And Then It Was Over

What happened to summer? The Minnesota State Fair is in its second week. This morning, Brenda and I prayed and cried in the driveway for the final time over one of our kids leaving for college. Most of our other college students have begun another semester or a first one. Fall sports teams open their seasons in just a few days, and shopping for school clothes and supplies is the number one agenda item of moms everywhere. I hope your summer brought smiles, laughter, and memories for you and your family.

I’ve never been fond of the winter season. For me, summer cannot get here soon enough and leaves all too quickly. With the exception of Christmas and New Year’s Day, I tolerate winter. My thought has always been, “Live where it’s warm, and vacation where it’s cold.” Long underwear, layers, and heavy boots just aren’t my style. I prefer short sleeves, baseball hats, and swimming in lakes. I joke with our church family, “I know why I live here. I live here because you live here. What I don’t know is why you live here!”

That’s not entirely true. I do know why most of you live here. For some, this is where you’ve always lived, and you love life in Minnesota for many good reasons. For others, this is where your family is, and the comfort and closeness of family keeps you at home. For most of us this is where our jobs are. We live here because we work here. In recent years and over the last few months, a number of our families relocated to other parts of the United States. That’s nothing new and will continue to be a part of our church life. By God’s grace, new families will join us as they relocate to the Twin Cities.

Still, many of you could live somewhere else if you wanted to. One of the great luxuries of life in the United States is autonomy to live in South St. Paul, South Dakota, South Carolina, or Southern California. So why do you live here?

For us as Christian men and women committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, living here is more than comfort, family, or a job. We live here because we believe this is where the Lord would have us serve him. Simply, we live here because we think this is the best place right now to do what Jesus wants us to do. This is where He where He wants us to be salt and light (Matt 5:13-16). This is where He wants us to make disciples (Acts 1:8; Matt 28:18-20). He doesn’t want us on a tropical island, on a seacoast, in the Sun Belt, in Asia or in Europe. He wants us right here, engaged in His work. It’s so easy to long for something else, someplace else. That’s not good for us. Fantasizing about life somewhere else creates a sense of discontent that diminishes our effectiveness for Jesus Christ in the place where we are. As one old-time preacher used to say, “Grow where you’re planted.”

So let’s get after fulfilling our Lord’s will for us right here. Summer ends with the coming Labor Day holiday. We’ve had a good rest. Now let’s get to work pursuing relationships with unsaved neighbors and friends. Let’s get busy teaching younger Christians how to live the Christian life. Let’s care for each other in our church family so that no need we can solve goes unmet. Let’s pray daily and earnestly that the work we do here in the suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota, will endure for generations.

Philippians 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing

Yeah, I know I'm Late; Don't Judge Me, Bro.

I watched them enter the worship service, mom and dad with kids in tow. Something wasn’t right.

Mom is as perky as they come; she has a perpetual smile. Once dad has his morning cup o’ joe, he’s the best – cheerful, gregarious, light-hearted, a servant, a good dad and husband. When they entered the room for worship, I hardly recognized the persons taking their seats 20 minutes after our worship began - shoulders drooping, kids plodding, and no happy faces. Who are these people?

“Hmm,” I thought, “I wonder what happened this morning.”

I never connected with dad following Sunday’s worship. I did chat with the kids and mom. The youngest of the three hugged my leg as his older siblings told me about their Saturday. Mom filled in the missing details – nothing about the events of the morning and why they were so late.

Worship over, the building locked and all the doors closed, Brenda and I slid into our SUV and headed to meet our kids for Father’s Day lunch. While I missed dad, Brenda found out about the late family’s Sunday morning. It was chaos that involved a running loaner vehicle, needed because of another expensive repair. I mention running vehicle because the only set of keys were locked inside the car as the family stood at its doors ready to get in.

The poor dad. I don’t know what he had in mind for Father’s Day, but I guarantee being locked out of his running loaner vehicle, arriving late for worship at his church, and trying to find a solution for how to get into the vehicle without smashing a window wasn’t in his Father’s Day fantasy.

As I listened to Brenda’s retelling of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad morning, I was reminded of how judgmental we can be.

Can’t you get here on time?

Nice of you to join us…20 minutes late.

Shameful the lack of respect. Probably stayed up too late and didn’t roll out of bed until the last minute.

Our Lord and his apostles condemn and warn disciples of Jesus about the tendency to make unrighteous judgments, yet we do it all the time. We see a behavior that doesn’t meet a standard, and we assume wrongly the reasons for the failure.

  • We would never be so spiritually immature.

  • We would never conduct ourselves in that manner.

  • We would never allow our children to do that.

  • We would never dress that way.

  • We would never let our children out of the house in that condition.

  • And on and on the examples go.

I am so refreshed by this young father’s commitment to lead his family on the Lord’s Day. He had a ready-made excuse to stay home, but he didn’t. He would be late. Everyone would know it. Somebody may make a snide comment to him or cast a look of disdain, but that would not keep his family from meeting with God together with his church on the Lord’s Day.

I am so encouraged by this young husband’s love for Jesus to love his wife enough to direct her to their Lord on the Lord’s Day. He didn’t let the battle against the flesh defeat him. He would love her by loving her Lord.

We have no idea what’s going on in the lives and homes of the people in our church. No idea at all. We cannot judge what we do not know. We must not assume our conclusions are on target. Instead of judging, let’s come alongside and ask questions.

You look like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. What’s up?

You’re not usually late like that. Did something happen at home today?

I’m glad to see you and the family this morning. How’s life? You good?

The safest place for Christians should be the gathering of the local church. Here, brothers and sisters-in-Christ should find people different in so many ways from those outside the circle of the church. Here, they should find patient, loving, kind, and empathic sinners saved by grace willing to extend to the failing the grace they’ve received and hope to receive from others. Here, they should find those who give only righteous judgements and those who speak the truth with love-glazed words and eyes.

The gathering of the church isn’t always the safest place, but it should be. The church can be the safest place when each of us recalls the extent of God’s longsuffering towards us.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing

When You Miss the Gathering of Your Church

Church attendance is not improving. As researchers continue to study the habits of Americans when it comes to Sunday worship, they are discovering the harsh reality — “even with a broader definition of church attendance, classifying a regular attendee as someone who shows up at least three out of every eight Sundays, only 23–25 percent of Americans would fit this category.”

Three decades ago, a very active church member attended three times a week.

When I was a kid, most pastors admonished Sunday morning only Christians, warning them that their lack of commitment to the local church would bring consequences they would later regret. Few pastors in 2019 openly condemn those who gather together only on Sunday mornings. In fact, most pastors count it an accomplishment when families or individuals show up on Sunday mornings three out of four weeks.

A Theory on How This Started

For the last 30 years church leadership and church members have erroneously contended that church life was about attracting people with a variety of programs. If the church hoped to keep its current group of people and pull new families and members into its group, it had to offer more and more and more. A church must have a great children’s program, a great teen program, a great college / singles’ program, a great newly marrieds’ program, a great women’s program, a great men’s program, a great recovery group program, and a great senior citizens’ program. A church without these options would decline in participation quicker than you can say, Have it your way.

The natural result is church life is now about what you get out of a church, what you take away from a service, or what a ministry contributes to your life in that moment. In essence church life has become blatant consumerism. Church life is one of the many options available to you, and it’s a great option when it will do something for you. When it doesn’t do something more for you than other options available to you, meh.

Pastoral Comments Don’t Help

Pastors have too easily reinforced this with their comments promoting people to come. From the pulpit you will hear him say, “You don’t want to miss being here. It’s going to be really great!” Well, what if the last time he said that, it wasn’t all that great? What if there is something else equally great that is also an option? Why not do that great thing instead of the great thing the pastor is suggesting? Who’s to say which great thing is better?

Is gathering for worship to sing the same songs and hear the same preacher better than completing that unfinished house project you’ve told you’re wife you’d complete?

Is going to a weekly small group meeting better than staying home and having a family night with the kids?

It is flawed thinking that leads to decisions of participation in the Christian life based upon what’s in it for me.

Thinking Differently about Why You Go to Church

Similar to what he wrote in 1 Corinthians, Paul also addresses participation in the Christian life in the book of Ephesians. He told those churches that God had given to each one in that church the capacity to contribute to the spiritual lives of the rest of the church. With capacity comes responsibility to act. Paul taught that Christians show up where the church gathers not to receive but to give (4:11–16).

  • When you miss Sunday worship, you forfeit your opportunity to encourage with your smile a sister-in-Christ who hasn’t attended in weeks. She leaves wondering where was her friend.

  • When you miss your Sunday School / education hour class, you deny others the opportunity to receive from you the insight only you can provide.

  • When you miss your weekly small group gathering, you squander your opportunity to join in corporate prayer with the others in your group.

All Our Reasons Make Perfect Sense to Us

Our explanations for why we missed worship, the Lord’s Table, our weekly small group meeting, or Sunday School all sound good to our ears.

  • We were out late the night before.

  • We just returned from a long trip.

  • My cough would distract those around me.

  • It’s so cold outside we decided not to venture out.

  • It’s so nice outside we decided to take advantage of the great weather — this is Minnesota, you know.

  • The kids were up during the night.

  • If my kid is going to be a varsity athlete, he has to play travel sports.

  • We had a family party.

  • I needed to get this chore done that I’ve been putting off for months.

Is This about Me?

I suspect some might be wondering, “Is he writing about me?” I’m writing about all of us. I have no one particular person or scenario in mind. Nor is this post a recent thought. This has been in my head for many months. This is a real issue in the American church and an issue Paul addressed in his letters. Paul could not be more clear when he writes, “every person doing his share causes the growth in the church by the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:32). When we fail to show up for whatever reasons, the members of the body do not receive from us.

Our churches would be healthier if member absenteeism from the gatherings became the rare exception and not the norm.

We are disciples of Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, we are called farmers, slaves, and soldiers. The commonality between the professions is sacrifice for the benefit of others. Jesus told his disciples, “take up your cross and follow me.” Sometimes taking up the cross might be as simple as showing up week after week after week at the gathering of God’s people.

Next week I want to convey to you the four occasions in the life of the church that you simply cannot miss. You just can’t. I look forward to interacting with you again.

If You Can Read This, Thank A Teacher

Who was your favorite teacher from elementary school to high school? Do you remember the name? My guess is although time has passed, the name and the influence of that teacher remain until today.

It was the late summer of 1970 and my first day of first grade at Balmoral Elementary School in Chicago’s far south suburbs. There I met Mrs. Humeister, my first grade teacher. She was old, like really old, at least that’s how she appeared to my five-year-old eyes.

I quickly learned first grade was different than kindergarten. No more half days of school. No more naps on a rag-strip blanket. This was the real deal, and it was going to be this way for a long time. I had eleven more grades to endure after this one. Why can’t we just play baseball, ride our bikes, catch frogs in the drainage pond, and bother our little sisters?

I don’t know anything about Mrs. Humeister’s personal life. I can’t tell you if she was married or had children of her own. I have no idea what happened to her after I left the first grade. What I do know is that she provided me an amazing experience that ignited a love for learning, especially reading.

She introduced me to great literature like Fun with Dick and Jane and anything written by Dr. Suess. Her small classroom library was a field full of treasures waiting to be discovered. There I found The Sugar Creek Gang and something called a dictionary.

On her shelves was the greatest treasure I had ever seen. Twenty volumes of something called The World Book Encyclopedia contained for me all the knowledge in the world. Volume 1 told me everything there was to know about words and ideas that began with the letter A. Volume 20 compressed all the knowledge of the letters W, X, Y, and Z. I figured if four letters could fit into one volume, then those letters must not have much to offer.

On those pages were words I didn’t understand and pictures of astronauts and atoms, bears and brains, cars and computers, diamonds and dirt, engines and epilepsy, fire and fog, and on and on. Every page revealed something new and often more amazing than the page before.

I do not know if Mrs. Humeister was a Christian. I hope so. I’d love to meet her again in heaven. What I do know is God used an old woman to help a young boy find fascination in all that God created, whether that was her intention or not.

Can you do that with others? Can you help them find and discover in the creation the wonder that is the infinite imagination of God?

Mrs. McDaniel was the lead English teacher at Oak Forest Christian Academy. My parents moved my sister and me from Balmoral Elementary School to OFCA for my third grade year. We would complete our educations in a Christian School.

My sophomore year of high school I sat at a desk and in front of me stood Mrs. Marni McDaniel. Her husband was our school principal. His reputation is legendary, and his outer layer was like dragon’s hide. Mrs. McDaniel was the polar opposite. Her petite frame, cropped red hair, and gracious demeanor met us daily for grammar, vocabulary, spelling, literature, and writing. I quickly grew to love Mrs. McDaniel.

She was a demanding teacher without the demanding personality – what a great skill to possess. Her assignments were challenging but fair. She knew her craft, and she was a master at it. In hindsight she was probably the best teacher of any subject in our school and one of the two or three best teachers I’ve had at any level. We were fortunate to have her.

Well into the school year, Mrs. McDaniel moved on from the eight parts of speech to the discipline and skill of writing. As a fourteen-year-old kid, I had no idea what she was contributing to my life.

She challenged my classmates and me to write. We wrote journals and research papers, fiction and poetry, short paragraphs and lengthy tomes. Before long I discovered I liked putting pen to paper and retelling an experience or articulating an idea.

Like I said, she was demanding. I submitted a writing assignment and was anxious for its return. Across the top of the page in bright red ink was the letter B. “B? I thought. This isn’t a B paper.” At the bottom of the page, she explained the B reflected the good content but the poor discipline in spelling, vocabulary, and grammar. Her B was probably generous. If I wanted an A grade, I would need to submit A work. Tough but fair. Demanding with a smile.

The skills Mrs. McDaniel taught me have been my weekly routine for nearly 40 years. From class assignments to dissertation, it was the work of Mrs. McDaniel that made it possible. Every sermon I write, every weekly post I pen, every card to a church member, and every letter to my wife or children is because of what Mrs. McDaniel did for me. I owe her a significant debt.

Paul tells us that our Lord Jesus gave to the church gifted people called teachers (Ephesians 4:11). Neither Mrs. Humeister nor Mrs. McDaniel fit perfectly into a correct interpretation of Paul’s instruction. However, both ladies were gifted by God to do what they so skillfully did. God used them greatly in my life.

This is Teacher Appreciation Week. I love teachers. My mom was a teacher. My wife was a teacher. My daughter is a teacher. My daughter-in-law is a teacher. Many of my closest friends are teachers, and many of the people for whom I have the greatest appreciation are teachers. I love each of them.

In the mind of God, he provided for us a way to discover truth and ideas about his creation. We can know truth. We do not need to wander in the darkness looking for answers. Instead, there are among us those who teach us art, history, philosophy, music, the wide array of mathematics and science, history, language, literature, and applied sciences and most importantly, the truth about God as revealed in his word, the Bible. Whatever their area of expertise, these people possess unique gifts from God which benefit all of us.

Be sure to thank a teacher this week, and be sure to thank God for another of his many gifts to us - teachers.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing

"They Hate You Because They Hate Me," Jesus

Fact: persecution of Christians, especially in Asia and Africa, occurs today like it did in the New Testament book of Acts.

  • Easter Sunday, 2019, Sri Lanka – terrorists bomb Roman Catholic churches killing more than 300 and leaving hundreds more gravely injured. Reported only minimally in the West was the attack on a Methodist prayer center on Palm Sunday one week prior to the Easter bombings. In 2018 Christians were victims of dozens of acts of violence.

  • Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019, Nigeria – Zealots killed 17 Christians ranging in ages from 10-80 following a baby dedication at Ruhaniya Baptist Church. The group gathered for a celebration meal when the murderers unloaded their weapons as the friends and family ate together. The mother of the baby was killed in the attack, and the father was critically wounded.

  • April 12, 2019, Egypt – A mob attacked a Christian Coptic congregation during its children’s Bible classes injuring two priests and damaging the church building. One day before the attack, the village mayor confiscated building materials from the church premises. The church was expanding its structure to accommodate a growing congregation.

  • January 27, 2019, Philippines – terrorists bomb a Roman Catholic cathedral killing 20.

  • January 13, 2019, India – Local police disrupt a worship service arresting the pastor and other church leaders. They tortured the pastor before releasing her. In the first two months of the year, there have been 77 verified acts of violence against Christians in India, including two murders of men in their 40s, expulsion from places of residence in villages, and physical coercion of converts to seek forgiveness from local Hindu temples for embracing Christianity.

Search the Internet for yourself and you will read of Christian persecution in Afghanistan, Cameroon, Chad, China, Columbia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Libya, Mexico, North Korea, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and in dozens more countries.

Persecutors, mobs, oppressors, and terrorists make no distinction between “Bible believing Christians” and anyone else connected to any Christian denomination. They kill, torture, kidnap, rape, and abuse indiscriminately.

If you are a Christian of any variety in dozens of countries worldwide, you are a potential target. If you openly evangelize in dozens of countries worldwide, you may be arrested and jailed without legal representation. In dozens of countries worldwide if a small group prayer meeting meets in your home, you risk the loss of your property, your employment, your children’s education, and maybe your health or your life.

This is the reality of what it means to be a Christian in a significant part of the world.

For us in the United States, we have been mostly spared from the kind of persecution Christians experience worldwide on a daily basis. Even where acts of violence have occurred in Christian churches in the United States, the evidence suggests the deeds were often related to race relations, domestic clashes, or psychopathic behaviors.

Jesus and his apostles warned and instructed the early Christians about the inevitability of persecution. Revelation hails the faithfulness of those who suffered for the cause of Christ. Acts records the bloody scenes of many Christians.

Jesus’s words and the apostolic instruction were not only for the first Christians. They instruct us as well. The stories in Acts serve as models for us to follow. The promise to the martyrs in Revelation may belong to some of us.

I don’t know if the persecution experienced across the oceans will reach our shores in my lifetime or yours or ever. I do know there is a price to pay to follow Jesus. There is no price for your salvation. That’s a free gift to you. Jesus paid with his life what we receive by grace alone through faith alone. Yet, there is a price to be his disciple (Luke 14:25-35).

The price may be friends.The price may be acceptance of your family and your children by those in your kids’ school or by the other members of your kids’ athletic teams or school clubs. The price may be advancement in your career or no career at all. Your unbelieving spouse may walk out on you if you follow Jesus too closely. Your parents may disown you if you follow Jesus as if there is nothing more important to you in the entire world than Jesus. You may sit by yourself in the school café because you follow Jesus. You may not be included in side conversations if you follow Jesus. You may be shunned, mocked, or ignored if you boldly follow Jesus. You may be alone in your moment of great need if you follow Jesus. The price to follow Jesus may be your life.

Paul boldly asserts, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” Are you?

What can we do?

First, we can and must pray for persecuted Christians (Hebrews 13:3).

Second, we can encourage Christians around the globe suffering or threatened by persecution. For example, in our church are Cameroonians, and we partner with gospel workers in India and Uganda. Simple words of comfort and love contribute to their faithfulness to Jesus.

Third, be faithful to Jesus here and now in this mostly peaceful realty we enjoy in the United States. Jesus first and Jesus only despite any potential ramifications must be our disposition. How likely are we to live for Jesus in persecution if we do not live for him in peace? Should our children and the generations after us face persecution will they be able to look at our faithfulness to Jesus as a model for their faithfulness to Jesus?

Remember Paul’s words as he writes to the church in Philippi from his jail cell? By God’s grace may his words be ours.

According to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (1:20-21).

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing