Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wolves in Sheep's Clothing

When you see one, you see several. And since I’m on a committee that is the first line of defense against creating a similar situation at our church, I’m paying even closer attention than I normally would. I find it both disturbing and bothersome as I think about what we need to do to prevent it from happening to us.

Two days ago, Travis Reed was convicted of fondling a boy. As if that isn’t disturbing enough, Travis Reed was one of the youth workers at his church. About a day earlier, Derek Hutter, a youth minister at another church was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl. I’ll leave it to the courts to decide whether he actually did it or not. (I actually find it just as disturbing that it is possible for a youth worker to be falsely accused.) But I think we can say that we’ve seen enough of these situations to realize that it is possible that he is guilty. What I really want to know is, how can we avoid hiring people like this?

There are some similarities between these two guys. They are both in their thirties. They are both married. They both have one child. In the Travis Reed trial, sixteen character witnesses testified on his behalf. I’m not sure if Derek Hutter will have the same level of support, but he has worked at a number of different churches. I mention these things because they give the appearance of the type of men people expect would make good youth ministers. In their thirties, so old enough to be an authority figure, but not so old that they can’t do things with the youth. Married, so they have no reason to look for sexual gratification elsewhere. Have a child, so their marriage must be a happy one. Well-liked by the people who know him.

But that’s only what we see on the outside. What we really need to consider is what was happening in secret. That’s difficult, because these are things that they may have been hiding from their spouses as well. One youth testified that Travis Reed had looked up his shorts during a mixed martial arts class at the church. I don’t know if anyone from the church was made aware of that when it happened, but that should have raised a red flag.

Derek Hutter appears to have had porn on his computer and he is also accused of online solicitation of a minor. It’s easier to do something with that than an accusation of looking up someone’s shorts. I remember making up some stuff when I was a kid because I knew it would get someone else in trouble. It was nothing of this nature, but kids don’t always tell the truth. We don’t want to ignore what they say, but there are some things that are hard to prove one way or the other. Ironically, things done in the virtual world are more tangible. People who are addicted to porn have trouble limiting when they look at it. If they are looking at it at home, they’re probably looking at it on their computers at church. If they are sending e-mails with their church funded e-mail accounts, they risk and administrator spotting what they’re doing.

While church should certainly try to avoid hiring someone who has a sexual interest in boys or who is addicted to porn, I think there are things churches can do to help prevent things from happening if someone makes it through the initial filter. An open door policy for all who work with youth and children is a good start, but there needs to be more. That open door needs to exist outside the church building as well and it should extend to electronic communication between the youth worker and the student. And when it comes to church assets, such as computers and e-mail accounts, there is value in allowing a trusted third party to have open access to this information.

Monday, September 29, 2014

“I am not ashamed…this is my body”

Without a doubt, this woman will become the lastest poster child for what is wrong with abortion. This woman won’t tell you why she believes abortion is wrong. Instead, she makes the claim, “I am not ashamed.” She demands, “don’t put murder on me.” And the basis of her argument, “this is my body.”


If you don’t watch this video and feel sorry for this woman, something is wrong with you. While I can’t agree with her choices or her argument, she gives us a clear view of a world that is wandering around in the darkness of sin. Jesus died for her, she just doesn’t know it.

The first thing I have to ask is, if she is not ashamed, why does she make such a big point of telling us that she isn’t ashamed. Clearly, she doesn’t want to be ashamed, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t. She doesn’t want this thing that she has done called murder. Somehow, the message has gotten through to her that she has killed a living human being. The government isn’t calling it murder, but she knows it to be so. And yet, she makes her argument. Perhaps this is to convince herself as much as it is to convince others.

“This is my body.” Isn’t that the claim of every sinner? This is mine. It isn’t yours. I get to decide, not you, and most certainly not God. How sad, and yet we all do it in one way or another. Do we not say, “This is my money,” or “This is my time,” or “This is my car?” What we ought to be saying is, “This is God’s money, I will invest it and spend it for his purposes.” We ought to be saying, “This is God’s time, I will use it to serve him.” We ought to be saying, “This is God’s body, it is his to do with as he pleases.”

While the woman in the video is wrong and every bit the murderer that she doesn’t want us to label her as being, she is not that much different from us. She, like us, needs someone to die for her sins. The blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient to cover her sins as well as it is ours. He calls for her to repent of her sins and put her trust in him for salvation, just as he called us to do the same. Jesus can change her life so that she can go from claiming that she is not ashamed to having nothing to be ashamed of.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

On the Dangerous Facebook Messenger App

People are concerned about the new Facebook Messenger app. The fear is that Facebook is trying to use our personal and private information in ways we never intended. Imagine being in the restroom and the camera on your phone taking a picture without you realizing it. That is something to give consideration to, but what is really going on with Facebook?

To begin with, people’s concerns are not really over the possibility that Facebook might turn on the camera without their knowledge, but rather that Facebook asked permission to turn on their camera, use their location, access their contacts lists, etc. It happened when the app installed. Facebook asks for permission and people began to question, “What do they intend to use this information for?” If Facebook hadn’t asked, people wouldn’t have given it any thought that the app would be using stuff like that.

I’ll prove my point by saying that you probably have a flashlight app on your phone. If it is like mine, it turns on the focus light and keeps it on so that it acts like a flashlight. The one I have also gives information about whether the phone is facing North, South, East, or West. In other words, it is using the camera and accessing location information, and the only permission it needs is that I run the application. Facebook messenger is somewhat different because it is running as a background task. But consider all the apps you install on your phone. Any one of them can access the same devices on your phone that Facebook Messenger can.

Do you trust the apps you have on your phone? It is ironic that people will install a flashlight app written by someone they don’t know without giving it a second thought, but people are concerned about the Facebook Messenger app. Think about it. Facebook already has access to your personal information. They know where you live. They know who your friends are. They know what you ate for breakfast. They know where you went on vacation. If you trusted them with that, then why are you concerned that they might take pictures or track your movements?

But they asked permission to do things I’m not sure they should be doing. Yes, but that is actually for your protection. Have you noticed that when you visit a website with your phone that it might give you a popup that asks if it can use your location? There are rules in place that prevent websites and mobile apps from using location information without the user’s permission. Anyone can write an app for a mobile phone, including some unscrupulous people. You don’t want them to know where you are, but you do want companies that tell you how to get from point A to point B to know where you are. Suppose you are in a department store and open their app. Wouldn’t you want it to be able to tell you that the item you’re looking for is two aisles over? But computers are dumb. They can’t tell the department store that you trust from the person you don’t. By asking permission, you make the decision of whether to trust the app or not. Facebook was just following the rules.

So, you do what you want to do, but I plan on keeping the Facebook Messenger app on my phone. If I’m going to give that kind of information to someone, I would rather give it to someone who already has it. That’s not to say that I trust Facebook completely, but I think they realize that they would risk destroying their company if they start exploiting the information inappropriately. On the other hand, we would probably be safer if we would remove some of this software written by fly-by-night software developers.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Homeless Giving Back

There are several videos that show someone inside a restaurant asking the patrons for some of their food. After they refuse, the scene changes to a street where a homeless man is sitting. Someone gives the homeless man some food, such as pizza or a couple of hamburgers and walks away. A few minutes later, the person who was asking for food before comes by and asks the homeless man for food. The homeless man gives the person food. Then the video ends with “Sometimes, those with less give more.”


There is some truth to that. People who have been doing without have a better understanding of the difficulties that causes. I’m reminded of the woman Jesus told of who gave all she had while the rich religious leaders were just making a big show of giving.

But the videos are flawed. The way the guy approaches those in the restaurant and how he approaches the homeless guy are very different. In the restaurant, he ambushes people. “Can I have a slice?” How do you expect people to act in a restaurant if a stranger comes to their table and asks for their food? The way he is dressed gives no indication that he is unable to pay for his own. Why doesn’t he just go buy his own?

Out on the street it is different. The homeless man has finished eating. The homeless man probably still thinking about how nice it was for someone to give him food. The video guy approaches him and doesn’t ask “can I have a slice” but rather, “do you have any left?” After the homeless man understands the question he asks, “Do you want some?” After take a slice of pizza from the box, the guy making the video sits down with the homeless man and eats half the pizza. He gets up, gives the homeless man a weak handshake, while looking in in the direction he wants to go rather than in the man’s eyes.

This is an aside, but let me just say that if you’re going to shake hands with someone, given them a firm handshake and look them in the eyes throughout the whole handshake. Nothing aggravates me more than an improper handshake.

But back to the video. I’m not sure how I would respond if a fashionably dressed person ambushed me in a restaurant to ask for food. I can, however, think of a similar situation. I was buying gas one day. A man carrying a four gallon gas can came up to me and asked if I could spare half a gallon of gas. I suppose he would’ve asked several people until he got as much as he needed. I hesitated for a moment, but then I stuck the gas nozzle in the can and filled it to the top.

I avoid giving money, but when there’s a way that I can provide for a need, that’s different. Despite what is shown in the video, I think many people are willing to give to people in need, but they have to understand what the need is and it has to be convenient. I don’t expect many people will give strangers food off their plate, but if they had some left after they’d eaten, they might have. Or if the person had asked before they ordered their meal, they might have gladly ordered extra. The video tells the story that the videographer wants to tell, but I don’t believe it is the complete story.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Praying on the Armor of God

There is a concept among Christians to “pray on the full armor of God.” Every morning when they wake up, some people will say a prayer like the following:

Lord, as I wake up this morning, I put on the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness to guard my heart. I put on the sandals of the gospel of peace to protect my walk with you today. I take up the shield of faith to protect me from whatever Satan my throw at me. I place the helmet of salvation on my head and take hold of the sword of the Spirit of God. Strengthen me for the battles I’ll face today. Amen.

The typical version is much longer than the one I’ve shown here and many of them start with the helmet of salvation rather than the order they are in the Bible. I’m not sure if that’s because they want to go from head to toe or maybe they’re thinking that salvation should come first since that’s what we think of as the first event in the Christian walk. Paul probably put these in the order he did because he’d watched Roman soldiers put on their armor and that was the order they went.

While I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with meditating on the armor of God why you wake up each morning and going to the Lord for help in putting on the armor of God isn’t a bad thing, I doubt Paul was thinking that people would pray prayers like this when he wrote Ephesians 6. I think he would tell the people who do this, “You missed the point.” Some people have this thought, “The kids were cranky today, but I prayed on the armor of God this morning, so I was able to let it bounce off.”

But look at Ephesians 6:12. The purpose of the armor of God isn’t to protect against cranky kids. In Ephesians 6:13-14, Paul uses the word “stand” three times. And he had already used it in Ephesians 6:11. Do this so you can stand and once you’ve done everything you can to stand, stand. This is about taking a stand for the cause of Christ.

Imagine you are facing the modern day equivalent to some of the people Paul faced. These are people who may not realize it, but they are servants of the devil. “You Christians are wrong and I’m going to force you to do things you don’t believe are right.” How do we stand against these people?

Truth

Our first form of protection is that what we say is true. I’ve been in a lot of arguments with people who don’t want to believe. I try to listen to their point of view, but I’ve never been concerned that something they way will cause me to question my faith, because my position is based on the truth.

Righteousness

When we think of righteousness, we immediately think of God’s righteousness that comes from Jesus Christ. But let’s also consider the righteousness that others see in us. The opposite of righteousness is sin. When we sin, it removes the breastplate that protects our heart. The spouse who commits adultery opens up their heart (at least in part) to the person they commit adultery with. Satan can use that person to encourage the other to do things they ought not to do. But look at Daniel. Even though he faced persecution, his righteousness protected him from falling into the trap of sinners.

The Preparation of the Gospel of Peace

People often shorten this to say that we should put on the sandals of the Gospel. They imply that the good news will protect the way you walk. A better understanding might be that we are to be prepared to share the Gospel with those we meet along the way.

Faith

Paul compares faith to a shield that protects against fiery darts. He also uses the phrase “above all.” I’m not sure if this should be taken as most importantly, or if he means literally “above all.” If the darts are raining down from the sky, where are you going to hold the shield? Above your head and everything else, obviously. But our faith protects us because we know that whatever Satan may send our way, God is still in control and nothing will harm us without His permission.

Salvation

Salvation is shown as a helmet. I wear a helmet when I ride a bicycle, in part because I realize that if an accident caused me to lose an arm or a leg, it would be inconvenient, but a head injury could cause be game over. At the end of the day, even if God allows Satan to kill us, we have salvation there to protect who we are. The very worst thing Satan can do won’t prevent us from the future the Lord has promised us.

The Bible

He compares the Word of God to a sword. Of everything on the list, this is the only offensive weapon we see. As with any weapon, it takes training and practice to be able to use it. That means you need to spend time in church listening to preaching and taking part in Bible study. You also need to read it for yourself and memorize scripture. So, when you encounter unbelievers, you will be able to tell them what the Bible says.

Prayer

Prayer isn’t listed as part of the armor, but it is something that we’re supposed to do. The armor of God doesn’t do us much good if we don’t have a relationship with God. Paul asked them to pray that he would have boldness to preach the gospel.

If you get up in the morning and tell God you’re putting on the armor of God, I suppose that's okay. But once you’ve prayed about it, you’d better put it on.

Monday, July 28, 2014

And Out the Door They Go

I stood I the foyer as kids and parents walked through the main entrance of the church. The kids stopped off the VBS check-in table where they answered a few questions and then made their way into the auditorium. The parents stood in the foyer with me for a short time, watching to see that their kids got to where they needed to be. They talked with a few of the other people in the foyer. But then, they turned, walked back through the crowd gathered around the check-in table and out the door. They would return a couple hours later to collect their kids.

Missed Opportunities

Time and time again I saw this scene repeated with family after family. This is the age group that we’re not reaching. When you look at our church attendance and when you look at the professions of faith in our church, you see a gap between the young and the old. It isn’t that we don’t people in this age group, but the numbers are down in comparison to other age groups.

Some people say that young adults just aren’t interested in church. That’s one way to look at it, but I saw these people bringing in bags of clothes and canned goods to donate to Texas Baptist Home for Children. These people gave their kids money to give for the cause. That doesn’t seem like “lack of interest,” but they turned around and walked out the door.

What I find disturbing is that we got these people through our front door and they didn’t stay. Let me repeat that. We got these people through our front door. But where are they now? We talk about people who wouldn’t darken a church door. These aren’t them. We got them inside, but couldn’t keep them.

Baby Sitters and Social Clubs

Realistically, many of the people who came and left attend other churches on Sunday. They brought their kids to VBS because we invited them. But to me, it highlights a problem. We want to reach kids and teens, so we have programs for them. We have this idea that we might reach their parents by reaching the kids. The problem is that these parents don’t see it that way. These parents see value in these kids programs because it teaches their kids about God, or because it is a free babysitter. While we’re teaching their kids about God, they may be at Wal-mart doing the weekly shopping.

On the other end of the scale, we have the old folks. While we do have a few programs for them, they get something else out of church. I’ve often heard older folks say things like, “even if a song wasn’t sung, or a sermon preached, I would come to church just to be with God’s people.” That sounds more like a social club. And it makes sense, because when people get older their kids have moved away, they may have lost a spouse, and they’ve retired, so they don’t go to work every day. Going to church staves off the silence.

Something More

There is great value in kids programs. There is value in giving parents an opportunity to have time away from their kids. There is value in providing empty nesters with opportunities to around other people. But if we want to reach young adults, we need to do something more. If we aren’t preaching to these people, how can we hope to see them saved? And if the longest time they stay in our church building is during VBS wrap-up, Awana closing ceremony, and when their kids are in a Christmas program, we’re not doing much preaching to them. We need to do something more.

We can’t bribe young adults with candy and pizza like we can with kids and teens. Young adults have jobs and can buy more candy and pizza than they need. And we can’t get them by being a social club, because their jobs put them around people all day, and if they have kids they are around people at night as well. If we don’t find something for young adults to stay for, we’ll continue to see them walk in but head right back out the door.

Why I Stay

I can’t speak for all young adults, but I’m pushing the upper edge of young adulthood, so I’ve had lots of experience as a young adult. So, why do I stay? Why don’t I turn around and walk back out the door?

Honestly, I’ve considered it a few times. Come to think of it, I’ve done it a few times. Never when there was preaching, but I’ve skipped some services when it was just going to be a movie, or a concert. And I have a real hard time attending Wednesday night services during the summer. It isn’t that the lessons aren’t great, but after I’ve spent all day at work, I don’t have the mental fortitude to listen to all the prayer requests for people who are going through health problems and then to listen to a lecture.

But when Awana is going on, it is totally different. With kids running around and things to do, it is invigorating. I much prefer to be doing something. And when I look at the young adults who come through our doors and stay, they are the ones who are doing stuff. I remember when I first joined our church that it was a struggle for me because I wanted to be much more involved than I felt like I had the opportunity to be.

So, if I had to guess what it would take to keep young adults from walking out the door, I would say we need to invite them to do stuff with us. Of course, we have to be careful about what we ask them to do. Some tasks should be reserved from church members. And they may really need the time to run to Wal-mart without their kids. But if there was a project they could work on instead of driving back home and turning on the TV for an hour before driving back to church to pick up the kids, they just might stay, even if they won’t stay to listen to a lecture.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When It Ain't Obama's Fault

The Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Texas as 47 of 50 when it comes to the quality of family and community for children. One of the driving factors in that is the percentage of kids who live in a single parent home, which contributes to the education level of the head of the home, the wealth of the bread winner, the education level, etc. In Texas, 36% of children live in a single parent home.

Of the four factors Annie E. Casey looked at, Texas could use improvement on all of them, but Family and Community is the one that hurt our ranking the most. This got me to thinking. I see a lot on Facebook about how terrible the government is and how Obama needs to be impeached and all of that, but you can’t blame Obama or any other government leader for two and a half million kids living in single parent homes. There isn’t much the government can do about that and it isn’t their responsibility.


So, whose responsibility is it? The kids parents, obviously, but only if you look at individual families. When you look at the figures statewide or nationwide and ask who should be trying to do something about it, it is the churches who ought to be doing something about it. Even though the government likes to stick its nose in, it is the churches that have a responsibility to teach people the difference between right and wrong. It is the churches who ought to be looking for ways to help couples resolve their differences. It is the churches who have a responsibility to tell people of the man Jesus, who is able to change their selfish heart to a heart that loves others and especially their spouse.


It ought to wake us up when we see that a Bible belt state like Texas is one of the worst states when it comes to single parent homes. We Christians are falling down on our job. While the primary blame must rest with those who are creating single parent situations, I can’t help but think that part of the problem is that we aren’t telling them that what they are doing is wrong. At one time, women were shunned for having a child out of wedlock, and that might have been too much, but today we bend over backwards to tell people that whatever their sin is God loves them anyway.


While I don’t have all the answers for what we can do to correct this problem, the numbers speak for themselves. What they are saying is that we Christians in Texas have some work to do.