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Lenten Devotional – Day 4 – There’s a Fountain Free*

Scripture: Revelation 21:5-7

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

Do you have a pet who needs loving care and attention? My wife is diligent about pouring fresh water into the bowl for our cat, Miranda, every day.

Miranda carefully jiggles the bowl with her paw to stir up the water, healthy, fresh and clean.

Water from the faucet will not do because of the sulfur taste and smell in our well water that came with a new housing development nearby. Bottled water has become a necessity for us and the cat. Having grown up in Memphis with  its famed artesian well water, I never thought that I would buy bottled water.

Belatedly, I have come to realize that clean healthy water is not a given in most of our world.

Today, I went to the store to buy more water and considered the multitude of brands. Some claim to be from mountain streams and others merely purified. I was especially struck by one with the name Eternal. I didn’t expect such bold theological claims in a grocery store!

During this Lenten season let us remember the role of water throughout scripture from Genesis to Revelation and give thanks for our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. The Fountain of the Waters of Life without price is God’s gift to his faithful children!

Prayer: Father, we thirst for your love. May we find streams of mercy, never ceasing, at your throne of grace. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

*Mary B. C. Slade, 1876, Hymn Lyrics

  – Bill Nash Wade | Strasburg, VA

Lenten Devotional – Day 3 – A Spring of Water

Scripture: John 4:14

14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Our families, congregations, and communities all know a few things about parched land. Metaphorically speaking, we could include under-employment, high medical costs, broken promises, under-funded ministries, overwhelming needs…the list seems unending.

While our human efforts to address these earthly concerns fall short, Jesus promises Living Water to the Samaritan woman at the well, and to us. We all yearn for something more than the world has to offer; we thirst for the spring of water.

I confess that I have missed scores of opportunities to point people to Christ’s Living Water. Did I not believe that the God of creation was capable of carving a path where there was none or capable of reviving what seemed lifeless?

Maybe it is the confidence born of seeing God’s faithfulness, but I finally am becoming bolder in using words such as Jesus, bless, and hope with the people

I meet. Maybe the Holy Spirit finally can trust me with the hearts of weary souls because I know it’s not my wisdom or wit that generates springs of water or quenches deep thirst. It is the transforming love of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, our Savior.

Prayer: God of salvation, thank you for sending your Son to earth to show us your abundant mercy. Help us as we wander in the desert of sin and

brokenness to recognize the gift you wish to give to us. Grant us a glimpse of your kingdom as we turn to the cross. Help us share your Living Water. Amen.

  – Katy Yates Brungraber | Chambersburg, PA

Lenten Devotional – Day 2 – Where You Least Expect It

Scripture: Matthew 5:4

Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.

I think most of us would not expect to find the Living Water of our Lord, Jesus Christ at funerals. As I reflect back on this year, just a day after presiding for the eighth time over a Celebration of Life and Resurrection, I am certain that Christ, the Living Water, is in the midst of the bleakest of times.

In June, I remember a funeral that I presided over where the Spirit was palpable among more than a hundred mourners who gathered that day. I knew the deceased was a kind, gentle person with a quick smile and always friendly tone as she delivered her wisdom to any that might care to listen. I hoped one or two people would be willing to step up and give a warm testimony to her life.

I was pleasantly surprised as a queue of people began to line up to speak,  and they kept coming. At five, I thought this was most remarkable. At ten, I was concerned that soon people would become restless as the service was now past the one hour mark. They kept coming. A total of seventeen people came forward to give witness to the blessing of this life upon their own lives.

Prayer: Lord, we give you thanks for your presence in the Spirit, even in our darkest moments of grief. You have promised to comfort those who mourn, and you have indeed comforted us. Amen.

  – Andy Brock  |  Winchester, VA



Lenten Devotional – Day 1 – Ash Wednesday – Even the Cows are Thirsty!

Scripture: Isaiah 43:19

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

I carry my water bottle with me all the time. Literally, it’s been around the world and is a constant reminder of the amazing gift of life that water is. It’s also a reminder that this gift has not been given so generously to all. Two years ago, I spent several days in Swaziland. In almost every conversation, there was reference to drought. With no rain for weeks, rivers and wells ran dry; land was parched and trees were dying. People worried and prayed for rain continuously.

The day I left, rain came. Droplets fell fast and hard. Lightning and thunder rumbled through the mountain ranges. While driving, we passed 2 cows lying dead on the roadside. Months before, the government had advised people to slaughter their cattle because the drought was inevitable. How can you slaughter what you hold precious and your food for months to come?

Never will I be comfortable with what I viewed from my car, my car with a full tank of gas, water bottle and bag of snacks. I will never get used to the fact that we live in a world that is parched, where people do not have water, food or a sense of security.

Driving further down the road, the rain slowed, and cows rushed to the edge of the road to drink from the small rain puddles. Biblical stories about water and hope flooded my mind, that God provided puddles for cows to drink, and provides a way through the parched desert with constant hope in times of trial.

Prayer: Lord, may our Lenten journey guide us with steadfast hope to the Living Water. Amen.

  – Dawn Barnes | Indianapolis, IN


The Slippery Slope of Families Attending Church Less

As a follow-up to two recent articles addressing folks who no longer attend church regularly, here are some suggestions from Dale Hudson for those of us who are active about how to reach out to our inactive brothers and sisters.

They are sending a message that says learning God’s Word is not a priority.

They are raising children who will be Biblically illiterate.

They are raising children who will have a very shallow faith that cannot stand under pressure.

So what can we who attend church on a regular basis do?

How can we help parents bring their children to church faithfully?

How can we help parents invest in their children during the week?

How can we encourage parents to make Jesus the center of their schedule?

Speak into their life early on.  You may or may not be able to change the priorities of parents who have elementary kids.  But you can speak into the lives of young parents who have nursery and preschool children.  You can plant spiritual truth into their life through a Parent & Child Dedication class, a parenting class, social media posts, YouTube videos and more.  Here’s a great resource for Parent & Child Dedication class that has seen great fruit among parents. 

Young parents are looking for guidance, insight and resources for this new role they find themselves in.  Influence them early on and you can help them make Sunday a priority.

Make church irresistible for kids.  Pester Power is a real influence on parents.  When a kid decides he or she wants to go somewhere or do something, they will pester their parents until they get what they want.

I made the mistake one time of not getting batteries ahead of time for a gift I bought for my son at Christmas.  He was about 5 years old at the time.  When he found out we needed batteries, he begin asking me over and over and over and over, when we would get the batteries.  He kept pestering me until I went and found a store that was open on Christmas day and bought him some batteries.

If you will make church the place to be on Sunday mornings, kids will drag their parents with them to church.  Remember, “a child shall lead them.”

Show parents how important it is to make Jesus the center of their life.

Jesus doesn’t just want to rent a room in our life.  He wants to move in and do a total makeover.

The Bible says in Matthew 6:33 that if we will seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

What does that look like when it comes to attending church?  It means Sunday morning at church is not something we do if there’s nothing else on the schedule.  Rather, it’s at the top of the list.  No questions asked.  Sunday morning belongs to God and His house.

Encourage parents to walk the talk.  We must help them remember that…

“Our kids may not always do what we say, but they never fail to emulate what we do.”

We must realize that if we make church a second or third option on Sunday, our kids are going to grow up rarely or never attending church.

When we don’t model this, we are placing the next generation on a slippery slope.  Forsaking God’s house when we are commanded to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together” is sending a message to the next generation that coming together for worship is not necessary to have a growing, strong relationship with Jesus.

Let’s leave them a legacy of loving God, putting Him first, walking with Jesus and making church a top priority.

Central Church’s Congregation welcomes you!

Preparation for Lent – A Mardi Gras Prayer

Mardi GrasToday is Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) and Carnival (“Farewell to Meat”), which precedes Ash Wednesday and Lent around the world, even where Lent has ceased to have much religious meaning.  It was natural to develop a festival, a “last fling,” before the prayerful fasting and abstinence of Lent.

How can we give this day before Ash Wednesday some religious meaning for us?

It may be that we are going to a Mardi Gras party and there will be much feasting.  Our country may celebrate Carnival with gusto.  Perhaps we can have a special family dinner together, with meat.

Lent 4What’s important is that we let our feasting anticipate our fasting.  One way to do that is to begin to focus on the meaning of the day, when we first get up. 

It can create a sense of anticipation all day, that something very new is about to begin tomorrow.

We can prepare for whatever we will do, no matter how purely “social” or simply ordinary our day will be.  Knowing why we go to a party, or enjoying the planning or preparation for a special meal, will add much meaning to this day.

Our Prayer

In these or similar words, we can pray in the spirit of this day.

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,
for it is from your goodness that we have this day
to celebrate on the threshold of the Season of Lent.

Tomorrow we will fast and abstain from meat.
Today we feast.
We thank you for the abundance of gifts you shower upon us.
We thank you especially for one another.
As we give you thanks,
we are mindful of those who have so much less than we do.
As we share these wonderful gifts together,
we commit ourselves to greater generosity toward those
who need our support.

Prepare us for tomorrow.
Tasting the fullness of what we have today,
let us experience some hunger tomorrow.
May our fasting make us more alert
and may it heighten our consciousness
so that we might be ready to hear your Word
and respond to your call.

As our feasting fills us with gratitude
so may our fasting and abstinence hollow out in us
a place for deeper desires
and an attentiveness to hear the cry of the poor.
May our self-denial turn our hearts to you
and give us a new freedom for
generous service to others.

We ask you these graces
with our hearts full of delight
and stirring with readiness for the journey ahead.
We ask them with confidence
in the name of Jesus the Lord. 


Lent 2020 – Daily Devotions

During the 40 days of Lent, many friends “fast” from Facebook or Instagram until they return with the Hallelujahs on Easter Sunday.

The practice of stepping away from our curated, digital selves during Lent resonates with Jesus’ call in Matthew 6 to focus less on being seen by others.

For those of us who will be continuing on Facebook throughout Lent this year, Central Church will be providing a quick thumbnail of Daily Devotionals each day on our Facebook page with links to Central’s website for each full devotional.

  •  Join us each day during this season of spiritual reflection and preparation this year as we move through Lent toward the glory of Easter!

What is Lent?

Lent 4Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday, the day of Mardi Gras.  This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the day that begins the 40 days of Lent (not counting Sundays). 

Did you ever wonder what these terms mean?   Well, here’s the scoop!

Mardi Gras – is a French word pronounced: märd grä, the last day before the fasting season of Lent.  It is the French name for Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

Literally translated, the term means “Fat Tuesday” and is so called because it represents the last opportunity for merrymaking and excessive indulgence in food and drink before the solemn season of fasting.

Ash Wednesday – is the first day of Lent.  On this day, ashes are placed onto the foreheads of the faithful to remind them of Christ’s death, of the sorrow one should feel for their sins, and of the necessity of repenting, which is turning from your sins and turning to God.

Ash Wednesday, is so called from the ceremony of placing ashes on the forehead as a sign of penitence.  The ashes are obtained from burned palm branches from the Palm Sunday of the previous year.

The ashes are placed onto the foreheads of the officiating clergy, and the congregation, while saying: “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”

Many believe the practice of placing ashes onto the forehead began in 1091 A.D. by the Roman Catholic Church.  However, the custom of placing ashes onto the head as a sign of repentance dates back to Old Testament times:

“So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. Daniel 9:3-5

See also, Esther 4:1-3, Job 2:8; Job 4:2-6, and Isaiah 58:5.


Lent– from Old English ‘lencten=spring’, Latin ‘Quadragesima’.

In Christianity, Lent is a time of penance, prayer, preparation for, or recollection of baptism, and preparation for the celebration of Easter.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, the 40th weekday before Easter.  Of the Sundays in Lent the fifth is Passion Sunday and the last is Palm Sunday.

The week preceding Easter is Holy Week. Lent ends at midnight, Holy Saturday.

Lent may also have a parallel in the Jewish Omer, the interval between Passover and Shavuot that has become a time of semi-mourning and sadness.  During the weeks of the Omer period, Jews in some communities refrain from wearing new clothes and there are no marriages or other public festivities.

Although we are almost to the beginning of this special season, remember that Jesus wants all of our hearts and lives–everyday–not just during the 40 days of Lent.

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2:11-14.

Fat Tuesday – Booster or Buster?

Key Bible Verse: You yourselves are our witnesses—and so is God—that we were pure and honest and faultless toward all of you. 1 Thessalonians 2:10

Bonus Reading: Ephesians 4:17-24

All too often, when talking with a guy who’s a believer, I hear statements like, “WMardi Grase had a great service last weekend. Pastor hit the nail on the head. I’d be there this Sunday, but I’m going to Vegas.”

For me, hearing this statement is like scratching a fingernail across a chalkboard. I know that are some decent shows there, but when I hear “Vegas,” my mind goes to gambling, sensuality, and organized crime. “What happens here stays here.” Sin City.

I believe when most unbelievers hear statements like this or “I’m going to Mardi Gras” they have the same reaction. It’s a witness buster. An unbeliever can conclude, “He’s just like me” or “He’s worse than me.” It will at least arouse his suspicion. Christ doesn’t appear to be directing and altering that person’s life. Multiply this statement by thousands like it across our country, and the gospel is severely undermined.

How much better for an unbeliever to hear, “This weekend I’m going on retreat to a Christian camp to recharge my batteries. It’ll be a lot of fun too.” Or “A bunch of us guys from church are going to repair a home for a single mother this weekend. We’re looking forward to helping her out.” Witness boosters.

—James Hilt in Wisconsin

My Response: How do my pursuits validate or cast doubt on my faith claim?

Prayer for the Week: Lord, give me the discernment and determination to make my conduct consistent with my beliefs.


Tried and True – Christian Life

christian-lifeIn Titus 1:5-9, Paul presented a well-thought-out checklist of qualities required to become a church leader.

A list he wrote for the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 3:2-7) is nearly identical. In both, the qualifications mostly involve character, rather than knowledge or skill.

Of course, these standards make an excellent yardstick by which all believers can measure their effort and self-discipline.

Interact with God’s Word:  Titus 1:5-9

  1. Why (v. 6) is a man’s reputation of primary importance?
  2. How does how a man’s treatment of his family provide a window into his character?
  3. Christian workers and volunteers sometimes think their work so important that it justifies ignoring their families. How do these standards deal with that view?
  4. How (v. 7) does a man’s lifestyle figure into his fitness to lead?
  5. How (v. 8) can you tell if a person is wise and fair?
  6. Self-discipline is essential for achieving “a blameless life.” What are the characteristics of a self-disciplined man?
  7. The last criterion listed (v. 9) is strong belief. How strong and steadfast is your confidence in the gospel?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for the self-discipline to enable you to live the devout and disciplined life Paul describes in this passage.

Titus 1:5-9

I left you on the island of Crete so you could complete our work there and appoint elders in each town as I instructed you. 6 An elder must live a blameless life. He must be faithful to his wife, and his children must be believers who don’t have a reputation for being wild or rebellious. 7 For an elder must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money.

8 Rather, he must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life. 9 He must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong.

Prayer for the Week: Ask God for the resolve and discipline to be consistently faithful with routine matters in ordinary times.



Tried and True – Blokes Worth Watching

christian-lifeKey Bible Verse: What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:2 ESV

Bonus Reading: 1 Timothy 1:12-14

Paul charges Timothy to select some—not all—to entrust with the ministry of gospel multiplication. So, whom to select? The criterion could not be simpler: it’s “faithful men.” A man who is trustworthy, dependable.

Paul (in today’s Bonus Reading) gives faithfulness as the reason that God chose him for ministry. Likewise, those Paul personally selected to minister alongside him were often listed as faithful. Of Timothy he writes, “he is my beloved and trustworthy child in the Lord”  (1 Corinthians 4:17).

He speaks similarly of his associate Tychicus, calling him a “faithful helper in the Lord’s work” (Ephesians 6:21).

Onesimus, Paul says, “is a faithful and much loved brother” (Colossians 4:9), and he calls Epaphras “Christ’s faithful servant” (Col. 1:7).

Of course whether someone is faithful isn’t always immediately clear. How can you tell? Phillip Jensen, dean of St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney, Australia, has a category of young men he calls “Blokes Worth Watching.” These are men to test against the descriptions of faithfulness in Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Those who measure up may be entrusted with the gospel ministry.

—Jon Dennis in Preach the Word

My Response: Who do I know who would measure up for ministry? Would I?

Thought to Apply: God has no larger field for the man who is not faithfully doing his work where he is. —source unknown

Adapted from Preach the Word (Crossway, 2007)

Prayer for the Week: Ask God for the resolve and discipline to be consistently faithful with routine matters in ordinary times.



Tried and True – Courage Where It Counts

christian-lifeKey Bible Verse: Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.  – James 4:17

Bonus Reading: Luke 12:42-47

The problem with looking to Hollywood for the image of masculinity (even those true-to-life stories of courage) is that it feeds my desire for glory. Courage isn’t only in the big accomplishments. It’s in the small acts too.

When I leave the theater and scratch the car door next to me getting into my car, my decision about whether or not to leave a note admitting my mistake isn’t glorious. Nobody will make a movie about my choice. I can hide if I choose to. But situations like this shape our courage and virtue.

Or imagine leaving the theater and returning home to a wife who is sexually unresponsive. Or perpetually angry. Or domineering. Or unkempt. The temptation to find release and fulfillment elsewhere can be overwhelming. Escape promises what reality can’t provide. Our response in that moment can be just as courageous as what we do when we decide to protect a fallen pilot or storm a cockpit.

Courage is visiting our moms and dads and caring for them as they grow older instead of abandoning them to others’ care. Courage is integrity in business when no one else sees it, or keeping my promise when I’d rather do anything else. Hollywood doesn’t make movies about this true masculine courage.

—Mike Erre in Why Guys Need God

My Response: Although no one will see, I need to practice integrity by …

Thought to Apply: When faithfulness is most difficult, it is most necessary. —source unknown

Adapted from Why Guys Need God (Harvest, 2008)

Prayer for the Week: Ask God for the resolve and discipline to be consistently faithful with routine matters in ordinary times.



Tried and True – Chance Encounter

christian-lifeKey Bible Verse: The wise, when rebuked, will love you all the more.  – Proverbs 9:8

Bonus Reading: Proverbs 9:7-12

As Lauren and I walked through Rome in the summer of 2005, we passed a guy who looked awfully familiar. “Coach Dungy!” he called out. “It’s me! Regan Upshaw.”

Regan was vacationing in Italy with his wife and children, just as we were. After we made introductions all around, Regan brought up our time together with the Buccaneers.

“Coach, I just want to thank you,” he said. “I remember how you were always talking about responsibility and doing things right off the field. Why are you on me about all this stuff that doesn’t matter? I thought.

But those things you were telling us are the reason I’m married today and why my kids are doing so well. They made no sense to me at the time, but they do now. I can’t thank you enough for staying on me.”

The next time I saw Regan was at our hotel the night before the Super Bowl. Tarik Glenn, our Pro Bowl offensive tackle, had been Regan’s teammate at the University of California, and Regan had come to see him play.

Once again, Regan thanked Lauren and me for the example we’d been to him and then joined Tarik at our chapel service. I saw a real difference in Regan—ten years after missing those appearances at that fourth-grade class.

—Tony Dungy in Quiet Strength

My Response: Do I resent or appreciate someone who points out a flaw in my behavior?

Thought to Apply: Nothing in life can take the place of dependability. Brilliance, genius, competence—all are subservient to the quality of faithfulness. —Wallace Fridy

Adapted from Christian Reader (9-10/01).

Prayer for the Week: Ask God for the resolve and discipline to be consistently faithful with routine matters in ordinary times.



Tried and True – Little Symptoms, Big Problems

christian-lifeKey Bible Verse: Those who … keep their promises even when it hurts… . Such people will stand firm forever. Psalm 15:4-5

Bonus Reading: Psalm 15:1-5

I was upset the Wednesday before our game against the Raiders, but not about our losing streak. Two players had missed personal appearances. Errict Rhett was 30 minutes late for a car dealership autograph session.

Regan Upshaw missed a fourth-grade class visit, rescheduled after missing his first appointment! I’d just read a letter from that teacher. She’d explained Regan’s first absence as a misunderstanding. Now, reading about the class’s disappointment when he didn’t show up the second time, I was beside myself.

I began the team meeting by telling the guys we weren’t going to talk football. Instead, I related the incidents involving Rhett and Upshaw. “Forget the Raiders,” I told them; “we need to focus on us—our own accountability. Obviously your word isn’t important to you if it doesn’t involve football. But we’ll never win consistently until you ditch that attitude.”

Errict and Regan weren’t the disease, I told the team, but symptoms. Too many of our guys were unwilling to give 100 percent if they didn’t think it was important. “Champions know it’s all important,” I said. “Knowing I can count on you is just as important to me as your talent. Finding excuses for not doing what you’re supposed to do is what creates a losing environment.”

—Tony Dungy in Quiet Strength

My Response: What “off-the-field” area in my life needs shaping up?

Thought to Apply: Privilege accepted should be responsibility accepted—Madeleine L’Engle (author)

Adapted from Quiet Strength (Tyndale, 2007)

Prayer for the Week: Ask God for the resolve and discipline to be consistently faithful with routine matters in ordinary times.



Seriously, It’s Time to Stop Whining and Get Your Butts to Church

For those of you who can’t seem to find a way around giving up Sunday mornings to whatever distraction seems so important, well, if you try a little bit, you might find a way to get yourselves there anyway.

There are churches and parishes in practically any metro area that hold services and Masses on Saturday evening or later in the day on Sunday.

Hopefully it’s not some stupid contemporary pop worship service – keep scrolling if it is and find a service that’s more faithful to true Christian worship.  If a particular church isn’t your first choice, try sucking it up and going anyway.  They probably love Jesus there, too, and I’m sure they’d love to have a few more butts in their pews.

If you’re rooted in a free-to-low church tradition, this might be a bit harder for you, and it’s probably time for you to start moving up in the liturgical world a little bit, anyway.

But if you insist on staying low, you might find a Baptist church somewhere that still does a Sunday evening service. The problem with these places is that they tend to be full of people who think you should be in church both Sunday morning and Sunday night, and they will probably judge you on the spot, and frighten you with rude expressions. I know this from 24 years of personal Baptist experience.

Basically, you need to quit your whining and just figure it out like an adult.

Or maybe, this. I have a sneaking suspicion that, if you’re still giving me and the rest of the world excuses about why you can’t go to church, you don’t really want to go in the first place, and you’re just jumping at every possible excuse as it arises to get yourself out of it.

I get it.  I tried the same thing when I was a kid and didn’t want to go back to my massive, self-worshiping McCongregation on Sunday night after being subjected to 800 repetitions of “Shout to the Lord” that very morning.  And, I confess, I’ve tried it more recently, too.

If this is you, and you know who you are, you should probably stop calling yourself a Christian, since you don’t see the value in being a part of Christ’s church.  I’m not saying you’re not “saved,” or something. God will deal with your heart as he deems fit, and that part’s between you and he.

But no, seriously, you might not really want to be a Christian, anyway, so it might be an appropriate move.

Consider this:

Nowhere is the Church more itself than in liturgy.

  • That’s when we’re called out of our little places in the world into visible fellowship with God’s covenant people.
  • That’s when we hear God’s Word proclaimed.
  • That’s when we partake in the Meal that Jesus himself gave us.
  • And that’s when we’re sent back out, renewed and strengthened, into the mission field of our regular lives.

Baseball doesn’t do this.  Neither does gymnastics.  Neither does the golf course.

No, you can’t worship God anywhere, as professing Christians these days love to say, at least not in the corporate sense.

If you don’t want to be a part of liturgy somewhere, you’re trying to get out of the most important part of the Christian life.  So maybe just renounce your faith, and take up tennis or something.  Catch up on your sleep.  Have a leisurely morning of coffee and crossword.

Now, I hope and pray that none of you actually wish to renounce your faith.  But I also pray that you take a look deep within your soul and think about what it is you’ve signed up for by calling yourself a follower of Christ, and consider how your cavalier approach to worship is helping your live that out.

By all means, whatever else you love and are able to do, whatever else you’re called to do, whatever else you find to do as part of your life’s work, do that with a sense of worship and service to God.  Those can be acts of worship, too.  But they don’t take the place of liturgy in your life.

So, as my evangelical colleague Anne Kennedy recently said, “Get some liturgy.”

For you and your children.

And for the sake of the whole world.

Tried and True – Good Faith Offer

christian-lifeWho Said It … Fred Smith Sr.

Before establishing his food packaging brokerage in Dallas, Fred Smith Sr. was vice president of operations for Gruen Watch Company and consultant to Mobil, Caterpillar, and Genesco.

Fred was a Christianity Today International board member, and a contributing editor for Leadership journal for 20 years.

As a mentor, Fred had few equals. He died in 2007 at age 91, but his sage advice can still be savored in his book, Breakfast with Fred (Regal, 2007).

What He Said … Good Faith Offer

Sanctification flows into the Christian’s life not from the pump of works to manipulate God’s favor but through the pipe of faith.  By faith he looks to the Scriptures for principles to live by.  Every time he puts them into practice, he is living by faith.

One time when I was in negotiations with the steelworkers’ union, our lawyer was convinced that they were going on strike.  Therefore he recommended that we not make an offer because it would be used as the basis for the next negotiation.

As I left home to go to the meeting, I did something I’d never done before.  I opened the Bible and read the first verse I saw: “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them” (Proverbs 3:27).

I knew what my decision would be.  Against the lawyer’s recommendation, I opted to make a reasonable offer.

To our amazement, the union members readily accepted it. So we avoided a strike.  I felt that I had been given divine guidance.

Adapted from Breakfast with Fred (Regal, 2007)

Prayer for the Week: Ask God for the resolve and discipline to be consistently faithful with routine matters in ordinary times.



Tried and True – Heart Conditioning

christian-lifeKey Bible Verse: Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.  – Proverbs 4:23

Bonus Reading: Hebrews 12:11-13

As I consulted with the leadership team of a major medical system’s cardiac care division, I was startled by what one nurse told me. Modern medicine, she said, can repair or even replace a heart and save a person’s life—but only temporarily.

“We can repair the heart,” she asserted, “but we can’t change the behavior or the environment.” Many patients return to an environment that encourages the poor eating habits that contributed to their first attack. The hearts of patients who fail to replace old habits with new ones will grow weaker over time.

Our spiritual situation is similar. Out of his endless love for us, God gave us new hearts with the capacity to hear his guidance and overcome any obstacle we face.

But he didn’t give us new hearts so we could revert to our previous way of living. He gave them so we could see through deception and choose to do the right thing. It’s up to us to change our thinking, amend our habits, make new choices, and find our path in life.

A heart, if not exercised, will weaken and atrophy. A heart that is nourished and exercised will grow healthy and strong. We exercise our hearts every day by being obedient to his call.

—Larry Julian in God Is My Success

My Response: A habit that undermines the health of my God-given new heart is …

Adapted from Breakfast with Fred (Warner Faith, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Ask God for the resolve and discipline to be consistently faithful with routine matters in ordinary times.



Your Child Won’t Be a Pro Gymnast, So Why Are You Missing Church?

During my own youth, which really wasn’t long ago, stuff didn’t happen on Sunday mornings, evenings, or Wednesday nights. Sports, music events, whatever.

And if it did, I missed it. I didn’t get to play baseball. I didn’t get to sing. I didn’t get to go. Or, at least, I’d get there late or leave early. No questions asked.

In general, at least in the buckle of the Bible Belt, the prevailing culture respected this. Though there is much about my religious background I’d rather forget, this is one of those important things that has stayed with me.

I’m not going to be the one that will condemn anyone for missing a Sunday here or there. Even in my current life as a professional Christian (i.e. one who is paid to be in church), I get to take an occasional mental health Sunday, though I will generally worship somewhere else on that day.

I respect the fact that church is extraordinarily difficult for many. There may be seasons when Sunday mornings are a non-negotiable for work. Don’t forget that there are plenty of churches offering services and Masses at other times over the weekend. It might not be convenient, it might be exhausting, but it’s certainly possible.

Seeing as how this is something we do every week, you can’t argue, as some might wish, that once or twice a month constitutes regular church attendance. Or attending whenever dance competition season winds down. Or when baseball season winds down. Or when the show closes. Or when out-of-town family leaves. What you’re teaching your kids is that you should go to church if no other important things are happening in your lives. In other words, you’re teaching them that church really isn’t that important.

(Oh, and as a fan myself, I’m here to tell you that baseball is not meant to be a year-round sport. Tommy John surgery at 16 is not normal. For the love, stop burning your kid’s poor arm out.)

Regular church attendance is being there practically every time health and weather permit. The church’s liturgy, regardless of popular opinion, isn’t merely one particular way in which a person of faith can worship or find strength. It isn’t supposed to be just another church ministry, a way in which we bait and switch outsiders into nominally aligning themselves with us for a time, before they too stop coming regularly.

No, friends. The worship gathering is central to the Christian life. Your children need to participate in worship more than they need all those other activities. Imperfect as each individual body is, the church is perfected by the work of Christ. It’s the only place in which you and your children can be fully nourished as gospel people. And if they have to go without some extracurriculars, even if they are otherwise valid pursuits, so be it. That’s a sacrifice God’s people are called to make.

The church is complicit in this, no doubt about it.

By refusing to catechize people on the importance of liturgy, we’ve de facto taught them the opposite lesson.

By creating a smorgasbord of “worship” options, we’ve made worship completely optional.

By making worship all pop music and no Word and Sacrament, we’ve taught them that they can get everything they think they need from a podcast and some jesusy records.

But we parents ought to know better. It’s our duty to know better, even. If our kids don’t understand the discipline of weekly worship, that’s completely, unequivocally on us. If we don’t teach them the importance of liturgy, especially as it grows more into the counter culture, who will?

Look around you, parents. There’s nobody else.

Two, Four, Six, Eight; Who Do We Appreciate? – Be a Positive Force to Others

Be a Positive Force to OthersThe salutations of the letters Paul wrote to fledgling churches and to ministry colleagues were far from routine.  They revealed that he was out to do more than present theoretical truth.

He was addressing individuals he cared about deeply, with whom he’d forged strong ties, and for whom he wrestled in prayer.

Interact with God’s Word:  1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4; Romans 1:8; Ephesians 1:15; Philippians 1:3-5; 2 Timothy 1:3-4

  1. In each greeting, what does Paul say about his feelings toward his letter readers? How do you think this affected their openness to his instructions?
  2. What aspects of the Thessalonians’ faith (1 Thess. 1:3) did he single out to thank God for?
  3. What was the environment in which the Thessalonian believers (2 Thess. 1:3-4) were “flourishing”?
  4. What qualities of the Ephesians did he commend?
  5. Paul maintained that he constantly interceded for those he wrote to. Do you think this was a figure of speech or actually true?
  6. Are you surprised by the intensity of Paul’s loneliness for his understudy Timothy?
  7. What were Paul’s prayer requests for his fellow believers? (See also Ephesians 1:16-19.)

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to help you model Paul’s example of generous praise and fervent prayer for fellow Jesus followers.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

2 We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly. 3 As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Thessalonians 1:3-4

3 Dear brothers and sisters, we can’t help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing. 4 We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering.

Romans 1:8

8 Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world.

Ephesians 1:15

15 Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere …

Philippians 1:3-5

3 Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5 for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.

2 Timothy 1:3-4

3 Timothy, I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did. Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again.

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, how to mirror you by becoming a positive force in the lives of my family and acquaintances.



Two, Four, Six, Eight; Who Do We Appreciate? – Royal Treatment

Be a Positive Force to OthersKey Bible Verse: If your gift is to encourage others, do it!  – Romans 12:8

Bonus Reading: Proverbs 25:11-13

The first time I met the pastor of Parkway Hills Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, was at a prearranged lunch discussion. I soon realized that this man had a magnetic personality that made people just want to be around him. As we entered the restaurant together, we were greeted by the maitre d’, a man who spoke with a heavy foreign accent.

In the blink of an eye, Pastor Dennis was placing his hand on this man’s shoulder and saying, “Sir, I don’t believe I’ve had the opportunity to meet you. My name is Sam Dennis. This is the fourth time I’ve been here, and I want to tell you how impressed I am with how you treat everyone who walks in your doors. You always greet them with a smile and a word of kindness. I think the owner of this place should give you a big raise, and if he’s here, I’ll tell him so myself.”

Talk about making someone’s day! The maitre d’ was smiling like he’d just won the lottery. I was completely dumbfounded as I watched this unfold.

“And by the way,” Sam added, “I’m the pastor of a church down the street, and we’d love to have you be our special guest. If you’ll come, I’d be honored to have you and your family sit with me and my family.”

—Greg Vaughn in Letters from Dad

My Response: A person whose day I could make if I gave him a word of appreciation is ____.

Thought to Apply: Appreciative words are the most powerful force for good on earth! —George W. Crane (columnist)

Adapted from Letters from Dad (Integrity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, how to mirror you by becoming a positive force in the lives of my family and acquaintances.



Two, Four, Six, Eight; Who Do We Appreciate? – Words Left Unsaid

Be a Positive Force to OthersKey Bible Verse: How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy in the presence of God.  – 1 Thessalonians 3:9

Bonus Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20

As a youngster, I ached to hear my dad tell me, “Lee, I’m proud of you. You’re really special to me.” I hungered to hear him say, “Son, I really like who you are.”

Not hearing any of that from him created a wound in me that I eventually tried to heal through workaholism, striving to earn from him the respect I so needed.

My dad died while I was away at law school. I flew back for the wake. As I sat by myself, a steady stream of my dad’s friends, none of whom I knew, stopped by to greet me. “Are you Wally’s son? Oh, he was so proud of you. He used to brag about you all the time. When you went off to Yale Law School, he was just thrilled. When you’d have a byline in the Tribune, he was always showing it to everybody. He couldn’t stop talking about you! You were such an important part of his life.”

I sat there stunned. I had no idea my dad felt that way. He hadn’t told me. I had to wait until he was dead to find out. What would it have done to our relationship if he’d told me himself while we still had time together?

The lesson is this: never assume that your friend, wife, or child knows how you feel about them. Tell them!

—Lee Strobel in God’s Outrageous Claims

My Response: I realize I need to let ____ hear me say, “I’m proud of you.”

Thought to Apply:I don’t care how great, how famous or successful a man or woman may be, each hungers for applause. —George M. Adams (columnist)

Adapted from God’s Outrageous Claims (Zondervan, 1997, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, how to mirror you by becoming a positive force in the lives of my family and acquaintances.



Two, Four, Six, Eight; Who Do We Appreciate? – Soaking Up the Praise

Be a Positive Force to OthersKey Bible Verse: Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. Proverbs 16:24

Bonus Reading: Deuteronomy 3:28, Proverbs 15:23, Ephesians 4:29

James was out on his first “daddy/daughter date” with his four year old. They’d gone to a local fast-food restaurant where his daughter ordered pancakes.

When the food came, the father took her hand in his and prayed for the food. He then told her, “I want you to know how much I love you and how special your are to Mom and me. We couldn’t be prouder of the wonderful girl you’re growing up to be. If we lined up every girl your age in the whole city—and we could pick only one—guess who we’d choose every time? You!”

Finished, James released his daughter’s hand and picked up his fork, but he never got the fork to his mouth. His daughter reached out her little hand and laid it on top of his. In a soft voice, she pleaded, “Longer, Daddy. Longer.”

After James listed more reasons and ways they loved her, he finally got to eat his breakfast. But that morning his daughter was hungrier for his words of praise than pancakes.

Did all that affirmation really make a difference? A few weeks later, this same daughter ran up to her mother, jumped in her arms, and spontaneously said, “Mommy, I’m a really special daughter. Daddy told me so.”

—John Trent in Christian Parenting Today

My Response: Today I’ll look for and voice something praiseworthy for each family member.

Thought to Apply: Let’s play darts, Dad. I’ll throw and you say, “Great shot!” —a little boy

Adapted from Christian Parenting Today (Summer/05).

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, how to mirror you by becoming a positive force in the lives of my family and acquaintances.



Two, Four, Six, Eight; Who Do We Appreciate? – Doghouse Blues

Be a Positive Force to OthersKey Bible Verse: We were as gentle among you as a mother feeding and caring for her own children.1 Thessalonians 2:7

Bonus Reading: 2 Corinthians 2:5-8

After we’d been married for a year, Steve and I decided we’d get a puppy. McPherson, a young, untrained German shepherd/Australian shepherd mix, had a lot to learn. So did we.

Like all puppies, McPherson loved to chew. He chewed on Steve’s work boots until he put a hole in one. We showed him the shoe and scolded, “Bad dog!” He looked at us with his big, brown puppy eyes and slunk away.

Another time I was baking a special pie for Steve. McPherson jumped up at the table and swiped the mixing bowl with his paw. Sticky, sweet apples splattered across the kitchen floor. Again I yelled, “bad dog!” and shooed him outside. We yelled at McPherson a lot more than we hugged him. Soon his puppy spirit was broken. He didn’t play with us as much. He no longer looked us in the eyes with his puppy smile.

We finally realized we were doing things wrong and asked others for advice. McPherson, they told us, needed to hear “good dog” to know what he was doing right. He needed more approval than correction, and the correction should be gentle. We took the advice. Soon McPherson was running, jumping, and joyful again. He could see and hear that we loved him.

—Connie Fleishauer in Four Paws from Heaven

My Response: To motivate more by approval than by correction, I’ll …

Thought to Apply: Praise loudly, blame softly.  —Russian saying

Adapted from Four Paws from Heaven (Harvest, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, how to mirror you by becoming a positive force in the lives of my family and acquaintances.



Two, Four, Six, Eight; Who Do We Appreciate? – How I Became a Math Whiz

Be a Positive Force to OthersKey Bible Verse: I have the highest confidence in you, and my pride in you is great.  – 2 Corinthians 7:4

Bonus Reading: 2 Corinthians 7:13b-14; 8:16-17

I was poor in math until I hit eighth grade. For some now unfathomable reason, I found it easier to cheat and get failing grades than study and get passing grades. My math teacher caught me cheating but never told my parents. He had the grace to help me see the difference between what I was becoming and what I could be.

He came alongside with helps that appropriately addressed self-esteem, learning skills, and socialization. I was pretty much an introvert in those days. What he did was always exude optimism about my potential and the inevitability of becoming an A student. He created a space into which dropped hope. I became as hopeful as he was.

He sheltered me from the ridicule of other students and the rejection of my parents, and had nothing but confident expectation in my ability to succeed. I did succeed. To this day I’m the math whiz in the family. I never cheated again.

My world is a far different place now, not simply because I succeeded at junior high math. It’s different because in the eighth grade someone breathed hope into my life—and showed me how to breathe it into the lives of others. When I became a believer a decade later, this lesson took on new meaning.

—Jeff Jernigan in The Power of a Loving Man

My Response: Someone whose life I could breathe hope into is ____.

Adapted from The Power of a Loving Man (B&H Publishers, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, how to mirror you by becoming a positive force in the lives of my family and acquaintances.



Two, Four, Six, Eight; Who Do We Appreciate? – Infectious Quality

Be a Positive Force to OthersWho Said It … Tim Stafford

Tim Stafford started his writing career with Ignite Your Faith magazine (then Youth for Christ’s Campus Life). He moved his family to Kenya and founded Step magazine, for Christian youth in Africa.

With Philip Yancey, he co-authored notes for the popular Student Bible. Now a senior writer for Christianity Today, Tim has written many books. He lives in Santa Rosa, California, with his wife Popie, a counselor.

What He Said … Infectious Quality

I learned about affirmation from the woman who became my wife. She and a circle of friends blew the cover off my guarded words. When they saw something they liked in someone, they just said it. They showed appreciation with hugs and smiles. They were so free and warm some people didn’t know how to take it. But everyone who came into their circle was delighted.

I could see stiffness and cynicism falling off others as they fumbled to acknowledge the compliments given to them. I saw their lives begin to open up and respond. For the first time, I realized that affirming words were more than a social grace. They had the power to change lives and relationships.

Almost without my realizing it, a response was awakened in me. I began to do my own share of affirmation. One friend told me he was quite startled at the bloom of compliments, hugs, and pats from me. Appreciation can spread from one person to another and through a whole community. But somebody has to start it.

Adapted from Personal God (Zondervan, 2007)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, how to mirror you by becoming a positive force in the lives of my family and acquaintances.




72% of U.S. Pastors Concerned About ‘watered-down gospel’

In a new study that kicks off its “State of the Church 2020” project, Barna Group reveals that U.S. pastors are most concerned about “reaching a younger audience” at the local level and “watered-down gospel teachings” and increased secularization at the national level.

For the survey, titled “What’s on the Minds of America’s Pastors,” Barna interviewed more than 500 U.S. senior pastors about their top concerns—both for their own church and for the American Christian church as a whole. Researchers plan to “dive deeper into the findings” throughout 2020, using new technology in conjunction with its first “State of the Church” report in 10 years.

Pastors’ Concerns at the Congregational Level

Slightly more than half (51 percent) of U.S. Protestant pastors report that “reaching a younger audience” is a major issue within their ministry. (Twelve percent list it as the top concern, while one-third list it as a top-three concern.)

Following close behind at 50 percent is a concern about “declining or inconsistent outreach and evangelism.” According to Barna, those results match up with its recent finding that increasing numbers of Christian Millennials aren’t fans of sharing their faith.

Pastors’ other top concerns for their own churches include “declining or inconsistent volunteering” (36 percent), “stagnating spiritual growth” (34 percent), “declining attendance” (33 percent), and “biblical illiteracy” (29 percent). At the bottom of the list are concerns about real-estate matters, economic models, and multi-campus management.

Pastors’ Concerns at the National Level: Secularization

When asked about the U.S. Christian church as a whole, pastors express the most concern about issues related to secularization. The top two matters they cite are “watered-down gospel teachings” (72 percent) and “culture’s shift to a secular age” (66 percent). Those are followed by “poor discipleship models” (63 percent) and “addressing complex social issues with biblical integrity” (58 percent).

On a big-picture level, 56 percent of pastors say they’re concerned about “reaching a younger audience” with the gospel in America. Barna states: “When paired with data about aging pastors, the growing group of atheists, agnostics, and ‘nones,’ and declining church attendance among younger generations, faith leaders may well be getting a glimpse of the next generation’s tenuous relationship to the church.”

Other notable concerns at the national level include “prosperity gospel teachings” (56 percent), “political polarization in the country” (51 percent), and “church leader burnout/exhaustion” (40 percent). At the bottom of the list are concerns about challenges to the traditional church model and keeping up with technology trends.

Big-picture concerns about American Christianity garnered a stronger response than local concerns did. That, Barna notes, “alludes to many of the opportunities, debates, and divisions taking place within the church right now, from leader burnout to church abuse scandals to women’s roles in ministry.”

  • During a free webcast on April 28, Barna plans to launch new research and resources for church leaders.  It will release the complete 2020 “State of the Church” results and introduce “Barna ChurchPulse,” a personalized church-assessment tool that offers pastors congregational insights that go beyond attendance records and giving statements.




Effective Stewardship – Month #18

God expects Christians to pay their taxes,

since the government is ordained and authorized by God.

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s,

and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21).


Under the Old Testament economy, people were required to give to God because this was also the means of providing the government.  A theocracy was in place then, which meant that government was actually operating under the direct authority and leadership of God Himself.

Today, we are under a different economy.  However, we are still required to support the government.  We may not like the way government operates.  We may not agree with the policies of our governmental leaders.  We may not even like the political process or the individuals involved in it.

But God says that is not the issue.  The issue is one of obedience.  He says we are to pay our taxes to whom “taxes are due” (Romans 13:7).  In spite of all the ills of government, God says that governmental agencies and government leaders are His “servants” and that they operate for our ultimate “good.”

So the question is not whether we agree with or even support the work and activities of our governments at the local, state and national levels.  The question is one of whether or not we will obey God.  You see, it’s relatively easy to sing, “Oh, How I Love Jesus.”  It’s far more difficult to demonstrate our love for Him by yielding to Him in full and complete obedience, especially when His commands are ones we do not care for — like paying our taxes.

If He is in charge, if He is Lord of our lives, then we will do what He tells us to do.  As the little chorus states it so clearly, “I’ll say, ‘Yes,’ Lord, ‘Yes,’ to Your will and to Your way; ‘Yes,’ Lord, ‘Yes,’ I will trust You and obey.”

Even when it comes to paying my taxes?  Even when it comes to paying my taxes!

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21).


Should the United Methodist Church Split over Same-Sex Marriage?

Most mainline American Protestant denominations have liberalized their stance on same-sex relationships in recent years.

The Presbyterian Church, USA (PCUSA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the American Baptist Churches, USA (ABCUSA), and the Episcopal Church, USA (ECUSA), among others, now preside over same-sex marriages and ordain ministers in same-sex relationships.

The United Methodist Church, by contrast, retained its traditional stance barring both of those practices longer than other mainline denominations.

Many expected that stance to change at the special session of the General Conference a year ago, which held a vote on the issue.  The General Conference consists of lay and clergy representatives of the churches that make up the UMC, and functions as the final governing body for the denomination. To the surprise of many, the General Conference voted to uphold the denomination’s traditional position.

Part of what made the difference is the structure of the UMC versus that of other American denominations: the UMC is robustly international. Note the “A” in the PCUSA, ELCA, ABCUSA, and ECUSA—but not in the UMC. These other denominations are “American” in the sense that they consist dominantly of churches located in the United States.

The UMC, meanwhile, consists of churches from around the world, with 41% of delegates hailing from outside the United States. The largest non-American contingent came from Africa. African churches are more sexually traditional, and their votes combined with the conservative contingent from within the United States to defeat the proposed measure to liberalize the denomination’s practice with respect to same-sex marriage.

American conservatives often perceive this fact as evidence that their interpretation of God’s design for healthy sexual ethics is in line with the broader Christian church—not only throughout time but also throughout space.

Meanwhile, American liberals wrestle with how to advance their interpretation of how the Christian message is liberating in the same way with respect to both race and sexual orientation. How should they respond when a postcolonial portion of the world exercises its voice to say that those two issues are distinct?

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

But the question of the moment for the UMC is not so much what to believe about same-sex marriage, as what to do when your neighbor churches radically disagree with you on the question.  The vote was close: 53% to 47%.  What does it mean in this case to love your neighbor as yourself?  Should you fight it out together? Or should you split as amicably as possible?

Conservatives believe same-sex relationships constitute direct disobedience to God’s revealed will for human flourishing—quite literally unrepentant sin at a high level.

Liberals believe forbidding same-sex relationships violates the second greatest commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you—quite literally unrepentant sin at a high level.

Yet both believe that Jesus prayed that his followers, “may be brought to complete unity” and also that on a practical level disseminating the Christian message and serving the world can often be done more effectively as a coordinated effort. What to do?

Last month, a group of leading liberals, moderates, and conservatives within the United Methodist Church met with a prominent mediator to hammer out a plan for an amicable split.  Under this latest proposal, despite losing the vote, the liberal faction would retain the name United Methodist Church, while the conservative faction would form a new Traditional Methodist Church. Churches would remain in the United Methodist Church by default unless they voted to join the new denomination. If they did so, however, they would keep all of their property.

The United Methodist Church would pay the new denomination a large sum of money to get it started.  The United Methodist Church would also pay a large sum of money to “communities historically marginalized by the sin of racism,” prominently including the African churches with a more conservative sexual ethic.  The Traditional Methodist Church would contribute as well.

None of this is binding until the delegates to this year’s UMC General Conference vote in May.  And some conservatives and some moderates have expressed reservations.

The question before the delegates will be:

At what cost division?  At what cost unity?

Painting of John Wesley, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Methodists of the early twentieth century longed to corral their disparate manifestations into a more centralized denomination. They hoped doing so would make for more coordinated—and hence more effective—evangelism, discipleship, and service.

In 1939, the Methodist Protestant Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South united into “The Methodist Church.”

In 1946, the Evangelical Association and the United Brethren Church united into the Evangelical United Brethren Church.

Finally, in 1968, these two groups joined to form the present United Methodist Church.

In order to achieve unity, the various denominations made compromises throughout this process on issues important to them, from racial integration to women’s ordination to lay governance.  They did so because they believed that the costs of division were greater than the costs of unity.  But the existence of all those smaller denominations means that at other times in history, Methodists had thought the reverse: that the costs of unity were greater than the costs of division.

Image courtesy of Pexels.

The history of American Methodism therefore points to this truth for Christian churches: there is always a cost to unity, and there is always a cost to division.  In this life, Christians will not always agree. Belonging to a church forces us to interact with others who agree with us on the most important things, but differ on other things that are still important.  Worshiping with people whose political, social, and even to some extent theological ideas differ is an important way that the church can model a better way than the deeply polarized political and social climate of the current United States.

The tricky part is determining where to draw that line: both for matters necessary to salvation, and, separately, for matters necessary to productive work together as a congregation or denomination. Different Christians, different churches, and different denominations will answer these questions differently. And maybe there is some value in that. Perhaps having some narrower and some broader denominations is the only way for the church as a whole to live out different goods.  It is up to the United Methodist delegates to discern their particular calling.

Find Your “Happy Few” – Real Friendship

Real FriendshipDavid and Jonathan. Even centuries later those names linked together spell close, committed male friendship. They shatter our era’s stereotypes.

These men were, after all, battle-hardened warriors with a daredevil streak. And natural rivals. But mutual loyalty took priority over career calculations.

Interact with God’s Word:  1 Samuel 18:1-4;1 Samuel 20:8-17;1 Samuel 23:15-18

  1. From the get-go (18:1), Jonathan and David hit it off. Have you ever felt that way about another guy?
  2. What do you make of Jonathan’s vow (18:3)? Why does maintaining a deep friendship require deliberate effort?
  3. What do Jonathan’s words, in 20:9, tell you about the transparency a close friendship requires?
  4. Their covenant (20:14-16) committed David and Jonathan to sacrificial care for each other. How do we know (see 2 Samuel 9) that David took this obligation seriously?
  5. Jonathan’s concerns were as strong for David’s welfare as for his own, we’re told in 20:17. What did this mean (23:17) for prospects of succeeding to his father’s throne?
  6. Commitment to God (23:16) anchored David and Jonathan’s relationship. Is another man encouraging you to stay strong in your faith? Are you doing the same for him?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to help you build a mutually supportive relationship with at least one other man—one that digs deep into matters of faith and character.

1 Samuel 18:1-4;1 Samuel 20:8-17;1 Samuel 23:15-18

1 Samuel 18 1 After David had finished talking with Saul, he met Jonathan, the king’s son. There was an immediate bond between them, for Jonathan loved David. 2 From that day on Saul kept David with him and wouldn’t let him return home. 3 And Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, because he loved him as he loved himself. 4 Jonathan sealed the pact by taking off his robe and giving it to David, together with his tunic, sword, bow, and belt.

1 Samuel 20 8 Show me this loyalty as my sworn friend—for we made a solemn pact before the Lord—or kill me yourself if I have sinned against your father. But please don’t betray me to him!”

9 “Never!” Jonathan exclaimed. “You know that if I had the slightest notion my father was planning to kill you, I would tell you at once.”

10 Then David asked, “How will I know whether or not your father is angry?”

11 “Come out to the field with me,” Jonathan replied. And they went out there together. 12 Then Jonathan told David, “I promise by the Lord, the God of Israel, that by this time tomorrow, or the next day at the latest, I will talk to my father and let you know at once how he feels about you. If he speaks favorably about you, I will let you know. 13 But if he is angry and wants you killed, may the Lord strike me and even kill me if I don’t warn you so you can escape and live. May the Lord be with you as he used to be with my father. 14 And may you treat me with the faithful love of the Lord as long as I live. But if I die, 15 treat my family with this faithful love, even when the Lord destroys all your enemies from the face of the earth.”

16 So Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, a saying, “May the Lord destroy all your enemies!” 17 And Jonathan made David reaffirm his vow of friendship again, for Jonathan loved David as he loved himself.

1 Samuel 23 15 One day near Horesh, David received the news that Saul was on the way to Ziph to search for him and kill him. 16 Jonathan went to find David and encouraged him to stay strong in his faith in God. 17 “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan reassured him. “My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware.” 18 So the two of them renewed their solemn pact before the Lord. Then Jonathan returned home, while David stayed at Horesh.

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I invite you to work in my life through a real friend. And please use me in his life as well.



Find Your “Happy Few” – No Walls Between Friends

Real FriendshipKey Bible Verse: A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need. Proverbs 17:17.

Bonus Reading: Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Recently I underwent a battery of medical tests to determine the cause of severe stomach pain. I feared the worst. An upper G.I. test revealed some kind of inflammation in the intestines. There was also a spot on my spine that looked odd. I lost about seven pounds and became so overwhelmed by fear that I closed up and sealed myself off from others.

During that week of tests, a friend came over to the house to see how I was doing. Since I hadn’t reached out, he reached out to me. Paul just fired away. “Hey, Todd, how come you’re not letting your friends stand with you during this time? You and Kenny [Luck] are writing all this curriculum about how men need to be connected with other men, and here you are isolated! How come you’re shutting out your best friends when you need them most?”

Yikes! Did he really say that? But he was right. I’d called some of my friends to let them know what was going on, but I hadn’t really included them in the process. It was too painful. I didn’t want to talk about it. I just wanted it to go away. You always know who your friends are. They’re the ones who never give up on you.

—Todd Wendorff in Being God’s Man … in Tough Times

My Response: How does the male tendency to tough it out alone frustrate friendships?

Adapted from Being God’s Man … in Tough Times (WaterBrook, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I invite you to work in my life through a real friend. And please use me in his life as well.



Find Your “Happy Few” – Real Soul Brothers

Real FriendshipKey Bible Verse: There was an immediate bond of love between them, and they became the best of friends. 1 Samuel 18:1

Bonus Reading: 1 Sam. 18:1-4; ; 20:8-17

If a friendship deepens over time, intimacy increases in depth and breadth. In fact, this is one of the best measures of a growth in a friendship.

Spiritual friends share with each other at the level of their soul. This doesn’t mean that they talk about only serious, personal, or spiritual matters. However, if they never share at this level, the relationship is not worthy of being called a spiritual—or soul—friendship. Soul refers to the whole person, with particular attention to one’s inner life. Soul intimacy, therefore, is built on sharing the inner self. Sharing at the level of their souls means that friends’ intimacy is not restricted to experiences with the external world.

Friends who enjoy soul intimacy never settle for gossip or simple information exchange. Instead, they use the data of events as springboards for the sharing of feelings, perceptions, values, ideas, and opinions.

The conversations of such friends are never merely about what happened in their lives or the world, but move from this to how they experience, react to, and understand what happened. Dialogue continually moves from the surface to the depths, from the external to the internal. This is the crucial distinctive of dialogue in spiritual friendships.

—David Benner in The Transformation of a Man’s Heart

My Response: Would I find sharing at this level scary or attractive? Why?

Thought to Apply: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” —William Shakespeare (Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech)

Adapted from The Transformation of a Man’s Heart (InterVarsity, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I invite you to work in my life through a real friend. And please use me in his life as well.



UMCOR moves to support local partner in China fighting coronavirus crisis

Working to support the efforts of local partners in China dealing with the Coronavirus crisis, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is issuing an emergency grant to Amity Foundation in Nanjing, China. The grant will immediately enable infection, prevention and control (IPC) measures to limit the spread of respiratory diseases such as 2019-nCoV, in affected areas.

In response to the crisis, the World Health Organization has declared a public health emergency of international concern. Cases have been reported in more than 25 countries and territories worldwide.

“Since the outbreak of 2019nCoV, the Amity Foundation has been responding actively to the epidemic by purchasing needed materials for medical staff at the frontline,” She Hongyu, associate general secretary of Amity Foundation, shared in an email to UMCOR International Disaster Response (IDR) leadership. “Relief materials have been sent to a number of hospitals in Hubei Province supporting medical staff battling against the virus.”

“At Amity, our colleagues are working around the clock searching, purchasing, delivering medical supplies to protect medical staff in the most affected areas in Hubei province as well as mobilizing more resources to support our work,” Hongyu added.

“As an international disaster relief agency, the United Methodist Committee on Relief works to alleviate human suffering and we are pleased to provide much-needed assistance to the people of China who are battling this growing epidemic,” said Laurie W. Felder, MPH, director of UMCOR International Disaster Response.

“Global Ministries has been a friend of the Christian community in China for many years,” said Thomas Kemper, general secretary of Global Ministries and a leader of UMCOR. “We will do our part, however small, to help our brothers and sisters deal with this situation which has already claimed hundreds of lives.”

Amity Foundation has been a long-time partner of Global Ministries and UMCOR for many years in both disaster response and development work.

About the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)

Founded in 1940, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is the global humanitarian aid and development agency of The United Methodist Church. UMCOR is working in more than 80 countries worldwide, including the United States and its territories.

Our mission, grounded in the teachings of Jesus, is to alleviate human suffering—whether caused by war, conflict or natural disaster— with open hearts and minds to all people. UMCOR responds to natural or civil disasters that are interruptions of such magnitude that they overwhelm a community’s ability to recover on its own. UMCOR works through programs that address hunger, poverty, sustainable agriculture, international and domestic emergencies, refugee and immigrant concerns, global health issues, and transitional development.

Learn more at, and



Find Your “Happy Few” – Why Friendships Wither

Real FriendshipKey Bible Verse: Never abandon a friend—either yours or your father’s. Then in your time of need, you won’t have to ask your relative for assistance. Proverbs 27:10

Bonus Reading: Proverbs 18:24; 19:4,6; 20:6; 19:4,6;; 20:6

There’s a line in Woody Allen’s film Annie Hall where he says to Diane Keaton, “A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we’ve got on our hands is a dead shark.”

Some friendships die because they aren’t moving forward—from stagnation or neglect. You meant to call but didn’t. You knew it was his birthday but were too busy to celebrate.

Friendships need to be nurtured. When we’re busy, we only do what comes easily, and even good friendships aren’t always easy. So if your friend has an annoying trait, if he’s loud, or cheap, or a habitual complainer, say, you’re more likely to neglect the relationship. Of course, the same is true when your friend is neglecting you.

But whether it’s you or him, neglect is sure to cause a rift. And when it does, it almost always catches us off guard, when we’re going through stressful times at school, work, or home that makes us less attentive and less able to respond. That’s why it can seem that the best friendships fail precisely when we need them the most.

—Les and Leslie Parrott in

My Response: In what ways do I do “what comes easy” in relationships?

Thought to Apply: The most fatal disease of friendship is gradual decay. Friendships must be kept in constant repair. —Samuel Johnson (English writer)

Adapted from (12/02).

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I invite you to work in my life through a real friend. And please use me in his life as well.



Find Your “Happy Few” – Beyond Comfortable to Stretching

Real FriendshipKey Bible Verse: As iron sharpens iron, a friend sharpens a friend. Proverbs 27:17

Bonus Reading: Prov. 27:6, 9

There’s a certain “niceness” to friendships where I can be, as they say, myself. But what I really need is relationships in which I’m encouraged to become better than myself, developing to be more Christlike each day.

Stanley Jones, an American missionary to India, wrote of penning a response to a letter from a harsh critic. Irritated by the letter, Jones gave vent to his feelings of hurt and defensiveness. But before he mailed his response, he offered his friends a chance to read it and to offer judgment. When the unsent letter was returned to him, he saw that one of his “happy few” had written across the top “not sufficiently redemptive.” Wise man that Jones was, he destroyed the letter. His friends had held him to a higher standard.

Among my “happy few” are a couple of thinkers who are unafraid to poke and prod into my mind with different viewpoints than I have. They challenge my politics, my theology, and my self-confidence about life-direction. They won’t let me slide by with intellectual superficiality.

Looking back across the years, I’ve asked myself, Who were the people I’ve appreciated the most? Almost every one of them is someone who was tough with me, who expected me to rise higher in character and conduct than I might have by myself.

—Gordon MacDonald in A Resilient Life

My Response: Have I given a friend permission to hold me to a higher standard?

Thought to Apply: To speak painful truth through loving words is friendship. —Henry Ward Beecher (minister)

Adapted from A Resilient Life (Nelson, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I invite you to work in my life through a real friend. And please use me in his life as well.



No Christian Funerals, Says Chinese Communist Party

Chinese funerals cannot be Christian funerals, according to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Watchdog group Bitter Winter reports that the CCP is furthering its oppression of Christianity and other beliefs by denying people the option of a religious burial. The news comes only days before the government is set to release new regulations restricting religious freedom.

“The new rules codify the Chinese Communist Party’s ideological and leadership supremacy over all religious affairs in China,” says Bob Fu, the founder and president of ChinaAid.

“From now on, the Chinese Communist Party will become the head of the churches, temples, mosques, and other religious institutions. They will dominate every sphere of religion, from religious doctrines, leadership selection, financial management, and foreign exchanges.”

Regulating Even Chinese Funerals

ChinaAid says the CCP’s new regulations on religion, set to roll out on Saturday, February 1, 2020, will “extend the Chinese leadership’s leash to carry out acts against Christians.” The regulations have six chapters and 41 articles, the fifth of which says, “Religious organizations must spread the principles and policies of the Chinese Communist Party, as well as national laws, regulations, rules to religious personnel and religious citizens, educating religious personnel and religious citizens to support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.”

The CCP has been increasing persecution of believers in China, as well as its efforts to “sinicize” religion in order to make it more Chinese and less Western. These efforts are part of a five-year plan President Xi Jinping has been implementing to reshape religion in the country. The government’s actions have included getting rid of religious language in student textbooks, preventing people from purchasing the Bible online, and demolishing churches

Now, Bitter Winter has compiled reports that Chinese officials are stopping people from burying their loved ones according to their religious beliefs and forcing them only to have what authorities deem to be Chinese funerals. A county government in Zhejiang province recently adopted a set of policies called Regulations on Centralized Funeral Arrangement. The regulations, which came into effect on December 1, 2019, ban clergy from attending funerals and say that “no more than ten family members of the deceased are allowed to read scriptures or sing hymns in a low voice.” The purpose of these rules is to “get rid of bad funeral customs and establish a scientific, civilized, and economical way of funerals.”

Other local governments throughout China are imposing similar restrictions, and not just on Chinese funerals. A village official from Henan province told Bitter Winter that a document from a local government states that clergy must be “stopped from using religion to intervene in citizens’ weddings and funerals or other activities in their lives.”

Last October, Chinese authorities interrupted the Christian funeral of a woman in Hubei province (the province where the coronavirus outbreak originated) and arrested the woman’s daughter, who was praying. The daughter was released after her mother was buried without Christian rites. Officials apparently learned about the funeral because someone had informed on the family. As ChurchLeaders reported last year, people can earn substantial amounts of money for telling Chinese authorities that Christians in China are conducting “illegal religious activities.”

The government has been imposing similar restrictions on religious funerals in the country for the past several years. Said one church elder from a city in Henan province, “The government prohibits religious funerals, and doesn’t allow church choirs or orchestras to perform during them. Pastors can only sneak into believers’ homes for a hurried prayer. The situation is quite adverse, and some believers don’t even dare to accompany the deceased to the graveyard.” Authorities have also forced people to remove crosses and other religious symbols from funeral proceedings.

Persecution Roadmap

In addition to its ongoing oppression of Christians, such as Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Covenant Church, and the “cultural genocide” it is conducting against the Uighur Muslims, the CCP has been implementing facial scanning technology throughout the country. The point of this technology, says Morning Star News, is to “to collect data for the purpose of establishing a ‘social credit’ system to monitor perceived loyalty and dissent.”

Open Doors president and CEO David Curry recently said, “China is creating what I believe is a ‘persecution roadmap’ against religious faith. It is the greatest threat, in my opinion, to human rights today.”

Elizabeth Kendal with the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin believes, “The days are coming when whole Christian families will find themselves unable to access not merely transport, but schools, hospitals, bank loans and jobs.”

This article was prepared by Jessica Mouser.  She has always had a passion for the written word and has been writing professionally for the past two years. She especially enjoys evaluating how various beliefs play out within culture. When Jessica isn’t writing, she enjoys playing the piano, reading, and spending time with her friends and family.


Find Your “Happy Few” – From Casual to Close

Real FriendshipKey Bible Verse: Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.  –  Romans 12:10.

Bonus Reading: John 13:34-35

Some people make friends easily. It’s harder for the rest of us. Most friendships begin casually and will stay that way, because they’re based on a few things you have in common (like where you work, where you live, or where you worship). But with some casual friends, you’ll sense similar commitments in faith, character, and integrity. You’ll intentionally start spending more time together. That’s how meaningful friendships begin: slowly.

Close friends appreciate each other’s similarities, but don’t allow each other’s differences to divide them. They encourage each other. Overcoming their natural inclinations to hold a grudge, they’re quick to forgive each other. Why? Because they firmly believe the other would never do anything to intentionally offend them, and because it interferes with the relationship.

Your casual friends will be around whenever they need you. But when the going gets tough, shallow friendships evaporate. Your closest friends will be around whenever you need them. Tough times strengthen a close friendship because the bond of commitment to each is revealed. Difficult circumstances usually give one friend the opportunity to act sacrificially for the sake of the other.

—Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz in Simple Matters

My Response: Someone I could benefit from spending more time with is …

Adapted from Simple Matters (Promise Press, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I invite you to work in my life through a real friend. And please use me in his life as well.


Find Your “Happy Few” – Disposable Friendships?

Real FriendshipWho Said It…Jerome Daly

Jerome Daly pursues the passion of his life—intimacy with God and people—in partnership with his wife, Kellie. Through oneFlesh Ministries, the Daleys speak, write, and lead worship.

Jerome likes to return—with his three children or alone on writing retreats—to the house his grandfather built in a Blue Ridge Mountain town.

What He Said…Disposable Friendships?

We live in a disposable society—we change jobs, change cities, and change relationships with dizzying frequency. But that’s our culture, not our spiritual DNA. We’re designed for lasting relationships—lifelong marriages and, yes, even lifelong friendships.

I’m convinced that community ripens over time and only grows sweet and nourishing in the context of commitment and longevity. We mustn’t be such willing slaves to the dictates of this world’s system! The practice of replacing our friendships as regularly as we replace our wardrobes or automobiles assures us of an untested crew when the inevitable storms arise.

And these are just the personal deficits; what about the larger losses? The world is supposed to recognize us as Jesus’ disciples because of our committed love for one another; this uncommon selflessness will demonstrate the lordship of Christ in a way no preaching can. However, if we bail on one another as soon as we encounter difficulty, then we merely reinforce our superficiality. The Kingdom of God requires more of us.

Adapted from When God Waits (WaterBrook, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, I invite you to work in my life through a real friend. And please use me in his life as well.



Hold Back or Open Up? – Authentic Christianity

Authentic ChristianityPaul devoted his first letter incorporated into Scripture to passionately refuting the claims of Jewish agitators.

They were telling converts from his first missionary journey that they must conform to Jewish law to insure right standing with God.

Paul insisted that, empowered by the Spirit, they had been set free from the power of sin, set free to love and serve Christ and others.

Interact with God’s Word:  Galatians 6:1-3

  1. After assuring his Gentile readers that weren’t subject to Jewish ceremonial law, Paul speaks (v. 2) of obeying the law of Christ. What do you think he is referring to?
  2. As Christians, how do we practically share each other’s troubles and problems?
  3. Why (v. 3) are we not excused from helping each other?
  4. How about being on the receiving end? Should any Christian ever think he is totally independent and doesn’t need help from others?
  5. Think of a Christian brother (v. 1) who needs correction or encouragement. How could you gently and humbly reach out to that person?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to help you to move beyond self-centeredness to the interdependent godliness that Paul describes in these vers

Galatians 6:1-3

1 Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. 2 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3 If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to live an authentic faith for all to see.