Getting The Mix Right

recent trend is emerging to bring men back to the church, to destroy the feminized church which drives away red-blooded men, and to create 'men-friendly' congregations.  The proponents point to 'foo-foo' decor, sensitive emotional music, and services and ministries designed to get in touch with the softer side of God. This attempt to 'man cave' the church is not a way to dominate women, they say, but to liberate men.

"Ten Ways to Man Up Your Church" offers some interesting ideas but also infers some interesting things as well. What is required is a "manly pastor" - therefore no woman can be a pastor of men simply because they fail in the "manly" category. This also infers that most male pastors are lacking in the testosterone category as well. An insult to many fine male pastors. Next, things should be done excellently or not at all. Another slap in the face of any group anywhere. Also, an easy "out" to not do it. Reminds me of someone whose idea of "picnic" was always so over the top, you would have had to cook for a week to prepare for it, and save a month to pay for it. Simple sandwiches and fun would not do. How many picnics did the family take? None. This may not be the end result of the strive for excellence but it could be. It could also lead to a competitive approach to church..."Now, I want you to go out there this morning for this service, and give a 110%!!!" Issues of giving men "space" and "speaking plain prayers" are valid and needed regardless of gender! The imperative to respect men's time and avoiding services which drag on and on....are equally applicable to either gender. Women probably enjoy long drawn out services no less than men. There should be equal respect and honor of time.

The basic issue is what have we made of church?

What would a church decorated by men look like? A military barracks or monk's cell devoid of anything of the arts or comfort? Would it look like a ubiquitous sports bar? Or, the teenage boy's never cleaned room? Would it be finely appointed or mimalist? Would it, most importantly, appeal only to men?

Would every sermon be filled with sport metaphors and stories? Every prayer time take on the look and feel of a huddle? Would the sanctuary evolve into a men's area around a large screen TV with recliners with women in kitchen or out shopping?

Barna research group indicates, though, women are also leaving the church. It may not be just a gender issue, but a relevance issue. It is not easy to manage, program, and plan for a church of both men and women, young and old, rich and poor, and the like. Too many churches have become like cruise ships offering diverse entertainments and activities to fill the time. We have built long traditions of what has to be in a church service.

Instead of genderizing church even more, even in the name of balance, perhaps the emphasis should be on reshaping church into a more relevant, New Testament place of worship, training, and community.

The 'Love' of Money

In recent months there has been a lot of protest about the rich vs the poor. The people who have a lot and those who wish they did. The people who are guilty at having things and those willing to increase their guilt. The issue is something else.

A recent television program looked at lottery winners - ordinary people who suddenly found they has 3 to 93 million dollars. Some were even near homeless when they won. As one might expect they immediately rewarded themselves with their new found wealth. Yet, as one man went through his mansion casually tossing off spending $80,000 dollars on a set of dolls for his wife, $160,000 for two chests, buying 24 classic cars and providing them with space. All the toys and self-indulgence was a little cloying. 

Excess is, after all, excess. 

The problem with wealth is never acquiring the wealth (if done legally) but in what is done with the wealth once acquired. 

For all the bad reputation of the old "Robber Barons" of the late 19th century they left a legacy of hospitals, libraries, churches, schools, parks, opera buildings, and many other things.

It was called "noblesse oblige", the idea that if you had been blessed with financial riches or other advantages, you were obligated to enrich your world through good deeds. 

When it is considered - each of us is blessed with something and some advantage - we too should feel obligated to enrich the world through service and contribution to those in need. To begin working to help improve life for all. It is a cycle of mutual support, skill building, self-sufficiency, and giving. Instead of demanding what others have, or hoarding what one has, the goal of life should be to do the best you can and be willing to help others. 

As the saying goes - 'live simply so others may simply life. The Bible had two important sentiments - the love of money is the root of all evil and it is more blessed to give than to receive. Balance those two and there is a recipe for a successful and happy life.

False Witness

One of the commandments enjoins people of God to not bear false witness against another person. Fingers are pointed to Potipher's Wife as examples of this sin. Today, could be added the thoughtless forwarding of emails whose sole desire is to discredit a politician or political party.

These are forwarded often with barely concealed glee at having "caught" someone or in having gotten the "upper hand". Yet the Bible tells us to do something very different: (Proverbs 27:17) "do not delight when your enemy falls"; 1 Cor. 13:6 urges people to avoid delighting in evil or when one is caught in evil; As I have loved you, so you must love one another(John 13:34). ... Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse (Romans 12:14).

For example the President's birth certificate. Challenges to the birth certificate released by the White House is based on three things: 1) The name of the hospital, 2) the name of the birth country of his father, and 3) the use of the term "African" to refer to his father. Passing this type of information along without verifying the truth or in order to delight in error is not the act of a person of faith. People can question, can learn, and can be silence.

What is the truth? The hospital name was in use at the time of the birth, 2) the name "Kenya" can be found on a 1924 World Atlas and so it is evident the name was in use in the early 1960's, 3) and the term "African" was sometimes used for people born in Africa as opposed to those born in North America.

So stop and think before forwarding some of those posts. More are incorrect and generated in order to malign or bear false witness. Do not contribute to that.

Faith and Learning

Sometimes in life people try to keep their spiritual life and professional life apart. They are like two rooms kept for opposing and specific purpose. When we wish to be "spiritual" we go to the Bible. When we wish to be professional we go to readings addressing professional development.

Many Christian institutions of higher learning are committed to the idea of integrating faith and learning. This means that the two rooms are open and connected allowing a free flow of influence. Spirituality informs how we understand and apply the knowledge we gain. It provides the values, motives, and behaviors for the professional life.

Francis Schaeffer in Art and the Bible argued that the true soul of the artist is always visible in the art they produce. The same came be said of the academic process when learning and faith are engaged together in consideration of any academic subject.

The lessons and values of scripture are the measuring stick by which we can evaluate and interpret decisions, processes, and in historical or political studies, explore how it influenced those making social or political history.

Rather than being two separate compartments, or rooms, in the integration of faith and learning the two have a healthy and solid relationship.

Scripture is the base and is used to measure the values, actions, problems, and challenges expressed in the text. Spiritual life is personal but it is lived in a highly public and political environment.

To adapt Schaeffer's words: "the true soul of the Christian will be seen in the life they live; the true soul of the nation will be seen in the laws and society it creates."

"The logic and knowledge from every discipline is built upon a set of presuppositions. All such presuppositions must be examined and informed by the truth derived from the revealed Word of God and Christian thinking founded on a Christocentric epistemology, so as to create a coherent body of knowledge, i.e., faith informs all of learning’s presuppositional thinking.” (RW, 2009).

Key Biblical Texts: Romans 12:1-2 and Colossians 1:17.

A Facebook Kind of Faith

Social networking is a vital and dynamic element in modern 21st century society. We Facebook, we email, we text, we instant message, we Twitter, we Google+ and probably something else which has not yet been invented! Christians tend to be very purpose driven in their use of these tools. Christians post scriptures, positive motivational posters, and communicate on religious themes or social issues via a spiritual lens.

This "Facebook Faith" is also frequently lacking in any humor, narrow in its tolerance or acceptance of people with different beliefs, and unable to communicate beyond that bumper sticker-hit and run faith communication. Like emails which delight in catching "them" (whoever they might be) out, these posters often seem to also approach communication via a Teddy Roosevelt inspired evangelism...type ponderously and sling a super sized Bible. 

Just sharing a Bible verse may satisfy some inner drive to 'share the gospel' but few outside the faith will even read those posts and de-friending will commence. Sharing a frustration or common experience and reflecting a dependence on God is a better witness. Some will complain, some may leave, but your cyber witness will leave a memory of someone in life who reaches out in faith and not just someone spouting verses and dispensing Bible thumping answers.

The Bible invited..."come let us reason together" which infers a discussion, a meeting of disparate minds and varied attitudes.


"Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me!"

Idolatry? That is only in pagan nations. That was only in the Old Testament. That does not happen today!

Yet, every season is now consumed by some athletic competition of one type or another. Church and worship services are displaced or turned into events celebrating the seasonal event. School budgets are consumed by the demands of supporting the space, uniforms, coaches, and travel for sports teams even when the academic programs of those schools go begging. Many sports programs have lowered entrance requirements just so students can "play." 

Young people are taught to live, eat, breath athletics. Older people eternally chase past or imagined glory by following a game. Professional players earn more than most doctors, educator, or pastors. What was at one time a way to enjoy fresh air and activity has become a cult where periodically the devout feast, share fellowship, and stare at players and a ball for hours on end. They adorn themselves with colors, styles and words reflecting their chosen deity. They make great sacrifices, enduring every discomfort, and supporting their teams even through the tough times.

Once, idealist aspirations abounded and banners of "sportsmanship!" waved high and proud. Now, drugs, ethics, sexual misconduct, greed, and dishonesty are the shadows of professional, and even amateur, athletics.

Now, to demonstrate how far this cult has moved, when a Christian ad has run in one of their worship festivals there are cries of it being inappropriate. Gods are jealous. They want their faithful ones to themselves. The cult is calling!

All worship the ball!

It Is All About the Shoes: Reflections Between Generations

Maturing as a woman, creeping into that "Wise Woman" classification based on both age and experience, I must admit to being a bit troubled by what I am seeing among young women. Surfing the 'Net I see blog after blog by women under thirty filled with images based on fashion. 

This tendency to define your life through the clothes you purchase has troubling overtones. It reflects the clout of society to mold character based on values that have nothing to do with life. The purses, the shoes, the clothes; is this all women are? Is this all we have allowed society to create for us? Is this the only message being given to our daughters and granddaughters? Media highlights over-indulgence, self-adoration, and consumption as normative aspects of modern life. We see ethics of manipulation, self-service, and relativism employed as models of normal behavior. We see celebrity status bestowed on people simply because of their wealth, their profession, family, or their notoriety.

Personal achievement is contained within shopping expeditions and life punctuated by the ability to acquire things.

Is this life? Is it what should be life? It is a merely a generational shift emerging as the women of my generation mature and the generation arises to take our place? Or is it the intensifying eradication of the progress made in the 20th century to bring dignity, equality, and value to the human specifies by the inclusion of women? For a woman who came of age watching her older "sisters" marching, burning bras, and demanding equal pay I have a different perspective on things. I remember the blatant sexism which said I was a woman and so I could not be paid the same, I was a woman and what I said had less value than a male, and I remember the way women were treated like children incapable of caring for themselves or making decisions. I remember the way women were valued only for their cooking, cleaning, and baby making skills. I remember the way women were seen only as sexual parts and pieces.

I remember the first time I felt the brunt of being a 'second class citizen' simply because of my gender. I remember because I am seeing it all over again in a new generation of women who think they are defined and limited by their biology. 

It highlights the need to answer one simple question : what have we done to and for women to bring about a generation of loving, courageous, women able to love themselves and be themselves as women of God?

I fear the answer is - nothing.

I fear that the answer is we have allowed society and its shallow substitutions of woman hood and its strength to be hijacked by narrow definitions of woman.

The evidence is clear.

The echoes of another time can teach us well if we heed their lesson. Look around and see how women are being defined today. They are baby makers, wives, fashionistas, and house fraus; the same formula in place which led to the female awakening and rebellion of the late 1950's and 1960's. Such definitions are shallow substitutes for real self-actualization and real spiritual relativity. The inevitable outcome will be another cultural upheaval as the shackles of that reality again become too much for both men and women to bear.

The messages are clear from society: women can be strong, intelligent, and independent only as long as they are attractive, sexually exciting, or domestically inclined. As long as they mold themselves to the dictates of fashion. As long as they mold themselves to narrow, fundamentalist definitions of what makes a Godly woman. As long as they accept their role as bitches, nags, victims, baby makers, or sexual objects. As long as they allow their own intelligence to be restricted to the stereotype or their own goals of achievement sidelined in favor of another based merely on gender.

Women - hear the voice of the prophet - it is all about the shoes! 

The shoes are symbols of the sickness and will define and reveal the motives and values you incorporate into your life. The shoes will reflect the control you allow others to have over and in your life. The killer high heels inspired by sex trafficking and designed to maximize physical sexual assets or the comfortable yet stylish shoes of a woman who has accepted who she is and demands society accept her as she is or not at all! Which will you choose: The vixen or the warrior; the vamp or the saint; the girl or the lady; the caricature or the real woman?

Advice for Preachers...and Others

John Wesley's 'Letters,' To John Trembath CORK, August 17, 1760.
"I pray be exact in this; be a pattern of truth, sincerity, and godly simplicity.

What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear to this day, is want of reading. I scarce ever knew a preacher read so little. And perhaps by neglecting it you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety; there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this.You can never be a deep preacher without it any more than a thorough Christian. 

O begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterwards be pleasant. Whether you like it or no, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way: else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty, superficial preacher. Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer. 

Take up your cross, and be a Christian altogether. Then will all the children of God rejoice (not grieve) over you, and in particular Yours, &c."

Source: The Wesley Center Online, The Letters of John Wesley, Edited by John Telford -- London: Epworth Press, 1931.

Skaking the Dust Off


And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. (Matt. 10.14, KJV).

"As he walked down the long drive, his briefcase in one hand and a book of papers in the other, he paused as that verse came to his mind.  He had a strong desire to do something ritualistic.  His pain and hurt was so deep he felt pretty raw as he tucked his tail and left the institution he had given so much of his life to and with so much blind faith.  A religious institution, it claimed to be, and expected its people to be good, kind, wise, spiritual and grace-filled.  Yet, the governing body...and the people in charge...were devious, lying, cheating, and petty individuals who made a kindergarten class look mature.  Yes, he longed to do something demonstrative, filled with ritual, and significance.  A stomping of his foot, a dragging off of his loafers to wipe the dust of the place off his foot, and a fist raised as he spoke some Old Testament curse inspired by his pain and disappointment. He was too hurt, though, and his shoulders sagged as he trudged on down the drive and his uncertain future."

Those in ministry - pulpit, classroom, or other forms - are often particularly subject to being abused, maligned, and ignored.  The truth is sometimes the blow from the sinner is the kindest blow; it is the blow from those who claim to also be Christ followers which leaves the harshest scar.  

Too often business - even Christian business - is too much a thing of balance sheets and bottom lines. People are used and tossed away like garbage with no concern for their life.  This is especially disturbing when the wise voices are the ones silenced, when those with spiritual discernment are the ones shown the door, and the one who has a vision is blinded.

Let those with ears - hear.

How Do You Fight Evil?

The legend of the Phoenix is one of utter destruction but eventual renewal. The great bird that rises from its own destruction to live a new life. Unfortunately. the story is just a myth and a lot of things can be destroyed without any chance of renewal. Some people are destroyed, trodden down under the heel of evil or burned in its flames.

Edmund Burke noted that all that is neeed for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing. The problem is, can we identify evil (or negative and destructive) forces when seen? We like to say there is no evil but reality begs to differ: corporate criminals, political dishonesty, mass shootings, child pornography, domestic abuse, bullying, intimidation, lying, dishonesty, war, murder, and greed. These are little foxes nibbling at the healthy plants of which a productive and happy life are made.

There appear to be three common reactions to preceived evil, as defined by Burke,:

1) To do nothing and hope some divine force will intervene. This path is a down hill coast into fatalism where inaction becomes a virtue and results never our fault. It was - fate. So we watch the flames absorb the Phoenix.

2) To be repeatedly waiting, evaluating, judging, and giving the benefit of the doubt. This path allows the evil to become more deeply entrenched and people to be come more used to it and allow it to continue unchallenged. There is no one around to stop the winds of misfortune that scatter the actions destroying the chance of renewal.

3) To act and take a stand. To speak out against the evil, the lies, the hypocrisy, and the negatives which eat away at the good and the productive. To work for peace, to correct negative situations, to decry injustice, and to fight for human dignity. This path, however, is a hard climb on treacherous paths facing sudden danger at every turn. It requires us being willing to burn with the Phoenix and become part of the rebirth.

Dietrich Bonhoffer was a pastor in WW2 who was faced with a compelling challenge. To see his country destroyed or take action. To follow pacifist Christian belief or to take up a sword. To be acted upon or to act.

Perhaps the problem is waiting until those little evils, those "little foxes" which destroy the vineyards of life, have grown and have become tolerated, entrenched and impossible to remove.

Perhaps it is time for people to speak out against injustices and those evils of life while they are nascent buds. To present twice as many positives as any negatives in overcome evil with good forces of love and care.

When we see evil and do nothing to stop it, our silence is approval.

When we are silent, we allow the evil to grow...and grow...and grow.

Sometimes the greatest act of peace, is to raise a hand and say, 'stop.' Sometimes the most courageous act of pacificism is to speak out. Sometimes the strongest force of justice is to assert truth and demand action.

When do we start to fight evil? When it is first discovered it should be resisted with courage, with dignity, and with grace. Most importantly, however, it should be resisted with determination.

Setting Aside

The words of the psalmist rang out about the sense of liberation felt by the bird held captive in the snare who was now released. The door flew open and out the bird sailed into a clear sky. Such jubilation! Such freedom!

Sometimes in life we find ourselves trapped in situations like that snare. We are prisoners of circumstance. Our wings no longer work. Our song is silenced. The other birds strut past in their freedom and denounce us as less than bird. They make fun of our cramped, withered wings. We cannot fly! We are nothing! We are not like them! Why do you not sing with joy to be in your cramped, painful, and dark little cage?

When the snare is opened...

Oh, the fear! Wings so cramped and ill-formed from lack of use. Skills of flight nearly forgotten for being diminished in the cramped cage and laughed at and belittled by the other birds who roamed free. The lack of sleek, healthy feathers from no food, no companionship, and no help. The fear...waddle to the opening. It is so big. It is so frightening. The cramped cage is familiar. The cramped cage is....a sort of home. The opening, though, how it calls out. The open sky, how it whispers to come fly!

That first feeble, awkward circle into the open spaces.... Fear keeps the bird close to the ground...what if I fall, it wonders? The vast sky is so big...

Finally, the bird darts higher and higher into the sky. Such jubilation Such freedom! The snare is open and the bird is free at last.

Look around you - there are people trapped in snares all around you. They are cramped, marginalized diminished, laughed at, and made to feel they are less than what they truly are. Look around you and set the captive free.



Worship is the hurting heart turning to God's arms.

Worship is where the confused and alone go to find answers.

Worship is where the proud and over-confident are reminded of God's majesty.

Worship is where the poor and wanting find the richness of God.

Worship is where the weak and struggling find God's strength.

Worship is where the heart finds itself in knowing God.

Worship is where God pours out His love and grace.

Worship is where God smiles to see His children face to face.