Saturday, May 31, 2008


Spending time in the mountains with college students always gets me thinking. It's that time of year again where we train and equip college aged folks to lead mission trips all summer. The energy and idealism of 19 to 25 year-olds is such a breath of fresh air. It's also sobering to be with people who are deeply committed to Christ but quite willing to question and criticize the church. There really is an attitude of genuine concern that much of the church doesn't look much like what they're reading in the Bible.

Last night a bunch of us went out to the movies. Two rode along with me to the theater...about an hour ride one way. On the way back, as we climbed the mountain pass back to our training facility questions came up about the differences between certain Christian denominations. The two were truly uninformed about the issues that separate Christians into these closed systems that often seem hostile to one another. They both expressed great joy at the chance to work for an organization that provides opportunities for interdenominational missions. They've both benefited from working and spending time with other Christians outside their denominational upbringing.

As I shared the differences I was once again struck by just how ridiculous the things we as Christian denominations have chosen to focus on must seem to most people. Frankly, much of it seems ridiculous to me and I worked in one of those denominations for most of my adult life. It gets harder and harder to explain...much less defend...the behavior of denominations, and those who cling to them, to young people who are on fire for Jesus and wishing all of us would get off our doctrinally accurate and theologically sound butts and make some sort of difference in the world. While there is much good that comes out of the church, the damage done by our fractious nature often overshadows, if not obliterates, that good work. At least when it comes to the perception of those who'll have nothing to do with the church they see from the outside.

So, this morning upon waking it dawned on me that, in explaining denominations last night I spent much of the time talking about what we disagree about. Or at least what one group thinks as OPPOSED to another group. That word opposition is what hung me up this morning. Far too often we define ourselves as separate from others by focusing on what we disagree with or what we don't like about them. It's no wonder, then, that we can't work together. If I'm always looking at what I don't like about you or those points where we don't agree I'll never consider working alongside you. I'll never see the great qualities you have or the wonderful gifts you might bring to a relationship.

Here's what might be a dangerous experiment. For one week try focusing on the shortcomings of those you're closest to. Think about all the things you disagree about with your spouse, siblings and relatives. Don't soften or balance your thoughts with how much you might like them or any qualities you admire. Strictly keep your focus on where you differ and what bothers you about them. After one week I'd love to know how your attitude toward your family members has changed. After just one week I'd hazard a guess that there might be some significant damage that might need to be repaired. Not because the people you love are any different, but because you chose...consciously ignore all that was good and focus on the differences and irritations. Now imagine doing that same thing, not for weeks but for decades, centuries! It's not hard to see why denominations find it so difficult to play nice together.

Isn't it time to shift our focus? For the sake of the body of Christ shouldn't we start finding ways in which we agree? Isn't there a big wide world out there that could benefit immeasurably if this family could truly love, respect and, yes, even cherish each other? I, for one, think it's past time for denominations to get on with collapsing and dying so we can have a big reunion and get busy with what really matters.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Nicely Done

We joined a church here in town about four months ago. It was quite a process for us to finally find a place where we felt we belonged. Last Sunday I dropped a check in the offering plate. It was the first check since we became members. A couple days later I got a letter from the Senior Pastor. It was a delightful letter. It didn't acknowledge the amount of our gift...which leads me to believe that he doesn't even know how much it was. It simply said, "I've asked our treasurer to let me know when someone begins to contribute to our ministry...and I wanted to thank you." There were some other encouraging words about giving and supporting the work of the Lord and the blessings that come from giving.

What impressed me most about this letter is that, having gotten to know the pastor just a little bit, it seemed genuine and heartfelt. He really appreciates people supporting the ministry and goes out of his way to say so. It obviously helps the church but he knows it's an even greater blessing to those who give. He didn't have to say anything about our gift. We don't tithe to get a tax write-off or letters from the pastor. But the letter tells me that he has his head on straight about giving and those who give. He's positive, affirming and encouraging.

Years ago I sat in a church board meeting where people actually suggested that we leave the lights off and not play the organ on Sunday morning to let people know that if they didn't start giving more money we wouldn't be able to pay our electric bill! True story!! That's just one of many plans I've heard through the years from church people who were frustrated that the giving wasn't paying the bills. They missed the point completely that giving isn't about paying bills! Along the way those types of approaches give the impression that the church is desperate for people's money while not caring too very much for the people themselves.

I'm happy to be involved with a church that seems to communicate care for the people and gratitude when those people choose to bless the church financially, as well. It's nice when I get the chance to say to a church...nicely done.