Church Size and Bible Knowledge: Are They Growing Together?

The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.”
Isaiah 40:8

I recently was asked to share to a community church located in rural Oregon. This church has opened its doors every Sunday since 1892. Every Sunday! The message I shared  was  from 1 Peter 1:22-25           and why it seems that books about the Bible are more popular in some churches than the Bible itself.

As I looked around at the total of 12 pews and the 13 people sitting in them, I couldn’t help but think of what worship services were like not only in Oregon but worldwide before “mega churches.”  The folks who ‘claim’ this church number about 25. It is small, very small.  Depending on the harvest, planting, and other seasonal work, there may be 50 in attendance and sometimes there are 4.  No matter how many show up,the doors open every Sunday. They do not have an army of pastors. In fact, two gentleman share the basic responsibilities. One shares God’s word and the other leads the praise and worship singing. They rotate every 6 months. The fellowship before and after the service is their answer to counseling sessions, support groups and other “programs” that some churches have that never seem to end. These folks love each other and love whomever enters that church door. None are rich nor is their need among them. The oldest is 81. (Her mother is 101 this week). The youngest is 17. She is a foster child of one of the families. She has been attending for amount of time she has been with her foster parents-10 years.

It was a wonderful service. No videos, no DVDs, no pamphlets on how to get to Heaven and so forth. No bands playing at a decibel higher than a 747 engine. Oh yes, there were no books about the Bible. There were only hymnals (one guitar) and Bibles. These folks knew the Scriptures!

In the heart of Seoul, Korea, the Yoido Full Gospel Church sits directly across from Korea’s National Assembly. The building is large enough to seat 26,000 people, with overflow sent to nearby buildings who watch events in the main church on telescreens. As of 2007, membership stands at 830,000, with seven Sunday services translated into 16 languages. (Wikipedia, August 2009)

According to Outreach magazine (2010 Special Edition)Lakewood Church located in Houston, TX and pastored by Joel Osteen  ranks number one among the top 100 largest churches in the United States with a membership of 43,500.  Charles Stanley’s son Andy, is pastor of North Point Community Church located in Alpharetta, GA  with 24,325 members in a town of 52,000 and is the second largest and fastest growing church.

By comparison, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, West Virginia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Oregon and Montana did not have a church with a population of over 5,000. Number 100 on the list is Christ fellowship located in Miami, FL with a congregation of 5,518.

Interestingly,the median church in the U.S. has 75 regular participants in worship on Sunday mornings, according to the National Congregations Study

Living in the United States, (and certain countries of the world) we are truly blessed to attend any church we desire. 3,000 or 30, to some the numbers do not matter. Back East, I attended a non-denominational church with a congregation of a couple hundred at each of its three Sunday services. Sunday evening there were about 300 people. As my faith grew as well as my knowledge of Scripture, it really didn’t matter to me how many were in attendance. My focus was and still is on the teachings of an excellent pastor. He taught from the Bible, not books about the Bible. A friend of mine has been attending Catholic services for over 5o years and cannot recall ever bringing a Bible to church with her on Sunday.

I had a ‘pop-up’ advertisement recently from Rick Warren ministries promoting his latest book, “The Purpose of Christmas.” Why would one who reads the Bible need to read a book such as this? This is one example that I discovered in that many of the mega-churches in the United States, the head pastor does a lot of promoting his or hers books. I understand that the sales of these books help offset costs of administering to other ministries here in the U.S. and abroad.  But a question remains: Are churches becoming more knowledgeable about ‘other’ books than the Bible? I don’t know the answer to that, but I have my suspicions.

The New York Times religious writer Laurie Goodstein reported that researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.

On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.

Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.  The survey’s authors concluded that there was “widespread confusion” about “the line between teaching and preaching. (NY Times 9/28/10) (my italics and highlight)

As we approach the 400th year of the King James Bible (1611),I can’t help but wonder what a powerful unification there would be in all churches; large and small, if the Bible was the best selling book in that church, not the pastor’s.


“Some Dance to Remember, Some Dance to Forget”*

Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Mark 8:34

I recently was invited to a Vietnam reunion. It has been 40 years since I left the Republic of Vietnam and have had no desires to return. I have been invited to many other reunions from other military organizations, college, and high school, but I was never interested. This reunion for whatever reason made me re-evaluate my attendance history at such events.

I still have remembrances of Vietnam that come and go after forty years. Smells, sights and conversations can still trigger a memory or two in me of that country in Southeast Asia. But my warm memories have more to do with the Vietnamese people than my comrades in arms.  I really didn’t miss any soldier “buddies” when I left in March of 1970. The friendships were wonderful for the year I was there; but the year was over. Then two years were over, then ten and so on. Those men I served with, for whatever reasons,were no longer a part of my life. Yet my thoughts of the Vietnamese people have stayed with me more than the soldiers I laughed and cried with. It was the children, the orphans, the families devastated by war that to this day I look back in the rear view mirror to see. When I was able to assist them, I never looked at receiving an award or anything like that. The smiles were sufficient. However many years later when I did volunteer work for a church or charity organization, I looked for some kind of recognition. Why is that? What changed? I believe I know the answer: Selfishness!

I, as many people do, love helping people. However, when I began “helping people” in my thirties and forties, I started laying out conditions to my ‘helping’. I would only show up at times convenient for me. I made sure all the important people knew I was present and accounted for and then, I would bow out gently. I did not care to see the results of my contribution (if in fact I contributed anything). I was doing it for “doing something sake”.  It wasn’t until I began volunteering and helping people who were “without” did I then see the incredible joy to see God’s work through me. I no longer wait for the award ceremony. To this day, I cannot get enough of helping people-no matter their circumstance. The Lord planted that ‘helping’ seed in me 40 years ago, but it took a few decades for it to be cultivated and grow. I’m so thankful and happy that seed ended up in good soil.

I am planning to attend this Vietnam reunion and hopefully share with some people the results of a seed planted in very strange land at a very young age.

*Words and music credits for the song Hotel California are shared by Don Felder, Don Henley and Glenn Frey. I hope they don’t mind me using this one lyric.

Sermons Seldom Heard #2: A Hymn of Faith

“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1 Cor 1:9

It is sad to hear when a person says they “go to church every Sunday”, but they are having a problem with their ‘faith.’  This particular person who shared this with me was told by his associate pastor to be more active in “church activities.” What this pastor apparently didn’t understand was that he was not having a problem with his faith in regards to the church, but rather his faith in God.

I believe this ‘faith’ God has called us in must be experienced, tried and tested. I’m sure out of a church activity, something may spark this man’s faith. But I would think God’s word is more than sufficient to bring this man’s faith to light.  Imagine listening to you pastor or church leader one Sunday sharing the following message about faith:

A Hymn of Faith

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The LORD God  is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

What a wonderful sermon that could be;  the peace of it makes me teary eyed. What activity would I need to be enrolled in to understand that?

God Bless and have a wonderful day!

Who Is Going To Replace The Dalai Lama?

We are all getting older. Our jobs either have been or will be filled by someone just receiving their sheepskin this past May. Our replacement may be two doors down the hallway. The pope can resign or die, but his replacement is only a plume of smoke from the Vatican chimney away to sitting in the ‘pope-mobile.’ In other words, we all can be replaced. Or can we?

Imagine if you hold a position that the people say not only you can’t leave, but they will see to it that you are reincarnated! According to Ardy Verhaegen*, in the mid-1970s Tenzin Gyatso, The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, and current holder of the office, told a Polish newspaper that he thought he would be the last Dalai Lama. In a later interview published in the English language press he stated “The Dalai Lama office was an institution created to benefit others. It is possible that it will soon have outlived its usefulness.” These statements caused a furor amongst Tibetans in India. Many could not believe that such an option could even be considered. It was further felt that it was not the Dalai Lama’s decision to reincarnate. Rather, they felt that since the Dalai Lama is a national institution it was up to the people of Tibet to decide whether or not the Dalai Lama should reincarnate. Interesting, eh?

From what I have read, there is a 15 year old in waiting for this “calling.’ Since this “office” has been going on before Columbus discovered America, there is joyful anticipation. However, the Peoples Republic of China may have something to say about this. During September 2007 the Chinese government said all high monks must be approved by the government, which would include the selection of the 15th Dalai Lama after the death of Tenzin Gyatso. Since by tradition, the Panchen Lama must approve the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, that is another possible method of control.

I just don’t understand why governments have a difficult time with peacemakers. Pilate and Jesus for example; but that is another story…

*Verhaegen, Ardy (2002). The Dalai Lamas: The Institution and Its History. Emerging Perceptions in Buddhist Studies, no. 15. New Delhi, India

Anne Rice: The Christian Shiksa?

Recently the author Anne Rice decided in private, and then made it public via Facebook, that she could no longer follow the Christian religion. She wrote that, “My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me,” Rice continued to write; “But following Christ does not mean following His followers (my italics). Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been or might become.”

I read some of the readers’ comments on Anne’s Facebook page and as suspected, the comments ranged from “who needs you anyway”, to “you speak for many of us.” I suppose my comment, if she asked, would have been, “Anne, you need to find some new followers.”

I have some of the same thoughts as Anne, but I personally believe the fellowship of believers is the design of Christ; thusly what Heaven is. Heaven is not what we want it to be; it is what God has created it to be.

Anne had some problems with the Catholic Church. Very big problems. Although the Catholic Church continues to purge itself concerning some of their priests behaving very badly with little boys, there is neglected in consideration, not to mention prayer, the hundreds of priests and nuns working tirelessly in countries that I have only seen and heard about in National Geographic. This is not only the Catholic Church, but the Lutheran, Baptists and many other churches as well. Unfortunately, many people consider ‘the’ Church as going to a building on Sunday morning, listening to a weekly speech or commentary (sermons have gone by the wayside in my opinion) by a person who says things that 70% of the people sitting there already have heard and the other 30% don’t know why they are sitting there in the first place. After ‘services’, all concerned then go home and have Sunday dinner. If that is one’s only exposure to the “church” of Christ, then those people’s comments towards Anne would then fall under the “who needs you anyway.”  “Anne, the clique is established and you are not invited to join.” But Anne apparently has more insight of faith in Christ than many of her readers give her credit for.

When people wrote to Anne that “you speak for many of us”, in  writing about hypocrisy,  I could not help but think of Jesus in Matthew 7:1-7. His discussion on hypocrites is very to the point. When you take your faith in Christ (His Church) to the streets by feeding those who are hungry, visit those in hospitals and prisons, say yes when asked a favor, say no to corruption and idols. (i.e., the Ten Commandments) then you are a follower of Christ without the building, the weekly speech maker and the hypocrisy that Jesus Himself talked about in Matt 7:1-6.

Anne Rice, because of her fame, has instant access to the world to discuss her feelings about anything via the internet. So the world, in a sense, responded. It is more important how God hears the prayers of Anne than what “Christians” think about her statement.  I hope Anne is placed with people who are true followers of God; not teaching the doctrines of men:

And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. 1 John 3:23

C.S. Lewis wrote that “the strong believers or disbelievers of course think they have very strong evidence.” Even in churches today, believers seek errors amongst themselves.

I will pray for Anne that her faith remains strong and true (Colossians 1:9-18) as I pray for myself, my family and the other workers of the church who labor in the name of Christ for His glory. I just hope Anne doesn’t write a book about this decision of hers; it is better it stays between her and God.

Exiting Off Of Life’s Highway(Part 2):Going On To The Next Exit

Well, the results are all in. My wife has cancer and it can only be removed surgically. No radiation or chemotherapy for this type of cancer. “Surgery is the only weapon,” the doctor told us. “And the sooner the better.”

I personally believe prayer is a more formidable weapon and thusly many friends of mine and I are using prayer as the weapon of choice. I was reading (again) C.S. Lewis’s take on prayer. In his essay”The Efficacy of Prayer”, he wrote that; “Prayer is not a machine. It is not magic. It is not advice offered to God. Our act, when we pray, must not, any more than all our other acts, be separated from the continuous  act of God Himself, in which alone all finite causes operate.”

The refused prayer of Christ in Gethsemane answers many things about prayer refused. The important thing is that all prayers are heard. I believe that.

Exiting Off Life’s Highway: Is It Exit 54 Already?

Road of Life

Road of Life

Chapter 1 “Got Some Bad News For You”

My wife and I leave our doctor’s office; arm in arm. Not only because of the romance we have for each other, but because of her MS and the unbalance that comes along with this disease she has. We have been seeing this doctor for many years. He is a good man. He has always been our cheerleader, a confidant, and a friend. (When was the last time you prayed with your doctor?)

However, today was different. Our doctor made his announcement as stern as a judge would when issuing a verdict; Cancer has entered my wife and as of this writing we do not know how far it has spread. My wife is 54. She has had MS (diagnosed anyway) since 1995. Unlike when a judge considers a verdict, my wife committed no crime. The body God created for her had done her well up to this time. She gave birth to two children, climbed some western USA mountains, rode a bicycle 250 miles, received a college degree and gave more of her self than should be allowed.  No history of cancer in her family. None. This is not revolutionary that a person like her can get cancer, I know that. Given the cards she has already been dealt, you would think that would be enough for a lifetime. A friend of ours died at 44 because of cancer. We thought that was unique; so young with a family and all.

54 and so much more? One would think so. “Nothing almost sees miracles but misery.” C.S. Lewis wrote in his book ‘Miracles.’ What is the miracle that I am to pray for? No MS, no Cancer…? The best I am coming up with day in and day out since this has all started is ,”please, no pain, please.”

My caring for her with MS has been taxing. Now enter the world of cancer. Care is care, no matter what the ailment is. Tuesday we find out the results of the C-Scan she took the other day. I find out if my responsibilities will grow–she finds out more than I possibly want to know. But then again, all is not gloom. God has prepared us for this moment. Surgery may be the answer and all is well. Or other stuff may happen and that will be the way it goes…

“And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind.” Luke 12:29

To Be Continued: Chapter 2 We Heard the News Today

Sermons Seldom Heard #1: The Gay Mayor and Romans 13:1-7

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” Romans 13:1

Portland, Oregon has an openly gay mayor. He didn’t change his stripes when he was running for office and has maintained his homosexual lifestyle during his current term. He has been subject of  a re-call (he was accused of having sex with an underage male in one of the rest rooms in city hall), but the petition to oust him never accumulated the required amount of signatures.

Some people have asked me and I have asked people

about this mayor and how does his election apply with Paul’s writings of Romans 13:1-7. Well first off, I’m not a theologian. But I do not avoid the conversation because the subject is in it self very intriguing. I do reply that not all leaders are and were perfect. (We are all sinners)  A mans sexual preference to me falls short of what a ‘government authority’ named Hitler did in his lifetime. The part of the scripture that drives people nuts is when Paul writes in verse two of Romans 13;  “Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.”  The question then becomes is ‘what has this “gay” mayor ordered you to do that you should resist him’? Or any other government official for that matter.

When you go to verse 6, it is then (for me anyway) I see how this scripture works. ” For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.” The Greek word leitourgos means public servants. Finnis Dake wrote that “they are appointed by God and yet they may be ‘ungodly men’ but are faithful in carrying out their civil duty.” The big reminder here is that Satan is the Prince of this world and spiritual warfare is and will continue until the return of Jesus Christ to this earth. When that time comes, the Lord (as I understand it) will usher in a new government and no ‘ungodly men’ shall be a part of it.

(2 Peter 3:7)

An example may be that governments of this world may be seen as the student body in any high school. They do ‘student body’ things, but ultimately the administration (principal, staff) of the school has the power, not the class president. So it is with God; functions of this world carry on, but God has His eye on every move.

I do hope Pastors and Bible teachers would spend some time teaching on subjects like these instead of playing it safe with the same subjects Sunday after Sunday. There are not dummies sitting in the pews. There are people who really want to know about God’s word; even if it is uncomfortable to hear.

I do invite comments in that I do want to know more about this subject(and many others).

Selling Fireworks to Support the Church: Are Gun Sales Next?

“David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals.” 2 Samuel 6:5 (and fireworks?)

Why do churches think it is okay to sell something for fund raising that has all the potential in the world of doing someone harm? Granted, the fireworks sold by churches are usually may not be as powerful as some that are available in the open market; but an explosive is an explosive. Even lighting them can cause injury.

This incident happened on July 3, 2010:

(AP) ISLIP TERRACE, N.Y. — Police say a man lighting fireworks has blown off his arm at a party on New York’s Long Island. Suffolk County police say the 36-year-old man’s friends and relatives retrieved his severed left arm and packed it into a cooler after the blast Saturday. Police say doctors at a hospital are trying to reattach the limb. Police believe the man leaned over a mortar tube containing fireworks to ignite it outside a home in Islip  Terrace around 5:45 p.m. He apparently didn’t or couldn’t get out of the way before the explosive went off.

I asked a pastor of a church the reason his church sells these wares instead of something less dangerous. He told me that “Aunt Millie’s brownies don’t go boom; and people are more willing to lay out more dollars for fireworks than they would for cupcakes.”

Don’t get me wrong–I enjoy a firework display at a park or river setting. I’m always amazed of the synchronization of the sparkling and dazzling  displays produced by these pyrotechnics. Yet, every year, local and state authorities put more restrictions on the use and sale of these explosive items. Why? Because they have the possibility of hurting people to which again I ask the question again; why do churches participate in this type of  fund raising?

I know– brownies don’t go boom.

Conversion In A Free Market Religious Economy

“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

There has been a rapid decline in denominational “name-brand loyalty” which allows people raised in one kind of religious tradition to move to another according to Timothy P. Weber of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Professor Weber raises a very interesting point in an Introduction to The Confessions of St. Augustine (Thomas Nelson, 1994). In this introduction he says that “People are now consumers about religion in much the same way that they are consumers about everything else. “Switching’ occurs because a new congregation or religious group better meets a person’s spiritual needs, not necessarily because he or she has undergone a radical change of life.”

In this world where personal accountability is on the decline as well as the willingness to admit personal wrongdoing (Tiger Woods ring a bell?), conversions hardly seem necessary.

Professor Weber continues that conversion means a “significant change in life’s direction, the trading of one set of ultimate allegiances for another.” This is clear by what Jesus was saying in John 3 (ye must be born again) and 2 Cor 5:17 (…he is a new creation; old things have passed away…) From this biblical perspective, Weber continues, “a conversion is more than a change in personal preference; it is a change of identity.” 

When confession is merely to explain why there is nothing wrong with their behavior or why they should not be held accountable for it; questioning that person’s salvation does come to mind. When seen from that point of view Weber explains that “it is safe to say that real conversions are relatively rare; and when they do occur, people take notice.”

Read Augustine’s confessions; he blames no one for his life of sin. Though he often felt powerless to change his behavior, he felt personally responsible.