Better Church

I have heard much discussion lately about the decline of the Christian Church. I know that in the end times the church will see decline. But that’s no excuse for not being the best that we can be all the time. How can the church do a better job of being the church?

Obviously we need to focus on being Followers of Jesus and in making other Followers as well. But how do we do that on a practical level? Here are some thoughts:

Impressions – The folks “out there” generally don’t have a good impression of us “inside” the church. How can we improve their impressions? I think we need to be “out there.” Most churches focus on making a good impression to visitors. That’s important, but it doesn’t bring in visitors. We need to be out among the folks, impressing them with the Jesus we love. We can’t do that by improving the look of our building. We have to work on the walk of our people.

Intergenerational – We are a multi-generational church. I am frankly tired of hearing about bringing in young people. Our world is getting older not younger. Folks are living longer. The church can’t focus on one generation, especially not the young. The world is full of folks of all ages and they all need Jesus and they all need to work with each other. We don’t need a younger church, we need a church that faces the fact that our mission should be to all ages. If you focus on the young, you lose sight of the wonderful asset you have in all folks.

Discipleship – We need to figure out how best to help people be more like Jesus. This is obviously the goal of every church, but it doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t happen by sharing funny stories or worrying about politics. It happens with more contact with each other, honest, vulnerable contact. We need to share our struggles if we are ever to grow.

Stewardship – Stewardship isn’t about bigger offerings. It’s about recognizing that we have resources, human, physical and spiritual and putting them to good use. We tell folks that happiness is in being thankful for what you have instead of focusing on what you don’t. We need to apply that advice to our churches.

Prayer – Every church could use more prayer. Not just the here’s-whose-sick type of prayer, but the shut up and listen to God type. He already knows whose sick and whose hurting. We need to know what He wants us to know.

Missions/Community Investment – The best churches I was ever a part of had no building. Money that came in went right back out. Maybe that’s not always practical, but there is a lesson here. No new testament church comes with a description of its facilities. Too much “church” energy is taken up in maintaining the staff and facilities and not enough in doing the mission. Want a better church? Look out not in. Where your treasure is… you know the rest.

Before I fall off my soap box, I’ll shut up.

Have a nice day.



It’s a Race

“Life is short, and one day, sooner or later, everything you do and care about is gunna look so small compared to eternity. Please do me a favor, and don’t waste any more time on careless things that one day will never matter. Instead, invest your time in things that will last for eternity: your relationships with others and with God. Those are the only things you will take with you. Believe me, I know. ” Claire

My good friend and our church’s youth pastor, Jonathan Reaux, lost a teenage cousin in an automobile accident this week. The above quote is what Jonathan tells us his cousin would say, if she could.  Jonathan is very wise for his years. I  believe he is correct.

I heard a moving message from David Jeremiah yesterday about how the important thing for a Christian isn’t how you start the race, but how you finish. Jonathan’s lost reminds us that we never know how long or short the race will be. 

It’s time to start running and keep running. It’s time to remember to keep our eyes on the prize. It’s time to remember that as we run, we hold hands with others who are also in the race. Some have been racing for a long time. Some we need to grab hold of and pull into the race. 

Doctor Jeremiah ended his sermon yesterday with a story I had never heard about my hero, and a great racer,  Billy Graham. When Billy was in his twenties, he was one of several young preachers who were filling auditoriums as they preached the gospel. He wasn’t looked upon as the most likely too succeed. Two other young men were doing a much better job. We don’t even know their names today because neither finished the race. Both, in fact, ended their lives away from the Lord. Billy Graham’s latest (I almost said last) book is about dying well. He would be considered an old man even by us “old” men and he’s still running. Some of the most influential books currently “hot” in the Christian press are, on the other hand, written by very young pastors. 

It’s a race. Start running, Keep running. Run with those you love.

Claire, you will be missed. Thanks for leaving us with a message.

Be blessed.


First Loves

The Message to the Church in Ephesus

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands:
“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.
“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do.
“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.

There has been much in the news recently about the decline of the Christian Church. The recent Episcopal Church convention in which the delegates approved a rite to bless same-sex unions and the blessing of pets while voting down a proposal to proclaim Jesus as Lord is perhaps the worst example. But you don’t have to go to these extremes to see churches that have lost their way.

I was once an Episcopalian, and not just a pew sitter. I was a senior warden which is like an eldest elder. At one time the church I was a member of was the finest example of a new testament church I had ever seen and will probably ever see, but that group too lost its way. The forgot their first love and starting loving the idea of being a “special” group.

All kinds of churches, liberal and conservation, Protestant and Catholic, denominational and nondenominational are losing their way. They may not have strayed as far as the Episcopal national church, but they have strayed.

In every instance, the straying begins when they lose their first love, Jesus. That is quickly followed by the true sign of their discipleship, they stop loving each other. They can, at first, still nail the existence of heresy and evil in others, but they can’t see how they have drifted. Before they know it they too are lost in a sea of heresy, far from the gospel that saves.

The Gospel is about Jesus, the love He has for us that He proved on Calvary. The true church consists of those who respond to His love by turning away from evil, making Him Lord, and beginning the long, difficult, but the only rewarding path of following Him. Everything else is a waste.

The current state of the church is as predicted in the Book of Revelation. Our job isn’t to point out examples or shake our heads and complain, but to took in the mirror and make sure we’re the exception to what has become the rule.

Be blessed.


The Main Thing is Knowing Him

You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking.

Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’

I admit I once lived by rumors of you;

now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears!

I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise!

I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.”

Job 42:4-6 (The Message)

It’s amazing how easily we drift away from our main purpose. If we go on a trip just “to get away” we get caught up in doing things and going places and return home more exhausted than when we left. When we head to church on Sunday we are met with the business of getting ready, dressing kids, being on time, that the service is over before we can settle down and enjoy His presence.

We were created for relationship with God; that was made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection. We rejoice in our salvation then return to the business of life. We drift from our purpose. Why do we settle with reflections of God as His glory shimmers in His creation? Why do we experience Him second hand through the experiences of others, when He is right here with us? Why do we settle for hearing stories about His love when we can rest in His arms?

There is nothing more important you can do today than knowing a bit more of Him. There are things on your schedule that can wait. There are people that deserve your time less than He does. The weeds will be in the garden of your life tomorrow. The laundry can wait another day. There is nothing on TV you have to see. Facebook can exist a day without you.

Just for today don’t live on crusts of hearsay or crumbs of rumors, feast on the Lord Your God.



What’s the Main Thing?

Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. -1 Corinthians 10:23-24 (NIV)

Christians have a reputation for being narrow minded, bigoted, and just unfriendly. If this is based on our belief that our way is the only way, then tough. If it’s because we believe in the bible, deal with it. If it’s because we believe there is ultimate truth, or that some things are sin and God gets to decide, then that’s just the way it is. But we do tend to “major in the minors.” There are legitimate disagreements between Christians on many matters. The Bible doesn’t speak clearly to every issue. Much of what we believe is not essential to being a Christian. There are many followers of Christ who would disagree with us on a variety of issues. How can we dare tell non-believers that if they don’t believe exactly like we do, they can’t be part of the family?

Think about these questions:

-Can someone watch Harry Potter movies and still be a Christian? What about R rated movies or PG movies or movies at all?

-Can someone drink an alcoholic beverage from time to time and still be a Christian? How often? How much? What about smoking or chewing or dancing? Where do you draw the line? More importantly, where does God?

-Is it God’s will for all Christians to be rich? If you are not rich are you “out of His will? If you are rich is it impossible for you to be saved?

-Should Christians take medicine for illness or trust God for healing? If you are sick is it because of your lack of faith?

Did you know that some Christians are not Republicans and voted for President Obama and will do so again in November?

It’s very prideful to think we have all the right answers. God has given us a ministry of reconciliation. One of our tools is the way we are to love each other, not just those who believe exactly as we do (if any such person exists) but all those who follow Jesus as Lord.

We need to get out of our tiny boxes. We need to touch base with other followers who differ in their beliefs and in the details of their walk. We need to be submissive to God and humble enough to admit we still may have some things to learn.

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. The hardest part of that is knowing exactly what the main thing is. I know that part of the main thing is that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. Past that I get a little cloudy.

Make a friend with someone who isn’t in your church. Even better find a way to minister with someone who believes a little differently.

You will grow in the knowledge and love of Christ and of His children. Isn’t that a great thing? Isn’t it maybe the main thing?

Be blessed.



Youth Worship

It’s easy to admire the young. They are energetic and nice looking. If you watch much television or go to movies, you might think everyone is young. Young folks are pretty much all you see.

In our society we hide older folks away. Betty White has a new program on television in which old folks play pranks on younger ones. But the old folks are portrayed as senile at worst and out of touch at best. The message of the program seems to be “take a look at older folks, they’re so out of touch that they’re funny.”

As a society we lose much by hiding away older folks. For years we did the same thing to women or those of a different color. Our society is better since we have recognized the value of “minorities.” But we can’t seem to learn that message about older people.

In our fascination with the “latest and greatest” we have lost respect for the “tried and true.” Someone who is “too old” to use a smart phone, text or even use email, may be the smartest of all. Instant communication is great but there is value in one to one talk. Work used to be more physical and we were healthier. Wisdom was more valued than information. Family was more important than social networked “friends.” People could stand to be a room in which no television was on. People could have a meal without checking texts or emails.

We need energy and a fresh approach in our churches. But we also need the experience and wisdom that comes with age.

Sometimes I think the young are frankly afraid of older people. They can’t understand couples that have been together for forty or more years. They know deep inside that Andy Griffith and I Love Lucy might be better than Two and a Half Men or Desperate Housewives. The Spirit may be telling them that being a Post Christian society isn’t going to be so great. Maybe tolerance sounds better than it really is. Maybe some things just shouldn’t be tolerated. We fear what we don’t understand and many young today no longer understand values that drove society just a few years ago.

Maybe things like Fire and Brimstone, Sin, and Repentance shouldn’t be just abandoned. Maybe saluting the flag, going to church and working for a living are pretty good things.

Maybe beauty is just skin deep. Maybe there is something to be learned from those who have lived long and grew up in different, and maybe better times.

Maybe honoring and listening and loving the elderly is a pretty good idea.

Maybe I’m just getting old.

Be blessed.



Mississippi Gulf Coast

I love the Mississippi Gulf Coast. From the 1950s and 1960s, I remember the pool under the oak trees at the Alamo Plaza Motel or staying with family friends just a few blocks off the beach in Biloxi. In those days, the coast sported antebellum homes and fishing piers fingered out into the gulf. The coast was a jewel of the old south. I was there on the day that blacks first “dared” to use the “white” beach around the lighthouse in Biloxi. I recall the police, and the traffic and the tension, but no violence. In those days, the coast was “dry.” Nevertheless, you could buy beer at certain businesses. The salesman would take a six pack quietly out of a cooler “in the back” and pack it separately in a plain paper bag.

I started my military career and my marriage on the coast. In 1969, I was stationed at Keesler AFB. Camille had taken the stately old homes, the fishing piers and much of the coast highway. Before checking into the base at Keesler I spent Christmas at home and met a pretty red head who I would eventually marry. In the months ahead I would spend the weekends at home in Louisiana, courting, and the weekdays at computer school on the base on the coast. I got to know personally the bus drivers who ran the route between the coast and Lafayette. In May 1970, I spent my honeymoon at the Swam Motel in Biloxi before ending my training at Keesler.

Rosemary and I, and then two kids, returned to the coast in the late 1970s. I was then finishing my navy career with a tour at the SeaBee base in Gulfport. Rosemary worked in the medical field. We lived on the base and met some of the best friends we would ever know. I made my “profession of faith” at the First Baptist Church of Gulfport. Rosemary remembers seeing me reading a bible after the service at a park. She says it’s the first time she can recall me opening one. We bought the first house we ever owned in North Biloxi and ended my Navy career and headed off to law school from here.

We are spending a couple of days on the coast just remembering. It’s difficult because Katrina has wiped away nearly every landmark. From the beach for a couple of blocks inland, nearly every building is less than five years old or as they say here, “Post Katrina.” The motel I stayed at as a kid is gone. The motel I honeymooned at is gone. I can’t find the park where Rose and I and the kids had picnic lunches under the trees. Driving in I never noticed the turn off to the Navy Base where I worked for years. It’s all gone.

This is now a gambling mecca. There are huge casinos and shopping areas, but they are mainly away from the beach. There are homes and businesses popping up along the coast highway, but they are not “too close” to the water and most are perched as high as possible above the sand. It’s like a small child fearful of the water, intrigued by its beauty, but fearful of its power, and not ready to get too close.

I am sure something about this story will “preach.” There are lessons about the fragility of life, the power of God’s creation, sometimes sweet and sometimes painful memories. But for now I can’t construct any of them. Draw your own lessons and conclusions. I will just sit quietly and watch the gulf and relax and remember.

Be blessed.



He’s Been There and Done That

Ever wonder why Jesus had to die such a horrible death? I mean I get that a perfect sacrifice was needed to satisfy a perfectly just God. But come on, crucifixion? Not just crucifixion, but a horrible scourging before that? Why the betrayal? Why the spineless disciples? Why? Why? Why?
I have a surgery coming up in a couple of weeks with several weeks of tough rehab to follow. To put it mildly and to save some self-respect, I will call my current state “nervous” and not “fearful” or “petrified.”  I know that Jesus will be with me through the experience and that in the long run all will be well. Even in the days before, it’s hard to get what’s coming out of your mind. It helps to know that Jesus knows what I am going through and what I will go through. No matter how bad things get, Jesus had it worse. 
I can’t imagine what it was like that night before in the garden. Jesus, with his divine knowledge of all the horrors that would happen in the day ahead. When we have “waiting room syndrome,” Jesus has been there in a way we can’t imagine. When something hurts, He’s been there and done that; only he had it much harder and much worse.

Even if it isn’t physical pain, if it’s a relationship hurt or a betrayal, Jesus had Judas and Peter and the rest of the “guys.”

To save me and make it possible for me to have relationship with God, He had to die. I am eternally grateful that He did. But He didn’t have to die or live the way He did. He did that so nothing would be too hard for me. Ain’t no mountain high enough, Ain’t no valley low enough, that He hasn’t traveled.

It wasn’t all necessary but man what an incredibly loving thing to do.

Think about that if you’re day isn’t perfect and be blessed.