Thursday, November 03, 2005

Homeland Church Security

This is a previous post from last year but I thought I would re-post it. A recent conversation with a friend has brought it back to the front of my mind:

Does anyone else out there in church think that the way most churches receive new members is strange? Don't get me wrong, we all want to grow as churches.

But the majority of the churches I have been have the following procedure for the application of new members:
1. Someone comes down during an invitation to ask for membership.
2. The Pastor asks the congregation what are the feelings on receiving them as members.
3. Everyone accepts.
4. They are received and given the right hand of fellowship (shaking hands, not a punch.)

I understand that every church is different and some don't have the above procedure. It is probably a predominantly Baptist tradition, but every church I have ever been in has done this.

So here is my question: If church membership is so important, why is it so easy to join? I don't fault the pastors, they are just fulfilling a tradition that they have always performed. But as a shepherd, your job is to watch out for the flock. It seems like it would be mighty easy for a wolf to join.

And in fact if you asked me, I would tell you that the problem with churches is not that they need more Christians, but it's the ones they have now that are the problem. Too many people join and you never see them again. They are just another name on the roll. Another deadbeat Christian who isn't contributing to the cause of Christ.

I know Rick Warren mentions this in The Purpose Driven Church. At least I think he does; it's been a while since I read it. But this is about more than coming up with a model for new members. It's about Church security. Much is said these days about Homeland and National security issues as we face one of the gravest dangers in our country's history: terrorism. One of the reasons terrorism is so dangerous is because it is about infiltration, not invasion. If terrorists fought a conventional war, the war would be over.

Satan doesn't fight conventionally either. And it's time churches tightened down on Homeland church security. Wolves are bouncing from church to church, doing damage to God's work and they're coming through the front door because our screening process is our greatest weakness.

I realize this is probably a sensitive subject among church members. I mean after all, when someone comes down the aisle to join your church, how do you say, "We'll think about it." But truly there should be an evaluation period. If someone truly wants to join your church and wants to be a help to God's work, they will wait through evaluation. I have a feeling that wolves would just move on to easier prey.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Church Sucks

There I said it. I know many of you were thinking it. And before you get excited let me explain.

Week after week, people file into church looking for something. Looking for anything to heal their hurting, broken and disappointed lives. Our lives are full of regrets and disappointments. Mistakes and failures. And all we want to do is try and make some semblence of a life, try and make something in our lives count.

We seek.....well....we seek God.

But unfortunately, I haven't found God always at church and I doubt they are consistently finding Him either, at least with the present state of most churches. He certainly doesn't dwell in all those who attend His services. I grew up in church. I've been as a kid, as a preacher's kid, as a regular church member and as a staff member. And you know what? They're all the same. There's always someone who wants to control it. There is always someone who wants to fulfill their own agenda. Their is always someone who goes to seek the praise of others. Being on the same "team" with those people really sucks.

In my 10+ years of full time ministry, I have found that church is the same as it was growing up. Or worse. But I have learned something. It doesn't really matter what you think of church, because it's full of imperfect people. The problem is they just don't know it yet. What matters is what you think of God. Jesus spent most of his time on this earth outside of the temple. And the times He spent in the temple, were not very pleasant for those that were supposedly on His "team."

Maybe it's time for some friendly fire.

Monday, December 13, 2004

November 26, 2004 - The Moment of Truth

I don't know what I have been waiting on. God is kicking me in the pants again, trying to wake me up. I have been waiting for Him over a year to open a door for another ministry and all this time He has actually been waiting on me.

I've known for some time now that I was leaving. I don't know the exact date but I've been floating, waiting for God to make it clear.
Well, it's never been clearer. He wants me to set a date. And soon.
I guess I have been waiting because I wanted to make sure that I wasn't leaving because of conflict or personal pride. That it wasn't something that I could help resolve on my own.

Today I read in my devotions from a little book, Devotions from Dead People. It was on Pharoah and his people and how they chased after the Israelites during the exodus.
“The moment of truth was near. When Moses and the people reached the Red Sea and wondered what in the world they were going to do, the Lord sent a pillar of fire to hold Pharaoh back. Pharaoh saw it and he saw the Red Sea part to let God’s people escape.”
I guess my moment of truth is near. God wants me to get out and I have been waiting on Him to part the Red sea first (Give me a place to go since I won't have a job). I will have to watch that miracle when I get to it.

November 24, 2004 - God's Timeline

This afternoon before church the preacher called me.

He said some people are upset over our recent activity (Video Scavenger hunt)
*He wouldn't tell me who was upset or why, just that he/they wanted to see the tape.
*The more I thought about it the more I realized this might not be the best thing to do, just turning it over. Who is going to watch it with him? My accusers? Should they watch it in private without having to face me? Surely it can't be this easy to get away with gossip and slander.
*I called him back. I don't feel comfortable just giving it to him. It's only on dvd anyway. I pressed him for more details. Someone (again no names) is upset because they heard (i.e. gossip) that we did something illegal. Apparently more was added to the story, that I may have allowed them to steal or use a fake credit card for something.
            *I assured the pastor nothing illegal was done. This didn't seem to restore my credibility.
*It looks like I am going to have to show the deacons (are they the ones who complained?) the video on Saturday.
*I am trying not to be emotional. I can certainly understand someone being upset over something they perceived we may have done. But that is for one of two reasons:

1. They think we would actually do something immoral or illegal.
2. They have allowed gossip to cloud their perception of the situation.

I think it's both. And now I have to prove my innocence of unfounded accusations. What if there wasn't a tape/dvd? What would I do then?

At the end of the conversation the preacher told me to have a good thanksgiving.

Yeah, two days until my trial on Saturday, it will be a memorable Thanksgiving. It looks like I'm the turkey and my neck is on the line. Unfortunately I have to wait two days for a verdict. Yeah, Happy thanksgiving.

Why does this stuff always happen on a Wednesday before church or before a holiday?

**Two of the deacons "dropped in" unannounced to youth meeting tonight. Everyone there was tense. I did not receive word from the preacher on why this happened or what they wanted. I am totally in the dark on what is going on. I think God wants me to set a date. I have certainly waited too long.

August 9, 2004 - My Joy has left, should I go next?

Things are getting harder to deal with at church. There seems to be a few people, particularly one family, that seems to have it out/in for me. It doesn't matter what I do or how I do it, they still oppose me. Nothing seems right or acceptable. What's worse, it seems that it's spreading. You know how it goes, one family gets upset, they talk to their relatives, who are also members of the church, are now against you also.

Everytime they get an opportunity, they oppose me, publicly, sometimes while in church conference. The latest outburst happened when I conveniently wasn't there to defend myself. There was no particular point to the accusations, but a blanket criticism of just about everything I do. It was probably better that I wasn't there. It might have gotten ugly.

I am a fighter, not a quitter. Sometimes that gets me in more trouble because there are times that you just have to hold your tongue. I have been holding my tongue for over a year and I'm getting to the point where I can't hold it much longer.

The tension at church is palpable. I have had many people console me since then, and I do get the impression that those who are unhappy with me, are in the minority.

Many think it's their job to be the church police and criticize everything they think is wrong with the world. Of course these people are less than faithful in service and example and never have any constructive suggestions nor do they seem willing to offer any kind of service as a solution. It's always about everyone else.

I am really struggling right now. For a few months now I have been pondering leaving this ministry. Not because of the problems, the burden came before the problems began. We just got a new pastor almost a year ago and I have had some good talks with him. He supports me, but I'm not sure how much support he has right now.

I don't want to leave. It is a big hassle. I have built relationships here and tried to build a ministry vision. My vision is being somewhat hindered but I think the decision to leave is about more than youth ministry. Even when things are going well, I still don't have a peace. I don't know if this is the work of satan or if God won't allow me to have peace until I step out on faith and make a decision.

I say it's not just a youth ministry decision because I get the feeling that my family is not happy either. In fact they have told me. My joy is gone. Their joy is gone. We don't look forward to church anymore. Moving churches is more than just youth ministry. It's also a life decision. As a regular church member, am I happy? Is my family happy where they are at? Can the problems we face be solved in the near future? I honestly have to answer No to all those questions. I don't see an improvement or an end in sight to this burden I feel. Every time I decide that I am going to stick it out, I get this nagging feeling that the decision is still not made, even though I feel I have already made it.

I had prepared my resume even before conflict surfaced, sent my resume to two churches a few weeks back and even interviewed with one pastor. All I need to do now is follow up. I had hoped that they would call me instead that way I would know that the Lord was leading me in that direction. But I guess He wants me to take the next step. I just want to make sure that I am doing the right thing for the right reasons. I know that leaving will appear that I am leaving because of conflict. That makes me want to stay in spite of that. I don't want to leave because of conflict and I don't want to leave before my ministry is completed here. There are always more things to be done. But I don't think there is any other option. I pray that there is.

May 26, 2004 - Seeking God

Today for my devotions I read Proverbs 26. I'm ashamed to admit that it's been a while since I've spent time with God. I mean truly spend time with Him. Too long. Sure, I've read the Bible but my heart wasn't in it. Many times when I go to God, it's not really me, I send a substitute. That imaginary person that we send to do things that we don't want to do. Like when we don't feel like going to church or spending time with that member that you're not really good friends with, we send the fake person. The nice person, not the real you. And though you're there physically, in reality, you're somewhere else. Somewhere else you'd rather be.

I'm trying to learn the importance of being there. And in that I've learned the importance of seeking God. Yeah, I know it sounds stupid and trite, but it seems like I never learn this lesson. One of the first verses we learn as a child, "Seek Ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." So why do I have such a problem with it?

Maybe I just like to wallow in my own self-pity. Recently things have been a little discouraging at church. I've been criticized, people stand in groups to talk about me and go out of their way to let me know I'm not someone they like or respect.

So what did I do? Did I seek God? Did I take comfort in His Word that I'm not alone? No, I wallowed in my own discouragement. I spent time doing other things to take my mind off of it. I did everything but seek Him, just like we all do.

Why? I think many times it's academic. Some people don't like to read. Reading anything, let alone the Bible, becomes a chore. Some people don't like to stop or sit still for too long. Impatient. It's hard to pray when you're like that. But doing that makes spending time with God a chore and not a relationship. Seeking Him isn't about fulfilling a to-do list. If you read His Word and pray and still walk away not any closer to Him, you haven't truly spent time with Him. You sent a substitute.

So for my devotions today is Proverbs 26. God answered my self-pity with a word about those who hate you.

Proverbs 26:24 - 26

He who hates, disguises it with his lips, and lays up deceit within himself;
When he speaks kindly, do not believe him, for there are seven abominations in his heart;
Though his hatred is covered by deceit, His wickedness will be revealed before .

I put this verse on the back of Sunday's bulletin; I don't think anyone noticed.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Right Number

A woman was at home with her children when the telephone
rang. In going to answer it, she tripped on a rug, grabbed
for something to hold on to and seized the telephone table.
It fell over with a crash, jarring the receiver off the
hook.

As it fell, it hit the family dog, which leaped up, howling
and barking. The woman's three-year-old son, startled by
this noise, broke into loud screams. The woman mumbled some
colourful words. She finally managed to pick up the receiver
and lift it to her ear, just in time to hear her husband's
voice on the other end say, "Nobody's said hello yet, but
I'm positive I have the right number."

From Clean Laughs To SUBSCRIBE

It's All About Who, Jesus?

If worship is for God, why are so many songs about us?

If a Martian visited earth and observed earthlings at public worship in contemporary or nontraditional settings, what would he/she/it report back to the home planet? (A similar exercise could be imagined for more traditional churches, with different results.)

My friend John, a music professor rather than an extraterrestrial, noticed something too few earthlings have noticed (see his full article at www.anewkindofchristian.com). Too many of our worship songs are more about us than God. Yes, we say the words "praise/thank/bless God," but mostly, what for?

For glorious attributes and wonderful mysteries? For historic deeds and cosmic judgments? For rescuing the widow and orphan? For setting the captive free? For humbling the arrogant and sending the rich away hungry? For spinning galaxies and salting starfields with glorious light? Uh, no.

Rather, we praise God for holding us close, for keeping us secure, for making us feel loved and blessed and forgiven and warm and cozy in our electric blanket of eternal security (with a warm comforter of national security thrown in too). We congratulate God on how well God is meeting our needs. When we say, "You're such a good God," it sometimes sounds like comforting words spoken to a pet.

It pains me to say that, but I think it needs to be said.

When we're not affirming God for how well we're nurtured, our songs often congratulate ourselves on how well we respond to God's grace. Have you noticed how much we sing about how loud or passionately we sing? We talk a lot about what we're going to do—usually in the singular: I will worship, I will praise you, I will bow down, etc., etc. One beautiful and well-intentioned song even tells us that God thinks of "me above all."

As my professor friend says, "Begging your pardon: the only person who thinks of Me above all is Me."

If it's not in our singing, it's in our preaching. Whether it's contemporary meet-my-needs sermons or old-fashioned fire-and-brimstone, the focus seems to circle in the vicinity of getting our fine wide souls into heaven, and between now and then, into better circumstances here on earth. And yes, I may be overstating the case. But then again, am I?

A Martian visitor might judge, then, that God for the sake of the poor, the forgotten, the alien, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed is not a big hit here. Neither is God for God's sake, apart from what God does for us in contributing to our personal happiness and success, which tends to tell us who is the real star of the show.

Speaking of show, Jim Carrey's The Truman Show comes to mind, along with an unsettling question: if we stood poised, as Carrey's Truman did at the end of the film, ready to step out of our dome, leaving a safe and scripted world where we're the star and where it's all about us, would we take the step?

In my travels (real and virtual), I have the privilege of meeting hundreds of pastors and other Christian leaders, many of them young and many even older than me, who are stepping out of the dome, resigning from spiritual stardom, and stepping from their little ponds into a broader and more humbling world. They are doing the hard work of re-examining their self-centered (and church-centered) theological systems, even if doing so makes them seem odd, dangerous, heretical to some of their friends.

They've grown tired of songs that worship our beautiful, passionate sincerity, and include God as an accessory to our own material, emotional, and spiritual affluence.

They refuse to limit the focus of their preaching to the "needs" of saved and elect insiders, but instead keep the cries of the least, the last, and the lost alive in the ears of their listeners. They're writing new songs and preaching new sermons of justice and compassion, of mission and hope, of God-love and neighbor-love, of the glory of a God who loves, not just me/me/me, but the whole world—red and yellow, black and white, as the old Sunday school song said. In so doing, their sermons and songs shift the focus from a self-centered gospel to a world-blessing gospel.

No doubt, much of the talk about "emerging church" can be fit into the category of a new demographic needing everything tailored to its finicky, funky tastes. It's still all about me, just a me from a different market sector. It's as if we're asking for the set on The Truman Show to be redesigned for a newer, hipper Truman.

But if there's even a spark of something else at work in the emergent conversation, just a flicker of hope that the real God is to be found outside the dome of a narcissistic consumer religion (in any of its demographic forms), and that God is actually so wonderful that we would actually like to sing and preach about God for a while, more than ourselves, then we should fan that flame.

That would give the Martians some good news to report back to the home world. And it would be good news here as well.

Brian McLaren is senior pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Maryland, and contributing editor to Leadership.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

The Secret of Standing - Cultivating a secret life with God.
by Bob Sorge

One of the best kept secrets of our faith is the blessedness and joy of cultivating a secret life with God. Imagine the sheer delight of it even now. You're tucked away in a quiet nook; the door is shut; you're curled up in a comfortable position; the living word of God is laid open before you; Jesus himself stands at your side; the Holy Spirit is gently washing your heart; your love is awakened as you meditate upon the gracious words of his mouth; your spirit is ignited, and your mind is renewed; you talk to him, and he talks to you in the language of intimate friendship.

Ahhh, it doesn't get any better than this!

Hell will do everything in its power to misrepresent and distort the exuberant delight of this dynamic reality; this present world system is strategically designed to squeeze out your time and energy for the secret place; the church usually focuses its best energies on getting saints busy; and there seem to be relatively few believers whose secret life with God is so vibrantly life-giving that it kindles a contagious desire in others to follow their example.

I connect viscerally with the pain of countless believers who carry a conviction that the secret place is central to an overcoming life but who struggle on a regular basis to maintain the secret place as a daily lifestyle. I know what it's like to live below what the Christian walk could be and yet feel almost powerless to change anything. I've watched myself return persistently to the sources which are no sources at all. For example, when wanting to get revitalized from a draining day, we look to television, as though its distractions will renew us—only to be left empty for the umpteenth time. Or, we will attend a church service in the hope that the preacher's walk with God will infuse us with fresh energy for the journey. But deep down we know that sermons and teachings, although edifying, can never replace the carrying power we find when we sit at Jesus' feet and hear his word for ourselves.

I don't want to add another condemning word to the berating voices we all know so well. What I want to do is to help encourage you in your secret place relationship with God. I want to strengthen you by sharing with you the secret of standing in your secret place.

When you retreat to the secret place, you are standing in the Spirit together with all the saints on the sea of glass and gazing upon the One who is seated on the throne (Revelation 15:2). Even though your eyes are veiled so you can't see him with the natural eye, you are still standing directly before the throne! The highest privilege of all creation is to stand before the living fire of God's presence and burn with holy affection for your Father and King. Standing here is your eternal destiny, and you can taste a bit of heaven on earth by shutting your door and standing before your God in the beauty of holiness.

Your schedule doesn't want to let you stand here; work demands militate against your standing here. But you are awakened to the beauties of holiness and now you long to come aside and stand in his presence. Just to stand, and having done all, to stand!

To stand, despite the warfare; to stand, despite the resistance; to stand, despite the hassles; to stand, despite weariness; to stand, despite distresses; to stand, despite the temptations; to stand, despite personal failure and collapse; to stand, despite the grief; to stand, despite the loneliness; to stand, even when chained; just to stand!

To stand, because of the cross; to stand, because of the Lamb; to stand, because of his affections; to stand, because of his acceptance; to stand, because of his mighty power within; to stand, because of fountains of living water flowing from the innermost being; to stand, because of his surpassing beauty and greatness; to stand, because of his eternal purpose; to stand, because of his everlasting mercies; to stand, because of love!

The job description for the Levites is still applicable to us today: "At that time the LORD separated the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister to him and to bless his name, to this day" (Deuteronomy 10:8). One of our prime responsibilities (and privileges!) is to stand before the Lord to minister to him. In the secret place, we simply stand. No great agenda, no mighty ambitions, no rush to move on to the next thing. We just stand before him and love him.

There are seasons when God calls us to simply stand. We might prefer the adrenalin of chasing down a great cause, but sometimes God calls us to stop all activity and just stand. Sometimes, He gives us no choice. Occasionally, circumstances will constrain us beyond our ability to steer a different course, and we become prisoners to the chains that bind us to God's will. Incapable of extricating ourselves and moving on to the next thing, all we can do is stand and burn in holy love for our King.

It is commonly said, "Don't just stand there, do something!" When circumstances in our lives are careening out of control, the great temptation—when you don't know what to do—is to do something. "God can't steer a stationary vehicle," they say, "So start moving out on something, and let God direct your course."

That may be the way to go in some situations, but I've found that the Lord has been working differently in my life in recent days. He inverted that common saying and gave it to me this way, "Don't just do something, stand there!" It came like this: "When you don't know what to do, don't just do something! Wait on me, stand before me, minister to me, until. Until I speak. When I speak to you, then you can move out in response. But until I speak, just stand there."

The Scriptures show us that God has mighty angels who stand in his presence, in some cases for hundreds of years, and wait for his bidding. God doesn't need our strength and productivity; he needs our availability. He's just looking for us to stand in his presence, gaze upon him, love him, and fulfill his word when he speaks.

Are you between assignments? Then just stand before him, enjoy him and let him enjoy you!

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Seeking God/Sending a Substitute

Today for my devotions I read Proverbs 26. I'm ashamed to admit that it's been a while since I've spent time with God. I mean truly spend time with Him. Too long. Sure, I've read the Bible but my heart wasn't in it. Many times when I go to God, it's not really me, I send a substitute. That imaginary person that we send to do things that we don't want to do. Like when we don't feel like going to church or spending time with that member that you're not really good friends with, we send the fake person. The nice person, not the real you. And though you're there physically, in reality, you're somewhere else. Somewhere else you'd rather be.

I'm trying to learn the importance of being there. And in that I've learned the importance of seeking God. Yeah, I know it sounds stupid and trite, but it seems like I never learn this lesson. One of the first verses we learn as a child, "Seek Ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." So why do I have such a problem with it?

Maybe I just like to wallow in my own self-pity. Recently things have been a little discouraging at church. I've been criticized, people stand in groups to talk about me and go out of their way to let me know I'm not someone they like or respect.

So what did I do? Did I seek God? Did I take comfort in His Word that I'm not alone? No, I wallowed in my own discouragement. I spent time doing other things to take my mind off of it. I did everything but seek Him, just like we all do.

Why? I think many times it's academic. Some people don't like to read. Reading anything, let alone the Bible, becomes a chore. Some people don't like to stop or sit still for too long. Impatient. It's hard to pray when you're like that. But doing that makes spending time with God a chore and not a relationship. Seeking Him isn't about fulfilling a to-do list. If you read His Word and pray and still walk away not any closer to Him, you haven't truly spent time with Him. You sent a substitute.

So for my devotions today is Proverbs 26. God answered my self-pity with a word about those who hate you.

Proverbs 26:24 - 26

He who hates, disguises it with his lips, and lays up deceit within himself;
When he speaks kindly, do not believe him, for there are seven abominations in his heart;
Though his hatred is covered by deceit, His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly.


It would have been nice if I would have read that a few weeks ago.

Friday, May 14, 2004

What does it take to become the next American Idol?

I was looking through my sermon notes and came across a sermon I did a few months ago on Idolatry. Here is the outline:

Text: Exodus 32

What does it take to become an Idol?

I. Misguided Passion
II. Melted Possessions
III. Molded Pets (Golden Calves/Sacred Cows)
IV. Measured Punishments

Many years ago, A. W. Tozer said, "If the Holy Spirit were taken away from the New Testament Church, 90% of what they did would have come to a halt. But if the Holy Spirit were taken away from today's Church, only 10% of what it does would cease."

WHAT DOES JESUS DO?

Look again at verse 41(Mark 1:40-44): "He stretched out His hand, and touched him, and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed."
Jesus touches him! When was the last time someone touched him? When was the last time anyone put his hand on this gross distortion of a human body?
So humble yourself. Fall before Him. Be healed and cleansed!

WHAT DO THE LEPER'S ACTIONS AND REQUEST TELL US ABOUT HIM?- Mark 1:40-44

The leper falls on his knees before Jesus, and begs him, pleads with him, saying, "If you are willing . . ." These actions tell us that he knows four important facts:

1. He knows he is unworthy. Indeed, he has had this truth drummed into him day after day, hour after hour, for many years. Even looking at himself in the reflection of a pool of water, he sees how despicable he looks. Oh, he knows he is unworthy.

2. He knows he can't heal himself or make himself clean. He probably has never even heard of a leper becoming cured. For years he has lived with no hope at all.

3. But he knows that Jesus can! Note his statement of faith: "You can make me clean!" How he comes to this knowledge, we don't know. But he believes with all his heart that Jesus is the one person in the entire world who can cleanse him.

4. Finally, he knows that Jesus has the right to refuse. "If you are willing . . ." He makes no demands. He has no basis for a request, other than Jesus' mercy.

WHAT DOES THE LEPER ASK?

Let's now return to the story in Mark. Note that the leper comes to Jesus. This was a violation of the rules and regulations concerning lepers. He was supposed to shout, "Unclean!" to keep Jesus away! But instead he runs to Jesus. And Jesus does not run away; like the mother welcoming her crying, mud-covered daughter, Jesus allows the leper to approach him.

Then what does the leper ask? Does he say, "Heal my disease!"? No.

"Make me clean!"

We miss a great deal if we think of this request as the equivalent to "Heal my disease."
The leper is saying:
"I want to worship God!"
"I want to be a part of God's people, in relationship to Him!"
"I want to touch others, to be in relationship to the people of God!"
That is what the leper is asking. Of course he wants physical healing. But becoming clean is much more than becoming healed!

Leprosy

1. In Leviticus, leprosy is the most serious of all forms of uncleanness. Some forms of uncleanness -- such as that which comes from touching an unclean animal or insect -- were cleansed simply by waiting until evening (the beginning of a new day according to Israelite custom) and washing.

2. Other forms of uncleanness, such as that which results from childbirth, required a longer waiting period and the offering of a sacrifice.

3. But leprosy is much different. All other forms of uncleanness require that the person stay away from the temple, but leprosy causes the person to live outside the camp, to be cut off from the congregation of Israel. Lepers had to wear signs of mourning; they could approach no one, touch no one. Whenever anyone began to walk near them, they were to call out, "Unclean! Unclean!" to warn them to stay away.

4. Interestingly, such regulations about leprosy are not specific to the Israelites. In many cultures, there are similar exclusionary rules. For leprosy is a repulsive disease.

5. We don't know exactly what diagnosis a modern physician would give to the disease of this leper in Mark 1, but let's assume he had modern leprosy, Hanson's disease. This is a disease of the nervous system which causes its victim to lose all sense of touch and pain, initially in the fingers and toes, then spreading up the arms and legs. Without a sense of touch, the ill person eventually damages his toes, fingers, and feet. He will knock them, cut them, get infections -- and not notice.

6. As the leprosy spreads, many lepers go blind -- not because of the disease itself, but because, without feeling in their eyes, they forget to blink.

7. So as leprosy advances, the leper hardly looks human. No fingers. No toes. Face disappearing. Isolated from others. No one wants to draw near, no one wants to touch. And in a sense, they can't touch, for they cannot feel another person.

Dr Brand writes this:
The loneliest people of all are the ones for whom leprosy has also destroyed their sight. Like many others in the world, they are blind, but unlike most of the blind they can't use their hands to bring them the sensations that their eyes are denied because they can't feel either. They are really alone

8. So leprosy is a symbol not of the need for preparation prior to entering God's presence, but a symbol of lostness. Leprosy is a picture of sin eating away, going deep into your being, gradually destroying who you are, making you less and less human, destroying all your relationships, in the end leaving you alone, despised, rejected, hopeless.

Excerpt from one of my sermons on Psalm 51, Wash me thouroughly and cleanse me....

Thursday, May 13, 2004

How can I make God's presence real in my life?

Practice worship.
2 Chronicles 29: 20-36

Sometimes you may tramp through your days hoping God will announce that He's with you. While you aren't looking for bright lights or a thundering voice from heaven, you'd like at least some sense of His presence—an inner warmth that says, I am with you; a small symbol that whispers, I am a gift from God. Sometimes, in God's kindness, that's exactly what happens. You know God is here. But other times, when you feel the greatest need, God seems totally absent. What can you do then?

King Hezekiah provides an excellent model. Look through this passage for examples of worship. The people gathered at their place of worship and confessed their sin, asking for God's forgiveness. They made music with instruments, knelt down and prayed, repeated the writings of great spiritual leaders from the past, brought offerings, sang joyful praises to God, thanked Him, and asked His blessing.

It's hard to worship when God seems distant, but God invites you to worship Him anyway. When you discipline yourself to worship (even when you don't feel like it), you sometimes become aware of something you didn't notice before—that God has been with you all the time. (See also Ezekiel 10; Romans 15:14-21; Ephesians 3:14-21; Colossians 3:10,11.)

Good Words to Remember:
They sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshiped. —2 Chronicles 29:30.

Today's Challenge:
What will you do first the next time you face a difficult situation?

Saturday, May 08, 2004

DO YOU NEED A WASHING?

A little girl had been shopping with her Mom in Wal-Mart. She must have been 6-years-old, this beautiful red-haired, freckle-faced image of innocence. It was pouring outside. The kind of rain that gushes over the top of rain gutters, so much in a hurry to hit the earth it has no time to flow down the spout. We all stood there under the awning and just inside the door of the Wal-Mart.

We waited, some patiently, others irritated because nature messed up their hurried day. I am always mesmerized by rainfall. I got lost in the sound and sight of the heavens washing away the dirt and dust of the world. Memories of running, splashing so carefree as a child came pouring in as a welcome reprieve from the worries of my day.

The little voice was so sweet as it broke the hypnotic trance we were all caught in: "Mom, let's run through the rain," she said.

"What?" Mom asked.

"Let's run through the rain!" she repeated.

"No, honey. We'll wait until it slows down a bit," Mom replied.

This young child waited about another minute and repeated: "Mom, let's run through the rain,"

"We'll get soaked if we do," Mom said.

"No, we won't, Mom. That's not what you said this morning," the young girl said as she tugged at her Mom's arm.

"This morning? When did I say we could run through the rain and not get wet?"

"Don't you remember? When you were talking to Daddy about his cancer, you said, 'If God can get us through this, he can get us through anything!"

The entire crowd stopped dead silent. I swear you couldn't hear anything but the rain. We all stood silently. No one came or left in the next few minutes.

Mom paused and thought for a moment about what she would say.

Now some would laugh it off and scold her for being silly. Some might even ignore what was said. But this was a moment of affirmation in a young child's life. A time when innocent trust can be nurtured so that it will bloom into faith.

"Honey, you are absolutely right. Let's run through the rain. If God let's us get wet, well maybe we just needed washing," Mom said.

Then off they ran. We all stood watching, smiling and laughing as they darted past the cars and, yes, through the puddles. They held their shopping bags over their heads. They got soaked. But they were followed by a few who screamed and laughed like children all the way to their cars.

And yes, I did. I ran. I got wet. I needed washing.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

The Prize

A couple months ago, I entered a contest and ended up winning

a few acres of swamp land below the flood plane in Mississippi.


Before I knew it, right after that I won a $250,000 house, so

naturally I built it on my new land.


Last week, I won enough money in the lottery to quit my job

and move down there for good.


And just last night, as sat on my new porch watching the rain

and listening to the thunder, it all started to sink in.

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