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Top Ten Religion Stories from 2011 for Conservative Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians

After a bit of a break from my annual tradition, I’ve decided to resurrect my sometimes cited, frequently debated and occasionally requested list of Top Religion stories from my neck of the Christian world.  As always, I offer my disclaimers first.  This list is 100% subjective.  This is just how I see things.  I limit myself to ten primary stories (though I will list some honorable mentions as well), and I don’t put them in a particular order of significance as in greatest to lesser.  I want you to add your own in the comment section – feel free to disagree, expand, add or challenge.  That’s 99% of the fun.  So without further fanfare…here’s the list for 2011.

1.      1. Arab Spring

Even if you aren’t a Van Impe/Camping/Left-Behind groupie, you’ve got to believe that something significant is going on in the Middle East with the collapse of multiple governments which were at least in an uneasy truce with the West (US/Europe) and generally with Israel.  Egypt, Libya,0arab.jpg Syria and other places are still in the midst of huge changes and where it will all fall out is anybody’s guess.  But it doesn’t require ownership of a crystal ball to see that most of these countries are going to be dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and other anti-Israel/anti-American/anti-Christian political forces which is going to change the status quo we have known for a generation.  Of lesser eschatological concern, but greater immediate attention, is the impact on the tiny “Christian” minorities in countries like Egypt which are already seeing a marked rise in persecution and violence.  In addition, we have no idea how far this regional revolution will grow.  Should Saudi Arabia come under anti-American governance, one can only imagine the amount of mischief that could come from a hostile government using the billions of dollars of American armaments they now possess and the ability to strangle us with their oil output.  And I didn’t even begin to deal with Pakistan and Turkey and the tenuous condition of our alliances with them.  Anyway you cut it…this is BIG in historical, spiritual and eschatological perspectives.

2.      2. Tim Tebow and “Tebowing”

Rarely has there been such a polarizing public figure who has caught the attention and dominated the national dialogue as Tim Tebow.  The 00tebow.jpgdiscussions surrounding him make the debates over Ron Paul, Justin Bieber and Charlie Sheen seem downright civil.  And while football is the “excuse”, make no mistake – this is a cultural/faith wars battle posing as a debate over an athlete’s skill set.  Every year in every sport there is conversation over whether the hot new player has what it takes to be in the Big Leagues, but this is a whole different level of fandom and venom spewing.  There are very few fence sitters.  On one side, people who thought the NFL stood for “Nearly Finished Looking” are now sporting Broncos Jerseys with “Jesus” written on the back.  Others have now found a convenient way to cloak their unbridled hatred for all things Christian by framing their vitriol with Tebow’s awkward throwing style and oh, yeah…he’s a religious kook too.  The cool thing is that Tim has, thus far, been able to live above the fray, showing amazing grace and maturity for a kid his age and in such glare and unless you are totally blinded by anti-Christian bias he is the kind of guy you’d want your daughter to bring home for Thanksgiving dinner.  His prayer posture has now become a national version of “planking” and “owling” only with a deeper message.  Whether you love or loathe the Broncos, Christians should pray for this young man’s character and spiritual strength.  He’s going to need it.

3.      3. Fundamentalist Schools and Accreditation

Several years ago, I printed a series of articles (no longer available) on my blog which pointed out problems in the Christian colleges located in the most conservative neck of the “evangelical” world (largely Fundamentalist schools).  It was quite controversial at the time and the number of “hits” I got on my blog for weeks originating in places like Greenville, SC and Pensacola, FL and other home ports for these schools was both surprising and revealing.  While I’m not taking any level of credit and I don’t claim to be a prophet or the son of a prophet, it is worth noting that many of the things I predicted and challenged have started coming to pass.  One of the most significant is the decision to start seeking some form of accreditation by these schools.  Bob Jones University shocked their constituency and those who knew of their philosophy of anti-accreditation several years ago by applying for accreditation with the Christian accreditation association, Transnational Association of Colleges and Schools (TRACS).  This was not the equivalent of regional accreditation, but was a significant position change nonetheless.  Interestingly, not long ago, another great bastion of accreditation resistance, Pensacola Christian College announced that they too were seeking TRACS Accreditation.  Now, within the last few months, in what can only be described as a shift of seismic proportions, BJU has announced that they will see full accreditation with SACS – a secular regional accrediting body and one of the most influential ones in the country.  This has the potential to change the entire “non-accreditation” game among colleges of their sort.  On a side note, because I work as a consultant to colleges and schools on occasion and have relationships with multiple accrediting agencies, I have “inside” knowledge that there are multiple other, less visible, but significant colleges who are also now considering accreditation for the first time.  Whether or not this was done because of a more astute prospective student or declining enrollment or simply a rethinking of their opposition rationale, it will certainly remove an excuse that many have used for not applying for enrollment at these schools and will move the institutional credibility (once attained) in a positive direction.

4.      4. Scandals Come Home to Roost

Virtually every branch of Christianity has had major sexual scandals over the last quarter century – from Catholics to extreme Fundamentalist.  This year, however, many past sexual scandals in fundamentalist circles came home to roost in a major way and virtually no branch of fundamentalism went unscathed.  The most significant one was the Trinity Baptist/Chuck Phelps/Tina Anderson Case from Concord, New Hampshire and which ended up impacting Bob Jones University, Northland International University, Maranatha Baptist Bible College and multiple churches and prominent pastors and college officials in the process.  You had to have been living under a rock not to come across info on this on the internet this year (not to mention 20/20 and CNN) and if you haven’t heard about it, just google “Tina Anderson” and grab a cup of coffee – you’re going to be there for a while.  But that case was just the tip of the iceberg.  There’s the case of a preferred mission agency of the GARB, the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE) which was hit by a decades old sexual abuse cover-up involving a missionary doctor and multiple young girls which is still being debated and investigated.  The Hephzibah Home for Girls in Indiana has been charged with abuse of their charges by the media and former residents.  Fairhaven Baptist Church and Fairhaven Baptist College in Indiana were the subject of a CNN investigation regarding gross abusive and harsh behavior toward young people (though there are no substantive sexual charges at this time).  Berean Baptist Church/College in Jacksonville, Florida made the headlines when leadership was accused of a cover-up involving the pastor’s son who videotaped young college women changing their clothes and they are also in the middle of a financial scandal that involves the loss of their ministry campus and charges of an excessive lifestyle by the pastor and his family.  Two Independent Baptist Pastors committed suicide in the Southwest upon being confronted about sexual abuse including a rape.  A graduate of Hyles-Anderson College was just the latest in a string of pastor’s from that school to have faced scandal and charges and was sentenced to prison for molesting several young men in his church and school.  Another, non-sexual scandal, involved the President of Tennessee Temple University and the Pastor of the sponsoring church resigning due to charges of plagiarism in a book written years before.  Bottom line – this year a lot of corruption came to light and it can be dismissed by saying “it happens everywhere” with a shrug of the shoulders or it can be examined and addressed with integrity.  Whether or not it will be addressed or ignored has yet to be determined and due to the nature and value of “independence” in this arm of Christianity and which has lead to a significant lack of accountability, it is hard to envision how a legitimate examination and corrective action could even be taken.

5.      5. The Rise of Internet Driven Activism

This is related to Number 4, but is separate as this has the potential to indefinitely and in various forms become a significant “game changer” in how grievances are addressed and scandals are dealt with for the foreseeable future.  Several years ago, anonymous bloggers 000tinaanderson.jpgin churches like the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Belleview Baptist Church of Memphis, TN rocked their congregations with accusations, charges and commentary.  Today, anonymity is no longer necessarily the modus operandi of these activists.  The lead character in this new “Fundamentalist Spring” of activism and scandal revelation is Jocelyn Zichterman who has combined personal wounds and frustration (and some would say, bitterness) with the “system” within her former branch of fundamentalism and the power of social networking and the internet to create a whole new force that has lead to earth-shaking revelations, scandals, media scrutiny and even policy changes in institutions touched by her formidable will.  The daughter of a somewhat prominent Independent Baptist family from the BJU/NU neck of the woods, she has made it her mission to expose and investigate what she perceives to be fundamentalist corruption and cultic behavior largely using alleged sexual abuse in her own home as her impetus and the response of many fundamentalists to her exposure of it.  Her fundamentalist resume is quite impressive and it has now become the platform on which she is waging a war against perceived flaws, failures and scandals of epic proportions utilizing Facebook, blogs and a media-savy willingness to generate headlines, interviews and investigations to speak up for some who were ignored or otherwise silenced.  She was largely responsible for putting the Tina Anderson/Chuck Phelps case on the national radar and now the rapist in question is in prison.  Most recently, she brought about the end of Bob Jones University’s ill-conceived reappointment of Chuck Phelps to one of their prominent Boards through amazingly successful on-line protests, petitions and other tactics serving as the catalyst with other dissatisfied or wounded individuals or groups.  While the University will deny that it had an impact on them, very few are going to believe that claim.  The ABWE scandal mentioned above largely gained traction as the result of a blog where many shared their stories of abuse and cover-up.  In 2011, a blog by disgruntled Sovereign Grace senior leader and pastor, Brent Detwiler was largely responsible for the Sovereign Grace head, C. J. Mahaney, taking a leave of absence/sabbatical to deal with spiritual issues in light of some of the charges and which continues to unfold with other resignations within SGM and disciplinary actions taken against Detwiler.  Bottom line – this story is significant because the Internet connects anyone on the planet who has a story to tell or a charge to make with others who had similar experiences or who might be inclined to take up their cause.  Many of these scandals are legitimate and poorly handled.  On occasion, some appear to be exploiting the anonymity of the web and the ability to cast an experience from their singular perspective in order to garner sympathy or to attack others.  Few would say that this is the best way to handle such matters.  Others would claim that is the option of last result and their final venue for seeing things made right.  However you feel about the tactic…no one can deny that it is a new and powerful force and those who have skeletons in their closets should be shaking in their boots.

6.      6. No “Religious Right” Candidate for President

This year’s Presidential Sweepstakes is all but destined to offer a choice between two major candidates who will not receive the endorsement or enthusiasm of most in the religious right.  Many of whom will endorse the candidate (and let’s be honest…it’s going to be the Republican nominee) will do so out of a sense of political expediency, not a sense that this is “their guy”.  Those who had a chance to earn the support of this formidable block of voters – Pawlenty, Palin, Perry, Bachman, Santorum, Huckabee – either didn’t even enter or never caught fire.  Thus, Republican values voters are largely dispersed among candidates for whom many will admit to “holding their nose” when voting for them.  Mitt the Moderate Mormon, Gingrich – the serial adulterer and Ron Paul – a guy whose followers make North Korean political party leaders look disloyal in comparison are all a far cry from the savior that Christian conservatives would like to see run against the man they perceive to be the greatest enemy to the national values our country has ever known (which might be an overstatement, but their perception nonetheless), Barak Obama.  It will be interesting to see if any of the last election’s evangelical “rock star” young leaders come out supporting Obama again much as they did in 2008 when the Dems captured 40% of the evangelical vote.  Sadly, there are few on the entire political scene down the road that might give any more hope to them except for one exception – FL Senator Marco Rubio – who has a Reaganesque vision, verbiage and values, but who just isn’t seasoned enough quite yet for the Oval Office.  (At least he, unlike our current occupier in chief, is aware of that.)  If I were a betting man, I’d say that Obama will win re-election by a hair this fall.  More tragic than another four years of his leadership is the reality that he will then change the face of the Supreme Court and Federal Courts for the next generation – a consequence from which we will likely ever recover.

7.      7. Bell’s Hell

Not a lot needs to be written on this topic, but Emergent Church hipster, Rob Bell, shook up Christianity with his re-warmed version of a form of possible annihilationism and set off a storm of controversy and counter-tomes and sermon series and so on – the likes which haven’t been seen since Y2K. Bottom line – Rob Bell is a heretic and his church is better off now that he has resigned to pursue other “opportunities”.  But there is no denying that he was a big story this year. (Note: since writing this originally, I have been told that the new pastor may be more theologically liberal than Bell — and that’s saying something.)

8.      8. Harold Camping Strikes Again (and Again)

Like a cat dropped off your deck will always land on his feet, radio evangelist Harold Camping has shown a decades-long knack for setting dates for the return of Christ only to have them pass without nary a whistle, let alone a trumpet blast, and still have followers willing to listen for and heed his next prediction.  But his setting of the date of May 21st had a new level of support among his adherents as people quit their jobs, sold their homes, bought RV’s and painted them with doomsday messages and took to the Interstates warning of the coming Apocalypse months in advance.  When the date passed and nothing happened – he offered an “ooops” moment and reset it AGAIN.  It too, was false.  In OT days, false prophets were executed.  Harold should be glad he’s in the 21st Century.  Of course, the media made a big deal with smarmy smirkiness throughout, subjecting  even more citizens to his nonsensical predictions and by proxy suggesting that most Christians who believe in a rapture were Camping Crazy themselves.

9.      9. Mainstreaming Mormonism

Mitt Romney’s candidacy and likely future win of the Republican nomination has brought some interesting scrutiny to the cult of Mormonism 000mormons.jpg(and using the term “cult” is apparently a VERY politically-incorrect thing to type – according to some evangelicals, many of whom teach at Fuller Seminary).  With their “Holy Underwear”, Native American Jews, abstinence from coffee, coke and tea (caffeinated at least), secret baptisms of the dead, history of polygamy, mandatory tithing, golden discs, BYU’s good Basketball team and all – who wouldn’t want a little closer look at the faith system of a potential “most powerful man on earth”?  What is interesting is that few orthodox Christians seem willing to hold the line that Mormonism is not a legitimate Christian sect with much dogmatism, and those who do – like the President of the Southern Baptist Convention – well, they should apparently be considered the crazy ones – not those who believe they are eventually going to get their own planet to run.  Go figure.  The sad fact is that Mormons, with all of their nicely-funded commercials, slick advertising and POWERFUL politicians and celebrities (Romney, Harry Reed, Orin Hatch, the Osmonds – for a few examples), are now gradually being accepted as mainstream and not even as extreme as say….those nasty “Baptists” or “Bible-Thumpers”.  Compromise is the Life-Blood of Politics, but it is the Death-Knell of Sound Theology.

10   10. Homosexual Activism Gains the Upper Hand

Let’s face it – the GLBT forces had a good year and their radical agenda shows no signs of abatement.  With even moderate conservatives rushing to prove their tolerance, they intimidate politicians and businesses into embracing pro-gay-lifestyle positions time after time after time.  Now serving openly in the military and 000dadt.jpglooking for ways to recall the Defense of Marriage Act passed by a previous congress, gaining the right to adopt children, punishing private (and public) enterprises who don’t just discriminate against them…but who don’t PREFER them in many cases, using judges to over-turn citizen initiatives approved by a majority to give them the right to marry, demanding and receiving preferred funding, constantly portrayed in a positive light by both the media and the entertainment industry — this tiny minority of Americans (probably less than 5% of the population) have unprecedented political clout in the history of the nation.  (Don’t believe that?  Ask this question.  “Who is more likely to win confirmation to the Supreme Court if nominated – a conservative, pro-life evangelical or a liberal homosexual.”  I believe I’ve made my point.)  Why is this a major story for 2011 – the repeal of DADT was the high water mark in a very successful year for homosexuals and they are just a few court decisions away and a few hate-crime laws removed from being able to sue pastors, authors, bloggers, churches, private employers, etc… for ever giving voice to the consideration that their lifestyle is sinful and that they are not a legitimate “minority’.  Religious freedom and 1st Amendment not withstanding – their agenda will take precedence and Christians need to think through those future scenarios as fines are considered, tax exemptions are lost and censorship is imposed.  I do not believe such a scenario is a wild-eyed prophecy – it’s a coming reality.

Honorable Mentions: Considered, but not chosen.

  • The Southern Baptists Consider a Name Change Removing “Southern” at Least
  • Small Christian Colleges in Peril as Tough Economic Times and Declining Enrollments take their Tolls
  • Disgraced LBTS Dean Ergun Caner takes Provost Position at Arlington Baptist College
  • C. J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries Rocked by Accusations
  • 400th Anniversary of the King James Version
  • Churches No Longer Allowed to Meet in Public Schools in New York

 So, those are my thoughts — what are yours?  Feel free to disagree, debate or offer your own list below!  Happy New Year everyone!

Can We Have a Truce on the “War On Christmas?”

It seems that every once in a while, I feel compelled to write a blog article that ticks off many of my “own kind”.  (By “own kind” I mean generally conservative, Bible-believing Christ followers.)  This is one of those posts.  So here I go….

I’m really quite weary of the annual hullaballoo about how the evil atheists/secularists/liberals/Democrats/communist pinkos are trying to remove “Christ from Christmas”.  Quite frankly, it has been going on all my life as far as I 000war-on-christmas.jpgcan tell.  (As exhibit one, I would use the long-debated use of “X-Mas” in place of “Christmas” which actually has quite a logical and historical explanation which one can find HERE, but which, I’m regularly told means nothing because today’s “X-Mas” users really are still trying to take “Christ” out of “CHRISTmas”.  But I digress…)  The skirmish became a “war” when FOX News talking, er, shouting head, John Gibson wrote a book entitled The War on Christmas which became a seasonal best seller.  In it, he used alleged and real incidents of attempts by whackjobs, nut cases and actual enemies of the Gospel who are trying to remove the religious significance from the “holyday”.

But sometimes, in my always humble opinion, we just make ourselves look like fools.  At least I hope it is that and not something more ethically distasteful like trying to exploit a non-controversy for the purpose of fundraising.  Speaking of that, here’s the one that lit my fuse today.

Citizenlink.com sent out the hot story of how the U.S. Government is forbidding our elected officials from saying “Merry Christmas“.  You can find the link to the story HERE.  If you haven’t been seeing it on the conservative news networks and right-wing blogosphere, basically their contention is that a memo written and distributed this month which reminds members of the U.S. House of Representatives that the law prohibits the use of their free mail (at least free to them, it’s actually paid for by our tax dollars) privileges, also known as “franking” to wish people “Merry Christmas(or Happy Hannukah or Happy New Year or Blessed Kwanza or whatever).  This is sold as yet another overt attempt to prove that Christianity is under attack from the dark forces of the radical left and we must stand and defend our holiday or Christianity is doomed.

OK, OK…just so you know that I’ve not turned pagan and am secretly part of a conspiracy to turn Christmas back to a Winter Solstice event, let me say it here and now:  “Jesus is the Reason for the Season!”  (Yep, I said it.  Burrell Cliche’-Fest is alive and well. Now may I never say that tired, old phrase again.  Seriously.)

But FRANKLY (pun intended), the fact that the U.S. House of Representatives has a policy against wishing constituents “Merry Christmas” is NOT an attack on Baby Jesus.  You have to read the whole policy.  In a nutshell, it is to prevent (additional) frivilous use of this “perk” enjoyed by the many millionaires who stroll our halls of Congress from sending out even MORE junk mail everytime there is a holiday of any kind — be it Christmas or birthdays or weddings or retirement or Eid or deaths or divorces or any other cause for celebration.  All such franked mail is included — not just Christmas.  Can you imagine how many millions of dollars and millions of tons of junk mail could be sent out every stinking holiday if they had this privilege?  While we amass debt at breath-taking rates every single second, this is just one small area in which the government has shown a bit of restraint.  If our beloved congress people want to congratulate their constituents and wish them “Happy Everything“, they are not forbidden to do so.  Just don’t do it on the taxpayers dime!  Use that big ol’ fat campaign chest you’re sitting on (and which they can keep personally when they retire.)  I could not care less if Sue Myrick (R-NC) and Patrick McHenry (R-NC) wish me a Merry Christmas.  It’s not like they personally sign them and include their family newsletter or anything.

What really irritates me about this (and actually, there are SEVERAL things that irritate me), is that it is cynical ploy to get Believers all worked up and fuming and making declarations about the 000afraid.jpggodless Democrats and so on and anyone who has a room temperature IQ and will take 10-minutes of reading time will see that this is completely bogus.  It makes us look like fools to those who DO take the time to find out what is really going on.  We can’t scream about wanting a more fiscally-responsible government and they pitch a fit when they spend tons of cash on sending us meaningless greeting cards.  It’s absurd.  The 1st Amendment is alive and well and this is not some evil conspiracy to silence people of faith.  Far too few people actually read beyond the headline and thus draw (the desired) opinion that this is a religious liberty issue.  It’s simply dishonest to make this policy about the 1st Amendment.

Here’s the real deal… we’ve already destroyed much, if not most, of the religious signficance of Christmas.  Seriously, celebrating the birth of the Christ child is a side-bar at best in a month filled with gross materialism and consumerism, gluttony,indebtedness, insane busyness and for many too much booze.  Sure, the 3x per year church attenders get their fix of religiousity at the annual Christmas Eve Communion Service in which millions of people participate in a sacred church ordinance unworthily.  Sure, many of us set a nativity set on top of the TV or the bar.  Yep, we drop a buck in the red kettle or send a shoebox to an Ethiopian child.  But when it comes right down to it, I don’t think Jesus feels honored by the way we celebrate the alleged (and probably inaccurate) date of His birth.  He probably feels sad.

Whether or not there is a “War on Christmas” we know that there is a spiritual warfare that happens every day of the year.  It began in heaven, took root in Eden and will not be settled until the end of this age.  Everyday the genuine believer should face spiritual opposition if they are seeking to live Biblically and authentically.  Scripture tells us that the Gospel will be a constant offense to the non-believer.  It has the stench of damnation for those who the condemned.  It is a Sword and not a dove to those who reject the Bible, repentance, Jesus and grace.  That’s the real “war” we face.

We don’t need additional evidence that this country is headed to hell in a handbasket.  It is evident all around us.  So let’s quit making a big deal out of non-issues and make the Christmas season a celebration of the Gospel by sharing it with someone, not shouting at them.

So Who Really Likes Talking About Money in Church? – Conclusion

Key Principles on Giving for Believers

1.      As Christians giving is a matter of simple obedience.If you aren’t giving, you’re unfaithful, disobedient and rebellious.  God calls non-givers “robbers” and “thieves”.  Some say that the Tithe is an “Old Testament” expectation and that God no longer requires or expects a tithe in this age of generosity.jpgGrace.  In fact, God never abolished the tithe; in fact, even Jesus noted that the Pharisees were still practicing the tithe (which he affirmed them for doing), but that they were tithing for the wrong reasons.  In the New Testament, He raised the standard under Grace as I referenced earlier with the examples of murder and adultery.  So you may not give, but let’s not pretend that such a state is sanctioned by the Lord or that you are right with the Lord if you aren’t.  It is inconsistent with the Christian’s life of grace and generosity to refuse to give to others who are in need and God’s plan has always been that giving is done first and best through the church.

2.      Biblical giving is not about portion, but proportion.

In the Old Testament, it was between 23 1/3% and 33 1/3%.  They had more than one tithe.  So I’m cool with going back to those days, how about you? :-)  In the Old Testament, the tithe was a “regulation” — a constant reminder that God owns all, He is perfect, we are not and that we will ultimately give account to Him because none of us could keep the law in order to attain salvation.  In the New Testament, we give from our hearts – not from our heads.  If it’s figuring out to the exact penny what you should give and not a penny more, you are completely missing the point.  The Christian life is not about rules and regulations and keeping records and making notes.  It’s about wild abandon and personal sacrifice and unabashed joy and insane generosity and crazy love and enthusiastic worship and supernatural priorities.  The little widow lady gave all she had and she was needy!  She gave more than the rich guys with their trumpets and fanfare because they had plenty more at home.  Sadly, there are very few in today’s Western church who have followed the example of the widow who gave her two mites and have given out of their need.  How many of us have every made a genuine sacrifice of our standard of living in order to give?  In the end, most of us will always find a way to do exactly what we want to do.  If we really wanted to obey, to be generous, to sacrifice — we’d find a way to do it one way or another.  But most of us are quite comfortable doing what is easy rather than what is right.  And as I learned as a child, “Right things are seldom easy and easy things are seldom right.”

3.      Giving is a spiritual discipline that will deepen your joy, faith and maturity.Small children are innately selfish.  Grandmothers aren’t.  There’s a reason.  Take away a child’s toy and she’ll cry.  Let an adult see his home burn and often thoughts-generosity-2.jpgthey’ll say, at least we’re all safe.  That’s what maturity does.  If we are still clinging to every shiny bauble and trinket that God has rolled our direction and then with pouty lips and an impudent face shake our heads in defiance or run and hide when He asks for it back so it can be given to others, then we are making a statement about where we are in terms of maturity.  God does not bless us to increase our standard of living, but to increase our opportunity for giving.I have never counseled someone with financial difficulties in nearly 30 years of ministry who had been actively tithing.  Almost also, financial counseling was the result of over-spending, putting non-emergency items on credit cards, living above one’s means, refusing to save for emergencies, covetousness or a combination of all of the above.  The discipline that comes with a planned system of giving spills out to all the area of our lives.  It gives us a plan, categories, direction, goals, accountability and requires thought.  When we think enough about our finances to set aside the firstfruits to the Lord, we’ll also give thought to the remainder of what we have.  We will live better on the 90% by living God’s way than 100% living by our terms.

4.      Blessings follow obedienceI dare you to try this.  Start giving.  This week, plan on being a blessing to someone.  Write a check, buy someone some tires, pay for someone’s lunch anonymously this afternoon, leave some groceries on a doorstep, send a missionary a check, give to the property fund of your church, help some kid in seminary who’s working to go into the ministry – and watch what God does in return to you.

I dare you to try tithing… Even if you’ve never tithed before…test God and see if you don’t live better.  I’m not teaching a prosperity gospel.  You can be the most generous person in the world and still go to hell.  God is not obligated togenerosity-300×225.jpg make you rich just because you’re generous.  I’ve known people who wrote huge checks for spiritual projects and then went bankrupt several years later – and still had no regrets.  But it is the height of arrogance to demand that God make our life easy and to answer every self-centered prayer or to get frustrated with Him when life is hard when on this most basic of issues — how we handle our money and whether or not we are generous toward the OWNER of all that we have — we ignore Him, refuse Him what is His and insist on clutching every speck of material gain as if it will always be there for us.

I close this serious out now with the challenge to seriously think about how you handle your money.  I know people don’t like to talk about sex, religion, politics and money.  But if you hold a Biblical worldview, you’ll know that God very specifically has standards and expectations for each of those areas.  The wise believer, searches the Scripture and is not satisfied with “just getting by” or “staying on the good side of the line”, but instead — confidently trusts God’s plan and His promises so that we will be positioned to enjoy His best blessings for our lives and all that we do.

Could It Be? Yep! It’s a Rant!

By popular demand….another rant….

I wonder if any one has considered the possible consequences the rapture will have on the Chick-fil-A company.  Just saying.

I got a fresh taste of how much some people loathe Obama when I heard someone say it would be better if Hillary was in the White House.

The wounds I’ve had inflicted on me by Christians have far exceeded in number and severity the wounds I’ve received from those who make no pretense of being believers.

There’s something oddly reassuring about watching the Kentucky Derby every year though I don’t gamble and I never watch another horse race throughout the year.

I really hate that commercial for McDonald’s where the tall self-absorbed, self-centered guy with scraggly hair refuses to speak to anyone until he get his precious coffee.  Grow up, dude.

I also don’t understand how watching some guy paint pictures on his chest and belly is likely to sell medicine.  Very odd.

The view of church varies dramatically depending on what side of the pulpit you find yourself.

The typical Christian school is clueless when it comes to communicating or even recognizing a Biblical Worldview.

I have more respect for an unshakable liberal like the late Ted Kennedy or even Barak Obama than I do for so-called “moderates” like Bart Stupak and Charlie Crist.

I’m frequently shocked by what some people are willing to share on Facebook.  Amused and entertained — but still shocked.

I used to think that TV was a vast wasteland of insipidly shallow and childish drivel.  Today, I know it.

The people who design drinking glasses have apparently never unloaded a dishwasher, otherwise they wouldn’t make the little indentation on the bottom of all their glasses that collects water and splashes everywhere when you are unloading the dishwasher and trying to put them on the shelf.

The Kindle may be the greatest invention thus far this century.

Why is it that I can earn more interest on my money in my sock drawer than I can at the bank and yet, they want to charge me 22% on my credit card bill?

Why are media companies willing to censor any negative portrayal of Mohammed, but always defend any so-called “artist” who wants to trash an image, the name of or the reputation of Jesus Christ?

I think the next time I’m surprised or disgusted about something, I’m going to exclaim or mutter, “Oh Mohammed!” or “Buddha, Mao and Joseph Smith!”.

Fajitas make me fahappy.

I like living in a part of the country that has four distinct seasons, but my very favorite season of all is Football Season.

It’s like the TV networks have basically given up on producing anything worth watching.  YouTube shows far more creativity.

You can judge me if you like, but I enjoy Facebook.

The KFC Double Down “sandwich” is a delectable and naughty treat.  And it will probably kill you faster than cigarettes.

Somebody should probably warn seminary students that many deacons and finance committee members can and will cuss you, fire you and lie about you if given the chance.

The hardest part of teaching seminary students is helping them get through their disappointment with church leadership and politics when they enter the ministry when they really thought the real battles were going to be waged by unbelievers.

I’ve always wondered why some entrepreneur hasn’t made a perfume that smells like pumpkin pie or apple dumplings or even gravy — cause I know those smells always get a guy’s attention.  At least it always gets mine.

You read it here first, I believe that Hillary Clinton will be our next President.  I’ll explain why in a future post.

If you don’t think most evangelicals are gullible and lacking in discernment, bring up “Glenn Beck” sometime and watch them get as flushed as a teenaged girl on her first date.  Or simply say something negative about him — but caution, wear a flack jacket before attempting.

If you don’t follow Jon Acuff on Twitter — you’re missing about a dozen belly laughs a day.  (Here’s the Blog)

By and large, most Americans consider one thing and one thing only when they are voting.  The economy.  Of course, I think that makes most of us political whores.

Frankly, I think for every church we start in this country, we should probably close one.  Or at least quit calling them a “church”.

I’ve found that as a rule, if I go to a church that only has a one-word church name (besides the word “church”), I’m the oldest person in the room.  And for the record, I don’t think it is any more “Biblical” or a sign of “relevancy” to have a church where everyone is younger than forty than it is unbiblical or “irrelevant” to have a church where every one is older than fifty.

There is not one single Republican that is acting like they might be interested in running for President in 2012 that makes me want to get excited about their prospects.  Not one.

I think that Lady GaGa and Prince Poppycock should wear signs that say that they represent the low point of American pop culture.  Are we even remotely capable of producing a Shakespeare or Milton or Bunyan in this generation?  I think not.

I’m very grateful for Dollar Menus at fast food restaurants.  May they always be.

One of these days, I hope someone rediscovers the word “Loyalty” and brushes it off and puts it back in our lexicon.

It’s my personal opinion that Rocheport shoes are the best shoes made.  Does that make me old?  Even if I have Rocheport flipflops?

My nest is 1/2 empty and I’m not loving that.

OK….enough for today.  Maybe it won’t be nearly a year before I do this again.  Feel free to add your rants or perspectives in the comment section.

Of Gardens and Greenhouses

Yesterday, while teaching Sunday school, the issue of “Greenhouses” and over-protecting our kids came up.  I mentioned that I had once written an article on the topic and I’d look it up and re-post it here.  I found it this morning and am doing so now.  I wrote this about four and a half years ago, but I believe it is certainly a valid argument for those who talk about over “sheltering” their kids.

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I love to go to old hardware stores. Several times a year, I go to one of my favorites in downtown China Grove, North Carolina. In the spring, they have their baby chicks out. I usually buy some seed for my garden (whether I need it or not). I can never resist it when I go into a hardware store and they have greenhouse plants out. They just call me. The reason I like this China Grove hardware store is because every spring they offer several different kinds of exotic lettuce like I buy from the organic section from Food Lion. I’m sure the rabbits will get more of it than I do, but you can’t blame a man for trying.

greenhouse_main.jpgOver the years, I’ve learned that greenhouses are important and very sophisticated places. Ive known several folks who ran wholesale farms and the greenhouses were just incredible. Automatic windows and fans. Climate-controlled temperature and humidity. Auto-sprinklers. I even went to one place where you had to walk through some kind of disinfectant so that you didn’t bring some foreign bacteria into the house on your shoes.

From time to time, I have someone make an argument against Christian schools or sending kids to church or protecting them from certain influences which I call the Hot House or Green House argument. It goes something like this. You’re raising your children in an artificial environment like a greenhouse. But they’ve got to go into the real world sometimes, so you’d better not isolate them. Put them in public schools, don’t force them to go to church, let them stay out late with their friends, don’t be so strict with the curfew things, let them rent R-rated movies and the list goes on and on.

I usually just smile at them and continue on my way. Sometimes I’ll engage them in a little banter by responding like this. Yes, you have a point. I think I’ll go rent a porno movie this evening and watch it with the kids that’s out in the real world too. Or maybe Ill take the young’uns down to the hospital this afternoon and let the TB patients cough on them for a while I mean, hey, you can’t protect them forever, can you? They’re going to get exposed to germs eventually at least I’ll be there! (I think by now, you’re getting my point, right?)

I’m afraid we’ve allowed unbiblical philosophy to sway us away from protecting our kids. Sometimes, I believe, we have over-delegated responsibilities to others that are best performed by parents. As a pastor and an educator, I often urge parents with whom I work to build a greenhouse in their own home.

Proverbs 22:6 tells us to Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it. This is aseedling2.jpg wonderful proverb given to us in wisdom. Keep in mind that proverbs are principles and not promises. They are guidelines and counsel. You and I both know of some people who were reared in a good Christian home, but as they matured and had the opportunity to accept or reject the truth in which they were schooled, they chose to reject it. But as a principle or guide, children who grow up in the loving, nurturing environment of a home that is committed to Biblical values are more likely to continue in the way they should go as adults than those who don’t get such support and training. But when an adult child chooses to reject Truth, it is less of a reflection on the parent than on the adult child who apparently has not submitted his will to the Lord.

The word train here comes from the Hebrew word hanak, meaning to dedicate”. It conveys an idea of hedging in or narrowing and would often be used in the sense of starting something. Horses are hedged in at the beginning of a race so their start will be fair and so they will be headed in the right direction. Garden plants are started in small, confining containers, under the protected environment of a greenhouse so they will get a good beginning. Climbing vines and roses are placed on a trellis to that they can be guided upward in a beautiful fashion. Godly parenting demands that godly parents get their youngsters off to a good start.

You have to admit, greenhouses are interesting places. They are sophisticated in their design and simple in their goal. By shielding their young charges from cold, disease, heat, drought, pests and other dangers, greenhouses prepare immature plants for life outside the greenhouse. When they are ready, they are transplanted to the real world not too soon just when they can handle its pressures, difficulties and irregularities.

Isn’t that what we as parents should be doing as well? The notion that we should expose our children to the worst that the world has to offer as some sort of preparation for the real world is ludicrous. Yet, many parents push their kids into premature dating, expose their kids to the worst kinds of violence and conduct, sexualize their kids by letting them act and talk sexy and in general abdicate their responsibility to be keepers of the environment which allows our kids to mature before exposing them to the harsh realities of a pretty wicked world.

Lets examine some of the responsibilities of a greenhouse and draw comparisons with our responsibilities with the adult world.

First, greenhouses are to provide protection during early states of development.  Most tender plants are given a nice head start in peat cups and potting soil. This allows them to sprout in safety away from the dangers that will destroy them before they even get started. Such is the approach by the wise parent. Keeping them close to mom and dad, snarling at things that would rob them of their innocence, hiding their impressionable psyches from the cruelness of a fallen creation, we allow them to get a head start on life before having to deal with those things for which they are not ready.

Greenhouses provide shelter from harsh exposures. Do our pre-pubescent kids really need to know the horrors of violence, the draw of sexuality, the raw potential for hatred that exists in the world? Certainly, they will be exposed to it soon enough and sometimes sooner than wed like. But why rush our kids into confrontation with that which scars, desensitizes and devastates?

Timely and measured nutrition are a priority in the greenhouse and should be in the home as well. Measured doses of nutrients, sunlight, moisture and fertilizers are given by conscientious farmers. The wise parent makes sure that their child is given the correct doses of intellectual stimulation, physical exercise and nutrition, emotional support and spiritual instruction. Wed be fools to only see that they get enough to eat, but no love or exercise or academic stimulation. Why is it that many parents, then, neglect completely the need each child has to know there is a God and that He matters? Its nothing short of child-neglect.

Every greenhouse is a monument to the controlled environment. Constant readings and evaluation give guidance. We also should be checking the temperature in our home. How are the attitudes? Is there balance? Have negative influences like too much TV, unhealthy media messages, and over-extension of time crept into our life? Sometimes we need to regulate what is going on in our personal greenhouse.

Much care is given to make sure the plants have developed their roots. Roots give stability, help with sustenance, and are essential for reproduction. Making sure our kids know lifes whys and not simply the whats is essential in giving them roots. It is what guides discernment, encourages stability, promotes continued growth. Good rooting is dependent upon a Worldview that is permeated with the absolute values of Scripture.

Finally, the big day arrives and they are ready for transplanting. Not too soon. Not too late. Gradually, they have been exposed to a greater extreme in exposure to sunlight, temperature and watering. They are now ready to transplant into the yard or garden. The day finally comes when our kids are ready to date, get their first job, go off to school, and invade the world one step at a time. Yet, even during that time, we monitor, guide, check and pray. That’s what good parents are all about.

So, if you’ve bought into the whole “Anti-Greenhouse” philosophy of parenting, I’d challenge you to rethink it. Indeed, a family garden and greenhouse may be what’s best for YOUR kids.

Rant-Off

I think I finally have enough things jotted down here and there to do a full-blown “Rant”.  To new readers of this blog, from time-to-time I just unload a rapid-fire list of thoughts, irritations, vents and musings that clears both my chest and my desk.  So here’s my latest…

  • I have a bad habit of counting people’s verbal ticks when they talk to me.  One of the most irritating ones is people who say “you know”. Caroline Kennedy’s worst interview when she was thinking about trying for Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat included so many “you know’s” in it that it pretty much ended her hopes of moving to Washington.
  • I have my own “ticks”.  Recently I found that when I speak in public, I put my left hand in my pocket all the time.  I need to stop that.  Years ago, I would touch my glasses too frequently, so I had someone count how many times I would do that in a sermon and then would try to reduce that number each week until I had it under control.
  • I really hate it when I’m talking to someone and they keep saying, “Know what I mean?” or “Do you hear what I’m saying?” over and over and over again.  I want to scream, “Dude, I’m not deaf!  Of course I hear you.  If I can’t hear you, I’ll let you know.”  It’s also a guise for getting someone to agree with you.  In my head, even when I politely say, “Yes, I hear you”, I’m also thinking, “But I don’t agree with you.”
  • I’m generally uncomfortable with the idea of people giving standing ovations to musical numbers performed by “artists” in church.  I don’t mind respectful applause.  I don’t even mind an appreciative “amen”.  But really, do we need to jump to our feet and cheer when someone holds a note for more than ten seconds at the end of a Southern Gospel song or does more runs than a jackrabbit at the end of a Gospel number?
  • I’m seriously considering scheduling a technology fast from time to time in my life.  So much of my work is done via computer and blackberry anymore, I’d like to experience the solitude of a day or two without running to the internet every few minutes.  I think I’ll call it going “techno-Amish”.
  • Mark my word, if Obamacare passes, we will be having the same conversations regarding euthanasia within a generation as we’ve been having regarding abortion.  That’s not a prophecy; that’s a promise.  When the government has to choose who gets the kidney transplant, a 60-year-old grandma or a 16-year-old kid, whom do you think “loses?”
  • I feed a little flock of ducks that gather on my porch and peck at my glass door until I give them bread.  They were so cute when they were little.  Last week, I opened the door to feed them and they all ran into my house and pooped on the floor and pecked my toes.  Kind of reminds me what the government does once you invite them into your back yard.  Next thing you know, they are sitting in your living room telling you to quit eating potato chips, vaccinate your daughters, buy a smaller car and that you make too much money.  Then they poop on your floor.
  • Every time that I drive by some little white-knuckled, bespectacled whimpy fellow driving a Prius Hybrid up I-75, I get a little thrill by blowing past him in my gigantic suburban.  Hybrid drivers always just act so smug and buttoned-down.  Kind of like the kid in junior high who wore bryll-cream and his top shirt button buttoned and who took names when the teacher left the room.  He just kind of makes you want to shove him in a locker or hang him by his belt loops on the back of a door.
  • I think Glenn Beck is one of the most mentally unstable conservatives on the air today.  And THAT’S saying something.  I’m shocked that he’s not a liberal as irrational and hysterical as he can be at times.
  • I think Professor Gates from Harvard set race relations back a decade last month.
  • At the same time, I’ve met some over-the-top obnoxious cops and government employees who think they possess all the authority in the world and aren’t afraid to flaunt it.  They do make you want to scream at them.  But if I did it, you bet I’d get arrested and the President wouldn’t invite me over for any (root) beer, you can be sure.
  • Why is it that when Christians vote in a block for someone or in supporting a party, they are labeled, “simple”, “unthinking”, “sheeple”, etc…  But when Hispanics support a Supreme Court nominee simply because she’s Hispanic or when Blacks support Obama simply because he’s black — even though in each case the candidate represents a different philosophy than they hold — it’s considered understandable and even “historic.”  (Note:  I voted against Jimmy Carter and didn’t vote for Mike Huckabee — both whom are evangelicals.)
  • The office of Pastor is undergoing such rapid changes due to the demands and expectations of the postmodern generation that I can’t keep up with it.  Frankly, I don’t see much Biblical basis in the changes.
  • I’m as uninspired by the Republicans today as I was the day I decided to switch to “unaffiliated” last Spring.
  • “Nothing could be finer than to live in Carolina….”
  • McDonald’s Sweet Tea is an overlooked treasure in the Fast-Food world.
  • I wish Florida Senator Mel Martinez was running for re-election so I could vote against him.
  • Same thing goes for Florida Governor Charlie Crist.
  • This year’s Big Brother 11 is DULL.
  • I cannot bring myself to watch a single minute of the Bachelor/Bachelorette no matter how little is on TV during the summer time.
  • I think I think too much.  I almost never listen to music because when I can understand the lyrics — I usually disagree with them, over-analyze them and find them philosophically or theologically unsound.
  • I am grateful for Facebook.  It has revealed to me that my quarter century of ministry has not been a total waste of time.
  • Facebook has also reminded me that often the kids you think are beyond hope are often the ones in which you should have the most hope.
  • Why do tomato growers not comprehend that we’d rather have tasty tomatoes than pretty tomatoes?  So quit gassing green tomatoes to make them sickly red and figure out a way to ship ripe tomatoes that are edible when they get to the market.
  • So the government is giving people $4,500 to trade in the “clunker” just like they permitted people who didn’t qualify for a mortgage to get houses they couldn’t afford.  And like the trained monkeys we’ve become, Americans are mobbing auto dealerships getting new tin-can cars and monthly payments they didn’t previously have.  Shall we now place bets on how many of those cars get re-possessed in the next six months?  No thanks, I’ll continue to drive one of my 100,000+ mileage cars with no payments.  I hope everyone’s grandchildren enjoy paying for the debt we’re wracking up with assinine gimmicks like this.
  • I do sort of wish there was a cash-for-big-ol’-honkin’-TV’s exchange so I could get a kewl LCD or Plasma flatscreen.
  • I don’t care how old I get, I’ll never really figure out most people.
  • I don’t care how great a speaker a guy is, I’m really not interested in going to church for a video sermon.  I think I’ll just wait until it comes out on You Tube or free TV or just not at all.
  • It seems like since the TV stations switched to digital that my television reception has gotten worse.  I’m always getting these little weird looking boxes that look like a pay-per-view scrambler in the middle of my regular shows.
  • I’ve had to delete several bullet points on this list because they just sound too snitty and I’ve been in kind of a foul mood.  So glad that I’m at least coherent enough to delete them.

That’s all folks!

What Your Pastor Wishes You Knew About Him – Part 2

I’ve been rather gratified with the response I’ve received on Part 1 of this article via blog comments, Facebook comments (my blog articles are automatically posted on Facebook) and private emails.  It has actually been linked on several blogs and discussion boards as well.  So today, I’m going to continue with my thoughts on this topic.  If you haven’t read Part 1 as of yet, you may do so by clicking HERE.

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6. Your Pastor probably views you differently than you view him.

Being someone’s pastor is actually a very intimate experience.  If your pastor is a good one — he loves you.  He’s been there during some of your most difficult moments.  He’s caught tears, perhaps had to be the one to tell you difficult news, has seen you at your best and at your worst.  You may have confided some personal things in him that are known only to you, him and God as you work through the consequences of sin, personal tragedies and other pains.  He has invested his heart and soul in you by praying for you, weeping with you, perhaps even putting your needs ahead of his or his family’s at times.

Then a church down the street calls a new pastor, builds a new building or offers a service style that you find a bit more appealing and you switch as if you were changing from Wal-Mart to Target or finding a new chiropractor.  And of course, people are going to ask “why” and often excuses like “We’re just not being fed” or “Our needs aren’t being met” or “We just need a change” are offered.  For you, it’s a new adventure.  For him, it feels painfully like rejection.

That’s not to say that there are no good reasons for changing churches.  It doesn’t justify those renegade pastors who then grow angry and defensive and say unkind things.  It doesn’t mean that you are leaving God’s will for you life necessarily and are making the first step on a trek toward leaving the faith.  But it does hurt.  Pastors are human too.  And while you may see him as a distant leader or provider of services, if he knows you personally, he probably sees you more like family or a friend.  It’s simply a difference in roles and perspective and you might never understand that.  Sometimes where you stand on things depends on where you sit.  But I think you should know — pastors usually see their church members differently than they are viewed by their church members.

7. Pastors sometimes find it difficult to have friendships.

For better or for worse, there is a celebrity element to being a pastor.  If you don’t believe that then check out the New Testament account of those who were “Paul fans” verses those who liked Apollos.  A wise pastor resists being viewed as “special”, but this tendency is why humility in leadership is so necessary.  Any celebrity, politician or person of wealth will tell you that one of the greatest frustrations is that one never knows which friendships are genuine.  There is always the difficulty in knowing who is genuinely a friend or who is simply there to exploit their position or fame or influence.  Pastors struggle with this on several levels.  Some pastors purposefully choose not to be friends with people in their congregation — it’s too risky in their opinion.  Some pastors refuse to have friendships with their staff — they are afraid it will hurt objectivity, communicate favoritism or just simply be too complicated.  Some pastors have been burned by past friendships and thus become almost reclusive and over-guarded.  Some pastors naturally migrate toward friendships exclusively with peers — fellow pastors who can relate to the unique role and scrutiny being a pastor encompasses.

Several years ago,  a pastor of a large and prestigious church in the same city where I was a pastor had a very close friend as a church member.  A local seeker-sensitive church in town “caught fire” and all of us were experiencing mass migrations out of our pews to the new “cool/hip” church.  His church was among those hardest hit.  But then his very best friend, the person who had introduced him to the church before he was pastor, his closest confident, took him to lunch and let him know that he was leaving for the new “fellowship”.  The pastor said all the perfunctory things about following the Lord, etc… and then went to his already scheduled staff meeting.  After he opened with prayer, he looked at his team of pastors — broke down in wracking sobs, explained what had just happened, apologized and excused himself.  I wish that wasn’t the only story like this that I’ve heard, but I’ve got many more — people meeting privately for the “dismissal” of their pastor, people trying to arrange financial gain/business with the church, people who expected their sins to be covered and undealt with — all while claiming “friendship”.

I don’t have any solutions to this.  I’ve experienced it personally.  I don’t know of many pastors who haven’t.  It is what it is.  But maybe it will give you some insight into your Pastor’s world.

8. Your pastor may well be different out of the pulpit than when he’s in the pulpit and that doesn’t necessarily make him a hypocrite.

I’ve laughed over the years at how people often describe me — outgoing, super confident, “people person”, extrovert.  I can understand why they would say that, but they don’t know the “real me”.  The “real me” is actually rather shy, mostly an introvert, hopes that the people in the seat next to him in the airplane go to sleep and don’t want to talk, am a veritable cauldron of insecurities and often would rather have a quiet evening at home with his family or a book than be with a large group of people.  So why do they suddenly go “electric” when they walk behind the lectern?  It’s a God thing.  It’s His gift, His calling, His annointing — whatever you want to call it.  Moses experienced it.  Coarse Peter overcame his own proclivities.  Odd John the Baptist certainly got beyond his idiosycracies enough that he was heard.  The delivery of the Gospel is never about the man, but always about the message — so don’t get too enamored or distracted by the amplification system.

Some of my most important spiritual moments have regularly been before I preached on a topic that God had led me to address, but on which I was still struggling.  Your pastor probably doesn’t sleep in a suit, sing praise choruses before every meal and memorizes Spurgeon and the Reformers in lieu of watching Reality TV.  He has morning breath, he sometimes fusses with his wife, he yells at the kids when they forget to take the dog out and he steps in a wet spot on the carpet, gets frustrated in heavy traffic and might have a secret affinity for Roller Coasters or deer hunting or restoring old cars.  In other words — he’s just a regular guy.  He certainly isn’t perfect.  But if he’s a good pastor, he’s earnest and sincere and also man enough to admit his faults and make them right when he needs to do so.

Take time to get to know your pastor as a person before you make huge assumptions about him as a “professional”.  You might be shocked at how much like you he really is even though your callings are different.

9. Your Pastor has bills too.

This area is touchy.  There’s nothing like a conversation about money to get people stirred up.  Let me just say this.  Scripture is very clear that spiritual leadership should be supported by the tithes and offerings of the people who benefit from and need their ministry.  It’s God’s plan.  Paul referenced it as the “double honor”.  Someday, your pastor will need a home to live in that isn’t owned by the church.  There will come a day when he will need, because of age or infirmity, to transition out of being a full-time pastor so he needs a retirement strategy.  (There are few things sadder than a pastor who has faithfully served a congregation for years and years who can’t “afford” to retire and thus inflicts himself on a poor church or has to beg for “meetings” because he has no income.  Many pastors foolishly opt out of Social Security and when it comes time to fund their 403b retirement plans, they get cut because of tight budgets.)  Your pastor’s kids need to go to college.  There are weddings that need to be paid for, children that need braces, cars that need repaired.

Please don’t demean him by noting every purchase he makes, vacation he takes or gift he receives with a “It must be nice to be in the ministry to be able to afford that!” or “I guess that explains that special offering last month!” or some other witty little cutting remark that puts him on the defensive.  It’s unkind and petty.  Stop it.  Instead, show some maturity and say something like, “Wow….I’m so pleased that God has blessed you and provided that for you.  If anyone deserves it — you do!” and then notice how you are blessed for rejoicing with those who are rejoicing and how he is blessed in receiving your kind words.

If you think your pastor is a crook, given to filthy lucre, too wealthy — then confront him Biblically or shut up.  If you are a church leader and wonder what is appropriate compensation, may I recommend a study that is produced each year called the “Church Compensation Report” and HERE‘s the link to it.

Finally, I want to state for the record that all three of the churches where I have ministered have been a genuine blessing to me and my family in this regard.  They very generously honored us with a living wage, they gave me freedom to write, teach and speak which allowed me to squirrel away money for life’s unexpected or bigger expenses as they came and provided me with the necessary tools for ministry.  I wish every pastor was treated as I have been treated in the matter of financial support.

10.  Your pastor loves the work of the ministry.

You might say, “duh” — but I would ask, how many people do you know who really, deep down inside, would like to be doing something else as a vocation?  If you are like me — a ton.  Preaching the Gospel, seeing people accept Christ, watching lives transformed by Truth, seeing healing and reconciliation occur in families — wow….that’s just the best.

Over the years, I have wearied over the administrative load of ministry.  I do not get excited about trying to get budgets to balance, dealing with maintenance issues, making sure that risk-management is taken into consideration every time we start a new initiative and dealing with governmental and even church bureaucracy and politics.  But that’s simply the price a pastor pays for being able to stand up, open the Word of God and share what the Holy Spirit has laid on his heart for that day.  I can be absolutely exhausted, frustrated, depressed or overwhelmed, but the moment I crack open my Bible before a group of people ready to hear — I realize once again that I’m doing what I was created to do.  Whether you pastor a mega-church, lead a Sunday School class, host a home Bible study or simply leading your family in devotions — when you are called to the ministry of the Word, everything is as it should be every time you get the chance.  It simply doesn’t get much better than that!

I’m going to stop here.  I know I have not exhausted the list, but I’ve probably exhausted you.  I would invite pastors to add additional points if you’d like to do so.  You may forward, link, print, copy or otherwise use these articles as they would bless you or others.  The purpose in writing this has not been to complain, but to explain.  Pray for your pastor today — or even right now.  I’m guessing he’s already been praying for you.

Expecting HIS Best……Dan

What Your Pastor Wishes You Knew About Him – Part 1

discouraged.jpgIn the last week, I’ve spent time talking with three pastors who are about ready to throw in the proverbial towel.  Each case is different and no two pastors, churches, boards or any other “part” of church leadership is exactly the same, but what is common among them is a sense of deep despair.  Sadly, in the last week, I’ve also heard of two colleagues in the ministry who ended their ministry with a catastrophic failure — one of them a rising evangelical leader who admitted to an affair.  Not in every case, but in some cases, I’ve noticed a correlation to the thought processes between those who burnout in ministry and those who “flame out” due to sin.  But whether you burnout, flame out, drop out or rust out — out is still out.

I am now two years beyond my own decision to step away from the Senior Pastorate, so I hope I can be a bit more objective about a topic like this than I might have been 24 short months ago.  As for my own situation, I had my own reasons for changing the nature of my ministry and I am not looking back.  For the cynical or others, nothing I write in this article should be construed as anything more or less than what it is — an opinion piece from someone who has sat on both sides of the pulpit for the last 25 years of ministry and who is still engaged in pastoral ministry — just from a different perspective in recent months.

I don’t pretend to write for every pastor out there, but I spend a lot of time with pastors and former pastors.  There are some trends that are impacting pastoral leadership at this time that I think impact churches and their leaders.  There are some frailties and vulnerabilities that any man called to be a pastor is naturally going to carry into his responsibilities.  Add to that the spiritual warfare that is incumbent upon being a spiritual shepherd (or undershepherd).  It is with these realities in mind that I offer some things that I’m guessing your pastor wishes you knew about him.

1. Bible College and Seminary Weren’t Enough

I don’t care where your pastor went to school, they did not and could not possibly prepare him for all that a pastor faces.  Today’s pastor must be an extraordinary communicator, an effective administrator, somewhat astute to legalities and business procedures, a counselor, a therapist and a dozen other roles that today’s high-expectation church member often expects from their pastor.

Though many will say that’s what boards and staff are for, that thinking simply isn’t based in reality.  The expectation is that the Pastor should be able to protect the church, lead the church, inspire the church and manage the church.  Failure to function in those four primary departments may jeopardize the support level he enjoys from the congregation.

Much of the experience and expertise in those areas needs to be learned and earned over time.  That fact has lead me to a personal conclusion that we should discuss pastoral internships more seriously in seminaries and church leadership circles.

2. Good Sermon Preparation Takes Time

If your pastor is going to accurately and thoroughly present the Word to your congregation, he must have study time.  The best pastors and Bible teachers will tell you that for every one hour of teaching or preaching, about eight hours of study is optimum.  Your pastor may make it look simple, but it isn’t.  Typically, your pastor may need 3-4 fresh preparations in a week (particularly if he speaks outside the church a lot or if he is a solo pastor.)

It is not realistic to expect your pastor to attend every function, make every hospital visit, lead every meeting, make an appearance at every social, go to every shut-in and still be brilliant in the pulpit 2-3 times per week.  A pastor should be about leading and shepherding and equipping the church for the work of the ministry.  Certainly every pastor should attend “some” functions, make hospital visits on occasion, attend important meetings, drop in a socials when possible and take the time to minister to the shut-ins — but to heap all of those responsibilities (plus the administration of the church, personal growth exercises and other important tasks) is not just unreasonable, it is inhumane.

If each Bible study teacher, each deacon, each elder, each staff member took some of these responsibilities, everyone and everything would be covered and all would be blessed as they fulfill their spiritual giftedness in the work of the ministry.

3.  His Family is Important Too

familystudies.jpgYour pastor needs time with his children and spouse.  If his marriage fails, his ministry is likely over.  If his kids don’t turn out right, his grief will be deep, his regrets will be suffocating and his reputation will be diminished.  You will bless your pastor and your church by freeing him to be with his family.

For years, I’ve often told my pastors to look at their day in three parts — Morning, Afternoon and Evening — each comprised of about 4 hours.  On average, it is reasonable to expect that those in the ministry will work at least 14-16 “parts” over a week’s time.   That way, we should have at least 5 – 7 morning/afternoons/nights available for family time.  Remember that a pastor who preaches and teaches the Word is working — it isn’t the same as sitting in the pew.  It is physically exhausting and emotionally draining.  Most pastors go into “Sunday mode” on Saturday evening and aren’t much of a “family guy” then.  If they have a Saturday night service, move that “mode” to Saturday around noon.

According to that formula, your pastor needs one full day off and 2-4 evenings free.  If he can’t get those evenings free, then he should take a morning or an afternoon when he can to compensate for the lost evenings.

giftcards.jpgAnother blessing you might share with your pastor is to give him a gift card for dinner out on his birthday or at Christmas or if you own a condo at the beach or a vacation home in the mountains, offer to let him take his family there for a few days.  These small tokens can be a fresh encouragement when relationships get neglected.  Being able to run to a restaurant with your spouse and pay for it with a gift card is a double blessing.

In cases of extreme crisis — a wayward child, substantial marriage difficulty — be willing to send your pastor to professional help, a retreat or some intervention.  If you don’t think pastors ever have family problems, then you are naive.  This is a great time to practice the Golden Rule and ask one’s self what they would appreciate if the roles were reversed.  The investment of giving your pastor a week or even a month off to deal with a family crisis is far cheaper than the process of kicking him to the curb and looking for a new pastor — not to mention more Biblical.

4.  Be Kind if You Have a Criticism

Your pastor is going to make some mistakes.  I certainly made my share of bone-headed decisions over the years.  And, if the truth be told, sometimes the pastor won’t see them as quickly as everyone else does.  No pastor has a corner on the Truth and no pastor is above criticism, correction or simple advice.  But when you approach your pastor with something you’re concerned about, address the problem without attacking the person.

Pastoring is interesting in that no decision a pastor ever makes is received positively by everyone.  That would also include no sermon, no vision, no counsel, no strategy, no hire, no building campaign and the list goes on and on.  So before bringing your offense to the pastor, it would wise to pause and ask yourself, “Is this important enough to complain about or to place on the pastor’s mind?”  Some things are — certainly things that deal with Theology, ethics, morality and legal matters should be addressed.  Some things simply aren’t — personal peeves and preferences, gossip, many traditions and irritations.

angry.jpgSome pastors, when faced with the cacophony of criticisms, suggestions, problems and hissy fits they regularly confront, simply shut down — overwhelmed by the torrent and unable to prioritize, distinguish and discern what is legitimate and what is simply whining.  Others will respond defensively at first, but after a while, the Holy Spirit guides them to acknowledgement of the validity of the issue.  A stiff-necked and unapproachable pastor will soon lose credibility and will probably require a confrontation initiated by spiritual leadership with the church.  But it is wise for all of us to measure our words correctly and to do as the Scripture tells us and “entreat as a brother” as opposed to rebuking an  elder with hostility, demands or threats.

5. Give Your Pastor Time to Grow

Sadly, the average term (depending on several factors) of a pastor in America today is somewhere between 2 and 5 years.  Yet, all the research tells us that a pastor’s most effective years take place after the 10th year of ministry at a congregation.  It is not until a pastor marries, buries, cries and works with a majority of his congregation that he can really “connect” intimately with them as a family member might.  Relationships simply take time — most of us who are married realize that the longer one is married the more we learn about patience, perseverance and unconditional love.

This is particularly true if you have a young pastor.  I was twenty-nine when I became a Senior Pastor.  Thankfully, our church was rather small (fewer than 300) at the time.  The Lord tremendously blessed and in short order the church doubled in size and then went on to triple.  But the growing pains that we went through together were extraordinary.  How they put up with me for a decade, I’ll never know.  I was so blessed to have some of the most wonderful and Godly elders surrounding me that I’ve ever known.  They encouraged, counseled, cautioned and sometimes just let me go and in the process — I learned and the Lord blessed.  They let me grow up and grow deep and though I was the youngest among them, they respected my position while offering me wise and Godly counsel.  I love them to this day.  I’m grateful for their patience.

Your pastor will make some bone-headed decisions.  Sometimes you’ll be frustrated with how he arranges his priorities or handles problems.  Sometimes you’ll have to clean up his messes and occasionally, you might have to speak earnestly and honestly with him.  But like rearing children, dealing with aging parents, settling in to married life or maintaining a life-long friendship — it takes time and patience and grace.

I’m out of time, but not out of thoughts.  I’ll pick this up in a few days with some more thoughts.  I’d encourage any pastors who read this blog to share their thoughts or experiences as well.  Until next time….

Senior Trip Update — Day 6

Wow…it was a busy day in New York City.  We started off at Ellis Island, then on to Battery Park, a walking tour of the financial district and Ground Zero and then lunch at Seaport.  Then we went over to Chinatown where we spent a few hours negotiating for “stuff”, followed be a brief visit to SoHo.  Following a wonderful Italian dinner at Carmine’s, we went to the 67th floor of Rockefeller center and viewed the sun setting over Manhattan.  Then everyone went off to the movies and by everyone, I don’t mean me.  I decided to go back to the hotel to grade some paper and post these pics.  The kids will be a bit tireder (hopefully) when they get back after midnight and maybe we’ll get them to bed sooner.

Tomorrow is a movie/TV tour, visit to 5th Avenue, some more shopping and then off to the airport to get back home so we can get this class graduated.  It’s been a great trip and we have some super students and a fine group of chaperones.  Here are some pictures of our day….

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On the ferry on the way over to Ellis Island with a beautiful view of the skyline in the background.

 

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Megan and I with the gap left by the lost Twin Towers in the background.

 

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Waiting for dinners outside of Carmine’s Italian Restaurant where we had salad, garlic bread, two kinds of pasta, chicken parmigiana and Italian ice cream.  If you left hungry, it was your own fault.

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 Haydon, Manny and Brandon enjoyed their meal.

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Christian and Alex made for great table mates as well.

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Dad enjoying the perks of being a chaperon on the trip — dinner with his daughter!

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I’ve enjoyed making friends with many of our fine students — particularly, Steven from Ecudor!

Senior Trip Update

Thursday was a beautiful day in our nation’s capital and the DCS Class of 2009 had a jam-packed day.  We started the morning touring the Museum of American History, Ford Theater and then the Holocaust Museum.  We then traveled to Arlington Cemetery where we saw the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Lee Mansion and the Kennedy Graves.  After that we hustled back to the mall and took in the Lincoln, Vietnam and Korean memorials.  By 6:30, we were at the stadium to watch the Nationals play the Pirates.  I was able to enjoy a private dinner with Megan who was celebrating her 18th birthday at a restaurant that had a veranda overlooking center field.  The evening was beautiful and she even had her picture taken with one of the National mascots.  Then we hustled back to the hotel and let the kids go swimming for about 90 minutes to burn off any excess energy.

Friday was filled with our trip to the White House, the Capitol, the Pentagon Mall and several other monuments.  Saturday was spent all day at Six Flags in New Jersey before we drove in to near New York (we are staying in Newark, NJ).

This morning started with a church service at the hotel and then we drove to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Some also went over to Central Park to ride bikes or take a walk.  Then it was off to the Lion King which was a real highlight for many of our students.  After that, we visited Madam Toussand’s wax museum, at at Hard Rock Cafe and then did some shopping in a jam-packed Times Square.

Tomorrow, we start off at Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty before heading to Chinatown, Carmine’s for dinner and several other fun stops.  Apart from a few runny noses, the occasional bout of teen “drama” and having a bunch of tired people moving from place to place, everyone is getting along great and we’re having a super time.  Below are a few more pics for your viewing pleasure.

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Waiting for the lecture to begin at Ford Theater.

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Our Class Office with some of the soldiers who were placing 250,000 flags on the graves in Arlington.  Many of our students stopped soldiers that they saw and thanked them for their service to our country.

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The name in the center, Richard F. Waterfield, is on the Vietnam Memorial Wall and is my second cousin.  I remember him spending a day with us at our family lot on the lake right before he left for Vietnam where he was killed a few months later.  The war memorials always remind me of how many brave young people are killed in wars that are often valid and other times the result of egomaniacs, twisted worldviews and a variety of other stupid reasons.  Freedom isn’t free and to see all these names is sobering as we realize their sacrifice.

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My daughter, Megan, took this picture of one of our seniors, Brandon Rosado as he looked at the names on the walls.

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The Seniors enjoyed a BEAUTIFUL night at the ballpark.

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We had a bird’s eye view of the game.

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Megan and I enjoyed dinner on the terrace as we celebrated her 18th birthday and “George” even came by to give her a birthday hug.

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We had a long wait for the Marine Band and Parade.

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The Iwo Jima Memorial was one of the highlights of our last day in DC and the students made friends with several marines who were there paying their respects.

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Times Square tonight — wall to wall people!