“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart….” (Acts 7:51).
“No one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch pulls away from the garment and a worse tear results. Nor do men put new wine in old wineskins….” (Matthew 9:16-17).
Let’s start with an intriguing quote from a great churchman….
“The church recruited people who had been starched and ironed before they were washed.” –John Wesley
Not sure of the context of Wesley’s quote, but I like it because it so accurately sums up the situation of a small contingent within every church. Now, I have to say this conjures up memories of my childhood. Mom did her own washing and ironing, and often, to starch a shirt or blouse, she would soak it in a bucket into which she had mixed up the dry starch with water. These days, anyone starching at home uses a spray, I expect.
There’s nothing like a great starched shirt. I love them. Alamo Cleaners of River Ridge, Louisiana, does them for me. My wife loves me but not enough to do that!
Now then, some church members have been starched and ironed before they were washed. A great metaphor! But what does it mean?
“Take a census….from twenty years old and upward, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel, you shall number them….” (Numbers 1:1ff.)
The culture which sees no point in “a piece of paper” to make a marriage official just as easily dismisses the notion of Christians actually joining a church.
Can we talk about that?
A husband and wife who were regular worshipers with my church, but never actually joined and became members, would sign their Christmas card, “Your common law members.”
A lot of churches are trying to build their ministries on “common law” members. These people attend, profess a love for Jesus, and say they believe His word, but they make no commitment to the body of believers and put themselves under the authority of no leaders. They are free to come and go without being accountable to anyone.
Dating churches is all the rage these days.
More and more churches, particularly the startups seeking to appeal to this culture, are counting as “theirs” anyone who attends on a regular basis. In the same way, Christians are deciding they do not need to join anyone’s church to please God.
Actually, I happen to know the primary attractions to a paperless congregation The leadership loves it because they are not accountable. With no membership to vote on decisions, they do as they please. The pastor gets by with whatever he can convince his board is justifiable.
Show me that in the Bible.
My brother in Christ Dr. Vander Warner Jr. got me started thinking about this by his recent article on “Short Prayers.” (Do what I did and google it.)
Frank Laubach, literacy pioneer and beloved brother in Christ, used to call these “prayer arrows.” Short sentences sent heavenward to praise, give thanks, intercede or summon the Lord’s assistance have a potency all their own.
The hypocrites think they will be heard for their “much speaking.” (Oh, I pray for two hours every morning. You mean you don’t?)
Professor Dan Crawford remembers someone saying, “A sentence prayer is not a life sentence.”
Pagans think they will be heard for their loud praying. (“God must be far off and we have to summon Him to draw near to us.”) The Baal-worshipers on Mount Carmel are the poster children for this foolishness (I Kings 18:26).
The overly righteous think they will be heard for their religious praying. (“Let me pile scriptural phrases on top of more scriptural phrases. The Lord is impressed by that sort of thing.”) See what Ecclesiastes 5:2-3 has to say about this affliction.
Our Lord said, “Those who worship (God) must worship Him in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). That seems to be the standard: My spirit with His truth. And definitely not, “My mindless body with someone else’s thoughts.”
The length of one’s prayer seems to be irrelevant. Measuring our prayers (the time, the volume, the length) is an exercise in foolishness. Weighing our prayers on any kind of human scale ranks as the ultimate in silly.
When the sweetheart goes into her house at night, she does not gauge the depth of her fellow’s love by the length of his monologues.
Just speak to the Father.
“The righteous will be remembered forever” (Psalm 112:6).
What do you suppose would happen if the Father in Heaven ever got Alzheimer’s?
After all, He’s really, really old, right?
Okay. Not going to happen, of course. My whimsy gene is just asserting itself today. Scripture makes it plain that “He knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19).
But it did start me to thinking….
What if the Lord really ever were in danger of forgetting me?
Well, the good news is He has these memory aids, mnemonic devices they are called, to guarantee that He doesn’t lose track of any of us. And no, I do not mean God ties a string around His finger. Something far better.
“And He was giving them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not faint” (Luke 18:1).
At all times we ought to pray.
She knew I was praying for a certain family member who seems forever in some kind of predicament. She asked, “Why do you pray? I don’t see it doing any good.”
When I caught my breath–I could not believe a Christian asking such a question–I said, “Ask me why I breathe air. It’s what I do to live.”
She did not let me off that easily. “Do you really think God is going to do what you ask? Is that why you pray?”
By now, I had settled down enough to try to verbalize a reasonable answer.
“That’s not up to me. How He chooses to answer my prayer is His business.”
“My job is to pray. To ask, intercede, to speak in faith what someone else needs. And so I ask for it.”
“How He answers is strictly up to Him. Or whether He even answers at all.”
Her question will not leave me alone. I imagine everyone who prays regularly–and keeps it up over the years, through good times and bad–has to answer this for themselves repeatedly, as well as for friends and skeptics alike.
It’s not as simple as it sounds. “Why pray?”
“The Lord is for me; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6. See also Hebrews 13:5-6)
I read that scripture–especially the Hebrews 13:5-6 incarnation–and smile. Asking “what can man do to me?” is kind of like asking for it, isn’t it? Daring them to “bring it on.” The answer of course is that man can do a great deal to you. But the bottom line–and the point of the scripture–is that ultimately, with God being “for me,” it does not matter.
Nothing matters so much as our being one with the heavenly Father.
Can we talk about courage? This is as rare as plutonium these days, particularly among the very people who should demonstrate it most readily, the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Only two people in the church need courage: the one in the pulpit and the one in the pew.
“He leadeth me in paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3).
Pastor, you do not want to know why that committee turned you down for that position you wanted so badly.
I’m rereading my daily journals for the decade of the 1990s. Much of it I’d long since forgotten, so in many respects, it’s fun. One thing struck me, however, about the year 1992.
I was looking for a way out of this church!
By “this church” I mean the one where I remained as pastor for nearly 14 years and to which I still belong. It had come through a crisis 18 months before I arrived that almost resulted in its self-destruction. The Lord sent me to half a congregation, millions of dollars in debt, a sanctuary that had had major problems from the beginning and needed considerable work, and a dysfunctional leadership team made up of some of the greatest souls in the kingdom as well as some of the strangest birds ever.
We were hurting financially and it appeared to be getting worse. My wife and I were living in rented quarters and were cutting into the small savings we kept from selling our house in North Carolina.
Some of the leaders were unhappy with us from the first and looked for ways to undercut everything we tried.
Nothing about this was fun.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6).
Around here in Southeast Louisiana you’ll see billboards that say “Friends don’t let friends eat imported crawfish.”
I know people in other parts of the country who would change that to say “Friends don’t let friends eat crawfish, period.” 🙂
A friend speaks up when his buddy is in trouble. A friend tells the truth even when doing so is uncomfortable for both parties. A friend rebukes his colleague if he’s doing something dangerous or self-destructive.
I want to be such a friend; I want to have such friends.
A few years back, while in Birmingham, I sought out a few friends whose opinions I treasure and handed them a brief manuscript I had labored over.
After all, who should know better than Calvin Miller, Fisher Humphreys, and Charles Carter whether my writing is sound, on target, helpful, and publishable?
“I need you to be brutally honest,” I said.
“If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6).
For over 60 years I’ve been trying to live this Christian life. For over 50 years, I’ve been trying to proclaim it. And I think I’ve figured something out.
Drum roll please.
It’s all about faith.
From the first to the last and throughout everything in between, it all comes down to a strong belief in the Lord Jesus Christ and staying close to Him.
“I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12:13)
The former mayor of New Orleans, C. Ray Nagin, has been sentenced to federal prison for 10 years. The charges involved kickbacks, bribery, and general crookedness. If making promises he never followed through on were a crime, the man would never leave the big house.
Observers say Mr. Nagin got a break from Judge Ginger Berrigan. She could easily have given him twice that long–federal guidelines set the minimum as considerably more than 10 years–but she went easy on him.
The only person griping about that is Nagin himself.
Even though found guilty by a jury, and in spite of outright falsehoods in his testimony, the man is certain he was framed and wants to be sure you and I know it.
After his sentencing, Nagin said, “I’ve been targeted, smeared, tarnished and for some reason some of the stances that I took after Katrina didn’t sit well with some very powerful people. So now I’m paying the price for that.”
Denial is not a river in Egypt.