if they came to one conclusion or another, and they often come to the conclusion that would make them feel better, no matter what the facts are.

"An experiment completed right before the election shows just how powerful these emotional pulls can be. Here's what we told the participants. A soldier at Abu Ghraib prison was charged with torturing prisoners. He wanted the right to subpoena senior administration officials. He claimed he'd been informed the administration had suspended the Geneva Conventions. We gave different people different amounts of evidence supporting his claims. For some, the evidence was minimal; for others, it was overwhelming.

"In fact, the evidence barely mattered. 84% of the time, we could predict whether people believed the evidence was sufficient to subpoena Donald Rumsfeld based on just three things: the extent to which they liked Republicans, the extent to which they liked the US military, and the extent to which they liked human rights groups like Amnesty International. Adding the evidence into the equation allowed us to increase the prediction from 84% to 85%.

"A readiness to believe what we want to believe makes it all the more important for journalists to distinguish what's debatable from what's not. The line between facts and interpretations isn't always easy to draw, but presenting opinion as fact is not objective reporting. It isn't objective to preface news that's unflattering to one side or the other with phrases like 'critics claim' when it doesn't take a critic to claim it. There's nothing like a healthy debate, but there's nothing as unhealthy as a debate about the undebatable." (NPR Radio)

There was one sentence in that article that is shocking. "Adding the evidence into the equation allowed us to increase the prediction from 84% to 85%." In Dr. Westen's study, the actual number was 84.5%. His study centered around politics but the implications are broad. In the arena of faith, there are so many differences of opinions on truth.

A few years ago, I was discussing a point of doctrine with a friend who had been raised and taught an opposing view. After several weeks of examining scripture passages and contexts, he said to me, "You have presented overwhelming scriptural evidence in support of your view of the issue but there is just one problem; it is not what I have always been taught." For him, the facts did not make any difference. He based his beliefs on his feelings.

Unlike politics, in faith we have the absolute, authoritative and inerrant Word of God as the basis for our beliefs. This basic "design flaw in the human brain" that Dr. Westen referenced might explain why people are so willing to form their beliefs based on their emotions rather than the facts.

The old joke, "Don't confuse me with the facts. My mind is made up!" may be funny in politics but when it comes to matters of faith, believing the wrong thing could have disastrous, eternal consequences.