Tag Archives: Church

In the Spirit of Thankfulness part 1

All these posts going every day on Facebook got me a bit in the thankful mood…but there was no way I was going to keep up with that. So, I offer, here in its entirety, my 30 days of thankfulness! So, I’m thankful for…

30 life! I don’t know that I’ve ever taken it for granted, but the recent scare made me consider it all the more.

29 my wife! (and just for all you snarky folks looking at the numbers—it isn’t a countdown or a count UP, it’s supposed to represent the 30 days of November!) She’s better to me than I deserve! I love you, BJ!

28 my job. In this messed up economy which only looks to get worse, I’m glad to be doing something I enjoy: teaching creative writing to (mostly) pretty motivated students.

27 my daughter. Even though I’ve tried to convince her to stay OUT of the arts because it’s the pathway to a lot of potential heartbreak, she’s multi-talented and incredibly smart, too…if she’ll just apply herself I have no doubt she’ll be incredibly successful(on both counts!).

26 having a roof over my head. Even though I’d really like to sell my house in Oxford so that I can get my family all back under one roof all the time, I know we’re fortunate to have a home with electricity and running water.

25 my son. Also incredibly talented (can you say FIRST CHAIR bay-bee!) and smart, I appreciate the fact that he’s just as happy geeking out with me playing war games as he is doing anything else.

24 my doctor. When we first moved to Oxford, Dr. Will Dabbs was just the kooky doctor we took the kids to see. Over time, however, he’s become my doctor and my friend…and I DO trust him with my life!

23 facebook. Yeah, yeah, I know. I can hear all the groans now. But I’m of the age that I can remember life before social media and there are a lot of names on my facebook “friend list” that I didn’t speak with that much and that now I get to at least keep up with them now and again. For writer-types who dwell in caves, it’s nice. And even though I hid EVERYONE during the last election season—that’s over and I can now enjoy posts again.

22 technology. I’m a technogeek, I admit it. I love technology. And even though I’ve fought (and still do) the idea of me carrying around a cellphone, I LIKE what they are capable of…I just don’t want to have to carry it around.

21 my parents. I’m blessed to have the best set of parents in the world. How they managed to allow me to continue to live in their house when I was a smart-aleck teenager, I’ll never know. I’m thankful for the way they raised me and for the values they taught me.

20 my church. When you move around as much as BJ and I have, it’s difficult to get “settled” with a church family. We’ve been fortunate, though, in that every place to which our names have been on the roles, they’ve welcomed us with open arms: FBC Muscle Shoals, FBC Loretto, FBC Piggott, Yellow Leaf BC, and FBC Oxford.

19 my books. Yeah, I know this sounds like a very materialistic thing…and maybe it is, but I’m still thankful for them (and for BJ allowing me to surround myself with them). Maybe it’s a writer thing, but I do love to—when I’m in “thinking” mode—to just sit back and take in the surroundings of my books, looking at the titles and recalling the emotions of the read or the particulars of it.

18 BCW. Or Byhalia Christian Writers Group. I was shocked by the lack of anything remotely faith-based in Oxford (aside from the Churches, of course) and really expected to find multiple writers group in Oxford…I mean, it’s OXFORD, the home of Billy Faulkner. Byhalia, Mississippi was the closest group I could find…and they treated me like a long lost brother. I don’t get to go as often as I’d like (for various reasons—one of which it’s an hour drive one way), but I know they remember me in their prayers—and how can one NOT be thankful for that?

17 my bed. Traveling makes you realize just how much you appreciate “your” stuff. And while BJ made me buy a mattress for the apartment in Florida, it’s still not “my bed.” And being a reenactor, I sleep on the ground every now and again. Yes, I’m very thankful for my bed.

16 Spalding. Yeah, one of my alma maters makes this list. It’s not that I am NOT thankful for the others—I am—but Spalding has that special place in my heart, mostly because, I think, the admin and faculty there have embraced the idea of nurturing the writer. It’s the first “hall of higher learning” that did NOT scoff at the body of comic work I have.

15 Spalding peeps. So, yeah, I can’t mention Spalding without mentioning my classmates/colleagues who helped make the program what it is…and ALSO embraced my comic geekiness, some of them even sharing that. There are lots of names I could mention, but the Devil Dawgs (don’t ask—long story) are deserving of special call-out for my thankfulness: Marjetta Geerling, Kat Shehata, Karin Goodwin, Rebekah J Harris, Mary Knight (one of my favorite Yankees!).

(so this is longer than what I thought it would be…to be continued)

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No Bibles in churches?

One advantage to visiting around Churches so much is that we get to see a wide variety of good preaching and good choirs…and of course, some not quite as good. BJ and I also look for good Sunday School classes, or small groups, or whatever you want to call them. One of the things I’ve noticed, and I’m not sure if it is just Southern Baptists doing this or other denominations do as well, but many Southern Baptist Sunday School classes don’t even break out a Bible!

Let me explain…

I like to find Sunday School classes with folks that aren’t afraid to speak up and talk about the material they (hopefully) studied. I do not enjoy sitting through a small group “sermon.” I’m prepared to listen to the Pastor’s sermon, but I want the small group to participate, to actually try to figure out how to apply lessons to our own lives.

But I digress…

Most SBC Sunday Schools now use published educational material. Or, I should say most of the ones we’ve been to the last 10 years, including those in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. This material, generally a study through one book or two from the Bible, contains the verses, explanations of the scripture and why it’s relevant to us today…and then some questions for us to ponder upon finishing. There’s no “reason” to pick up your Bible at all because it’s all right there…in the handy little study guide.

I find it odd that a denomination that preaches so much on the inerrancy of the scripture and the ideas that believers must “stand” on the word and all that stuff has—or is in the process of—doing away with the very thing they’re standing on. Okay, it’s not that they’re really “doing away” with it, but why on earth would they continue to encourage it’s non-use via members? Why would churches continue to use material that allows members to keep their Bibles closed?

I think maybe it’s because Church members have become lazy in their use of the Bible and Bible study. What’s happened is that Lifeway, the Southern Baptist Convention’s version of Barnes and Noble, is producing “education material” for the mass of Baptist churches and the Baptist churches are gobbling it up. If you’ve never seen the Lifeway material, I’m not suggesting it is bad, but I am suggesting it is making believers lazy. Lifeway Sunday School material prints the scripture verses for the lesson in both KJV (for the old folks in the SBC: “Hey, if the KJV was good enough for St. Paul, it’s good enough for me!”) and in the Holman Standard, or the Lifeway owned Bible.

And don’t think I’m picking on Lifeway, most of the material out there is doing it—Lifeway is just the most popularly purchased. Lifeway, like any other material, has some good stuff and some bad stuff.

But my whole point is that I think Churches should be using material that encourages members to actually open their Bible and not just the study book. Who knows, they might get interested in the chapter they’re reading and actually read a little more!

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The Church of Me!

This will probably be one of the most controversial things I’ve written about. I’ve talked here before about moving and moving experiences and things that are associated with moving. This entry is no different. And before you go accusing me, I’m not trying to start a religious debate – I won’t even mention theology or anything. I’m just talking about concerns of moving. Plus, I think this idea works for any denomination, regardless of your flavor.

My wife and I consider ourselves fairly conservative folks (I’ve even been accused of being ultra-conservative). We do our best to live consistently that way and to instill those beliefs in our kids. We don’t always achieve those goals, but we strive for them.

I touched on this aspect of moving briefly, but as we still have not found a church home in Oxford, I’ve got a few new thoughts! Big surprise, huh? Seeking a new church shouldn’t be like buying a car, a house, a tie or shoes, at least not for someone who calls themselves “Christian.”

But I’ve found that some people have the attitude that when a church quits serving their needs, they just move on to the next church like trading in a new car or moving to the next spot on the salad bar. I’ve even run across a few who “church hop” (probably a close relative to “bar hopping,” but I won’t go there). That attitude is also common in many who are seeking new churches when they move. That attitude seems to be what can the church do for me. We’ve become a generation who prefer the church of me. Speaking of, you must watch this video!

Instead of looking for a church that is going to serve our every need and whim like a Burger King drive through,, we should be looking for a church that we feel most accurately interprets the Bible and (this is a biggie) is populated with people who do their very best to live out those beliefs. We want to be around folks to believe as we do and act on those beliefs.

I’ve met a lot of people through our course of moving who give lip service to being a “Christian,” but do very little to actually show they are one. Our kids have met other kids in school who make them claim, and then they ask me why these very same kids let loose a string of curse words frequently. The only answer I can give them is the Bible tells us that Christians will be known by their fruit. I then tell my kids I’m Chinese. They laugh—well, they do now, they didn’t at first—but now they get what I mean that just because someone says they’re a certain way, doesn’t really mean much…it’s all in what they DO! What’s the old saying? “Actions speak louder than words.”

Also, what’s happened to the idea of service? The church body is supposed to be about service. We’ve been to churches that do not even do “visitation” at all anymore. I don’t get that. I’m gonna steal from a former president here and say we should not be asking what the church can do for us, but instead we should ask what we can do for our church.

But, I’ll end on a funny note—or by presenting you with a funny video. The one below was brought to my attention by our former youth pastor, Matthew Ferguson. It is hilarious!

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Church benevolence=welfare?

Church benevolence is one of those things that most churches do, but very little of them talk about. Even in business meetings, benevolence is over glossed over. I think in most Churches, benevolence is one of those good ideas gone bad.

Now, before you start thinking I don’t want to help out those in need, erase that thought. Quite the opposite: I think it is our Christian duty to help those in need. I think the Bible lays out clear instructions for us to help those who can’t help themselves. I don’t, however, think it is the Government’s duty. That’s a big difference. Welfare is another one of those ideas that fall under the category of good idea-poor execution…but that’s another column for another day.

Most of the members of a church congregation aren’t really even aware of the benevolence plan or program or giving of their Church, but just about every Church has it in its budget. Most members see “benevolence” on the budget (if they even look) and know it’s used for “helping people.” That’s about it. Church secretaries are the ones who are probably more familiar with it than anyone else because they’re the ones who deal with the people who come in and ask for money.

The problem, as I see it, goes back to the old adage: give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for his life.

When folks who need help—and there are quite a few of them out there—come to the church and ask for help, the Churches shouldn’t just give them the money. I think that’s a bad idea any way you slice it. There are some who would take advantage of the free money and go buy cigarettes and/or booze. I’m guessing those people would be in the minority, but they’re there.

Nor should the Church take one of the needy person’s bills and just pay it. Again, it’s an incredibly nice thing to do, but there are those who would abuse the generosity of the Church.

Someone who disagrees with this idea suggested that it didn’t matter; the church should just give and let God sort it out.

My thinking is that God has commanded us to be good stewards of our money (which is really just His money anyway) and free money given away with nothing in return is not being a good steward. And when that’s all said and done, what has the person learned? That the Church gives pays your bill when you can’t?

One idea would be to have them do some work around the church: pick up trash in the church parking lot, vacuum the sanctuary, something, anything to enable them to earn it.

Ahh, but you say Jesus fed the 5,000 for free. Well, granted they didn’t “pay” for it, that’s for sure. But they did sit and listen to him teach.

I’m very okay putting that idea forward. If somebody wants their light bill paid because they can’t afford it, tell them that is done on Sundays after Church services and they must come to the services in order to receive the benevolence. Let them first hear about the love of God…then witness it. At least then they might have an understanding why the Church is willing to help them.

(posted late because internet service was down)

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Should Southern Christians sing this?

With the Fourth of July holiday still fresh on our minds, residents are beginning to recover from the celebrations and annual festivities. Some things we do, we don’t know why… “we’ve just always done it that way.” Did you know, though, the city of Vicksburg, Miss., did not celebrate the fourth for over 80 years? S’true. July 4 is the day it surrendered to U.S. troops under the command of General Grant.

As always on the fourth, patriotic tunes flood the airwaves and churches. I contend that one popular tune, however, shouldn’t be sung in our churches as it is certainly not “Christian” and is definitely not patriotic for Southerners (Northerners might consider it patriotic). Which song you say?

The Battle Hymn of the Republic began as the camp-meeting song “Say Brothers, Will You Meet Us on Canaan’s Happy Shore.” It became a popular Union army ballad when members of the 12th Mass. Infantry wrote new words and renamed it “John Brown’s Body.” The song was not about the famous terrorist John Brown who attacked Harper’s Ferry and assorted places in Kansas, but one of the men in the 12th. Over time, it did grow to mean the famous John Brown.

Julia Ward Howe, who is given credit for writing the song, visited a Union camp, heard the song, and then rewrote the lyrics the next day.

Howe was married to Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, a well-known radical abolitionist and a financial supporter of the abolitionist-terrorist John Brown. Most historians believe Howe was likely one of the “Secret Six” financial contributors of John Brown.

The Howes were devout Unitarians. As such, Julia denied the divinity of Jesus and did not believe in the Holy Trinity—elements, which I’m betting most Southern clergy will say are crucial to the “Christian” faith.

In fact, many Christian hymnals have removed her third verse because it doesn’t line up with most Christian beliefs. It reads as such: I have read the fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel As ye deal with My comtempters, so with you My grace shall deal Let the hero born of woman crush the serpent with his heel Since God is marching on.

“Burnished rows of steel” is a reference to bayonets, and the “serpent” is a reference to the South (The Union plan to split the Confederate States was actually called the “Anaconda Plan”).

Yet, Howe’s tune is heralded as a “Christian” tune and sung in churches throughout the U.S.

Further, the double meaning behind Howe’s lyrics is the conquest and utter destruction of Southerners. Howe was not inspired to write the lyrics after a revival meeting, but after a tour of a Federal camp.

Her lyrics, used as an inspirational battle tune even during The War, are about “Lord” Lincoln using his armies to vent out his vengeance on the South, proving not that God was on the side of the North, but as Voltaire put it, “God is always on the side of the big battalions.”

As Americans, we wouldn’t revel in the destruction and death of over 2000 killed at Pearl Harbor. We wouldn’t sing, “The Japs bombed Pearl Harbor and they killed 2000 men, they sunk the Arizona and the Utah went down too. He has loosed the fateful lightning of His kamikaze plan, God’s truth is marching on.” Yet, in essence, that is what every Southerner is doing when they sing the Battle Hymn. I had two grandfathers serve in WW2 and I couldn’t sing the above. I had grandfathers serve in the Confederate army and I can’t sing Howe’s version either.

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Church of me!

I’m not trying to start a religious debate here today – I won’t even mention theology or anything (which I’m generally pretty happy to do). I’m just talking about concerns of moving, which I’ve talked about here before. Plus, I think the ideas that follow could very well fit for any denomination.

My wife and I consider ourselves fairly conservative folks (I’ve even been accused of being ultra-conservative in the Calvinistic vein). We do our best to live consistently that way and to instill those beliefs in our kids. We don’t watch much television and as a rule stay away from “R” rated movies. Yes, of course there are exceptions to any rule: for instance I love the movies Braveheart and The Patriot, and they are both rated “R” for graphic warfare.

We’re also very particular about what the kids watch, often to the consternation of school teachers and parents of friends on those spend-the-night occasions. We’ve heard all the arguments, but ultimately, BJ and I figure they’re our kids, we’ll raise them the way we think God wants us to raise them. If’n ya don’t like it, get some of your own.

But I started chasing rabbits again.

It seems some people have the attitude that when a church quits serving their needs, they just move on to the next church like trading in a new car or moving to the next spot on the salad bar. That line of thinking is also common in many who are seeking new churches when they move.

It shouldn’t be that way for someone who calls themself a “Christian.” They’re doing more harm to the church than good. And before you start thinking I’m talking about any local churches, I’m not (at least not yet)…we haven’t had the opportunity to visit that many here. I’m primarily thinking of the last time we moved and were seeking a new church home. But I suspect the thought works all over the South.

The attitude seems to be what can the church do for me. We’ve become a generation who prefer the church of me! We don’t go to praise and worship, we go to see and be seen. (sidenote: check out mechurch at: http://www.worshiphousemedia.com/. You’ll laugh so hard your side will hurt.)

Instead, we should be looking for a church that we feel most accurately interprets the Bible and (this is a biggie) is populated with people who do their very best to live out those interpretations. We should be looking for churches that are filled with believers who aren’t afraid to voice their opinions and to get involved in all levels of society, including politics. “Religion” is a Sunday thing, “Christianity” should be a 24/7 thing.

So what’s happened to the idea of service? I’m gonna steal from a former president here and say we should not be asking what the church can do for us, but instead we should ask what we can do for our church.

This may be one of those open mouth/insert foot columns. I guess I’m in trouble regardless of where we end up, huh?

Well, that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

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The hardest part of moving?

One of the things about moving is having to find all the new daily living requirements. School and job are obviously the first thing that come to mind. A new school is especially on the mind of the kids. For the first three weeks, Brett counted the number of days he’d been at his “new school.” He’d get in the car after school and I’d ask him how his X day at his new school was. After that third week, he said it wasn’t new anymore.

That’s a good thing, obviously, but there’s still a lot of new going on. We visited Mom and Dad in Piggott just the other weekend and I was able to get my hair cut again (thanks, Shelby!) and so I was able to put off finding another barber/stylist for one more cut.

BJ had to go to the doctor last week and she ended up going to the health center on campus. (For those of you who asked, she’s fine, just really bruised and sore. Nothing broken.) That’ll do in a pinch, but not sure it’ll work for our family doctor.

BJ and Brett both have dentist appointments this week and she just had to rely on the recommendations of some of the folks she works with. That’s usually how all the “new” suppliers are found, isn’t it?

Even something simple as where to buy gas for your car is something that has to be considered. We are creatures of habit and have the tendancy to find something that works and just keep doing it. Heck, if it wasn’t for Wal-Mart being in or near most small towns in the South, we might have had a sort of culture shock every where you go. Thankfully, Wal-Mart is pretty much Wal-Mart no matter where it is.

One of the toughest new things to find is a church. Folks who haven’t moved churches much…or ever (yes, I do know some folks like that)…have no idea how tough it can be. There are so many things to look for: Sunday School class, preaching, music, activities for the kids, what exactly do they believe…

And it makes it even tougher when you have a church home that you really like and then have to move. Around here, it seems you can either have your choice of a “contemporary” worship or a “traditional” worship. BJ and I like a mix–Clayton Wilbanks , a friend and music minister where we once went to church, is, in our opinion, one of the very best at getting a good mix of traditional music and contemporary music. We went to a church last week where we didn’t know any of the songs sung. Apparently very few others did as most in the congregation didn’t sing. Oh, sure, we enjoyed the drums and guitars, but I would have liked to have known about half of the songs. Hey, I listen to AFR–where did they get those songs from?

We live in such a politically correct world today that many preachers are afraid to deal with the tough issues. I certainly understand that, but we want someone who isn’t afraid to deal with the truth that is presented in the Bible. If he steps on toes, so be it.

Mostly, I think we want the people we worship with to be real. I want the people who will share the Sunday School hour and the worship hour with me to be real…real problems and issues the same as me. I don’t want fake religiosity or the “Sunday only” Christians–and there are a bunch of those at any church you go to. Sure, you don’t expect perfection, but an honest to goodness effort. Thing is, that’s just hard to tell in just a visit or two.

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