Friday, February 27, 2015

"Nones" and "Dones" - Rejecting the Church

Monday, March 2, 2015
Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.     Ephesians 4:15 (NLT)
New words pop-up when there’s a reason.  In the church the new words are “nones” (referring to those who did not have church as part of their upbringing), and “dones” (those who have had enough church and have left altogether).  There have always been both, but they were the exception, rather than the rule.  Today the words have become necessary because the percentage of nones and dones has risen along with the spirit of discontent in our culture.

There are perhaps as many “reasons” people reject the church as there are hairs on my head (maybe a few more!).  I would like to share with you today the growing list, in my head and heart, of responses to rejecting the church.  It is by no means an exhaustive list, but a beginning to a conversation I’m willing to have.

1.     Don’t reject the church to please anyone (especially your kids)

Scripture teaches adults to teach the children about God, his grace, forgiveness and love; it’s hard to do that when you reject the church God loves. 

2.     Don’t leave as a kneejerk-reaction to conflict

Often leaving the church is the out-working of a crisis of faith, and we are embarrassed to “stick around”.  Having your faith stretched to the breaking point is common for everyone; leaving, or rejecting your faith is a win in the enemy’s column.

3.     Don’t leave instead of working-through the issues

Speaking the truth in love means working-through whatever threatens to break the fellowship.  When you leave, or simply reject God’s family because issues are tough to resolve, you leave just as troubled as if you stayed – and the church is similarly troubled without your loving input.

And a final “do” instead of “don’t”:

4.     Do speak to the pastor early on (before you’ve made the decision to leave)

This may sound odd, but many times people make the decision to leave, and, if they decide to talk with the pastor at all, it is only to inform the pastor – usually on the way out the door on a Sunday morning.  This is most odd, as a pastor’s purpose is to help equip the flock to do the spiritual hard stuff of working-through the issues, and not just give-in to the pressure.  Yet, often the pastor is the last one to know – and it is almost always 100% too late to change a made-up mind.

Now, this is not all there is to the issues surrounding why people reject the church, “nones” or “dones” – but we have a starting point. 

I’d love to hear your input.

For You Today

If God has placed you in a church family, give thanks for that family, warts and all!
Be reluctant to leave, but rather, instead of rejecting the church, be receptive to God’s Spirit leading you how you may speak the truth in love and help the church grow up into Christ’s love toward each other and the community.
I need that!  We all need that!  The church needs it, and God loves it!

[1] Title Image:  Ian Paterson, via Wikimedia Commons


Friday, February 27, 2015
The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory.  This is my God, and I will praise him—my father’s God, and I will exalt him!  The Lord is a warrior; Yahweh is his name!       Exodus 15:2-3 (NLT)
“You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.  Exodus 20:7 (NLT)
Moses stammered at the burning bush over the thought of going back to Egypt.  He whined, at least tell me your name; how can I tell them a God with no name sent me?  And the voice in the fire spoke it, I AM. 

The children of God in Israel still revere that name so highly they approach the use of the name of the Lord with such reverence they won’t even write all of it down.  From ancient times they wrote the name without the vowels.  “Jehovah” became “J H V H”. 

We are accustomed to the King James Version of Exodus 20:7, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain….  So what does it mean to take the name in vain, or to “misuse” the name? 

There is a unique word-play we don’t hear in English.  JHVH (pronounced Ya-Way) is the Lord’s name.  "Vain” is emptiness and is shawe' (pronounced Sha-Way).  When you make the name empty you use it not according to His purposes…in vainYahweh becomes Shawheh. 

In 1940 the Australian census recorded 127,000 people of a particular denomination.  But, in all the churches of that denomination, Australia only had a total of 37,000 on membership rolls.  Seven of ten who claimed the church were unknown to the church.  We call that a profession of faith without possession of faith!

But the issue about the Lord’s name isn’t just a roll call – rather it’s calling down shame on the name.  In our culture we hardly flinch when someone blasphemes the name of God, either by using his name as profanity, or ridiculing even the existence of God.

In 1939’s “Gone With the Wind” Rhett Butler spoke the famous line to Scarlett O’Hara that used the first slang “cuss” word in American movies.  In today’s culture we’ve brought God into the mix.  These days we ask Him to damn things constantly and nobody gives it a second thought.

We shame the name of Yahweh to be shawe’ – we make it empty and meaningless.

So what IS honoring the name?

Honoring the name of God has less to do with writing it without vowels or speaking it in hushed tones; it has everything to do with living a life worthy of that name.  The big fisherman, Peter, gave us a picture of what it is like to honor the name: 

So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control.  Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.  So you must live as God’s obedient children.  Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires.  You didn’t know any better then.  But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy.  For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”  1 Peter 1:13-16 (NLT)

John, the aged and beloved apostle, picked up on that theme in The Revelation when the vision God gave him showed the people gathering around the throne in glory:

Who will not fear you, Lord, and glorify your name?  For you alone are holy.  All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous deeds have been revealed.”  Revelation 15:4 (NLT)

For You Today

The NAME – it can be Shawe’ (empty) or it can be Yahweh (strong and holy).
Bring honor to the Name of our Lord today in all you say and do.

After all, Christian, you do bear your Father’s name.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Reason to Worship

Thursday, February 26, 2015
Come, let us sing to the Lord!  Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come to him with thanksgiving.  Let us sing psalms of praise to him.  For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods.  He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains.  The sea belongs to him, for he made it.  His hands formed the dry land, too.  Come, let us worship and bow down.  Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God.  We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care.   If only you would listen to his voice today!     Psalm 95:1-7 (NLT)
Amidst the difficulties and tragedies of life, as well as the birthday parties, family reunions and other good times, there is always plenty of reason to worship God.

In re-reading this Psalm I was struck by the sheer magnitude of the meaning of the hands of God.  Within His hand there is the beginning of all.  The depths (or caverns) of the earth, to the mountains, to the sea, and to all the land are entirely in his hands

Then, of course, there are the created beings, fish, birds and all land creatures…including us!

But if you notice the Psalmist’s choice of words, all the created mass of the universe is located in his hands; we by contrast are the people he watches over; that’s a different place! 

When a human being holds something in his hand it is for safekeeping or because we want to use it; when we speak of God watching over something it is to care for and engage; it is to be in relationship. 

And therein is contained the answer to why we are here in the first place. 

For what reasons are we made?  Our God created us for relationship with him, and that is a thought so very different from any kind of “god” the mind of man invents.

When the Psalmist pleaded if only you would listen to his voice today, he opened to reality the door of that relationship; our engagement with God is not only possible, it is breath and life.  It is through close engagement with our God we begin to understand how much joy there is in worship.

We are coming up on Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphant entry to Jerusalem.  The people cheered, welcoming Jesus as Messiah; the Pharisees objected, but Jesus said:

“If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”  Luke 19:40 (NLT)

So here’s the point – don’t let the rocks beat you to worship; lift up your heads and voices and worship the Lord!

For You Today

Find some way to give praise to God today.
Not just for what He has done; simply praise Him for the pure joy of worship!

[1] Title image:  By Peter van der Sluijs (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart

Wednesday, February 25, 2015
The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:7b (NLT)
 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.  Galatians 5:25 (NLT)
I heard a new hymn this morning; actually it was written by Rev. George Croly in 1854, so its new-ness is only to me; I love it already! 

Listen carefully to this prayer for God’s presence and leading.

1 Spirit of God, who dwells within my heart, 
wean it from sin, through all its pulses move. 
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as you are, 
and make me love you as I ought to love. 
2 I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies, 
no sudden rending of the veil of clay, 
no angel visitant, no opening skies; 
but take the dimness of my soul away. 
3 Did you not bid us love you, God and King, 
love you with all our heart and strength and mind? 
I see the cross there teach my heart to cling. 
O let me seek you and O let me find! 
4 Teach me to feel that you are always nigh; 
teach me the struggles of the soul to bear, 
to check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh; 
teach me the patience of unceasing 
5 Teach me to love you as your angels love, 
one holy passion filling all my frame: 
the fullness of the heaven-descended 
my heart an altar, and your love the flame.  [2]

My heart an altar, and your love the flame

Anyone who has ever tasted of the presence of God by His Spirit understands the heart-cry of this prayer – the hunger of a soul to have God’s indwelling presence to guide and bring personal spiritual awakening and alertness. 

This hunger is the soul’s cry to be able to please God more than anything.  And I have to confess that, in all the years since the Spirit of God first moved my heart to claim Jesus Christ as my Lord, I have never gotten over the pull of that hunger.

Another song made popular by Bill and Gloria Gaither says exactly how this hunger to serve God plays out in the soul…the longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows.

So we have two realities here, the pull of our heart’s hunger to please and serve God, and the precious joy of that desire growing with the years as we serve Him.

It’s not a promise that everything will taste better, or heal faster, or go smoother; it’s a heavenly reality that God is faithful and loves you, no matter what happens.

For You Today

Make your heart an altar for the Holy Spirit to burn with God’s love.
There’s nothing sweeter.
There’s nothing truer.
There’s nothing more eternal!

[1] Title image:  By Ziko-C, via Wikimedia Commons
[2] Information on the hymn and image of George Croly:  via

Monday, February 23, 2015


Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Greed has many faces.  So does generosity.

This story is making its rounds on Facebook and made its way into my news feed: 

An anthropologist proposed a game to the kids in an African tribe.  He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told them that whoever got there first won the sweet fruits.  When he gave them the signal to run they all took each other’s hands and ran together, then sat in a circle enjoying their treats.  When he asked them why they chose to run as a group when they could have had more fruit individually, one child spoke up and said:  “UBUNTU, how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?”  “UBUNTU” in the Xhosa culture means:  “I am because we are”.

This sounds very much to me like the early church.  After the day of Pentecost, when so many people believed and changed their ways to follow Jesus, the church was characterized by unselfishness and joy:

They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—  Acts 2:46 (NLT)

Great joy and generosity is what the African children exhibited; they were joyful over the fruits and generous to share them.

It also sounds so 1800-opposite of what Solomon warned his child about – greed!

My child, listen when your father corrects you.  Don’t neglect your mother’s instruction.  What you learn from them will crown you with grace and be a chain of honor around your neck.  My child, if sinners entice you, turn your back on them!  They may say, “Come and join us.  Let’s hide and kill someone!  Just for fun, let’s ambush the innocent!  Let’s swallow them alive, like the grave; let’s swallow them whole, like those who go down to the pit of death.  Think of the great things we’ll get!  We’ll fill our houses with all the stuff we take.  Come, throw in your lot with us; we’ll all share the loot.”  My child, don’t go along with them! 
Stay far away from their paths.  They rush to commit evil deeds.  They hurry to commit murder.  If a bird sees a trap being set, it knows to stay away.  But these people set an ambush for themselves; they are trying to get themselves killed.  Such is the fate of all who are greedy for money; it robs them of life.    Proverbs 1:8-19 (NLT)
Greed is a downward spiral that never ends pretty!

I commented on the Facebook post that this Ubuntu was Christianity in its purest form, where the community lifts and is lifted.  A friend countered with – so…Christianity is Socialism? 

Perhaps my friend was only playing “devil’s advocate” to stir the pot of conversation, but I took the bait willingly and responded – no…just hearts unchained to stuff.

Social media claim to enhance “community” but I’ve never seen megabytes and pixels sit in a circle under a tree sharing sweet fruits, affirming that the whole community is connected and glad of it! 

For that you need children to show the way!

For You Today

This world could use a little Ubuntu; what do you think it will take to move us close enough to each other to get it started?

[1] Title image:  via Wikimedia Commons

Good Stuff To Give Up in Lent: Series #1 - Anger

Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.  James 1:20 (NLT)

We encounter so much anger in everyday life that most of us have become somewhat desensitized to it.  Everywhere you go, and in every realm of existence there is anger – some is miniature in its impact, some wildly excessive.  And some of it is our own!

     ·        It is a fact of life in business places and schools.
     ·        The media – TV, Internet, Cell Phones – all filled with anger.
     ·        Wherever you find yourself you cannot miss the road rage of the highways, lines at stores, and even in churches, families and close relationships.
Anger is “number 6” on the list commonly known as the Seven Deadly Sins (lust, envy, gluttony, sloth, greed, anger and pride).  Our question today is

Why Is There So Much Anger?

In order to begin to talk about why there is so much anger you have to address the question’s forerunner – where did anger begin?

I watched a History Channel presentation last month called “The Seven Deadly Sins”.[2]  The episode on anger gave God credit – starting in Genesis 6 where God’s wrath (anger) destroyed all the earth.  But the very first reference to anger in Scripture predates the flood; it’s in Genesis 4, where God asked Cain why he was so angry.  Cain responded to God’s questioning by acting out his anger; he killed his brother!  We have been angry and killing each other in various ways ever since.  There are so many references to angry persons in Scripture that I stopped counting after 100.

One side-road about anger in the Bible.  There is a difference between the anger (wrath) of God and human anger.  God’s anger is always righteous; man’s is not.  There is a different quality to God’s anger than just being “ticked-off”. 

I would be hard-pressed to stand here and recount all the ways anger evidences itself in our world.  However – let me just mention these few to set the stage for our exploration of why there is so much anger in our society.  Let these words open the door in your memory; let them relocate some images for you:
     ·        Columbine, 911, Iraq, Jihad
     ·        TV – CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds
     ·        Wal-Mart at Christmas where shoppers can be trampled in the name of the baby Jesus
     ·        Drunk drivers
     ·        IRS, Bernie Madoff, Insurance companies
     ·        Sports images from years ago –                                                                  
NY Yankees’ manager Billy Martin and umpires; College basketball coach Bobby Knight throwing chairs at referees.  Mike Tyson’s teeth biting-off Evander Holyfield’s right ear!

It’s not hard to come up with a list much longer than that.  If you simply open the newspaper or just turn on Jerry Springer you don’t have to wonder if there is anger lurking at every corner.

It would be easy

Now, I’d like to be able to say it’s someone’s fault – blame it on the Republicans or Democrats – the President or Congress makes me angry! 

It would be easier to blame society and the economy – my next-door neighbor.  It would be really easy to simply say “well, it’s my nature; I can’t help how God made us.” 

It would be easy, indeed; it would also be wrong. 

Anger is not in the genes – it resides in the spirit.  Anger defined is a desire for revenge.  With Cain it was the fact that he brought an offering and God rejected it (because it was not what God had required).  Cain got even with God by striking God’s creation.  That’s anger!

When I was six or seven my mother and aunt took the kids to the lake to swim.  My younger cousin Gary spent half the afternoon building a magnificent sand castle.  I was envious and wanted to play with it; he told me to get lost! 

Mom got tired of our ruckus, and told me to leave Gary alone.  I looked at Gary like Cain looked at Able.  I left, but I stepped right on his sand castle as I walked away! 
Anger is part of our existence because deep down in the spirit:
if we want something and can’t have it,
or someone says something and we don’t like it,
or she’s prettier than most and we can’t stand it……
…we get angry, and we want to get even.  It is born of a kind of arrogance that demands our own way – and plots revenge if we don’t get it!  Anger is one human’s attempt to punish another. 

It is wrong precisely because God has said so;

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”                   
Romans 12:19 (NRSV)

The Old Testament prophet Jonah is well-known for his submarine ride; but most people tend to forget the question God asked him:  Is it right for you to be angry? [3]  The way the question is asked leaves no doubt about the answer!

The Result of Anger

There is only one result of human anger – division of souls.  We divide ourselves from one another with our anger.  That is largely because anger clouds judgment and we do things we’d never ordinarily do when we are angry.  This is why the LORD inspired Paul to write a prohibition against unchecked anger for Christians:

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, Ephesians 4:26 (NRSV)

God knows that anger will creep in – it’s a human emotion that builds inside because we are a fallen people.  But he forbids us to let that which creepeth-in to be that which is allowed to stayeth around!  Don’t let the day pass without dealing with your anger; don’t let it fester and destroy relationships.  I’ve known people who buried their anger; years pass, until just the right time, and – wham – they let the object of their grudge have it right between the eyes.  

That’s shameful for a Christian!

A woman was hauled into court and told the judge that her husband is a horrible neat freak and he drives me nuts about keeping everything tidy.  After the  couple argued about the proper alignment of table place settings, [she] rented a 3,000-pound, pneumatic tire forklift…and drove it through the front wall of their one-story frame house.  According to neighbors who witnessed the incident, she used the machine to smash the dining room table.  "[He] yelled at me about where his fork was supposed to go," she said, "and I figured I’d fix it with a forklift."  Neighbors said [she] seemed "wild-eyed" and distraught during the attack and kept screaming…at her husband, who took refuge in the kitchen.  The moral of that story is:  never marry a woman who knows how to operate heavy machinery.[4] 

Not letting the sun go down on your anger doesn’t mean taking it out on the closest target before dark.  It means dealing with your anger honestly and with humility.

The Remedy for Anger

Let’s talk about what to do if you’re prone to anger.  First of all, God says we must get rid of our anger – along with a lot of other things that have no place in the Christian walk. 

This is what sets the scene for genuine Christian maturity:

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.  Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.  Ephesians 4:30-32 (NRSV)

Now, most of us would agree with that – we agree with what Scripture says about being tenderhearted instead of angry; we want to de-fuse the bomb of anger.  But the question still looms; How do I do that?

Where To Go For Help

You can start with the Psalms.  I know, I know….comfort and pastoral settings!  But if you have this image in your memory that the Psalms only has “give us this day our daily bread,” you really don’t know the Psalmist.

In Psalm 109 David pleads his case before the LORD against some enemies.  They have set him up, framed him with lies and are pushing for his removal from the throne.  They want him in prison or executed.  If it happens David’s family will be destitute, shamed in the community, cursed and endure suffering beyond imagination.  David is ANGRY!  His anger, and how he deals with it, are of tremendous benefit to us as an example of how to deal with our own anger.

Step One – Perceive

In the 20th verse David has an outburst of anger – retaliation is on his mind and heart – a seeking of vengeance on his enemies:

May that be the reward of my accusers from the LORD, of those who speak evil against my life.

David’s desire is that all the evil his enemies plotted against him would come back on their own heads.  Most of us have felt that way.  But in David’s case he is doing the healthy thing – acknowledging before God his own anger for what it is.  There is no candy-coating here; he prays, God, get those suckers!  And he put it in writing!  In so-praying, David is acknowledging his sin of anger.  And you have to do that if you’re actually going to get forgiveness and help.  Perceive your anger!

Step Two - Pray

Notice David’s prayer in verse 21:

But you, O LORD my Lord, act on my behalf for your name’s sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me.

David’s prayer takes David out of the equation – no retaliation in David’s hands, no vengeance.  He simply asks God to straighten out the offenders.  David’s prayer is for deliverance.  There is no instruction for God, only a plea that righteousness would prevail.  David leaves it open for God to straighten-out whoever might be the cause of all the trouble – even if the troublemaker is David!

Can you pray like that?  That is the only true way to pray when it comes to getting rid of your anger – with the humility that trusts God to right whatever is wrong.  Sometimes – no, most times – when there is trouble and anger there is enough wrong to go around.  Occasionally, in marital disputes for instance, there might be a husband who is 100% wrong or fault that lays completely on a wife’s shoulders.  (I’ve never found such a situation, but there might be ONE IN ALL THE WORLD). 

Perceive your anger; Pray with humility, and…

Step Three – Proceed with Your Life

With my mouth I will give great thanks to the LORD; I will praise him in the midst of the throng.

To “proceed” is to go about your life, giving thanks to God for what He will do, publicly and privately.  This doesn’t guarantee a smooth life, one without difficulty; friends, that does not exist! 

What this constitutes is a life obediently staying in the will of God to deal with anger the only appropriate way – see it as YOUR anger, confessing it to God and trusting God to right the circumstances, even if it’s painful for you. 

The key to getting help is trusting Him, and He IS trustworthy.  It’s always your choice – you will be angry sometimes, but you don’t have to be sinful.

[1] Title image:  Carl Spitzweg, via Wikimedia Commons
[2] © 1996-2010, A&E Television Networks. All rights reserved.(Premiered Dec 29, 2009 – January 4, 2010)
[3] Jonah 4:4,9(NRSV)
[4] Tim Harlow on