Category Archives: Misc. Musings

Tips for Those Applying for Ministry Openings

0-a-key.jpgA week ago today, I listed two open positions we have at our church for which I am recruiting.  Over the last week, I’ve received several hundred resumes from folks looking for employment in the ministry.  As a professor for Liberty University in their graduate program, I‘ve learned that during this time of difficult economy, there are many who are engaging in advanced degree programs wanting to change the over-all qualifications they possess with an eye toward going into ministry and this has produced a large number of “older” students who are trying to “break-in” to ministry work.. Add to that the number of churches which are declining in attendance or experiencing financial difficulties and are cutting back which results in dismissals and layoffs, there is just an unusually large number of people looking for ministry openings and also a smaller than normal pool of opportunities.

I’m in a position where I can only afford to give each resume and cover letter maybe 2-3 minutes of review if I have any hope of staying ahead of the tsunami of applicants.  I’ve learned, from personal experience, that it is very frustrating to be on the applicant end and to send someone your carefully-worded cover letter and meticulously-dcveloped resume only to have it disappeared into some cyberspace abyss with nary any indication that it was received, considered or anything else.  Therefore, I send a very brief acknowledgement when I receive a resume that gives our timeline for making a decision and a second email whenever they are no longer in consideration.  I have found that folks are very appreciative of any communication at all and I think it‘s just courteous to do something so that they don’t feel locked in limbo.

Quite a few will then write me back upon learning they are no longer under consideration and ask for advice on how they can get further in a process with their next effort.  I think this is a legitimate question and as a result, I’ve developed a template reply for those requests as well as I think it is important to help those who are sincerely asking.

Here’s some of what I’ve been telling them and I share it here in hopes that it might help others:

Here are some pointers and tips that are important for me, if not others…

  • Use email and a file attachment.  Paper resumes are SO yesterday.  I hate shuffling the paperwork.  When I print one out, that’s a good sign — that means someone has made the first-round cut.
  • I expect very few, if any, typographical errors.  You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
  • I enjoy a professional and warm cover letter without being overly familiar or casual.  I don’t need hip vernacular, easy complements about our amazing website, a real long history, etc…  At this stage of the process, I just focus on facts.  Concise, bullet-pointed, facts.  Gushy add-ons about having the most beautiful spouse in the world and the smartest children in the world, etc… seem rather out of place.
  • Photographs invariably catch my attention and I ALWAYS look at them, but they should be careful.  I look for discernment in the photos.  Give me a picture of your wife or your older daughters in plunging necklines or short-shorts and I’m concerned about what I might have to deal with as you become a ministry leader of serious grown-ups and believers.  It’s not about legalism, it’s about propriety, modesty, dignity and wisdom.
  • This may sound superficial and even discriminatory, but I’m going to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.  If you are sending me a picture, remember that appearance DOES count.  If you are 27 years old and pushing the scales at 300 pounds, I’ve gotta’ tell you that I’m thinking about diabetes, heart disease, insurance rates and a whole lot of other negative things.  If you dress like you’re still in high school and you are 40 or if you dress like a mortician and you’re 22, that doesn’t just slide by unnoticed.  I don’t want to see pictures of you at a birthday party.  I do like seeing pictures of you in the midst of ministry as long as they don’t look staged or cheesy.  And yep, if you have cute kids, a dalmation and a lovely wife, those pictures leave good impressions as well.  However, if your kids are into goth, your wife dress like she’s Amish and you own a pet boa constrictor — I’d leave those lovely photos for some other time.
  • Concise – Anything more than 2 – rarely 3 – pages doesn’t get fully read.  I don’t care where you went to High School or that someone once worked at Taco Bell.  Edit, condense, repeat.
  • Professional Achievements – Anything published, awards, recognitions, unusual opportunities give me a reason to remember you.
  • Anything Extraordinary – Did you start something from scratch, have you done ‘extreme’ ministry somewhere, have you worked in multi-cultural settings, are you related to D. L. Moody, do you speak multiple languages, have you had the Virgin Mary appear on a honeybun at breakfast, etc…?
  • Transparency – I love that.  Brutal honesty always catches my attention.  If you have a wonderful testimony of God’s redemptive grace in your life — I want to know that.  If you’ve had a couple of really horrific ministry experiences and are hurting — you’ll find a sympathetic ear from me if it isn’t presented in a way that is manipulative or indicates you are still carrying tons of baggage.  But no one is perfect.  I already know that.  So help me not to go have to search for the issues.
  • Something I just learned – I’d put my “Letter of Introduction/Cover Letter” in the text of the email to which you attach your resume.  I found it laborious to open more than one file attachment per applicant.
  • I liked when applicants gave me a click-through link to their blog or a vimeo link to a sermon or lesson.  It’s not part of the first-level screening, but definitely will be later on.
  • I’m generally suspicious if there is NO internet footprint at all when I google a name of someone.  It either says that they’ve scrubbed their available information from the internet or that they are really young/bland or maybe both.
  • Please don’t nag me.  It’s OK to ask once for an update if you haven’t heard anything, but PLEASE don’t call me, don’t email me every day and DO NOT SHOW UP at my office or church saying you were “just in the area.”  That’s almost always an automatic, “no thanks” from me.

None of those are “deal-breakers” – but let’s be honest, when you receive hundreds of applications, the “little things” can be the difference between moving ahead and staying behind.  Obviously, ultimately this is a spiritual exercise rife with human judgments.  We all clearly want the Lord’s will, but at the end of the process – there are some very subjective criteria involved as well.  My wife and I once had a birth mother select us to adopt her child over another couple because we had a picture of our toy poodle with us in our introduction packet.  Go figure.

So I leave those thoughts and observations with you in an effort to sharpen you and encourage you.  As one who works with tons of young people breaking into the ministry and as one who has hired literally hundreds and hundreds of Christian school teachers, pastors, support staff, etc… over the years – I hope these observations will be helpful to you.

Now Is The Time for All Good Men….to stand up and oppose Gun Control

2amendment.jpgThe Gun Control hue is increasing rapidly.

Some are now specifically calling for confiscation.

If you say this can’t happen or it can’t happen quickly– I have one word for you: Obamacare.

They keep saying, “Hunter’s don’t need ‘assault’ rifles.” That’s like saying, “Writer’s don’t need to be able to draw political cartoons.”

That is not the point of the 1st Amendment and hunting is not the point of the 2nd Amendment. The 2nd Amendment is not about our right to hunt. It is about our right to protect ourselves from Tyranny. If the 1st Amendment can be construed to protect pornography and lying about your military service awards (both upheld by the SCOTUS), then the 2nd Amendment must be interpreted to protect types of guns that some might find “offensive”.

The NRA needs to step back out of the shadows and get front and center about this NOW. This is not a time for weakness or fear of being unpopular. What if Obama/Holder decide to do by Executive Order what they may not be able to do legislatively with gun control? With each power grab, this President looks more and more like Hugo Chavez and remember, he has been popularly elected by the poor and ignorant over and over again.

Obama is polarizing this country so deeply and quickly that conversations about secession and even the potential for Civil War are now being held in previously polite circles. If the American public thought that what happened on December 14th was a massacre, how much more of a massacre should be expected should they try to take the guns of 60 million determined and ticked-off gun owners by force? But in the words of Rahm Emmanuel, this administration is not going to “waste a good crisis” in order to advance their agenda at the expense of our liberties. They keep drawing the line deeper, clearer and more deeply on OUR side of the Constitution. These are dangerous days of shocking change. We must be vigilant in educating others.

Never under-estimate the tenacity with which extremist liberals and socialists and their media machine are prepared to exercise their power in order to get their way.

Pro-Choice? No. It Really IS a Baby.

1royalbaby.jpgSo what does everyone think about how the world would respond if Prince William and Kate announced tomorrow that due to health issues caused by morning sickness that they have decided to terminate her pregnancy and hope that the next try would be easier on her? (Or perhaps they discovered it was a girl and they really, really wanted a boy as heir?) Would everyone shrug their shoulders and say, “Her body, her choice?” Would they say, “It’s just a clump of cells anyone — you know…a “fetus”.” Would some publicly praise her courage and independence in reaching this decision? Would the “right to choose” remain a solemn declaration of the Pro-Abortion values set?

Nope. Nope. Nope.

There would be outrage! Disgust! Popularity would plummet. You see….everyone sees her “product of conception” as a BABY. Brits have attached their hopes, dreams and aspirations of a future monarch to this “non-person” who is less than three months beyond conception. Countless others await the royal pregnancy from baby bump to the first time he/she is held up to adoring crowds thronging the street in front of Buckingham Palace. While liberals and democrats and misogynists and racists and feminists want the world to think a pre-born child is not a human, not worthy of personhood, not filled with potential, not important enough to be nurtured and loved — thinking people, when faced with the realities of how they would respond should such a scenario transpire, must admit that it is.

 

Indeed. A. Baby.

I’m the Bad Guy — A Rant

I resent the fact that I am being told that I must give healthcare, education, food stamps and welfare to people and that if I raise an objection on logical, empirical grounds, I am labeled as lacking in compassion, “unChristian” and selfish. I do not buy lottery tickets. I do not buy alcoholic beverages. I do not buy lottery tickets or gamble. I do not buy tobacco products. I do not buy $150 tennis shoes. I do not buy drugs. I do not wear designer clothes. I do not wear flashy jewelry and gold chains. I do not drive new cars. I do avoid credit card debt. I do save for my retirement beyond Social Security. I do save for my child’s education. I do give over 10% of my income to others. I do pay my taxes. I do choose to buy used cars and then drive them until they die. I do occasionally shop at second-hand stores. I frequently purchase major items from Craig’s List. I do not visit vacation at resorts and visit Disney World annually. I do shop at discount stores. I buy meat at the reduced counter at my grocery store. I do work a second job. I have experienced a substantial pay cut in the last 6 years. I do sacrifice to plan for my future, care for my family and in order to give to those in need on my own. I did NOT drop out of school. I DID go back to school for additional education so that I could earn more and care for my family better and to leave something behind for my children and the Lord’s work.

And yet…

I stand behind people on government assistance who separate their groceries from their liquor and cigarettes and pay for the groceries with a food stamp card and the booze and cigarettes with a hundred dollar bill. I do wait to pay for the 1/2 tank of gas which is all I can afford until the next pay day while an individual I know is on government assistance or who works here illegally buys $50 worth of scratch-off tickets. I have been turned down for scholarships and certain government loans when my kids were in college because I had saved ahead for a portion of their tuition bill while others who did not save were ushered to the assistance programs. I closed down a churches’ food bank when I was the pastor because people would arrive in brand new cars an hour or more in advance of it opening and leave them running while they smoked cigarettes and flicked the butts in the parking lot while most of the teachers in our school were driving cars that were much older. I did fix a bag lunch for someone who said they were hungry and watch him throw it in the bushes as he walked away disgusted because I would not give him cash. I have offered to pay panhandlers to do yard work only to have them smile at me like I was a fool and walk away.

And yet….

I’m the bad guy if I object to the government taking my hard-earned money and giving it to those who will not work. I’m the bad guy if I say there should be drug screening in place before someone gets government assistance. I’m the bad guy who says that people on welfare should have to perform civic chores. I’m the bad guy who protests at the suggestion that my social security checks should be reduced or eliminated and the money given to someone else simply because I sacrificed and saved ahead and they did not. I’m the bad guy when I say someone should have to show some form of a picture ID before they vote for someone who will have the power to take my money away from me and give it to him. I’m the bad guy for saying, “I’d like to give my own money personally and directly and not have someone else take it and give it to others and then act all “benevolent and compassionate”. I’m the bad guy for asking that my taxes be reduced so I don’t have to work a second job so that my wife doesn’t have to leave our kids and work outside the home also.

Something is really screwed up in the way we are thinking in this country….

[End Rant]

My Thoughts Before Election Day

election-2012_rect.jpgI’ve got tons of people asking me for my thoughts and predictions — such as they are which isn’t much — as we face Election Day tomorrow.  Without any sense of order, decorum or priority, here I go….

1. I am absolutely baffled as to how this is going to turn out.  I used to like to tell myself that I have a ‘sixth sense’ for how these things are going and I have routinely correctly predicted the outcome of elections going back to the 1980′s with a few exceptions.  But this one I can’t just get my finger on.  I see two very real and possible scenarios:  The first one is that it REALLY IS this close.  I suspect it might be this situation.  If it is truly this within-a-couple-of-percentage-points horse race the polls are predicting, watch Ohio.  (Unless Romney loses Virginia or Florida.  If he loses one of those states, go to bed early and dream of Obamacare.) Ohio will likely decide the next President.  The other scenario is that the pollsters have overly estimated the number of Democrats who will vote.  (I almost said who are alive and voting, but….nevermind.)  If they have, then a 4-6 point Romney win is quite likely.  However, it will be potentially hard on the country.  Millions of people who favor Obama will be shocked….SHOCKED.  The shock will then turn to outrage.  The outrage will turn to accusations of voter fraud.  I’ll not describe a worst-case scenario as to what “could” happen, but it isn’t pretty.

2. If it is super close, ties usually go to the incumbents or the political party which controls the election process in that state/city.  But there’s also the potential that multiple states may be too close to call until days or weeks after this Tuesday.  The Democrats are not going to tolerate another Election 2000.  Expect everything from prolonged recounts, to legal challenges, to street protests.  It. Will Be. Ugly.

3. If it is a squeaker,  expect the Dems to hold the Senate.  If the spread is 5-6 points for Romney, expect a 51-49 or 50-50 (VP casts the deciding vote) Republican majority.  On the House side — regardless, I think the Republicans will strengthen their majority by 3-5 seats.

4. Unless the Republicans win the White House and the Senate, expect 4 more years of deadlock.  Every other plausible scenario = deadlock, except for a Republican sweep.

5.  The biggest outcome to this election is not about who sits in the White House or Congress.  It is about who will be appointed/approved to sit on the Supreme Court.

6. If Obama prevails tomorrow, I believe we have seen the last conservative elected to the White House.  Ever.  The numbers simply are not there.  No matter who wins, we are a DEEPLY DIVIDED nation and that doesn’t bode well for the future.

7. By and large, I have great confidence that the majority of the American population votes on matters of style and personal pocketbook (in that order), than on philosophy and principle.  Yep, that’s a cynical perspective and I own it.

8. You can like it, lump it, hate me, love me, de-friend me or ignore me, but I cannot, for the life of me, understand how an evangelical Christian, Catholic or anyone with two cents worth of compassion can vote for a party or person who is as coldly pro-abortion as the Democrat party and its leadership.  Tell me I’m narrow-minded, a sheeple, a one-issue stooge, a litmus test holder and anything else — for me, THIS ONE ISSUE, impacts my vote more than any other.  I will never, not ever, vote for anyone for an office that has the power to impact the Right to Life, who is not Pro-Life.  Anyone who knows me, knows what my first four reasons for that position are.

9. I will miss all the political adds exactly zero.

10. The actual voting process is broken and we need to fix it.  It is ridiculous to have some states voting a month in advance and others with no early voting.  These long voting periods are rife with the potential for fraud, mistakes, lost ballots and more.  In addition, this business of not having to register or prove identity is just wrong and ridiculous and any honest liberal should admit it.  I’m constantly having to show ID to do the most mundane tasks.  It is not a hardship.  It’s just life.  Why would we treat something as sacred as voting for our leadership less seriously than buying cold medication, a beer or get on an airplane?  We need a reasonable voter identity law and let’s do a Friday/Saturday election for 36 hours.  People who are out of town should get an absentee ballot just like they did for a dozen decades.  Make it uniform across the country lest something happen and we lose confidence in the process.

11. While I’m at it — the Electoral College is a good idea and wee shouldn’t tinker with it.  I will say that on Wednesday even if Obama loses the popular vote while winning the electoral vote.  There is HUGE wisdom in it and we shouldn’t think ourselves smarter than the Founders on this.  It ain’t broke.  Don’t fix it.

12. I lay much of the blame of this country’s toxic political dialogue at the feet of MSNBC and FNC.  It is a constant frustration for me to find some outlet that actually DOES let me decide without the shrill demagoguery of the Hannity’s and Matthew’s and O’Reilly’s and Maddow’s of this world.  It is uncivil and unreasonably partisan and it is contagious.  I love sarcasm, rhetorical feints and parlays and strong opinions with a side of irony.  A lot.  But when it impacts our ability to interact with reasonableness with our neighbors and colleagues because we parrot the same attitude in our real lives as we see demonstrated in the out-of-perspective world of those in the kleiglights of the Mainstream Media (and oh yeah, when will we stop calling NBC/ABC/CBS “mainstream”?  Fox now controls almost half of the cable news audience — that makes them pretty mainstream), we need to step back, draw a few deep breaths and calm down.  We’re better than this.  I hope.

13. As I posted on my Facebook wall last night: “May each of us have such a spiritual mind and high view of the sovereignty of God that we have not one bit more or one bit less joy, peace or hope Wednesday than we do right now.”  I really mean that.  I am at perfect peace already at how this election will conclude even though I have no earthly idea what that will look like.  Wednesday is going to be a great day.  I’m already looking forward to it.  I will not be irrationally optimistic if the candidate who was my third-to-the-last choice for President happens to win and I will not be devastated if the current administration is given another four years.  It’s just politics.  None of us will give one care about it in 100 years.  My confidence is not in this political system or its rulers.  My citizenship is in heaven.  So, I’ll not let a silly political election steal one second of my joy or peace come Wednesday.

Of course, I will still have strong opinions and will voice them regularly and at times shamefully obnoxiously.  I will continue to follow politics, because for me it like following my favorite sport.  It’s truly interesting to me — but it does not define me and I’d make a horrible “player” if given the chance.  I’m quite content sitting up in the stands with my coke and hotdog yelling at the coaches down on the field.

So until Wednesday…….

As always, the views in this post are mine and mine alone and should not reflect on anyone else from my momma to my future grandchild.

Romney Blows His Opportunity by Selecting Ryan

1rr.jpgI’m getting texts and messages asking what I think of the selection of Paul Ryan by Mitt Romney to be his running mate.  So here are my condensed thoughts.  (Well, as condensed as I ever get, which isn’t very condensed.)

I like Ryan in general.  He obviously a family guy, talks the conservative talk, understands sound economic policy, is extremely smart and will be able to eviscerate Biden in the debates on a level that has the potential to as epic as it will be historic.

That said, in typical establishment Republican fashion, Romney blew a great opportunity in his selection.  Here’s why I think so…

1. Could you find two MORE stereotypical Republicans to run in a country that is teeming with diversity?  As some predicted, Romney played it safe and picked a boring white guy.  No real risk, not even a nod toward minorities, not one step out of his whitebread box.

2. Can you think of anyone, ANYONE who is more likely to vote for Romney because he selected Ryan to run with him?  Face it, he brings nothing to the ticket except he won’t be an embarrassment and he’s smart.  But so are a lot of other of the front-runners he was allegedly considering (except for Christie who is a loose cannon.)

3. Ryan is not going to be of any significant help in any of the swing states and he’s likely to impact the Florida race negatively as the scorched-earth, thuggery of Obama’s campaign paint him as dumping Senior Citizens over the cliff (they already have the commercial.)  The retired condo commandos of South Florida are going to be so worked up by the rhetoric that they will be waiting in line for the polls to open like junior high girls at a Justin Beiber concert.  Republicans cannot win the White House unless they carry Florida, Ohio and Virginia –Romney is behind in all three states and Ryan’s name on the ticket isn’t going to move the meter forward and likely down in Florida.

4. Ryan would be misplaced in the Vice-Presidency.  What do VP’s do?  Mostly go to funerals, make speeches and stay in the shadows (unless your name is Joe Biden, then you got to strut around in full pomposity saying things so stupid that the only thing preventing the main-stream media from turning him into Dan Quayle’s younger brother is the sheer weight of their pro-Obama bias.)  Ryan would have been an EXCELLENT choice for Budget Director or Secretary of the Treasury or Chief of Staff or Secretary of Commerce.  He will be wasted in the VP’s office.

There are a few more minor reasons I would add if I had more time, but that is enough to explain my lack of enthusiasm.  For months I’ve been handicapping the race at 60/40 Obama wins reelection.  Ryan does nothing to chain that number in MY mind.

Who would I have chosen?  Marco Rubio.  At least he’s likely to be the Republican nominee is 2016 if my prediction is correct and Romney loses.  But by then, there may not be a country left.  (Yep, Obama’s THAT bad.)

Christian Bashing — brought to you by…… Christians

I’m so glad that it was Jesus who met the Samaritan woman at the well and not the stereotypical Christian.” — Louie Giglio 

This is what greeted me when I checked into Facebook this morning. 

It’s been a while, but it’s time for a rant.

Give me a break from the hyper-sensitive, hipster evangelicals whose self-loathing and insane desire for some sense of superiority combines with an apparent high need to “connect” to the popular culture and gives us a constant stream of this kind of pathetic drivel.  (Oh yeah, I’m back and I’m just getting started.)

hypocrisy.jpgPerry Noble wants to lecture us on the damage we do for standing up for traditional marriage and having a Chick-fil-A sandwich.  I have to drive by a billboard constantly that touts a new “kewl” church that is designed as a place “for people who don’t like church”.  I read a lecture by some blogger on how “Christians are the worst tippers in the whole world” (something that is patently not true — there is not one whit of empirical evidence to support this, I have tons of anecdotal evidence to counter this and its just a lovely Christian-bashing urban legend that has been circulating for 40 years or more.)  Now we’ve got Louie (whom I don’t dislike and enjoy reading on occasion) looking down his nose at the ill-bred and dysfunctional Body of Christ and calling them to task as if it could be universally assumed that Christians would treat the woman at the well unkindly.  Well, I just got pushed over the edge.

I’m sorry, did someone make “Bashing the Brethren” a new Olympic sport and I somehow missed it?  What is it with this constant assumption of the worst in our spiritual family and then pontificating about it as if that makes us somehow morally superior and not “one of them”?  When do we give the Body of Christ some benefit of the doubt and with the athiests, secularists, most of the media, higher academia, the scientific community, bloggers, the entertainment industry and myriad other facets of society and culture keeping Christian humble by constantly pointing out our foils, hypocrisy and general lack of any signficant social virtue, must we really add all of the evangelical spokesmen from the Millennial and X Generations?

Maybe what I’m suggesting is that some of our folks “cease fire” for a minute and consider the facts.

Self-described Christians give more per capita to non-profits than their non-confessing neighbors however you want to divide the demographics — by locale, by age, religion, by political affiliation, by sexual orientation and so on.

Compare for me the number of hospitals, schools, relief organizations, missions, homeless shelters, food pantries and other social organizations that are operated by, funded by and/or operated by “Christians” to the number of ANY other demographic.  Again, choose your religion, your political affiliation, your socio-economic strata, your generation….name your group.

Apart from Fred Phelps (who is as legitimate a Christian as I am a Mormon), a couple of tiny Southern churches so far back in the woods that they have to pipe sunshine to them and the occasional “fascist extremist” who adds the term “Christian” to his self-described moniker (along with patriot, white, posse, revolutionary, independent, constitutional, etc…) who all seem to garner headlines from the “super-pro-Christian-pro-Biblical-worldview-mainstream” media [exit sarcasm mode…again] about a bazillion times bolder than their numbers or IQ’s, can you really name me significant examples of “Christians” who are beating down gays, being rude to prostitutes, ostracizing divorcees, holding book and cross burnings, abandoning puppies and kicking grandmas? 

I’m not deaf, blind or mute — I know some seriously whack-job people who call themselves Christians.  But I also know some seriously disturbed _____________’s as well (you go ahead and fill in that blank for me — Muslims, Democrats, Republicans, 50-somthings, entertainers — you choose.)  Are Churches often populated with some hypocrites.  Duh…YES.  But might I ask you where a better place for a hypocrite to go for treament of his/her character disorder?  Would they be more likely to be cured at the local bar?  Club? Political rally? Sporting Event?  Mall? (Cuz’ we all know there aren’t any hypocrites THERE, right?)  That tired and cliche old argument is like going to a hospital and griping about all the sick people that are there.  Of course there are hypocrites in church…that’s where they NEED to go….and by the way, come on down, we’ve got plenty of room for you.  From my experience, the biggest hypocrite at all is the person who delights in pointing at others and yelling “hypocrite!” 

We’ve got plenty of people all across the landscape who are just waiting for the opportunity to tweet about some crazy driver cutting people off and cursing who has a “In case of Rapture this Car will be Unmanned” bumper sticker on their car.  (Been there, tweeted that myself.)  We love to opine on Facebook about how some Christian business person did us dirty during some business transaction.  And yep, there are some people that came from the WalMart end of the gene pool who stuff their massive selves into too-tight T-Shirts and do some pretty stupid things in public claiming to do so in the “name of Jesus”.  But they are not the majority — they are not even a tiny part of the minority, they are just the occasional freckle on the hind-end of a body of believers who by-and-large are just doing their best to earn a living, worship the Lord, raise their kids, help their neighbors and stay a few steps ahead of the tax man. 

christian-charity.gifYep, they like Chick-fil-A with their freshly scrubbed teen counter help that were obviously there on a break from their home-schooling.  Sure enough, we tend to be so conservative that we only order the “right wings” of the chickens when we go through the drive thru at KFC.  Obviously, many of them do have a problem with homosexuality because — no matter how you try to twist Scripture — God doesn’t approve of it and so neither should we.  (And the fact that Christians sometimes cheat on their spouses, have premarital sex and look at porn doesn’t in any way mitigate the Truthfulness of Romans 1 into a non-sequitor.)  You name the sin and I’ll guaran-doggone-tee ya’ I’ve known a professing Christian that has commited it.  But isn’t that what growing in grace is all about?  Identifying sins and weaknesses and trying to love Jesus so much more that we stop doing the dumb and self-destructive stuff?  The argument that speaking of a “better way to live” and that some personal choices are both wicked and destructive is not an act of hate — it’s an act of compassion, of concern and in this day and age — often an act of courage.  Speaking out for virtue and morality and aspiring to wholesomeness and integrity is not “hate speech” no matter how many times you want to call it that.  So stop it.  And if someone accuses you of it — just roll your eyes at them and keep on speaking the Truth in love.  Don’t be intimidated. 

I struggle with sin.  That will come as no surprise to those who know me.  I need my brothers and sisters in Christ to love me where I am and help me to get to where I need to be.  The people I know who christian-donations29.jpgare earnestly living out their faith – those in my church family, those that I meet in the community, those that I “fellowship” with on Facebook, those that have sat in my classes — they aren’t mean.  They aren’t hateful.  They are quite the opposite.  They routinely give to the needy.  They bring meals over when someone has a tragedy or a serious illness.  They take collections for people with bills or who have lost their jobs.  They go to Bolivia on missions trip and not Disney on vacation.  They cry tears of joy when someone gets good news and tears of grief when someone gets bad news.  They hug me — sometimes for no reason except to say “I care”.  Sometimes I see them do kind deeds anonymously for others who will never know who blessed them.  I’ve never known them to speak hatefully about gays or minorities or addicts or single moms or the homeless or the media or anyone else.

Louie — I don’t know what kind of people you’ve been hanging around, but I can ASSURE you — the people with whom I worship, with whom I pray, with whom I fellowship within the Body of Christ would have gone right up to the Samaritan woman at the Well of Sychar and would have helped her draw her water. They would have accepted her where she was and loved her to where she needed to be. They would not have been shocked at her immorality because they see that every day and more.  Indeed, many of them carry their own scars that have now become trophies of God’s grace in their life.  They would have talked about the difference that Jesus had made in their lives and then they would have invited her over to their house for coffee. 

Maybe some of the quick-to-condemn-the-brethren folks with their megaphones of influence might reconsider and remember that we’re talking “family” here.  At some point, shouldn’t we give family the benefit of the doubt and not assume that they will constantly live up to your worst expectations.  We are a messy lot on occasion — there’s no denying that.  But not only are we neighbors today…..we’ll be neighbors in a million years as well.  So….how about eliminating the “cheap shots” and “broad brushes” and notice the positive?  At the very least, don’t reinforce a stereotype that is as negative as it is inaccurate.

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.

On Church Shopping and Church Hopping

As we are in the midst of this season of shopping, I have recently been pondering over the tendency of so many in today’s culture of “What’s in it for me?” to engage in near constant church shifting, changing, transferring and yes, I’ll say it… “Church Shopping.”

00churchhopping.jpgOthers can’t seem to stay in the same church more than a year or two.  Something happens, someone new comes along, some slight lands their direction — and bam, it’s “On the Road Again”.  We call these folks “Church Hoppers”.  Don’t count on them…they’ll be gone the first time the road gets a little rough or something “cooler” comes along.

Oh, I’ve heard just about every excuse there is for leaving a church during my years of ministry.  “We’re not being fed” (So at what point should a Christian grow up sufficiently that they can ‘self-feed’ — not every sermon is supposed to be for every person, for the record.)  “No one called us when we were absent/in the hospital/on a trip” — (yes, and when one only attends sporadically, it’s actually quite difficult when someone’s actually absent or just out on their latest week-end junket.  Plus, we’re not telepathic just because we’re in the ministry.  If you are sick, in the hospital, laid up or whatever, how giving us a head’s up with an email or a phone call?)  “We no longer feel the Spirit” (Really, well you might want to keep in mind that the Holy Spirit lives IN you, not in the building.  This could be something you might want to check out personally.)  “God is leading us away” (Why is it we so often blame doing what we really want to do on God so often?  I had a girlfriend that dumped me that way as in ‘God has lead me to break up with you’….interestingly, He also lead her to immediately begin dating one of my friends.  It’s just so much easier to blame God and make it sound all spiritual instead of owning our own choices.)

000hopping.jpgThat’s not to say that we should never leave a church.  If you move, you gotta’ leave.  If the pastor quits teaching the Bible, head for the door.  If sin is being covered, heresy is being tolerated, Biblical principles are being violated, then you may need to leave.  But some of us approach our church family like Kim Kardashian approached her marriage to Kris Humphries — “OK, I’m bored, I’m leaving. Buh-bye!”  Seriously?  Are we to approach our church membership like a Hollywood wedding?

My role as pastor has provided me with a unique perspective on a variety of human traits. Among the most frustrating things in my life is the constant parade of people I observe who are quite content to live superficially, unBiblically or both even though they profess to have a real, substantive relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m reminded of Paul’s concern regarding our tendency to be “hearers” rather than “doers” of the Word of God.

Pastors minister via “ideals”, but we constantly live in “reality”.  Sure I want folks to come to church for “good” reasons, spiritual reasons, etc… I want them to make decisions based on Bible principle, sound philosophy and good reasoning, not experience, or convenience or trendiness. But the reality of real-world living is that the vast majority of folks prefer and use the latter criteria more than the former. At the same time, God has called me to minister to “All”, not just the spiritually mature or discerning. So how does a pastor reach the immature and superficial so that they can minister to them with a desire to see them become mature and substantive?

Some time ago I read an article by a religion reporter who noted that the most heartfelt e-mails (he) received came from folks searching for a faith home. I would note that he wrote in a paper located in a city with over seven hundred houses of worship. Several quotes from that article and comments I’ve heard or read over the years, triggered some thoughts for me on the matter of what do people want from a church?

As one who has served many years in pastoral miknistry, I am intrigued by the kinds of questions people ask of me when considering joining our church. Let me give you a sample:

What programs do you have for children?
Are you part of a denominational association?
What style of music do you use in your services?
How long is your typical sermon?
What sort of fellowship groups do you provide?

The article had some interesting comments as well:

One lady said, (quote)”We do not want a church that is about `absolutes’ and being `saved,’ nor are we looking for a charismatic or fundamentalist church. We would like a Christian church that offers contemporary services, social gatherings and family programming.”

One e-mailer cited in the article suggested that (quote) someone put out a church guide listing everything anyone would ever want to know about a congregation, from music to ministries to dress code. If she had had such a Charlotte guide, the e-mailer said, “I wouldn’t have sat in a church parking lot noting that the congregation wasn’t carrying in their Bibles — a wasted Sunday for me and a waste of time for them contacting me …”

Many pastors experience additional feedback that relates to the temperature of the auditorium, the convenience of parking, the volume of the music and the rapidity with which hospital visits are made. But all of it seems to miss the key points what is MOST important?

Not one of these individuals asked what I would consider to be a vital question. What do they use for their standard of truth? What is the basis for their faith? Does the pastor preach from Scripture or his own opinions? Will I be spiritually fed at this church? Does this church have an area in which I could be a blessing or encouragement?

I pose this question, Do we really go to church for activities and events, convenience and comfort, to have our egos stroked and our desires met? Do we never consider that the church might need us? What part should each of us play in the health, growth and ministry of the church?  Is church shopping and church swapping simply a matter of wanting a place that provides us with a since of being ‘spiritual’ but does not require that we think, respond, receive correction, get provoked with Truth and actually make investments in something that does not give us direct and immediate benefit?  Have we developed a mentality that says, “If this doesn’t work for me, I’ll just split and give it a shot somewhere else?”  Has a church home become “all about me?”

000churchhopping.jpgWhat if people found a church and joined it with an attitude that says, not every sermon must be for me, not every song must be my style, not every activity has to be one that I would join. Instead, Where can I serve?, Whom can I assist?, Where could my spiritual gifts be best put to use?

What if they approached it like a marriage and determined to work through dry periods, refuse to walk out when things don’t lean our direction, to give others the benefit of the doubt, to forgive, to be patient, to demonstrate loyalty and perseverance?

Churches ought to be more like families than amusement parks. Everyone should join in for the good of the family and each member realizes that it can’t always be about them. Some churches are struggling and an infusion or a core of committed, positive people who are more interested in giving than taking could spark them to a renaissance. Some churches have a dearth of teachers or musicians and the addition of someone with a talent in those areas could be a blessing to the church and the pastor.  When we leave a church and walk away from our ministry, what do we communicate to those who served?  Isn’t it like abandoning people that have been depending on us?

So not everyone is carrying their Bible to church? How about setting the example? How about using your influence to encourage the pastor to deliver messages that challenge the people to not only bring, but USE their Bibles.

The world has enough self-centered critics. No church is perfect, just like no family is perfect. Maybe it’s time we quit asking what’s in it for us and start asking, “What can I do to serve?”  A church shouldn’t be about attire, convenient service schedules, worship styles or personal preferences.  A pastor can’t always be a motivator, a professor, a financial expert, a counseling guru, a leadership expert, a bedside comforter, an organizer and a musician.  We need to have reasonable expectations of our church and its leadership.

It should be about being a called-out community of believers who are committed to using their God-given gifts for His glory and our good. When we find a church that is built on a Truth and a pastor that is committed to teaching, preaching and modeling it — then more times than not, we need to stay put and find a place for service.  As I often say, “Those that are rowing the boat are usually a lot less likely to be found rocking the boat.”