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October 2011

September 2011 entries

Netflix Insight

I am trying to get a grip on why some people attend one church, or another, or none at all. There are few weeks when we either don't enlist people into our fellowship or grant their membership elsewhere. With all the churches there are to choose from, what criteria do people use to choose whether to stay or go on? This is difficult for me since as a pastor I do not have the freedom to shop. My congregation tends to look negatively toward me joining or even attending elsewhere. :)

I am convinced it is not always about worship style. That has been debated since the first upright piano was placed carefully on the church platform where once only the pulpit was allowed. People's tastes will always favor one style over another, but I am convinced it is not the primary reason for people to choose a church. Too many people move from one church to another that has the same style of worship for that to be a major concern.

Sometimes, we preachers of the Word, want to believe it is the skill or passion of the preacher. The problem with that is that I have seen strong growing fellowships with only adequate preachers. I really believe God empowers His Word regardless of the skill of the pastor if his heart is inclined toward truth. Conversely, there are some gifted preachers who are not winning people to Christ, nor serving in growing churches, because of a proud spirit that God will not bless.

This morning I heard a wealthy Christian businessman make a profound statement that helped put my thoughts into proper perspective. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick fil a said; "I do not remember the price I paid the last time I visited a Chick fil a, but I do remember how I was treated."

An experience today may have helped me further determine at least a contributing factor why people choose one church over another. I cancelled my subscription to Netflix. I expected the hassle I had from AOL several years ago. Instead, they had a button to push on their customer service page to cancel my membership. The only delay was an additional button that would allow me to pause my subscription instead of cancel it. I chose to cancel by hitting the next button and was promptly sent to a page declaring my membership had been canceled. They said they hoped I would reconsider someday, but for now our relationship had been terminated. That was it. I wasn't told what a bad person I was for depriving my family of quality movies. They did not make me wait for another billing cycle. They were just as prompt to let me go as when I had joined. It was actually a pleasant experience.

Now what if we treated people at church with the same kind of dignity? What if we treated them as nicely after they were there for a year as we did the first week they came. At Dallas Bay you get a letter from me the first week you visit and then again the first week you join. You will also receive a phone call from another staff person on each of these two occassions. After that we encourage you to pick up a newsletter to hear what is going on around here. We encourage you from the pulpit to get involved in a small group, but we have no way of knowing if you ever did. We encourage you to support the church financially, but we rarely ever tell how that money is being used to help the Kingdom.

Personal touch is not easy in a big church, but is often the reason the church grew large in the first place. I don't want to become a victim of our own success. I'm not sure how I'm going to fix these things, but I am committed to meet them head on. I have some ideas, but they are pretty radical. Let's just see where the Lord leads on this one. I'll keep you informed. Hey, even if I haven't talked to you personally lately, please know that I love you and am praying for you. God bless, Pastor Ken.

Who Will Deliver Us?

I am a people watcher by nature and observing our society is becoming more painful every day. The city of New York established a "clergy free" zone at the World Trade Center site during the memorial service, while evangelical Christian leaders were not allowed to address the crowd at the National Cathedral in Washington. But on that same platform a Muslim cleric was asked to speak.

Locally, men of God are falling into temptation at an alarming rate.

Nationally, the most notable Christian leaders are being investigated for their luxurious lifestyles leading to government regulations that will make it difficult for humble ministers and churches that barely make ends meet to just survive.

Recently an influential newspaper compared a candidate's belief in God to believing in aliens.

Does anyone feel like I do? Our country is going to hell in a handbasket!

We have sought out material wealth and the pursuit of pleasure so long that we have neglected the righteous pursuit of God. Now God is allowing us to turn to them for our deliverance. He allowed the ancient Israelites to do the same.

Judges 10:11-14 (NKJV)
11 So the Lord said to the children of Israel, "Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites and from the people of Ammon and from the Philistines?
12 Also the Sidonians and Amalekites and Maonites oppressed you; and you cried out to Me, and I delivered you from their hand.
13 Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods. Therefore I will deliver you no more.
14 Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress."

God's character is consistent throughout the ages. If this was His word to the Israelites when they turned their back on Him, why would we believe He will not do the same to us.

Will Washington deliver us?

Will Wall Street deliver us?

Will Hollywood deliver us?

To turn to any of these human institutions is to turn our back on the only One who can truly deliver America. The solution is to turn back to the Lord and admit our sin. If we come together and admit our sins, stop turning to the institutions of this world for deliverance and call on the God of heaven for help, perhaps He will grieve with us over our fallen condition.

Judges 10:15-16 (NKJV)
15 And the children of Israel said to the Lord, "We have sinned! Do to us whatever seems best to You; only deliver us this day, we pray."
16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord. And His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel.

It is not too late to put away the foreign gods among us, but the time is growing short. May God hear the cry of the remnant who would turn America's heart back to God!

The Pin Wasn't the Problem

A couple of days ago my wife and I stood waiting for a table in a local restaurant. I am accustomed to people staring, because a lot of people have seen me while visiting Dallas Bay, but never up close and personal. But this time I heard them talking before I saw them stare. I heard a fellow at the booth say, "That's the pastor down there at Dallas Bay Baptist." (In the south, everything is down there.) I didn't want to immediately turn around, because I don't want to ever make people feel uncomfortable. In a few seconds I heard him say my name and just a part of a statement to the girl across from him that began, "He's the one that..." With that I couldn't help to turn towards them. When I did he was looking me square in the face. "Hey, how are you?', is all I could think to say to avoid a silent and awkward moment. Then the terrible words I dread to hear. "You remember me don't you?" I usually come up with a lame statement like, "No, I'm sorry. I can't remember my children's names half the time."

I did seem to remember this guy's face from the not too distant past though. He told me his name and the name of his parents. He had attended the church where I used to belong and was first called to preach. That was more years ago than I like to remember. He introduced me to his wife and said they had been thinking about attending Dallas Bay. I told him that was great, but I didn't want to take him from his church. He said they don't go to church very often and had tried a few places when they had gone. He then looked at his wife and said, "He's the one who caused mom to take the pin off my shirt one night after church." Do what? He went on to recall how I had preached a message against rock-and-roll and got him in trouble with his mom. It seems he had worn a Rolling Stones pin on his shirt to church that night. You may remember the one he was talking about. You know the one with the lips and the dangling tongue. She yanked it off and told him he could never wear it again. I remember that sermon. It attacked everyone from Ozzie to Alice. (Osborne and Cooper for those of you not of my generation.) I talked about the Satanic beat of Santana and the back tracked words of Led Zeppelin. The parents loved it and the kids wouldn't speak to me afterwards.

I assured the young man that I was sorry. I told him that if you walk into my office today you might find me listening to Eric Clapton while working on Sunday's message. Music is just as bad today as it was then, but I don't find myself being led to write messages condemning music anymore. I have come to realize music is a symptom, not an illness. It is easy to criticize things you can see when they are not the problem at all. I have also come to believe real problems are deep not as easy to detect as song lyrics. They lie deep inside where they can be hidden from public view. Kids rebelled with music when I was a teen for the same reason they do today. They are looking for things with eternal meaning and value and can't find them in the things of this world. Illicit sex and the use of drugs were popular themes of music then and still are today. We just tried to mask it with clever words and today's music is more direct. The problem was, and is, a sin problem and not a music problem at all. Jesus referred to the hypocisy of only condemning the outside while the inside was really the problem as He confronted the Pharisees. I'm sure they preached against music too while they were rotten to the core on the inside. Probably closet Molly Hatchet fans!

I have changed the way I preach since I caused that young man to lose his rock-and-roll pin. I still think a lot of music is just nasty. It is trashy and vulgar. It was when I was a kid, and it is today, but there is a deeper problem to deal with. When we just verbally assault songs and singers, or movies and actors, or writers and their stories, we do not come near solving the problem. People need Jesus. I know that is cliche, but it has never been more true. They, like many Christians, are just using the gifts God gave them in an unwise fashion. The answer is to offer the same grace to these folks as God offered to us. Grace that can forgive and transform. When they come to Christ they won't need me, or you, to tell them what kind of music to listen to. His Spirit will lead them into making positive entertainment choices. The conviction of the Spirit is more powerful than the loudest preacher. I'm not saying the pin was a good thing to wear to church. It probably wasn't, given the messages in that album. I'm just saying it wasn't the problem.