Monday Morning Observations

This is a hodge-podge of things floating around in this preacher’s mind this morning while I get ready (mentally, physically, emotionally) for an hour or two in the dentist’s chair at noon today.

Shall we darken the sanctuary during the sermon?

Yesterday at our church, the lights were bright on the platform but dim on the congregation. Honestly, I will admit to you that I was relieved after the service to find the problem was a malfunction in the lighting. I really had feared that someone–perhaps our pastor or another leader–had decided the lights on the audience should be dimmed, and that bothered me.

The background to this is that recently I was preaching in a church that had intentionally lowered the lighting on the congregation. When I saw early in the service that this was the case, I sought out a layman and asked him to find the tech person and insist that when I get up to preach, the house lights are brought up. He did and they were.

If we are having a concert or performance in this room, turn down the lights. But if this is meant to be interactive–and worship is nothing if not interactive–the congregation must be able to see to read and write.

“I know God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself.”

I was a young pastor and too green to be picked. But this one I got right.

When Dorothy, a member of our church who had been hospitalized for ulcers, told me she knew God had forgiven her but she was unable to forgive herself, I said, “So you have higher standards than God, is that right?”

She reacted in shock. “Brother Joe, how can you say such a thing?”

I said, “It’s exactly what you are saying. Oh sure, God can forgive me because this is what He does. But my standards are higher than His and I can’t let myself off the hook that easily.”

She said, “What do you recommend?”

“That you start believing the Lord. If He says your sins are gone, that they’re underneath the blood of Christ and buried in the deepest sea and separated from you as far as the east is from the west, that you accept that they are gone. Forgive yourself, put the sin behind you, and get on with your life.”

One year later, she wrote me. “It was this time last year I was in the hospital and you told me to forgive myself since the Lord had. It was exactly what I needed to hear. I’ve not had one more day of trouble with ulcers since.”

Led to Christ by ‘Some Enchanted Evening’?

In a 1967 book titled “Does Anyone Here Know God?” Margaret Bell Barnhouse gives her testimony of coming to Christ. (She was the widow of legendary Presbyterian pastor Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse.)

At the time God was dealing with her about faith in Christ, on Broadway “South Pacific” was all the rage. “Some Enchanted Evening” was a featured song in the play and a million-seller for singers like Jo Stafford and others.

Under conviction, the words of that song kept coming back to Margaret. But this time, she saw them as referring to Jesus Christ. See what you think:

“Some enchanted evening, you may see a Stranger….

When you feel Him call you across a crowded room;

Then fly to His side and make Him your own

Or all of your life you may dream all alone.

Once you have found Him never let Him go,

Once you have found Him never let Him go.”

And at the same time, these words filled her mind:

“Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand,

The shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land.”

She commented, “Not very orthodox perhaps. But my heart was won completely by a glimpse of His great love.”

Whatever are we going to do about money in church?

A few months ago, as I was picking up my clothes at the cleaners, I scribbled out a check in the appropriate amount. The manager said, “You’re one of the last.”

I said, “The last what?”

He said, “The last to write checks.”

Completely at sea, I said, “I don’t understand. What are people using?”

“Debit cards.”

“Oh,” I said. Fumbling in my billfold, I came up with one. “Like this?”

“Exactly like that.”

A couple of days later, my pastor and I were going through the drive-through at a fast food place. He said, “I’m buying” and handed his debit card across to the lady at the window. Almost immediately–it might have taken 10 seconds–she handed it back. And that was that. I was struck by the efficiency of the transaction.

Ever since, I’ve used my debit card. In fact, at this moment, I have exactly five dollars in my billfold because I hardly ever use cash for anything.

Bear in mind, I am a son of 1940, so this is truly bizarre. I was brought up on cash. Writing checks is how we paid bills.

Sitting in church yesterday, it hit me that we’re still in the check-writing stage at church. Once in a while we’ll hear of some house of worship installing the apparatus for debit or ATM cards in the foyer and it makes all the news.

Surely, this is no longer newsworthy. We are moving to a cashless society, and the churches have to figure a way to adapt.

A story for those who are discouraged.

A woman was having heart bypass surgery, and it was time to take her heart off the machine that was keeping her alive during the procedure. When all routine methods failed to get her heart beating on its own again, her surgeon massaged it with his hands, but there was still no response. Entirely out of options, he leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Tell your heart to beat again,” and suddenly it did!

Maybe life has gotten you down so low that you are just going through the motions day after day. A mere shell of the person you once were, or the person you know that you can be. God may have done all that He can do on His part, and is waiting for you to take the next step in order to regain the vibrant life that you deserve. Don’t give up….a life of purpose is waiting for you….tell your heart that it is not over.

Tell your heart to beat again.

(Copied verbatim from longtime friend Annie Briley’s Facebook page. My wife loves it and had me type out a copy for her. Annie got the story from a television preacher she had been listening to. I told her she’s stumbled on to a favorite source of illustrations we preachers depend on: something we heard another preacher say!)

3 thoughts on “Monday Morning Observations

  1. Always love reading your thoughts.

    A couple of barriers to the debit card in church idea is that it feels out of place or tacky to have obvious electronic equipment for the sole purpose of getting money. I really can’t imagine how weird it would be to see the little slide machines on the pews or an ATM in the vestibule. It certainly would seem more mammonly than Godly.

    Two, giving as an act of worship certainly feels better and more real when we do it physically. Part of the boom and drawback of debit cards is that it doesn’t feel like spending. You never see the money coming or going.

    One of the ways we are discipling our 5 year old about giving is by helping him separate a portion of his piggy bank coins each week to put in the offering box. He sees us take money from our billfolds and purses and offer it to God.

    Swiping the card just misses it on those two.

  2. I have news for you, Joe. Your church is about to start accepting debit cards. So many of our people don’t use checks at all, and they have asked us to help them be faithful tithers by accepting their form of transaction. We are only what churches have done through the centuries. We accept gifts in whatever form people give gifts. If people traded in chickens, we’d accept chickens. I don’t see this as less spiritual (and I don’t think you do either, but some will), as before people wrote checks, they paid only in cash or goods. I’m glad we’re going to be able to help our folks give more faithfully.

    Oh, and by the way, we won’t have card readers in the pews. We will have a laptop at one of our welcome centers where people can use their debit cards. Also, we are only accepting debit cards–no credit cards allowed (the program we will use can determine which it is). And we already have lots of people who don’t place their offering in the plate. Instead, they have their bank automatically send checks every payday through their electronic bill paying programs.

    It’s a new day.

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