It is often helpful to review foundational beliefs with the purpose of understanding who we are and why we do what we do. With our church approaching a new church year (October 1) and with us soon meeting in the first church quarterly meeting of our new church year, it seems appropriate to review some of these foundational thoughts.
The first thought I will address is congregational polity. It is necessary to define some terms in order to fully understand Congregational Polity.
Polity is defined as a system for rule, governance, or order. Baptist churches traditionally, and by a near unanimous majority, hold to congregational polity. This means that the congregation, made up of members of the local church, are the authority of the church. Final decisions rest with church members. The church members may, and usually do, delegate the tasks of the church to various groups and leaders. These groups and leaders may include deacons, elders, trustees, various committees, the Pastor and other church staff.
The individuals serving within these groups and the church staff people, are entrusted with various responsibilities. The members of the committees are elected based upon their education, experience, wisdom, knowledge, and faithfulness to the church. Church members typically follow the recommendation(s) of the delegated groups or individuals, however, the full body reserves the final say on any issues before the church.
Other systems of church governance include Ecclesiastical Polity (Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, etc.) and Presbytery Polity (Presbyterians). Other faith groups practice Congregational Polity in addition to Baptists and not all Baptists practice Congregational Polity. Our church practices Congregational Polity.
Regular church business meetings are held to inform the congregation and to give the members the opportunity to ask questions and to express their preference (vote) in choices presented to them.
The process of decision making generally follows this order; the delegated group or individual considers a need of the church. That body, or person, either makes a decision that falls within their delegated area(s) of responsibility or they take the matter to the church for a decision. The group or individual's responsibilities and area of influence are given by the church. The church can remove that responsibility.
Typically the pastor of the church is consider ex officio for every committee. Ex officio is Latin meaning "from the office". It is because of the office of pastor that the Pastor is on committees. As an ex officio member the Pastor has all the rights and obligations of the board meetings or committee that they serve on. This includes the right to discuss, debate, make decisions, and vote.
In Congregational Polity any member, as an individual, may bring a matter to the floor (meeting) for consideration. The members may discuss and act on the recommendation or, as per parliamentary procedure, the meeting moderator may refer the matter to a committee for consideration.
Parliamentary procedures are used to maintain order in the meeting. A typical parliamentary procedure system used is Robert's Rules of Order.
In summary, the Pastor, a duly elected committee, or a member may bring a matter before the congregation. The congregation is the final authority on the matter brought by the person or group.
Do you have a question you'd like an answer to, or a topic you'd like to know about? Leave a comment on this post or send your request via the Contact page. I'll review your comment and try to respond.
There is great wisdom in the Bible. One of my practices in my daily quiet time is to read the chapter of Proverbs that corresponds to the day of the month. There are 31 chapters so every month is completely covered. Then there is also Songs of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes both excellent observations about life.
There is secular literature that teaches great lessons as well. One of the more entertaining books to read is Fables of Aesop. These are short stories that teach a valuable lesson that should be thought about. One that comes to mind today is the fable about the Man, the Boy, and the Donkey. Here is the fable.
A Man and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?”
So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”
So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”
Well, the Man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours and your hulking son?”
The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned.
“That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them:
“Please all, and you will please none.”
It is not difficult to see the wisdom in this fable. The man and son were doing nothing wrong walking alongside the donkey as they went to market. We don't know the age of the boy but apparently he was old enough to help his father when they decided to carry the donkey so he wasn't a small child.
Along the way they encounter people expressing their opinion. In meekness the father responds to each one. However it ends in tragedy since they lose the donkey and the donkey drowns. If they had not listened to the opinions of others they would have made it to market in tact, all would be well, and no one would be worse for the wear.
There is a balance that must be considered. Balance is one of my key words for life. My children grew up hearing often about having a balanced view.
We need balance between responding to someone's opinion and stubbornly sticking to our own. Certainly there are times that we are blinded by our view and considering someone else's opinion can be a benefit. We also need to realize that we aren't proficient on every subject and probably not on any subject. By that I mean we can always learn even if we have years of study and experience.
But we must also be careful to not forgo our own views for the purpose of pleasing another.
There is one person we should always seek to please and that is The Creator, The Supreme Being, God/Jesus Christ/ the Holy Spirit. This God, the only God, is all truth, all wisdom, and in Him is no error, no deception, no self-serving attitude. What He says can be trusted. Besides His being the perfect source of wisdom and knowledge, He is also the final arbiter.
Too often in life we suppress our views for someone else's. As I've already written there are occasions when we should but to always assume someone is more "right" than I or should be pleased even when it's obvious they are wrong or misinformed is a mistake. I also concede that there are times when it is the better part of wisdom to forgo our preferences to "keep the peace".
God made us fearfully and wonderfully. We are intelligent creatures who can think. We can embrace the knowledge and wisdom of another but only when they have shown themselves trustworthy. We can trust our own ideas as we take time to read and research. It is a dreadful mistake to live our lives pleasing others. Strive to be pleasing but don't make pleasing others your goal.
It is an easy idea to grasp that at the end of life there will be a reckoning of how we lived our life. Most cultures have some concept of this occurrence upon death with a corresponding reward or punishment. It only seems fair or just. The Bible teaches that there is a judgement when we pass. When we think of that passing and ultimate judgement, isn't it logical to live in such a way that our life pleases the final judge? When I go to a civil or criminal court on earth would I not want the presiding judge to be favorable to my actions? Regardless of what the prosecution thinks about me, says about me, or can prove about me it is the judge (sometimes as a jury) who will decide my fate, not the prosecutor.
As so it is eternally. It is not your friend, family member, boss, or neighbor who will be sitting on the judgement seat when you die. Nor is it your pastor, deacon, Bible teacher, or elder. The only one deciding your fate is God. Thus live to please Him since it is He who will be measuring your actions.
The last line of the fable quotes an old man who had followed the three and watched all that transpired. After the fact he states, "Please all and you will please none." An even better adage is "Live to please The One!"
“I live before the audience of One-before others I have nothing to gain, nothing to lose, nothing to prove.” Os Guinness
All writers know the occasion of having a mind and heart full of thoughts that are urging to be shared. Then when the moment is taken to put those thoughts and emotions to pen, the words don’t come. The thoughts and emotions are raging inside, flitting about like a bird in a cage longing to be freed but there is no relief. That is where I find myself this morning.
In the past day or two, I have found myself in a different mood. Normally, I am overrun with ideas and the desire to attack many tasks waiting for completion. But then come those moments full of conflicting emotions. “Is it all for naught?” “Is it making a difference?” “Am I helping or being a nuisance?” “Should I stop pushing, me and others, forward and just let us be?” “How can I stop when there is so much to do and the need is so great?”
It was these kinds of thoughts I awakened with this morning. To add to the conundrum, I had a notification from Facebook that garnered my attention. It seems a college classmate from 30 years ago had “hearted” a post I’d made on her comment. In reviewing the notification, it seems that the original exchange occurred twelve years ago and yet she had, just yesterday, clicked the love icon on my post. Puzzling.
I don’t know her well. We attended Cumberland College in Williamsburg, KY at the same time. I friended her back when Facebook was new and like most of us do, I invited and accepted anyone who wanted to be a friend. Her posts were, are sad posts of hurt and anguish. Somehow, I learned that her anguish was caused because her husband had committed suicide. While I don’t know this tragedy in personal experience, I can easily imagine some of the questions, doubts, and confusion that would come from this kind of event.
In 2009 she posted on Facebook crying out from her feelings of weakness and confusion. In my attempts to connect and help, I inferred that I too go through similar feelings and that there is a song that helps me. The song is “I Won’t Last a Day Without You” released by The Carpenters in 1972. Some of you may remember that Karen Carpenter had a beautiful, soulful voice. She struggled with anorexia nervosa and died in 1983 at the age of 32 when her heart gave out.
Here are the words to that song and a YouTube link at the end of the article you can listen to:
Day after day I must face a world of strangers, where I don't belong, I'm not that strong
It's nice to know that there's someone I can turn to who will always care, you're always there
When there's no getting over that rainbow, when my smallest of dreams won't come true
I can take all the madness the world has to give but I won't last a day without you
So many times when the city seems to be without a friendly face, a lonely place
It's nice to know that you'll be there if I need you, and you'll always smile, it's all worthwhile
Touch me and I end up singing, troubles seem to up and disappear
You touch me with the love you're bringing I can't really lose when you're near.
If all my friends have forgotten half their promises, they're not unkind, just hard to find
One look at you and I know that I could learn to live without the rest, I found the best
I Won’t Last a Day Without You is a beautiful love song. The singer is feeling depressed and overwhelmed by the uncaring, busyness of the world but she takes refuge in knowing that there is one who loves her and is always there for her.
Verse three is the main verse that comes to my mind when I’m feeling lonely. That verse reminds me it isn’t that my friends don’t care, they do, and that true, real friends are very hard to find. Truth is we have lots of friendly acquaintances, but a friend is a rare person to find.
The other observation is that the song could well be sung about, and to, God. He is a true friend who is always there and who always cares.
Back to my Facebook friend. I don’t know what prompted her to “heart” my post twelve years after it was first posted. All I can assume is that she is feeling similar emotions and in re-reading this exchange it spoke to her again. That observation and realization led me to lift a prayer on her behalf once again.
In our world we struggle with the desire to be recognized as the unique individual that we are. As the Bible says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) And yet while we are uniquely individual, we are also very common in similarity with our fellow humans. We all labor and dream. We all have joy and celebration. And we all experience grief and sadness, loss and confusion, dejection and frustration. We should be able to extend grace to each other better than we do but too often that consoling, understanding friend is hard if not impossible to find. Certainly, one should be able to find that respite and a resting, safe place in our churches, but too often when they turn to the church they only receive criticism and reproof, not a hug or sympathetic ear.
We all suffer hurts, setbacks, disappointments, and fear and if we allow, our Lord God will effect healing in our mind, body, and soul. More than that, He will teach us how to be “The Wounded Healer,” helping others through their pain.
There is a book titled “The Wounded Healer,” authored by Henri Nouwen. It is a small paperback book and can be found in print, as an audiobook, or as an eBook. I recommend it to everyone especially Christians who, like our Lord Christ, wish to be a help to those struggling.
The premise of the book is simple but profound. Basically, our healing from wounds we experience can give us greater empathy and capacity to help others in their time of pain. While we all have much to do and not enough time to do it, if we can learn to stop when another, friend or acquaintance or stranger, is in need we can build something greater than any edifice we could construct. We can build a stronger person.
We ooh and ah when we see pictures or occasions of a hen covering her chicks with her wings to protect them, or when we see a mother dog, cat, cow, any animal in fact caring for her loved ones. Jesus expressed that kind of love for Israel as recorded in Matthew 23:37. He longed to love and protect them, but they were not willing.
May we first be willing to let Jesus cover us with His healing wings when we are hurting and then once healed and or comforted, may we cover others with our wings that they too may be healed. That is the love of Christ that will resonate in a lost and dying world!
Anyone who reads the Bible, especially the Old Testament of the Bible, will come away with the observation that it is very male oriented and dominated. The Hebrew culture and the cultures around them were very patriarchal. That is irrefutable.
However, the fact that the Bible contains writings that are patriarchal does not mean that is God’s desire or practice. Throughout the Bible, Old and New Testament, we read of God’s instructions to protect women, treat women with respect, and women are written about with great admiration and regarded as heroes.
For example, in Genesis, Miriam, Moses’ sister, is first his protector when he was a child, and later she was an integral part of his leadership of the Hebrew people. Moses relied on her in his decision making.
In the Book of Joshua we read of Rahab. The book begins recounting the death of Moses and that Joshua was now in charge of the Hebrew people. He is preparing to take the people into the Canaan land that God had ordered them to enter forty years earlier. Joshua sent spies into the land to gain knowledge to be used in development of their strategy. The spies enter a town and the home of a prostitute, not an auspicious beginning. The enemy was looking for the spies. The enemy approached Rahab’s home to search for the spies. Rahab first hid the spies and then assisted them in escaping the city. For her help and valor, Rahab and her family were allowed to leave the city before the Hebrew army over ran it. Rahab is even mentioned in the genealogy of David in Matthew chapter one.
In Judges chapters 4 and 5 we read of Deborah. Deborah was a prophet of the Hebrews. A prophet in those days was a leading governmental official. She was instrumental in advising the army of the Hebrews in defeating their enemy.
In 1 Samuel we read of Hannah. Hannah was the wife of Elkanah, and she was barren meaning she was unable to bear children. Being unable to bear child in the Hebrew culture meant her only worth was as a housekeeper in the home. However, Hannah was a woman of great faith. She cried out to God for mercy and asked that He open her womb. God heard her prayer, opened her womb, and she and Elkanah conceived a child. Hannah had promised God that if God gave her a child she would dedicate the child to God’s service. Hannah was true to her promise. Once Samuel, Hannah’s child, was born and weaned, she brought him to the temple and gave him to Eli so Samuel could live his life serving the Lord. Samuel became one of if not the most important prophets in the Old Testament. God used him mightily in leading the people. He led the coronation of King Saul and King David as well as advising them. If it were not for Hannah’s rearing of Samuel and dedicating him to the service of God, Israel would not have had his powerful, faithful leadership.
On and on the list goes of women who figured prominently in God plan for Israel. There were also many prominent women in the New Testament beginning with Mary the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist. There were women who taught the Apostle Paul and helped him. Timothy’s mother and grandmother were noted for their faithfulness and upbringing of Timothy.
Throughout God’s word many women are mentioned as a vital part of God’s work with His people.
In addition, God commanded Moses to include in the law instructions that were designed to protect woman from being abused and treated unjustly.
In my life and ministry, I have been blessed to know many godly women without whom the respective churches could not have succeeded or survived!
The women include my mother who made sure I attended church and who supported my desire to learn about God as a child and to later enter the ministry. My wife’s mother served as a missionary for 30 years to the people of Kenya alongside her husband. My wife’s faithfulness is a paramount support in my service to God and in the rearing of my children both of whom have been and are serving their church in paid and unpaid positions.
Given the time I could tell you of Ernestine Roberts, Nelle Edgin, Florence Deddens, Agnus Masterson, Ruth Miller, Betty Hallmark, Leffa Moore, Pat Teodorski, Jackie Stucki, and on and on my list goes. I have been instructed, encouraged, admonished, and taught by these great women as they lived their life before God.
These women brought intelligence, unique skills, and a motherly love to so many who were blessed to come into their sphere of influence. Some had children and some were childless, but they all showed nurturing love to everyone.
This is one reason when Mother’s Day comes around on the calendar I choose to honor all women, not just those who have given birth, for the nurturing love that seems ingrained in them.
So, I encourage you to honor and respect women, all women. Hold them high on a pedestal of respect. Secondly, do not be fooled by some who want to belittle them and diminish their role in the world and the church.
Ladies, I hope you will not take a surface view of God and think He is against women. Read His word and see for yourselves how much God teaches how to treat women with honor and respect.
I’ll leave you with this story. My mother enjoyed a relaxing cup of coffee, and she treasured the times she could stop, sit down, and enjoy her coffee in a pretty, flowery cup complete with a matching saucer. The cup was fine china. It was beautiful and of much more worth than a big, heavy mug. It was cherished and treated with care and protection. Women to me are like that china cup. Beautiful and valuable and to be cherished and cared for. Men are mugs. Thick, sometimes ugly, but strong. You can throw a mug on the ground and chances are it will just bounce and not break. Do that with fine china and it will chip at best and most probably break into many pieces. As fine china they are strong and capable and can bear some challenges better than any man. But they should be respected for their strength and cherished for their beauty of body, soul, and spirit.
Many of you will remember a movement that occurred in the 1990s called WWJD or What Would Jesus Do? It was very popular for a while and fostered many items to help us ask ourselves this question in each situation we encountered. A WWJD bracelet was produced that became a big favorite.
The thought and phrase initially occurred many, many years ago. Perhaps the first published book on the subject was Imitatio Christi (The Imitation of Christ) written by Thomas à Kempis in the early 1,400s. Charles Spurgeon mentions the book and uses the phrase, what would Jesus do, in a sermon of his from 1891.
Perhaps the most well-known book written on this subject is Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps subtitled “What Would Jesus Do?” Sheldon’s book, written in 1896, grew out of a series of sermons he preached at his church in Topeka, Kansas. Sheldon’s book took a different application than previous teachings. He used the term in Christian Socialism as more simply what Jesus would have done in everyday activities and situations in people’s lives versus a more theological application. The book has challenged many Christians and non-Christians to put their beliefs into practical application by helping people in practical ways.
The thought and movement were resurrected in the 1990s by Janie Tinklenberg, a youth minister in Holland, Michigan. She was looking for a way to motivate her youth to live daily and constantly for Christ.
Thus, the phrase, thought, and practice has been around for a very long time. However, that doesn’t diminish the truth contained in the question. What would Jesus do is a valid question each one of us can and should ask ourselves as we face the many challenges in our lives and in the attempt to help others.
Lately, a corollary has come to my mind. It is What Does Jesus Want? I don’t mean to assign any profundity to my thinking. The thought has grown out of realizing I need to develop the mind of Christ as Paul says in Philippians 2:5. “Let this mind be in you as was in Christ Jesus.” (KJV)
While we live by faith in Christ alone, God did endow us with a beautiful, powerful mind. We have a great capacity for thought and those thoughts guide us. Again, while we live by faith we should use our mind to gain knowledge of God and gain understanding of His way designed for us. The author of the wisdom literature in the book of Proverbs penned in Proverbs 23:7a, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:” The Apostle Paul enjoined us to, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:2. Jesus taught us to “lay up treasures in heaven” or have a heavenly mindset.
As we seek to serve Jesus, we can do that best when we know what He wants. Once we know what Christ wants, we can align our desires with His desires.
I been married to my wife for 47 years. While I won’t state that I know everything she is thinking, in mundane, daily decisions like eating out, I have learned what she likes. When we go to a restaurant, I can order for her. That’s not a statement of masculine chauvinism it is a fact and an ability that can help. When we’re choosing a place to go have a meal, I can choose a place she’ll enjoy because I know her mind about eating.
Our walk with Christ should be that natural and automatic. In common, daily occurrences I should be so in tune with the mind of Christ, that is knowing what He wants, that I don’t have to ask Him what to do, I don’t have to think about what I should do, I just do because what I do is in sync with Him on an ongoing basis. I’m walking in His way, living by His Spirit.
As a church we need to think about our mission in this way. It is easy to get distracted with programs and ministries that may be very good. However, in their pursuit we can lose sight of Christ’s desires and miss His leading because we are obsessed with our work. We miss the great because of the good we are doing. Too often the effect is that of the “tale wagging the dog.” Rather than us utilizing a method or program to achieve the goal of Christ, the program has ballooned to entrap us, eventually causing us to fail in accomplishing the mission of Jesus Christ.
One way we can keep us in the center of God’s will is to regularly ask ourselves, and measure our actions by the question, “What does Christ want? If we measure our actions against the standard of what Christ wants, we can determine if our actions are appropriate. The more we go through this process the more natural it is to know the mind of Christ. The mature Christian will find every action they take in Christ’s will from beginning to the end.
Does Christ want me to invite my neighbor to church? Yes! Does Christ want me to tell my neighbor about the saving grace of Jesus Christ? Yes! Does Christ want me to go out drinking and carousing with my friend? No! Does Christ want me to help my friend financially? Maybe, maybe not! That takes a specific inquiry.
If we are serious about knowing and doing God’s will for me, we will make this process a constant attitude of our heart. If we are serious about knowing and doing the will of God for our church, we will do this process!
A favorite poem of many is Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Here is the poem.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The occasion was the dying of Dylan Thomas’ father. Mr. Thomas was angry with his father because he felt his father wasn’t trying hard enough to fight his oncoming demise. He wanted his father to fight against death. He didn’t want his father to die.
I get to where I want to scream this poem out to our churches today. So many seem to be laying down and letting the fog and darkness of cessation slowly envelope them. Perhaps like the accident victim who has suffered a trauma they are weak from the blows they’ve suffered and don’t realize they are slipping into unconsciousness and then death. The end descends peacefully upon them as the final breath is breathed.
Perhaps it’s weariness that is overwhelming these churches. It’s true it has been a long fight and here I do not mean the kind of fight where brother is pitted against brother. No, this fight is one where brother, and sister, stood alongside their sibling and contended against the forces of destruction that are increasing their attacks against our loved and their despised institution. The soldiers see the battle excruciatingly closely and sense the defeat coming. Their bones tired and their spirit disheartened they wait, very consciously, for the enemy to overrun their position and the only hope they have is that their post will not fall before they have passed so that they do not have to endure the defeat.
In either scenario the trauma victim nor the soldier realizes there are spectators and fellow soldiers screaming at them to continue the fight. Kindred spirits who have the additional grief of friends giving up the battle.
The semi-comatose have grown deaf to their band of brothers who are still in the fight. Perhaps in their semi-comatose state they derisively laugh at the foolishness of their companion's continued struggle against the dying of the light. “Enjoy sweet slumber,” they whisper.
So too the ones weary from battle suffer from limited vision. They cannot see the other troops waging battle successfully on the other side of the hill. Their reality is all that seems to exist. They slip into slumber not realizing that if battle tactics were changed the fight could turn. That if they would press on replacements and replenishment would arrive to sustain the post. If they would but receive current orders and not insist on outdated ones, the enemy could be defeated, and the townspeople saved. Faithfully and stubbornly, but foolishly they cling to outdated battle plans and ineffective missions.
In their depleted vision and memory, they do not see their leader advancing. They do not hear the words of encouragement that they are conquerors. They do not remember that the battle is won, that the enemy is defeated and that the attacks being lobbied are the death throes of the enemy not the successful advancement. If only their vision could be improved. If only their hearing were sharpened perhaps then their strength would return. Perhaps then they would not be nattering nabobs of negativity. Perhaps then the dimming of their eyes would see their city shining bright.
If only their faith in their leader could be renewed. If only their confidence in their commander could be restored. If they could realize their efforts are not in vain. If they could value saved lives more than their life’s comfort. Perhaps then the battle could turn. The commander continues to speak, He is ready to strengthen wobbly knees, He is ready with replenishing resources. His storehouses are not emptied but His laborers are few.
He's waiting to see if there is sufficient faith. He’s waiting to see if there are trustworthy individuals. He’s waiting to hear the shared call for help. He’s listening for unity. He’s waiting for the fervorous call and the submissive obedience. He’s waiting to hear the call for new orders and to have the confidence they will be followed.
Church – Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Your personal ending is not the end of all. Fight as long as you have life and help the rest to live!
I love the Book of Proverbs in the Bible. There is such a wealth of wisdom in the, usually, short sayings. One piece of wisdom that stands out to me is Proverbs 24:33,34. It reads, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.” God thought it was so important to say this that He led the scribe of Proverbs to include it two times! In Proverbs 6:10,11 we read the exact, same saying.
While some of the proverbs can leave one scratching his or her head, this one is easy to understand. One must work diligently throughout their life, or everything worked for will be gone in what seems like an instant. People will wonder, “How did this happen!”
I often think of this proverb in relation to churches. I’m passionate about the local church. My intensity regarding the local church is too much for many people. I get that and I don’t like that it makes people uncomfortable, but I see the times and I have concern and I grieve regarding the state of the local church.
Here are some anecdotal reasons why. Here in Louisville, there is a nice church facility that was operating as a Baptist church when we moved to the area some 25 years ago. It is now an Islamic school. I don’t begrudge Islamic parents seeking parochial education for their children, but it grieves me that this Baptist Church no longer exists at that location.
There is another church facility near me that was once a large Baptist church. That church is now owned by a Christian school. Again, I’m happy that children are being trained in the Christian faith, but I grieve that the church is no longer worshipping in that location.
A few years ago, there was a church that was very involved in local area ministries and had a building in which they housed volunteer Vacation Bible School workers who came to Louisville for the summer to help various churches. On one occasion I drove by the church and the property was surrounded by chain link fences and was apparently closed. I asked an associational leader what happened. He told that the church had gotten to a place financially where it was largely supported by one elderly woman. She passed away, her support stopped, and the church was no longer able to keep the doors open.
There are many more stories I could tell of Baptist churches that have closed or merged with other churches because they became too small to stay open and or be self-supporting. There are many other non-Baptist churches that are no longer operating like a Presbyterian church that is now owned by Indians (India Indians). Again, I don’t begrudge the Indians practicing their faith, but it grieves me that an Evangelical Christian Protestant church is no longer functioning.
Then there are the statistical studies. For 40 years or more I’ve been told in various meetings that 80% of churches are plateaued or declining. Thom Rainer’s organization did a study and found the number was more accurately 65%; better but still troubling. Recently I reached out to one of our state Baptist workers regarding the number of Baptist church closures over the past few years. He reported that 30 church had closed in the previous four-year period. That is an average of 7.5 churches per year! While not as bad as I had expected, 7.5 churches a year still makes me grieve and that is just Kentucky Baptist Churches. The reports on mainline church decline are much more troubling.
Following is a clipping from the July 13, 2021, Christianity Today article, “Mainline Protestants Are Still Declining, But That’s Not Good News for Evangelicals”, “By their own membership tallies, mainline denominations are showing drops of 15 percent, 25 percent, and even 40 percent over the span of the last decade.”
Finally, in 2009, I served as Part-Time Minister of Music for a church in Louisville. In the 1960s and 1970s the church had as many as 1,200 people attending worship. At one time they were a leading Southern Baptist church in growth. When I came in 2009 the church usually ran 150 in worship with occasional “special day” attendance of 200+. By pre-COVID 2019 the attendance was approximately 70 and now the church is averaging 40.
Certainly, COVID has hurt our church attendance, but it doesn’t deserve all the blame as church decline was well evidenced before the Spring of 2020.
I believe I am justified in my grief and intense passion regarding church decline. I’m no expert in church growth. I have read Thom Rainer’s books and followed his blog for years. He is a leading Southern Baptist professor, author, and researcher on church growth. I have also stayed informed by publications released by The Barna Group especially when George Barna was alive and heading the organization.
I don’t know the answer and the truth is there is no THE answer that applies equally well to each church. A friend, George Yates, has written a book, “Reaching the Summit: Avoiding and Reversing Decline in the Church.” In addition, he has worked as a consultant with many churches across the United States to help them avoid and reverse decline in their church. I’ve heard Reverend Yates say that he feels the decline can be traced back to an initial cause mentioned in Revelation chapter two. God is speaking to the church in Ephesus. Initially He commends the church for their hard work. However, in verse four God says, “Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first!” (NIV)
I think there is a lot of merit to his observation. Too many churches seem to have lost their, or have a seriously reduced, love for Jesus Christ. I fear too many in the church do not have a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ.
I grew up attending church and I have a deep love for the local church, any local church, not just the one I attend. I want the churches, including my church, to be healthy and growing. I want them to be a joy to attend. I want to sing with my friends the great hymns of the faith and the great new songs of faith. I want to be challenged and enlightened by a deep look into the scripture and I want to challenge and enlighten those to whom I am sharing God’s word. I know there is a wonderful abundant life in store for those who love God and live according to His purpose, and I get very intense in trying to help people grow in Christ and have that abundant life.
If my intensity has offended you, I apologize. It was not my intent to offend. However, I cannot serve my God with a lukewarm attitude and action. I will try to be less offensive while maintaining my zeal for His church. My prayer is that God will remind you of His love for you and that your love will be restored to what it once was.
Finally, if you know you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and you have never accepted Him as your personal Savior, I urge you to get with me or some other Christian you respect, and resolve this today. Also, if you believe or thought that you had made a genuine profession of faith years ago but today are not sure, I urge you to meet with me or some other Christian you respect and resolve your position with Christ today!
I am really excited this year because I have finally attracted some hummingbirds to my backyard. I've put out the feeders, changed the sugar water regularly, provided a bird bath with a floating fountain, made a small wild flower garden, and planted other plants to attract the birds. This Spring we regularly saw two hummingbirds visit our feeders. I think those two had children because we now see four flying around and two are larger than the other two. They are getting more bold as well as we watch them drink from the feeder, hover nearby, rest in the trees, and chase each other around.
The hummingbirds aren't the only guests we have. I also have a regular bird feeder and it is visited daily by up to a dozen mourning doves, Chick-a-Dees, Tufted Titmouse. Cowbirds, House Sparrows, and Blue Jays. The Blue Jays really like the whole peanuts I put out there for them. They must watch for me because I no sooner put out the peanuts and walk away that they don't swoop down and grab a peanut. I think there are probably a half-dozen Blue Jays.
I'd heard that hummingbirds can be aggressive and it is true. I've seen the daddy sit on a perch nearby and as soon as another hummingbird comes to feed it swoops down and chases it off. I also see them chasing each other around the yard. It is quite fun to watch them.
Another interesting observation on the regular bird feeder is that the most aggressive bird(s) are the Mourning Doves. We think of doves as peaceful and we talk and sing about the Dove of Peace but they are the most aggressive bird at that feeder. There is one dove that must think the feeder is hers. She will plant herself in the middle of the feeder and eat while keeping other birds at bay. I'd always heard Blue Jays were aggressive, and they can be, but at my feeder it's the doves that rule.
Oh, and I shouldn't forget the squirrels. Of course, I have squirrels.
But as much as I do for them As soon as I unlock our back door and step out on the deck they fly away as quickly as they can. Obviously they are scared of me. even though they wait for me to bring fresh food out and as much as they enjoy playing in the bird bath fountain. And though I would never hurt them.
I don't expect a Disney experience with them like we see in Disney movies but I wish they'd at least not act like they think I'm going to catch and roast them. I'd like to be able to be close to them and enjoy their beauty, songs, and antics.
Recently, I started wondering if that's how our heavenly Father feels. He provides for us day by day and moment by moment. We don't even know all the times He has protected us, provided for us, and met our needs. I'm sure He longs to commune with us like He did with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before they sinned.
After Adam and Eve sinned there formed a separation between man and God. It wasn't possible to have full communion with Him because of the sin in our lives. When Jesus came He took our sin upon Himself. When He died on the cross He carried those sins to the grave, and when He rose from the grave He left the sins behind. Because of His work on our behalf we can now have a full and unhindered relationship with God. We must only believe that Jesus died and redeemed us. Then as we continue through life, when we fail and commit some sin, we have only to confess our wrong to Him and ask for forgiveness. The Bible teaches us that if we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin.
That means we can have a free and unhindered fellowship with Him. He can walk with us through the garden and through the struggles. Wherever we are, God is there walking along side us.
But too often I am like the birds I described. I'm afraid to be in God's presence. I run away when He comes near. When I run away I rob myself of communion with God and basking in His love for me.
John 3:17 tells us Jesus came to the world (us) not to condemn the world but to save the world and reconcile ourselves to Him. He came to give us life and that more abundant. Jesus said He wants to call me His friend. but in my guilt and fear I run away from His love.
I'm going to try and not be like my hummingbirds or any of the other birds. I'm going to strive to not sin and when I do confess my sin. That way I won't feel guilty. I also won't feel like God's out to get me and or punish me.
I'm sure I'll be happier basking in the Savior's love. We'll you join me there?
No matter what you've done in your life, Jesus is ready to forgive you and open His storehouses of heaven to you. He forgives and forgets, Trust in Him today. And if you don't know Him the way I've described, please let someone near you know so they can help you resolve your conflict with God. Then your spirit will soar like a hummingbird!
In the fifth chapter of Matthew we read Jesus' teachings on a wide variety of subjects. The chapter starts with a group of blessings that have been termed, The Beatitudes. Each beatitude begins with "Blessed are . . ." and then proceeds to teach some way of living that causes one to be blessed. The beatitude section is beautiful prose and profound.
In the rest of the chapter, Jesus covers a variety of topics. The topics include murder, adultery, divorce, vengeance, and showing love to those we hate. In one section of this chapter Jesus addresses the Law, meaning the Ten Commandments God gave to the people through Moses and other directives. Jesus proclaims that He has come to fulfill or complete the Law. Indeed with His death on the cross Jesus does fulfill the Law and ushers mankind into the age of grace.
One should notice in Jesus' teaching on the various topics that the standard He sets is higher, deeper, and more demanding than the Old Testament commands given. I submit two examples to illustrate my point. "Thou shalt not murder." is the sixth commandment. Jesus says in Matthew 5 if one is angry with their brother, and elsewhere if you hate your brother, then you have committed murder. He goes deeper than the actual act of physically taking another's life and add our attitude.
The other example is the seventh commandment. "Thou shalt not commit adultery." that is sexual relations with a married person who is not one's spouse. Jesus adds that if one has lust in their heart towards another than they have committed adultery in their heart. Again Jesus adds attitude or thought in addition to the actual physical act.
Jesus also taught on being truthful and letting your word stand on it's own. In verses 33 through 37 of Matthew chapter five, Jesus teaches that we should not undergird our word by swearing on something. The swearing here is not using the seven forbidden words as the Comedian George Carlin once waxed amusingly upon. Rather it is saying an oath by something recognized as greater than ourselves. Jesus teaches us to let our Yes mean Yes or our No, No. Another way of saying this is "Say what you mean, and mean what you say!" Be a person who stands by their word. As you live your life in this manner, others will soon learn your word can be trusted. Being recognized as a person of one's word is a valuable, and rare, commodity.
Jesus expands His teaching on standing by one's word in Matthew 21:28-32. In this passage Jesus shares a parable about two sons. The father tells his sons to go work in the vineyard. One son says "No," and the other son says, "Yes." The son who answered "Yes," is the obedient son, right? As the parable continues we find that the son who readily replied, "Yes," or more exactly, "I will, sir." Did not do as he said he would. The son who said no, and I'm sure at the time disappointed if not angered his father, changed his mind and went to the field to work. Jesus puts forth the question, "Who did what his father wanted." To which those present answered correctly, "The first," that is the one who said no but then relented and obeyed.
Jesus used this parable to teach that there are people in the world who say "No" to God's ways but later repent and embrace Him and obey. There are also those who either by zealous exuberance, or a desire to curry favor immediately say yes but then fail to follow through or who perhaps had no intention of ever obeying. Jesus teaches it is the one who ultimately obeys who is in the right. Appearance means nothing, obedient action, even if one initially refuses, is rewarded. This passage is another example of saying what you mean and meaning what you say, however, if you say "No" but change your mind and obey, then you are forgiven and rewarded.
We must be people of our word; in our word to man but definitely in our word to God. "Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." Galatians 6:7