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.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Church, Kids, and Numbers

A friend of mine quoted the following statistic, “85% of the people saved in the United States are under 17.” Okay, but what do we do with that? Often, we hear things like that when someone wants to encourage people to work in youth ministry. I see nothing wrong with that. I work with kids in Awana and I can say that I’ve seen far more of them accept Christ than the adults I’ve taught in Sunday school. What I don’t like is when people take that statistic and say, “If we don’t reach them when they are kids, we’ll never reach them.” Is that really what we should take from this statistic?

To answer that, let me ask you, what percentage of the people saved would we expect to be kids? Someone might mention that 18% of the population is between 5 and 17, while 76% of the population is adults, so anything over 18% is pretty good. But is it? Let’s use easy math and say we have an average church with 100 people in attendance. There are 6 children under age five. We’ll assume they aren’t saved, but we don’t expect they’ll accept Christ until they are at least five. There are 18 kids between 5 and 17. We don’t know how many are currently saved, but there were 18 lost at age five.

Now, how many lost adults does this church have in the services? Most of these people are church members, but perhaps there is a man who attends with his saved wife. There’s a girl who used to be in the youth group and still comes, but she isn’t saved. There’s a woman who thought she was saved as a child. And maybe one more. Three or four doesn’t sound like an unreasonable number.

By my count, that means there are 21 or 22 lost people in the service and 18 of them are kids. (It is more complicated than that, but statistically speaking it will do.) Divide 18 by 21 and you get 86%. Divide 18 by 22 and you get 81%. What that tells me is that 85% of the people who are saved in America being under 17 is right in the ballpark of what we would expect if the only people we are reaching are the people who come to church.

And I don’t know what to do with that. There are churches that are reaching people other than those who are in the families of church members, but most of the programs are geared toward reaching kids. So, that will tend to retain the “85% are kids” statistic. I’m glad churches are reaching kids, but when I realize that 76% of our population is adults, I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t failing to do enough to try to reach adults.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bottled Mission Trip

Paul, in his writings, gives us this picture of a church in which the Lord has placed many people with different abilities, each doing their own thing, but together accomplishing the purposes of God. While I see this all the time, nowhere has it been more clear than on Mission Trip. At the time of this writing, we've seen eight souls saved. We had a couple of gifted soul winners on this trip and the Lord put their gift to use. But they wouldn't have been able to do that without other members of the team identifying people for them to talk to, and that was made possible by members of the team gaining the trust of these people by helping them with home repairs. Of course, all of this was made so much easier because of a gifted administrator leading the team.

As we near the end of our trip, there is talk of "Why do we do this on mission trip but not at home? We need to continue this back in Fort Worth." While I understand the sentiment, I think we tend to encapsulate things like Mission Trip as if it were an experiment in evangelism that can be used to tell us what the church is doing wrong. We ought not think that. If we truly believe that the church is like a body working together, we should realize that the short-term mission team is bigger than the eighteen of us who loaded our tools on a trailer and drove to Albuquerque. Of course there was planning and fund raising that took place before we went. But there were other things that had to happen as well.

Most of the young people on this trip are people I once worked with in Awana. I had some impact on their development as did many others in our church. When I hear talk of doing stuff at home that is similar to Mission Trip, I don't see how I can do that without dropping some of the other things I'm doing. But part of our effectiveness on Mission Trip is due to training that has taken place in months a years leading up to it.

So what am I saying? Mission Trip isn't something we can bottle up and take home. That whole concept is backwards, because Mission Trip is the harvest that follows a lot of planting and watering. What the Lord enabled our team to do was to bottle what has been going on at South Park and pour it out over a dry, barren mobile home park. That's not to say that South Park has no room for improvement, but without the things South Park does, we wouldn't have been able to accomplish much.

Let's make improvements where we can, and let's pray to see a harvest in Fort Worth, but let us not fail to continue teaching or we won't have anything to bottle for future mission trips.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Problem With Wednesday "Prayer Meeting"

Churches used to call the Wednesday evening service “Prayer Meeting.” The church I attended when I was young didn’t have a “Prayer Meeting.” So, when I asked my mother about other churches who listed “Prayer Meeting” on their church sign, I got an image in my head that is very different from what I see in our church. In our church, we sing a song, and then we go over the prayer list. Someone prays a short prayer and then someone gets up and lectures for the remaining time.

As a child, I pictured people gathering in a room and spending an hour or more doing nothing but praying. I couldn’t grasp how anyone would willingly spend an hour or more doing nothing but praying. What a shock it was when I attended my first “Prayer Meeting.” And yet, I wonder why churches don’t spend more time in prayer at a “Prayer Meeting.”

But I see things wrong with both the idea I had as a child and the way we handle prayer meetings now. If all you do is have everyone pray the prayer they’ve memorized to pray during worship services, it might take an hour, but it misses the concept that prayer is to be a conversation with God. And while having another opportunity for someone to teach a lesson may be a good thing, teaching a lesson is not prayer.

Consider the “prayer list.” People surely don’t intend for it to be this way, but more time explaining the nature of the illness a friend has, or what is being done to treat it than the amount of time spent praying for the person. We always have the President and other leaders mentioned on the list, but when was the last time we spent a significant amount of time praying for them?

Both in Wednesday Evening Prayer Meetings and Sunday school prayer lists, we have the problem that after we’ve spent a significant amount of time listening to people talk about their problems or the problems their friends are having, we cut the actual prayer short because we know that we need to leave time for the person who is going to bring the lesson. In Sunday school, it makes sense to cut out prayer time in favor of the lesson, but it is much too rare for us to have a time of corporate prayer that isn’t rushed. Perhaps my childhood concept isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Imagine, a group of people gathering, not to listen to someone lecture, or to gossip about their friend’s illnesses, but to spend an hour in conversation with God. Having a conversation with God isn’t about us telling God what we think we need, but rather it involves finding what he is telling us in his word and responding in prayer. It isn’t about adding “if it is your will” to the end of our prayer. Rather, we should be digging into his word, so that we know that what we are asking is in his will. Having a conversation with God isn’t about general blanket statements that cover whatever requests might be on the list, but is much more specific in what we are asking him to do. I see nothing wrong with a church gathering for a third preaching service, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a true “Prayer Meeting” where the whole church gathered before the throne of God?

Monday, June 2, 2014

When the Executioner Knocks

When I was a kid, I remember learning about the Christian martyrs—people who were burned, or torn apart, or stoned—and I remember thinking, “It would be cool to die a death like that.” I’ve since lost some of my desire for that kind of death, but I remember having these thought of standing before someone (in my mind it was always a king) and being asked if I believed in Jesus. To live, all I would have to say is, “No,” but I would answer that yes, I do believe in Jesus Christ and I will not deny my faith in him. For that cause, I would die a martyr’s death. I remember talking to my mother about this and her saying, “We could face something like that one day.”

The persecution that I imagined as a child was nothing more than a fantasy. And yet, the executioners are at our doorstep. A discussion we had at church on Sunday made me realize that we are already being asked to deny Christ in exchange for our lives, but it isn’t by a king in the king’s court. What will our response be?

On Sunday, when someone suggested that we in America wouldn’t respond as well as the martyrs we see in other countries, I responded to say that we shouldn’t assume that. My reasoning—and I believe I was right—was that we have the same Holy Spirit dwelling in us that they have in them. Anyone who is following the leadership of the Holy Spirit will respond well. Don’t believe me? Read Luke 12:11-12. While we might think we will respond poorly when faced with that situation, Jesus had confidence in the Holy Spirit’s ability to guide us.

But someone made the comment that if she were given a choice between denying her faith and the lives of her children, she would deny her faith in an instance. I want to say that I would rather my children see that Jesus was more important to me than them, but that hollow, since I have neither children nor a wife. In any case, her response made me realize that the question, “Will you deny your faith in Jesus for your life?” has taken on a different form than standing before a king or a judge.

Consider Danny Cortez, who over a long period of pastoring a Southern Baptist church, decided that he no longer believes the traditional teachings concerning homosexuality. I listened to some of what he said about how he came to that decision. No one put a gun to his head and said, “Stop teaching what the Bible says about homosexuality or die.” Instead, over a fifteen year period, he had numerous people come to him and admit to having same sex attraction. As a novelist, I can tell you that every good story begins with the protagonist dying. But the death is of the form that if something doesn’t happen in the protagonist’s life, he would rather die than continue doing what he is doing. Danny Cortez being told by so many of his friends that they were having homosexual temptation and realizing that they could never allow themselves to get intimate with the object of their affection is a good example. For him, that realization was a type of death. Of course, it wouldn’t have been for me. I’m single, so if Danny Cortez had told me how sad he was that these people could never have sex, I would’ve said, “Get over it! I may never have sex either.”

But the point is that for Danny Cortez it was a type of death and he was given the choice between denying the teachings of God’s word and experiencing that death that he felt. That is not so different from the mother at church. For her, the death of her children was a far worse death than her own death. Of course we know that anytime we place anything before God, it is idolatry and it is very dangerous. We may think it simple. If denying God will save our children, then deny God. But we have more to fear from God. If God so chooses, he can protect our children from the sword of the persecutor. But if we deny our faith in Jesus, God may take the lives of our children anyway. And worse, he may leave us here to think about what we did.

It isn’t just the issue of unconsummated homosexuality or the death of our children. That is the one that is in the news, but other things may seem worse than death as well. I see people who give in to their children’s desires to be involved in immodest activities, because seeing their children cry is worse than death. People get involved with gambling, because not being able to support the lifestyle they desire is worse than death. People turn to drugs because they fear pain of various kinds as if it were death itself. People divorce their spouses, because see death as preferable to putting up with them. Single people turn to sex without having first been married, because being alone feels like it is worse than death.

For Christians, it may not be these things, but have you considered what you would do if the company you worked for began firing people who opposed homosexuality? I expect we’ll see that happen very soon. And what if the government tries to force you to pay for abortions? That is already happening. It is easy for us to say that we won’t deny Christ, as long as there is food on the table, but as Peter discovered, when we’re surrounded by the enemy, it is difficult to take a stand.

But I still believe that if we spend time in God’s word and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, we have an advantage that Peter didn’t have. The executioner may be knocking at our door, but the Holy Spirit is there to guide us to the right answer, if we will just seek him and let him do his work.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Worship Wars

Why does one person pick one worship song while someone else picks another? On Sunday, we were asked to turn in a list of our favorite hymns. My list is likely to be very different from some of the other lists that are turned in. Why?

The worship wars have been going on for a long time. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, I remember people debating the value of traditional hymns versus contemporary choruses. Today, people are still complaining about contemporary choruses, even though very few of the contemporary hymns sung in churches fall in the category of choruses.

All I can tell you is that when I chose the songs to list, they were songs that had special meaning to me at the time that I was making the list. If I were making the list at this moment I might pick other songs. I would probably pick Jesus Is In This House because that happens to be the song I’m listening to at the moment. But when I consider the songs I did list, some of them are on a CD that helped me when I was going through a funk a few years ago. At the time, I was struggling with something that God had allowed to happen and I didn’t understand why. I still don’t and I may never understand it this side of Glory. (Which is actually kind of depressing, but I’ve come to accept it.)

I look at some of the songs other people pick and they are often songs they learned when they were children. But I suspect that there is something more than that. It may be a song they remember their mother singing. It may be a song that was sung at a special event, such as their baptism, or the night they accepted Christ. It may be a song that reminds the person of the power of God to help through a difficult situation they are facing right now.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

10 Things You Know That Ain’t So About Parliamentary Procedure

1. Every motion requires a second

While most motions require a second, when a member of a committee makes a motion on the behalf of the committee, no second is required. Also, in a small committee, motions do not require a second.

2. The chair isn’t supposed to vote

As long as the chair is a member, the chair retains the right to vote.

3. The chair can break a tie vote

Because the chair must maintain an appearance of impartiality, it is advisable for the chair to refrain from voting. The exception is when his vote matters, such as when there is a tie vote. But he isn’t really breaking a tie. When the vote is even, there isn’t a majority, so the motion would fail if the chair doesn’t vote. If he votes in favor of the motion, a majority is achieved and the motion passes. But likewise, if the vote has one more in favor than against, the chair can exercise his right to vote against the motion, thereby creating a tie and causing the motion to fail.

4. A motion is required to adjourn

When the next meeting has already been scheduled and there is no pending business, the chair can say, “If there is no objection, the meeting will be adjourned,” thereby adjourning the meeting by unanimous consent without a formal motion. It is also the case that when a meeting has a fix time to adjourn that the chair can mention that the time has arrived and close the meeting without a motion.

5. To kill a motion you should move to table it

The purpose of tabling a motion is to lay it aside while other items of business are being handled. The body can remove the motion from the table. The correct motion to kill a motion is to postpone indefinitely. A significant difference is that the motion to table is not debateable, while the motion to postpone indefinitely is. It is important for the assembly to be able to discuss whether they want to kill the motion or not.

6. Calling out “Question!” means discussion must end immediately and the chair must put the motion to a vote

Calling out “Question!” is a shorthand of “I move the previous question.” Calling “Question!” is out of order. To be in order, the person would have to stand, be recognized by the chair to speak, and then say, “I move the previous question.” At which time, someone could say, “Second!” from a seated position. The chair would explain that this would end debate on the motion being discussed and then would take a vote on the call for previous question. Only if that motion succeeded with two thirds vote would discussion cease. If it failed, the chair would recognize the next person who rose to speak.

7. A motion can be quickly amended if the person who made the motion and the second agree

Once a motion has been stated by the chair (essentially, repeating what the maker of the motion said), the motion is the property of the body, not of the person who made the motion. So if during debate the person who made the motion sees how he could’ve worded it better and offers to change the motion, it is out of order to do so without an amendment. There is, however, a degree of leeway between the time the motion is made and the chair states the motion. It may take a little effort on the part of the person making the motion to get the wording to what he would like and that is in order. But once the motion is under consideration, it requires an action of the body to change the wording.

8. The highest number of votes wins the election

Yes and no. For a person to win the election, a majority is required. Suppose there are three nominees. One gets 40%, one gets 35%, and one gets 25%. Some believe that the first one would win, as would be the case for some political offices, under the concept of the majority rules, another vote would need to be taken. It could be that some of those who originally supported the first two guys might change their vote to the third guy and reach a compromise vote of 10% for one, 20% for one, and 70% for the last guy. So, yes, he is the guy with the highest number of votes, but he wasn’t originally.

9. A motion to elect the person with the second highest as alternate is in order

If people don’t truly care who is the alternate, the second highest may get the alternate position anyway, but there are a number of problems with this approach. In the example above, the second highest never had more than 35%. Assuming the same list of nominees, minus the winner, it may be that those who voted for the third guy will vote for the guy with the least since their favored candidate is out of it. And it may be that someone has someone else they’d like to nominate as an alternate that wasn’t in the original list.

10. A motion is valid as long as people understand what is intended

In a meeting, someone gets up and makes the some comment about something that he thinks the group ought to do. From the back of the room someone calls out, “So move!” The chair asks for discussion and then takes the vote. This scenario is not in order. To be in order, a motion must have precise word. If it doesn’t, the clerk doesn’t know what to record in the minutes and the people who are voting may not be voting on what they think they are voting on. In cases where the wording is lengthy, the person may be required by the chair to provide motion to the clerk in writing.