I was sitting in the waiting room of the service department waiting on my oil change when I overheard the phone conversation on the man next to me. I wasn’t creeping on him but his conversation was unavoidable to overhear.
He was deep in conversation about the politics within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the local baptist churches. It was all about who was doing what and who wasn’t doing their job in their positions. If I had listened more intently I could have probably gotten some real juicy gossip to write about. Instead, I started writing this blog post because this makes me sad.
Once upon a time I was all about the business of “doing” church. My life revolved around who was in what position and which church had the largest membership. I think sometimes people who are in the church for a long time can easily slip into this business about the church and lose sight of the true reason for the church in the first place.
The business isn’t about the Southern Baptist Convention or any other church organization, it is about THE mission that Jesus gave in Mark 16:15:
“He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”
What about that’s mission? What about that business? All too often churches are more concerned about their buildings, their group of people and their organization than they are about loving people and reaching people.
I am happy to say I am not about the church business anymore. It was frustrating and unfulfilling. When I was growing up in the church if you became an overseer then you made it. You were big time. I remember how we would basically roll out the red carpet when any overseer would visit. For a pastor to get one of the big churches, you had to be in good with an overseer. Politics. Pure and simple. I remember seeing church deacons politicking to get the pastor they wanted to be appointed to their church. It was about who you know and not the God you served. It all really disenchanted me about the church.
Fortunately, I learned to separate church from my relationship with God. I was never with the “in” crowd anyway so it was silly to chase any of that. I reflect now on how I remember the popular ones were always in front of everything and had their photos taken for church youth camp annuals. They were the life of the party. Yeah, I will admit that as a teen I wanted that but now I’m glad I never was part of any of that. The church was too much about pleasing man and being cool rather than about God.
So this man next to me in the waiting room of the service department is deep into his opinions about leaders in the SBC. I have not heard one word about God, reaching the lost or helping others. All political talk. That’s disappointing.
To be fair, I think people mean well but sometimes lose their sight of what’s really important and why these churches exist in the first place. God certainly does appoint people and leaders to carry out the mission of the Gospel. There are some who are doing that while others what to be the next big thing in their church or seek to further their own agenda in doing God’s work.
As I was sitting here waiting on my car, I also read about people like John Knox, George Wishart, John Welsh and others who were early pioneers of the church and sacrificed their lives for the Gospel, not some church denominational political agenda. I can’t help but wonder how this man next to me would do in the face of what these pioneers faced.
In today’s world, people need help, hope and love, not church politics. I have had people through the years who assumed that I was going to be a preacher just like my father. I would tell them that being a preacher is not something hereditary but a God-called. Everyone can’t be preachers. All believers won’t be able to get behind a pulpit but everyone can do something to support the mission. The mission is God’s commission, loving others and people of integrity. People who are hurting don’t care what you church title is. They don’t care if you are an overseer, pastor or assistant worship pastor. None of that matters in the grand scheme of things. When people are hurting, they need healing, hope and love.
Today is my most favorite day of the year. It has nothing to do with the Easter Bunny but with the hope from a risen savior.
I think most of us have experienced the death of a loved one. This is a painful thing to experience and we feel that sting that death has caused. Today gives us hope because the resurrection of Jesus Christ takes away the sting and the power of the grave. Because He lives, we will live. I will admit that I have gotten a little bogged down about what happens when we die. I am still not sure whether we stay in the grave under the resurrection or if we immediately go to be with Jesus when we die but it doesn’t change my hope.
The most encouraging scripture is when Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25)
Years ago when I was in Jerusalem waiting in a long line to walk inside of what was believed to be the Garden Tomb, the guide made the comment: “Everyone is waiting in line to see an empty tomb.” He was right. Those of us who have been taught about Jesus all these years finally got to see for ourselves that the tomb was indeed empty. The empty tomb reinforced our hope in the power of Jesus’ resurrection and the promise He made to believers.
The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important event in history and irrefutable evidence that Jesus is who He claimed to be – the Son of God. Sure, there are doubters and haters about this but it still doesn’t take away our hope which energizes believers on what today means to us all.
I can’t offer you scientific proof of the resurrection and I don’t expect to convince you with this post. I can only tell you of my hope. Everyone believes what they believe. I tell you as it says in the old hymn: “You ask me how I know He lives. He lives within my heart.”
Church is supposed to be a safe place. A positive place. A place where you gather with God’s people. There are some good churches out there but unfortunately there are bad ones that hurt people.
If you’ve been hurt by the church, I feel you. I have felt the pain of being burned by a pastor, church leader or fellow believer. It hurts bad. It’s not a hurt you can easily overcome. I recently drove by a church sign that had the message “If you have been hurt by the church we’re sorry”. It was quite an unexpected message on a church sign but I was impressed by the honesty of it.
Having been hurt by the church myself, one of the most important things I can tell you is not to let it affect your relationship with God. Instead of hindering it, let it motivate you. Now, this isn’t easy. I won’t lie about it. It can be difficult to separate God from the church.
The church is made of people and people aren’t perfect. They can disappoint you. Unfortunately we tend to hold church folks to a higher standard than other people and when they fail us, we are dealt a blow. That blow can defeat us if we aren’t careful.
People can be cruel. Yes, even church people. I have had church people fuss at me for sitting in their pew. At another church I greeted people as they entered. I had to deal with some grumpy ones who would complain about anything and some would even complain to me about the pastor.
One important thing I realized about church people is they don’t really know you. They might think they know you but they don’t and they often have their own ideas about you based on the few hours each week you are at church.
If you are to remain faithful to your church you have to be good at forgiving because you will have to do it a lot. You will also have to have a realistic expectation of others. Realize that people fail and will let you down but don’t let it bring you down with it.
If you finally decide to give it up, it doesn’t mean you have to give up God either. I know this goes against what people will tell you but you can still have a relationship with God and not go to church. How is this possible? Discipline. It takes a lot of self-discipline. You have to be personally committed to your relationship with God. It is a PERSONAL experience.
Pastors and church people will make you feel guilty for not going to church. They will use the verse “forsake not assembling yourselves together” but it isn’t a commandment. It does you no good to force church on yourself out of guilt when you’ve been hurt. You don’t need to add more hurt on top of what you already have endured.
If you need church and you have been hurt by it, take a break or visit other churches. Don’t be afraid of taking time to heal. Being hurt by “God’s people” is not to be taken lightly. God understands and He can heal.
if you’ve been hurt by the church, don’t let it jade you. Don’t cast your net of hurt upon all churches. Focus on your personal relationship with God so that is more important than any church.
If you are in the church, don’t guilt trip people who are hurt. Give them some space. Love those who have been hurt. Don’t do it for the motive of getting them back to church, do it out of love for the person.
“It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.” Psalm 118:8
That’s a four-letter word. I don’t like it. Waiting isn’t an easy thing to do when you see the goal you want to reach. Being still and patient takes a lot of discipline. I haven’t always been good a waiting.
So what’s up with waiting? Is it a game that God plays with us?
Many thoughts go through you mind when you are put on hold. Believe me…I have been in many holding patterns during my lifetime. In the end, after that waiting has passed and I look back on it I see why I had to wait. Instead of doing what I thought should be done I usually see how it was better that God worked it out HIS way instead of mine. I’m sure He gets a good laugh from my plans.
I still don’t like waiting and I never will.
Psalm 27:14 tells us to “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”
I can love that verse and quote it all day long unless I’m having to live it. I have to remind myself of past times of waiting. I also have to caution myself about making things happen or trying to take matters into my own hands. Hopefully I have learned how I have either messed up or delayed things longer. Sometimes you just have to do the hard things to get to the end.
I always quote the Apostle Tom Petty (I’m kidding of course) when he sang “The waiting is the hardest part.” There is no way to describe the feeling when the wait is over and your answer has come. In our time of instant communication, instant food and instant conveniences, we are not always capable of having a good attitude when we are forced to wait.
In case you wondered, I am in a position where I am waiting. My wife and I both are trying to keep positive during this time of waiting. I may not show it but I have a lot of mental hand wringing going on in my mind about the situation. It is a situation where I have absolutely no control and all we can do about it is wait. It’s in these times I try to remind myself of past experiences. He’s the same God. We don’t know what He’s doing or why He’s doing it but obviously there is a reason for it. My feeling right now is that it has to do with timing. This situation is also dependent upon other people and God isn’t going to force them to do what they don’t want to do. Pieces have to be moved around and timing is crucial.
You know I would love just to know what’s going on. I think that’s what makes waiting so hard. We don’t see what’s going on or how much longer we have to wait. I suppose that’s why He’s God and I’m not.
I’m sure Job would have liked to know when his suffering was going to end. I know that Joseph would have liked to know he would eventually be released from prison. These guys didn’t have the luxury of knowing the whole story like we do now when we read about them in the Bible. They simply continued trusting God and believing that He would come through for them.
So I wait. I wonder what will happen next. Will we reach the goal or will it be changed to something else? The unknown is scary. Having no control over the situation makes me anxious but I take heart and only do what I can do. That’s all we can do when we are waiting.
If you are waiting on something and feeling anxious, hang in there. Don’t forget to remind yourself of past experiences when God came through for you. It’s so easy to focus on what we need now and not what God has done before. What He has done before helps our faith for what we are going through now.
I never like the waiting part but somehow it always works out.
If you have ever prayed for someone you can understand how difficult it can be to get that prayer answered. It is especially difficult if you have strife with someone. There is no prayer you can pray that will impose your will on someone else. I have had to do this many times and I can tell you from experience that praying for people is the most difficult thing a believer can do. It will seriously wear down your faith.
The problem is pride.
There is no doubt that God can answer prayer but He will not force anyone to do anything. People have free will to make their own decisions. Although God won’t make someone respond to your prayer He can make someone wish they had.
If there is one thing I can tell you from experience – don’t give up. I know it becomes repetitive and you can go days, months or years without seeing any progress whatsoever but eventually something can happen.
Most recently for me I reconciled with my dad shortly before his death. Before that last month of his life, we had gone almost eight years without speaking. When my mother passed away, I thought he had shut the door on us forever. But…..I kept praying for him and me. I had to pray for myself just as much as I did for him. If I wanted God to answer my prayer and reconcile me and my dad I had to be ready for it. My heart and mind had to be prepared to forgive and let things go. That’s hard. I won’t lie. I had a hard time with that. I had this ritual every morning on my first walk to my work location that I prayed for him and me. Some days is was the same worn out prayer every day and some days I was quite angry about the situation. I didn’t understand it and I vented to God about it.
Let me tell you that my dad was a stubborn man and set in his ways. I prayed that God would soften his heart towards me. There are some days I was just ready to write him off. “I’m done!” I would say. Praying for someone isn’t always so glamorous. It’s hard work.
Still I managed to pray through the situation where it looked like nothing was happening. I prayed through my own anger and frustration. I can even remember times I would have a profanity-filled tantrum about it. God understood.
I wrote letters and sent cards which were never answered. Still I kept praying. I would get aggravated with myself because it was the same prayer and I was bored with it but God knew my heart in the matter.
Shortly before my wife and I went on a trip, I felt like writing him again. I wrestled with doing so but the thought that kept going through my mind repeatedly was this: “It is never wrong to do the right thing” so I wrote him a letter and put it in the mail. When I picked up our mail upon our return, I received a handwritten letter from him. He apologized for everything and wanted to see me. As I stood there reading that letter I could hardly believe what I was reading. After all of the time that had passed, my prayer was finally being answered. It was a weird feeling. I can’t say that I was overjoyed but it took a while to sink in. Then I wondered: Was I ready for this? I struggled with this thought. Could I possibly let everything go and press on?
When I called him for the first time, he gave me details about his medical problems which were very serious. He told me that he had bladder cancer and was scheduled to have his bladder removed the week of Thanksgiving and wanted me to be there. He was also having issues with something called Pulmonary Fibrosis. He had just finished his last chemo treatments for the bladder cancer and little did we know at the time that these treatments had made his Pulmonary Fibrosis worse. When my cousin called to inform me that he had been admitted to ICU in Gainesville, Florida weeks before his bladder removal, I decided to go down and be with him. He passed away a week later due to complications from the Pulmonary Fibrosis. In that time we had together, were able to talk and we made most things right. Some things we couldn’t but I will always be grateful for the time we had.
If you saw the movie “I Can Only Imagine”, I felt like I lived that movie with my own father. It was tough.
Yes, God answered my prayers but you never know how that answer will come or how it will be. Being an impatient person, it is agonizing for me to sustain prayer for something or someone for this long. I tell you that you get weary with it. Fed up with it. You want to give up. But God understands more than you think He does and He sustains you even when the prayer gets stale and boring. I can tell you that some days I just honestly ran out of words to pray about it.
I have now heard people tell me about how Dad was wearing down and being drawn toward reconciling with me. Pride was the barrier that kept it from happening sooner than it did. It’s hard to pray against someone’s pride and resistance. I did that and I was blessed that God finally broke through to my dad’s heart to let me back in.
So how did I do it? I didn’t do it by prayer alone. I also had a wife that encouraged me and reminded me that I had done everything I could do. She had to remind me to not blame myself.
If you think I’m some kind of super intercessory prayer warrior like that Miss Clara in “The War Room” you would be seriously mistaken. I was nowhere close to being like that. The only thing I can tell you is that I never gave up. I may not have had papers pinned up in a prayer closet somewhere but I always had the prayer for him. I also had several songs which encouraged me as well. I salute the song writers out there who put words to these songs that encourage us. Many of them are still on my playlist. Here are those songs:
Gather At The River by Point of Grace
God Is In Control by Twila Paris
It’s Not Over (When God Is In It) by Israel Houghton & New Breed
Jesus Is by Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir
Made Me Glad by Hillsong
Never Been A Moment by Micha Tyler
Overcomer by Mandisa
Warrior by Steven Curtis Chapman
Although I wish the prayers had broken through his pride sooner so we could have had more time, I am still very thankful that I had that last week with my dad. It wasn’t a Hollywood ending but it was good way to end when he said his last words: “Beam me up Scotty”. I think he was finally ready.
So, yes, praying through someone’s pride is difficult but not impossible. Galatians 6:9 tells us “Let us not be weary in well doing for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.”
This week I received my Dad’s Bible. My cousin sent it to me while she was going through things he left behind in his house after he passed away in November. I have been looking through his old, worn Bible repeatedly since I received it. This two-pound, King James Version Thompson Chain Reference Bible was purchased in Savannah, Georgia in 1982. This is a major league Bible of Bibles. He preached many sermons from it. There are still some old sermon outlines and notes in it. Looking through his Bible, sermon notes and outlines are proof that my dad was very dedicated to his calling. I have heard stories about how he was called into the ministry and you will need to have some knowledge about the Pentecostal way of how things work.
My mother was the daughter of a preacher. She did NOT want to marry a preacher. Funny how things work out because she is the reason that dad was called into the ministry. My dad felt the calling but wanted confirmation from God about it. He didn’t get a burning bush but he certainly got the confirmation he was looking for. His prayer was that if God wanted him to preach that God would use my mother to confirm it because he knew how much she was against it. The story was relayed to me that one night in church the Holy Ghost worked in my mother and in the strange way this method operated, she was used to speak to dad that he was called to preach. Now, I don’t know about all of this nor could I ever expect to explain this to you but I do know that this set the course of our lives from that night.
So, as I look through my dad’s Bible I think about that course we took in his calling. Although my mother was used in the ritual described above to call dad into the ministry she was never happy about being a preacher’s wife. I often lament about my life as a preacher’s kid but I can tell you that next to the preacher, the preacher’s wife really has to put up with a whole lot of crap that most wives wouldn’t dream of. People are mean and it’s even more disenchanting when the mean people are the self-righteous ones in the church.
Still, my dad pressed on with his calling. I think if dad had been a minister in any other organization that things would have been much different. Unfortunately, we were sucked into a very peculiar (and they loved being called peculiar) Pentecostal denomination called the Church of God of Prophecy. Yeah, people usually respond with: “Church of God of what??” Back in those days this church was a cult. I always say that you don’t know something is a cult when you are in it but looking back it was definitely the definition of a cult. I have talked enough about this in past posts so I won’t repeat it here.
My dad was strict. He was a strict father and preacher. Sometimes the lines were blurred. I experienced the preacher more than the father. If I’m being honest about this Bible, I have to admit that I’m torn. It is both sentimental and troubling. I’m sorry but I’m just being honest. My dad was a minister for over 40 years until being forced out by a weak church leader who didn’t want to stand up for what was right. Ironically this same leader is the leader for the entire organization. So don’t hate on me for not going back to that church. You haven’t walked in my shoes or lived my life.
In spite of the weirdness of the church, my dad tried to preach the truth – or at least the truth that the church organization told him that it was. There was resistance in many places. I could curl your hair with stories about the inter-workings of the church. I think my dad was sincere in standing up for the truth. He tried his best. I can’t fault him for that I just think he could have done a better job to avoid the church propaganda and refused to drink the koolaide. (Yes, I went there!) Unfortunately, he was in an organization that made perfection the same as Godliness. I have to give my dad credit for not following reputation or money in the ministry as so many do these days. He stuck to what he believed whether I agreed or not.
When he was laboring as a minister in Georgia churches while I was growing up, he was never appointed to a “big” church because he didn’t suck up to the leadership. In those days, a “big” church was those churches who might have 50 or more members. We were never at any of those churches. In fact, some churches barely had enough to keep the church doors open. I remember when we were at a church called Oak Hill which was near Temple, Georgia, that many times the only ones at church was just the three of us. My dad would still have a short service with the three of us. He wouldn’t preach but he would have a short devotion and prayer, then we would go back home.
The worst experience of his ministry when I was living at home was when we were moved to a church in Axson, Georgia. Those church folks were resistant to him from the very beginning. It was a family-run church and we weren’t family. They picked dad’s sermons apart, criticized what my mom wore, did or said and the kids picked on me mercilessly. Yeah, you don’t think of this happening in church do you? The members even tape recorded his sermons and sent it to the leadership critical of what he was preaching. They didn’t like it. There was even one night when a group of men tried to run us off the road. Scary. My dad had enough after that and resigned. In that church organization, you were tainted if you resigned a church. In those days we lived in a mobile home and we moved it to Waycross, Georgia where my dad used his G.I. Bill to go back to school and certification to be a TV repairman. Just as he was ready to work a normal job, church leadership called him and asked if he would take a church in Villa Rica, Georgia which the pastor had vacated to accept a leadership role in Nebraska. He prayed about it and decided to take the church. We stayed at that church three years which was the longest stay at any church.
The only time I ever resisted moving was when dad was considering a move from Villa Rica after my sophomore year in high school. I so much wanted to finish my high school there but my dad was intent on following “God’s will” and move us to Savannah. In my mind I thought it was due to the decline in attendance so on a night when our state bishop was to visit our local church I devised a plan to have all of my friends come to church that night. I had lofty expectations that this plan would convince my dad and the state bishop to keep us at the Villa Rica church. I stood on the front porch when the church doors opened looking for my friends to pull up and boost our attendance and change the course of what was inevitable. In the end only one of my friends showed up. It wouldn’t have mattered if they had all showed up because it seemed that God had wanted us to move to Savannah.
After I left home for the Air Force and start my own life, my dad continued to serve at a few more churches in Georgia until he decided to try another state. My parents moved to North Carolina with hopes of better opportunities. Unfortunately the grass wasn’t any greener on the other side of the state line. They were met more religious rebels, hypocrites and spineless church leaders. During this time my grandfather passed away. His passing changed my mother drastically after that. She never recovered from his death and caved under the criticism with being a preacher’s wife. In the final years of ministry, my dad had to deal with churches who were a bit too loose with the church finances. My dad told me a few stories on his death bed including where one of those churches wanted to give a local business a blank check. When my dad opposed this suggestion, they rebelled and called state leaders to deal with him. Yeah, it’s hard to believe these are “Christian” people we are talking about. When church leaders failed to back him up, my dad had enough. That was the last straw. He had to find a normal job so that he and my mother could live. So, my dad resigned, gave up his license and left the church. If resigning wasn’t bad enough it is scandalous when a preacher “leaves the church” which most people compare to leaving God which is ridiculous.
My dad worked at Belk in the credit department in Charlotte, North Carolina for several years so he could get some health benefits and a retirement. By the way, the church had NO retirement – well they did have a retirement system until a church leader in the worldwide headquarters embezzled the money. (Do you see a trend here? And what does the Bible say about the love of money?)
To my knowledge my parents never attended church again. My mother did not want dad to be sucked back into the ministry again when they moved back to Georgia to live near my grandmother and her sister. She was very adamant that she did NOT want him to even go to church again but when my mother passed away my dad eventually felt the pull back and during his last year he was reinstated and was even appointed as pastor to a church. I nearly fell out of my seat when I heard about it. I wondered why he would do this after all the hurt and pain it has caused them over the years. For some reason, he felt compelled to return to his calling. When I hear the Steven Curtis Chapman song, “For The Sake Of The Call” I think that’s how my dad felt about it. I may not have agreed with it but that was how he lived.
So all these memories come back to me as I look through my dad’s Bible. I look through this Bible and wonder why he highlighted things that he marked in his Bible. I also read the notes he has taped to his Bible and the sayings he kept in it. Also, as I look through his Bible I wonder if he prayed for me like he did over the handwritten list of church members in his Bible. When he read this Bible did he think of me? Did he wonder what burdens I was going through? Did he pray for my life in the same way?
It seems that the page that he highlighted and wrote in the most was in the Book of James. The first chapter of James usually refers to where the apostle encouraged believers patience when they were going through tough times. I’m thinking he probably needed to read this passage a lot. With all of the incredible crap he had to endure from church members and church leaders in his life, he truly had to have a strong faith in God. Maybe that’s why I have a strong faith in God because of what he went through. I may not know the man who owned this Bible but I am thankful to have a relationship with the God of his Bible. When my own father was absent, God was never absent in my life. God always sustained me and was consistent even during the times I was not as consistent in return. I have often prayed the prayer: “God, please never give up on me as long as I never give up on you”. I have only made it this far because of my Heavenly Father.
In the last week of his life, my dad apologized for what he put us through because of his calling. I reassured him that I understood things a lot better now than I did then. In the end he became the dad I always wanted instead of the preacher.
With his Bible, I have a part of him but it is a part I never experienced from him. I can’t say for sure that I will keep this Bible or not. I have had to make my own way through this journey of my life. If he is in paradise right now I’m pretty sure he sees things a whole lot differently now. I love my dad and glad I was there in the end when he needed me the most.
In the back of his Bible, Dad wrote this statement: “Success is not measured by heights attained, but by obstacles overcome.”
When you drive around on Sunday mornings you will pass numerous churches along the way. At one intersection near me, there are THREE churches on each corner of the intersection. Wow. That’s a lot in one place!
One comedian said that when one of his kids prayed at the table before a meal, he closed with “Ah-men”. His brother argued that it should be “A-men”. This argument went back and forth for several minutes until their father said, “And this is why we have thousands of different denominations today.”
When you read the New Testament about what Jesus did while He was on the earth, you will find that He spent very little time in church and He never started a church of His own. The times He spent in the synagogues, it was mostly to confront the religious leaders of His day. They didn’t like Jesus very much and did everything they could to dispute anything He did. He even did the unthinkable when He had the audacity to heal someone on the sabbath day. How scandalous!
You will find in most of his life that Jesus went to the people. He didn’t sit in a church and wait for people to come to Him. He went to meet people – even the sinners.
Today’s church has it backwards. Too many ministries have built huge buildings to “reach the lost” or “spread the gospel” but they are little in actually doing it. Instead, they are increasing their church bank accounts for them and the people who enter their buildings. This is a travesty. You wouldn’t find Jesus going to any of these churches. He would be in the hospitals healing the sick, helping the homeless on the city streets and comforting those who are in need and nowhere near a church building.
There are some churches who have done more than just go to their buildings. My cousin’s son-in-law had a ministry which would go out to the community on Sunday mornings instead of the traditional church routine. I don’t know if they still do this or not but THAT is how a church should be. I think too many times people are trying to increase their attendance totals for their organization rather than for the Lord. People want to be a part of something that makes a difference. They desire to be involved in something bigger than themselves.
In my last years in the church, I tried to urge my pastor and leaders to think outside of the box and do church differently but they were more concerned about preaching a sermon from the pulpit on Sunday mornings than going out and actually doing something. What happens in that situation is that you get stuck in a rut where you go to church and you leave church in the building until you return the next time. That’s not what it is about. No wonder the church is suffering a decline in attendance.
People don’t want to be accountable. It is easier to attend church at a megachurch with thousands of other people, sing some praise and worship songs projected on a screen and listen to a preacher entertain people with their monologue for 45 minutes. Done. You’ve put a check mark in church attendance for that week. I used to be one of those who couldn’t miss church. I had to be there every time the doors opened. Somehow in my thinking, I must have thought perfect church attendance was a measurement of my relationship and service to God. It was not. Perfect church attendance doesn’t impress God. Loving others impresses Him much more than sitting in your assigned pew on Sunday mornings.
It doesn’t work guilting people into going to church. Offering them more user-friendly Sunday morning services won’t work. Getting people to attend church isn’t equivalent to getting them to commit to Jesus. Church attendance or non-attendance is a less accurate measure of someone’s commitment level or spiritual maturity than we’ve convinced ourselves it is. Sure, gathering with fellow believers matters but with a purpose, not the traditional church mindset.
It’s time to do church different. It’s time to get for churches to actually go out and be the church.
Since I have received the Oculus Go VR headset, I have explored many things with this technology. One of the things that has been greatly enhanced is my time of personal devotion and worship time with God. The VR goggles have taken my experience to a new level. When I have the VR headset on, it dramatically cuts down on distractions and totally immerses me in whatever I am doing. Let me share with you some of my experiences using the Oculus Go in VR worship time.
The first app I downloaded was the VR Church: The Bible app. It’s okay but it has a few quirks to it. The main issue is that the app has a place where you can set up a custom plan to read the Bible. Unfortunately, I have found that after I select a plan and start it that the actual Bible reading text doesn’t appear. I can, however, go directly to the Bible section and read it. There are a couple of meditation Bible readings in the app that are nice to go through but they need to update it with more. It is a nice app but it needs to be improved. I keep hoping for updates to this app.
Reading the Bible (or any digital book) with the Oculus Go is very cool. There are a couple of book reading apps such as Virtual Book Viewer or ImmersionVR where you can import a Bible and you can adjust the size to what is comfortable for your eyes. For me, it is much better than paper or even my iPad. The ImmersionVR reader app is a bit different because you can turn the pages by simply moving your head as well as setting some calm background music while you are reading.
There is an app call AltspaceVR where you can customize your personal avatar and transport to different rooms and events. One of the rooms is the VR Church Prayer Room. You can teleport your avatar to the room and watch the International House of Prayer. I think this is a church that conducts worship 24/7. Yeah, it’s a little different but what’s even more interesting is that you can also attend a virtual church service.
What’s Virtual Reality Church like?
The first 30 minutes are somewhat formal with worship music, prayer, and a sermon. The rest of the time is very informal with discussion and hanging out. At the beginning, a VR pastor will welcome everyone. Then you can listen to worship music for a few minutes. During this time, you can sing, pray, meditate, or simply take it all in by enjoying the worship music. After the worship music, they share a few announcements. Then a VR pastor will give a short interactive sermon. Sermons are designed to encourage your spiritual journey. At the end of the sermon, attendees are encouraged attendees to meet each other and discuss the sermon. They say this is a great opportunity to ask questions, make new friends, or simply hang out. That may be true but I would caution anyone about “hanging out” online. I think this virtual church is a good idea but I’m not sure about meeting people there.
Virtual church can’t replace going to a real church but I think it’s a novel idea. I would still be cautious about it.
Probably the most amazing features of using the Oculus Go for my personal worship time is that I can watch my favorite preachers or Christian music artists on the web or YouTube in what is comparable to watching them on 30-foot screen. It is pretty amazing. In my most recent personal VR worship time, I watched music videos by TobyMac and Micah Tyler. I visited the AltspaceVR prayer room to check out what was going on at the International House of Prayer then I went to the Virtual Book Viewer and read another chapter in the Bible. Other times, I have watched Bible studies and various videos on Bible issues I have questions about. In addition to the worship time, I can also visit the Holy Land and as well as some beautiful places on Earth.
Yeah, this version of worship and personal devotion time sounds a little gimmicky but it has really been an amazing experience for me. I hope developers will create more content for this technology.
Some things I would like to see in VR worship would be:
An app with a selection of video praise and worship songs with the lyrics.
I would like to see some contemporary Christian music artists shoot some music videos in 360 degree video.
It would be nice to have a selection of 360 degree photos of churches where you can sit and meditate.
I love the VR technology and think there could be some awesome things added for personal worship time. It’s already a pretty awesome experience. I have enjoyed it so far and looked forward to more time spent in the VR worship.
A baby can change your life. Just ask any new parent.
Life after the arrival of a baby is vastly different than before he or she is born. The baby creates change in the home. Priorities change. Lifestyles change. Diapers change. The focus goes from your own life to the new life. Although I have never been a parent myself, I have noticed this change in others. It isn’t anything I can really describe except there is a joy that I can see in their eyes and in their faces that wasn’t there before the baby’s arrival.
There is another baby who was born in a Bethlehem stable over 2,000 years ago, that can have an even greater impact in our lives. Throughout the course of human history since His birth, He has changed the lives of people of all ages, all races and all nations. This baby brought salvation to mankind. There was never a doubt about His “Purpose Driven Life”. Matthew 1:21 tells us “and she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins.”
His birth and His purpose was to save us from our sins. To repair the separation between God and man. The law which instituted the method of animal sacrifice for the redemption of sin was replaced by a baby who would begin His journey to the cross from His humble beginnings in a stable. All this to save us.
How is it possible that we can be saved by a Jewish baby born in a smelly stable for animals in Israel a long time ago before any of us were born ourselves? How can this baby save us?
This baby was God in a human body. He wasn’t a super hero like Superman. He didn’t come from another planet with powers and abilities but He came to empower us with the indwelling of His Spirit. This baby was born from thousands of years of prophecy. He fulfilled everything that had been said by the prophets about Him.
His own people didn’t understand the significance of His birth. They were looking for an earthly king to save them from the tyranny of Rome but this baby didn’t come to save from an earthly kingdom but to establish a heavenly kingdom. The little baby in the manger didn’t save us. It was the innocent Christ who freely gave His life on the cross which brought salvation to us all. Each Christmas we have cute little Christmas plays to tell us of the miraculous birth but His birth was shadowed by the cross which was His destiny. What we celebrate on Christmas is the wonderful gift that God gave to us. Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift. (1 Corinthians 9:15)
Are you saved? *cringe* *cringe*
When I hear this question, due to my Pentecostal background, I get the image of some zealous religious fanatic on a busy street corner asking people who walk by if they are saved. People who are unfamiliar with this Christian cliché would respond to this zealous street corner preacher: “Am I saved? Saved from what?”
In the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by ghosts from the past, present and future. In our existence as God’s created beings, we are also confronted by each ghost but encouraged by the gift of salvation to deal with each one.
SAVED FROM THE PAST
We all have a past. Who hasn’t done things in the past that they regret? We have all said things that we shouldn’t have said and done things that we wished we hadn’t done. Sometimes the ghosts from our past still haunt us today. We can be assured that we all came from the same place; we all have sinned. (Romans 3:23) No one has been born without sin. Sin is the default condition when we are born into this world. A child does not have to be taught to do wrong. Due to the sinful condition of the world, we are born in sin. There are many times I think about the stupid things I have done in my life. I wish I had a time machine where I could go back and change some of the things that I have done. In reality, the problem with the past is that none of us can go back to change anything. The past is done. We can’t have a “do over” but we can have an “extreme makeover” through the power of salvation.
Jesus offers an escape from our past. Although we can’t see the literal blood of Jesus today, we can be assured that His blood sacrifice is still as powerful today to wash away the affects of our past sins. The past does not have power over us! All things have passed away, behold all things are new. (2 Corinthians 5:17) Religious folks have a term called being “born again”. This term confuses the average person just as it did Nicodemus in the New Testament. Obviously, it is not physically possible to return to your mother’s womb and be born again. The rebirth is spiritual. Instead of becoming a baby on the outside, your inner being becomes new. You are no longer defined by your past. Yes, people may still hold your past over you but God will not throw it up to you. Never. We are SAVED from our past.
SAVED FROM THE PRESENT
We all have problems in this life. If you are not currently experiencing problems at this time, just be patient, here is one on the way soon. That’s just life. We deal with stress, relationship problems, financial problems, physical pain, etc. I get rather aggravated when I hear a preacher on television make it seem that if you are a believer in Christ that you will live the good life and won’t have any problems. This is not the reality we live in. It might be good television and convincing for a few more people to “sow their seeds” into those ministries but even Jesus told us that we would have problems. (John 15:18) But, it isn’t all gloom, despair and agony on us. No matter how bad things get, we can still have peace. Jesus said that we will have trouble but to be happy because He has overcome the world. (John 16:33) As believers, we may not have the material wealth as some preach but we will have God’s favor in our life. His favor comes in many ways, some that we do not even give Him credit for. Jesus is more than one that can calm the storms in our lives, He is also the one who can calm us in the middle of the storms. He SAVES us in the present.
SAVED FROM THE FUTURE
When you are saved by this baby, you never have to worry about the future. The future is secured by His eternal promise. Heaven is reserved for you. Until then, His Spirit is dwelling on this earth and guiding your path. Matthew 6:19-20 tells us to store up our treasures in heaven because it will be safe there. Recently I attended a retirement seminar where we were told that the current Social Security program will be bankrupt by the year 2018. We were forewarned not to expect Social Security when we are eligible for retirement. There is no such problem with God’s retirement plan. No one will bankrupt it, no politician will spend it for something of waste and no natural disaster or terrorist attack will destroy it. You can count on it being there because it is backed by the creator of the universe and made possible by the baby who became our Savior.
The future of the world will get worse, evildoers will get more evil as the end approaches. I have grown tired of politicians and all the things they promise. Our Senators, Congressmen and President are NOT the answer. Our future is in God, not a political party. Our future is secure in the salvation of Christ. He SAVES us from the future.
Let us be wise men and women and trust in the salvation that was made possible by a baby in a manger. He has not only saved us from sin, but saves us from everything that tries to snatch us from His care. We are promised eternal life and no one can take that away from us. (John 10:28-29) God gave us a precious gift to assure our place with Him. In our search for gifts during this season, let’s pause to reflect on THE gift we were given by the birth of a baby. A baby who saves us.
C.S. Lewis once said that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one with watching.
Even returning your shopping cart.
It is amazing how something so small can have a ripple effect on others.
I was sitting in the the car at a grocery store while my wife went in to get a few things. I sat there watching what was going on around me to pass the time. A man with two children pushed his shopping cart to his vehicle parked in front of me. After he loaded his children and groceries into his truck he pushed his shopping cart to the side into the vacant parking spot next to him instead of returning it to the shopping cart return just two more feet away. Just two minutes after he left, another person pulled into the parking space where the cart was. The driver couldn’t see the cart and hit it with his vehicle. He stopped, got out and angrily push the cart back to its return. He stomped back to his vehicle and continued parking. He got out, glared at me and walked to the store.
Who knows how the one lone act of not returning the shopping cart may have had a domino effect on the moods of people affected by it. The man who hit the cart was now in a bad mood – or may have already been in a bad mood.
I thought about that for a moment. Something like that can affect so many others. What if that man went home and had road rage on the way home or fought with his wife when he got home. All because of that shopping cart.
We all like to get credit for our good deeds but sometimes the things that we don’t think people see have a deeper affect on others. It is never wrong to do the right thing, even if no one sees it. You will never know the impact you can have on someone’s life and not even know it. What if us doing the right thing ended up saving a life?
One day I was walking to the elevator in my building when the woman already on the elevator made no effort to hold the door for me. In frustration, I walked up to the doors as they were closing and said “That’s not niiiice!” I laugh about it but it was a moment that just a few seconds and a little effort would have been all that woman needed.
What kind of ripples are we creating?
I think we would all be surprised if we could see the things you and I have done ever so small acts or deeds which affected so many others without us knowing.
In Matthew 22 when Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest, He said the first was to love God with all your heart, mind and soul He then said the second was to love your neighbor as yourself. When we read that we often think our “neighbor” means people in our own little circle of family or friends but it could also mean people we may never meet. In this world when people are so fixated on the screens on their smartphones, our influence reaches much further than the hundreds of friends on Facebook.
I’m always making the statement: “Why can’t people just do what they are supposed to do?” I mostly make this statement when I am behind the wheel and driving but I say this at other times too when the selfishness of others ripples into my own life. Can’t people just do the right thing?
Let us all try to do our part in having integrity. Yes, even something as small and seemingly insignificant as returning the shopping cart to the corral.