2007-05-31 0 comments

Potpourri -- "If Our Hearts Fail Us"

My good friend and cousin Robert wrote this in his Myspace blog -- you can find it here -- and I asked him about reprinting it here. It did my heart good to read it.


"Several places in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, it says that God looks on the heart. Jesus even says "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." He also taught that we have to keep the law in our hearts. Examples: He said that if you are angry at your brother without cause, then it is sin; also if you look at a woman to lust after her, you have committed adultery with her in your heart.

This worried me in the past, especially when I was a teenager because I had desires that weren't spiritual, they were fleshly (I still struggle at times with lust and pride (among other things)). I took this to mean that sin was in my heart. I also thought that your actions were less important than your intentions. This was especially worrisome because I've always found my actions alot easier to control and direct than the thoughts of my mind or the attitude/desires/feelings (whatever you want to call it) of my heart. I know through prayer the Holy Spirit can create in me a pure and clean heart but with my stubborness and prided it is a long process.

Here is the most wonderful verse you may have never heard of, it's in 1 John (not St. John) 3:18-20:

"My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things."

Now getting back to what Jesus said about keeping the law in our hearts. I believe he said this to show that actions (works) aren't enough. That none of us can keep the intent of the law completely (we know that all the law rests on 1) love God with all your heart, mind, and spirit, and 2) love your neighbor as yourself). So, that means that none of us our good enough and all of us need a savior. Okay, that being said...

To me it all boils down to faith. With faith being a little part belief (a little but important part) and a big part action and trust. I say a little part belief because the Bible says that even Satan believes in God but does that mean that he's saved? Now don't get me wrong, we are saved by faith, not by works, but James said to show me your faith without works and I'll show you my faith by my works.

Let me give an example of what I'm trying to get at. Say I have an upcoming church related duty or event (or anything else that involves working for the Lord) but I really don't want to do it. In the past I would have said that I might as well not do it because in my heart I don't want to (my heart's not in it) and God looks on the heart. Today, however, I say to go ahead and do it because then I am working for God inspite of my desires. There is something greater than my heart at work here (refer back to 1 John 3). There is a decision that is born of faith. Maybe all this is just what Paul was talking about when he was discussing the war between the carnal (fleshly) man and the spritual man. Maybe it shows that my heart's true desire is to do God's will and work regardless of what I want.

Your actions show what your heart's desire really is."

Good stuff, huh? Anyone care to share their thoughts on the topic?


Potpourri -- Must've been some good chili sauce

MIAMI (AP) -- A Wendy's manager was shot several times in the arm early Tuesday trying to protect the restaurant's chili sauce, authorities said.

"I did not know I got shot," store manager Renal Frage told WTVJ-TV in Miami. "When I went back to the office, I saw blood pumping out of my arm, and I was shocked. I was checking myself out and couldn't believe I got shot over some chili sauce."

Frage added: "I got shot over chili sauce. I was trying to figure while in the hospital why someone would shoot me over some chili sauce."

Read the rest of the story here.

Potpourri -- Mickerline and Pamela

My wife's friend Dianna is a reporter for the Palm Beach Post, and just finished an amazing piece on two little girls from Haiti.

When I watched it, I was eating a popsicle. I felt guilty -- convicted, even -- for doing so.

Check it out and you'll see why.

(Click here, then click on the banner near the top of the page that says "WEB EXTRA: Walking with Angels.)

Potpourri -- The Gospel of Judas

Yeah, it's kinda old news at this point, but today's entry from RBC Ministries' Our Daily Bread devotional addresses the Gospel of Judas controversy from last year. It's worth reading, at least for me, because I've been studying the historical authenticity of the Bible as part of RBC's Christian Courses curriculum.

Check out the entry here.

2007-05-29 0 comments

Postcards from the wilderness

"But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;

the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you;

or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;

and the fish of the sea will declare to you.

Who among all these does not know

that the hand of the LORD has done this?

In his hand is the life of every living thing

and the breath of all mankind."

"Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it."

Your word is a lamp to my feet

and a light to my path

(Psalm 119:105)

"In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary,

you have been grieved by various trials,

so that the tested genuineness of your faith

-- more precious than gold that perishes

though it is tested by fire --

may be found to result in praise and glory and honor

at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

(1 Peter 1:6,7)

2007-05-25 0 comments

Oh so happy

No telephone, no cell phone, no internet, no television ... man, I can't wait.

Heaven? No, not yet. I'm headed to almost heaven. It's Memorial Day weekend, and I'm packing up the wife and kids and headin' for the mountains. We're going here:

That's Pocahontas County, West Virginia, one of the top 10 most beautiful places on God's green earth. Just trust me on that one.
So, no posts this weekend. I'll be back at it on Tuesday. Maybe I'll post some pics of the trip to go along with whatever God reveals this weekend. The mountains are an inspirational place.
Until then, maybe you could say a prayer for my oldest daugher, who is having surgery to correct an eye condition on Tuesday.
It isn't serious, really ... but she's not even two years-old, and this is her mommy and daddy's first time seeing one of their kids going under the knife.
Until then, check out this site, courtesy of the wonderful folks at RBC Ministries.
Grace and peace ...

2007-05-24 0 comments

More potpourri, please ...

This couldn't wait until News of the Week on Sunday:

"A Christian Group known for slamming celebrities such as 50 Cent and Jessica Simpson plans to celebrate the Paris Hilton's jail sentence by trashing her CDs at Hilton Hotels around the country.
Mark Dice, founder of The Resistance, will speak at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles on June 5 -- the day Hilton, 26, is due to start her 45-day sentence.
'The kinds of role models that have come to light recently in America are horrible role models,' Dice told the New York Daily News.
He called Hilton an 'extremely materialistic, uneducated' person who 'rose to prominence because of a homemade sex video.'
Dice is urging parents whose children own Hilton CDs or books to bring them along. The material will be thrown away." (New York Daily News)

Really? What, you folks have nothing better to do? I hear there are a lot of homeless in L.A. -- think maybe you could, oh, I don't know, hand out some sandwiches on street corners instead of ripping on Paris Hilton?

Now, to be fair, this Dice guy did invite Hilton to his church "because she needs Jesus in her life," and that's true enough. But do you think she'd feel very welcomed if his crew were staging a book burning, er, I mean, a CD throw-away party before she got there?

I was reading Christ's Sermon on the Mount before I went to bed last night, and I came across this passage (from Matthew 6:1-4, ESV):

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
Hmmm ... sounds familiar.
2007-05-23 0 comments

Swamped ...

Whew ... the work is piling up. You'd think it was the middle of basketball season or something.

It's just a bad week, man ... the terrible twos are in full bloom, health issues are rearing their ugly heads, our lawn looks like a rain forest it needs cut so badly, new responsibilities at the office. Must be one of those times that Peter talked about when he said, as followers of Christ, our faith will at times be refined by fire. Of course, I don't feel very golden these days.

I know. Boo hoo, right? One of the things I hate about blogs is that most of them are people who just want someone to complain to, even if it is a computer screen.

When I was in college, this girl I knew had an online journal, and she was all the time whining about this and that and, then, writing about it and telling everyone, 'Hey, I just wrote on my online journal! You should read it!" Yeah. Because that's what I want to do, read about your problems after I just heard yourself gripe about them in person for the last few minutes. Sounds very un-Christian, I know. Then, I wasn't really following Christ in those days, so it's OK, right?

So, just tell me to get over myself, and get over it. OK? OK. There. I feel better.

(Not really).

I'll be back to daily postings soon enough, probably by the end of the week. Hope you'll come back now, y'hear?

Grace and peace ...

2007-05-21 0 comments

More AV Monday ...

Sheesh ... now I feel terrible. I wonder if my daughter heard me raise my voice at my wife the other day.

Uh, yeah. She did. That's just great.


The Need for Cultural Immersion

Yes, it's audio-visual Monday ... which is, in many ways, my favorite blogging day of the week.

After all, not only is it easy to do, but I get to browse You Tube for interesting stuff.

Quick story: I'm browsing for videos, and I come across a whole slew of prank call videos. Man, that stuff breaks me up. It just does. Of course, I have the sense of humor of an eight-year old -- heck, I am an eight year-old -- but there are few things funnier than someone calling into a live CNN show and pulling a fast one. Someone falling down on ice. That's funnier. Like I said, I'm eight years old.

On to the video, with a little commentary to follow

More evidence of how evangelical thinking has changed in just one generation. When I was growing up, the concept of engaging culture wasn't favorably received. I think it's essential.

2007-05-20 0 comments

For week ending May 19 ...

Hey, I can understand the guy's stance -- although I've seen (and laughed hysterically at) -- the movie.
But couldn't he have just plugged in the iPod, closed his eyes and taken a nap? Or, at the very least, used the experience to witness instead of coming across as a goody-two-shoes. I'm not sure this episode will help the guy's witness ... indeed, it probably made it worse.
Again, good idea, bad delivery. I'm sure there are more pressing social causes today's Christian teen can take up than mass protests of Victoria's Secret. Wonder if they considered buying some hot dogs at the nearby Dairy Queen and taking them out to the homeless instead?
Wow. That took some guts.
There's an opportunity here, and more people need to realize how important a mission field college campuses are.
Hey, you! Put that tabloid down. It'll rot your brain.
Think it's strange to pray for a pop culture icon? It's not. I've said it before: people like this are miserable. They are searching for something to fill a void in their lives, and that leads to self-destructive behavior.
Sure, I'd rather have a nice root canal than listen to a Britney Spears album. But that doesn't give me the right to laugh at what sin has done to her life, does it?
(But it doesn't help her cause when the post on her website thanking people for their prayers features a picture of Spears pretty much nude. Come on, girl ... help me out here. I want to like you.)


My daily prayer used to be this: Lord, reveal yourself to me today. I got the idea from my dad.

What I wanted was for God to provide tangible experiences to remind me who He is and who I am. I didn't care how He did that -- the smile of my daughters, the way a cloud billowed up in the sky but still allowed ribbons of light to peek through, the warm caress of the Holy Spirit on my shoulders -- it was all good. Just to know He was there.

The older I get, the more I think that knowing Him is a daily process. Indeed, my salvation is a daily process. Maybe you reach that conclusion if you're the type of person who, like me, kicked Him to the curb for about 10 years.

Oh, sure, there was a singular moment in time when I decided I would follow Jesus, but I am a natural born sinner. My soul is damaged goods, and for that reason I make mistakes all the time. So why wouldn't I need Him every day? And if I need Him every day -- and my sin, by its very nature, separates me from proper communion with Him -- don't I need Him to remind me of His presence every day? I think so, even if that makes me sound unsure of my place in His grace. I assure you it does not.

Maybe it's hard to explain.

Now, my prayer is this: Lord, I want to die to you today.

See, this substitutes the need for God to reveal Himself to me every day. He does it by default.

I'll explain, if not all that well.

If I wake every morning -- and I've been doing this -- and ask God to let die those things in me that are impure, then that allows me to better reflect His life to those around me, because His work is not hampered by my human nature.

When I die to myself, I'm not nearly as angry at work, I'm not nearly as impatient with my wife, I'm not nearly as quick to glare at the guy in the Toyota Tacoma (you know who you are) who drives too fast down my street. Oh, I still have that natural reaction in me, but if I'm consciously pleading to God to deliver me from myself, then those things become infinitely easier to handle.

And when those circumstances in my life that would normally cause me to sin instead cause me to reflect on a God that has delivered me from those circumstances, guess what happens? I get closer to Him, and the closer to Him I am, the more able I am to see His hand at work, both in me and in others. That way, not only am I seeing Him, others are seeing Him in me: both, then, are party to a God who is revealing Himself.

Is there a prayer that you typically give to God every day? I'd be interested in hearing what it is ...

(copyright 2007, andrew j. beckner. all rights under copyright reserved.)

2007-05-17 0 comments

Quick lesson

Another lesson my oldest daugher has taught me is this: She screams in stores and pitches fits on the kitchen floor because, even at just two years old, she somehow understands that I'll love her no matter what ...
2007-05-16 0 comments

I hate people

If I were God, I'd hate people.
I'm not God, incidentally -- and you aren't either, no matter what The Secret says.
Sometimes I hate people. Sorry. I know that's bad. I do.
God doesn't.
Oh, people talk like He does. Take the Virginia Tech tragedy. Whether it was a terrible and random act of violence or the vengence of an unmerciful God -- you take your pick. Chances are, you'll believe what you want anyway. But that wasn't God.
Want to see an angry God at work, read your Old Testament. I was reading through the book of Judges recently, which is full of wonderful stories -- like the tale of Samson; my personal favorite when I was a kid -- once you get past the hard-to-pronounce names. It's not like a lot of Old Testament books, which can be pretty boring unless you do some serious praying beforehand. Then, all kinds of things open up. You should always pray before reading the Bible, because God will show up, show you all sorts of things you would otherwise have missed. This will make you feel wonderfully important because God Himself has taken the time to show you what He meant. That's just another way He shows He loves you. Then you won't think the Bible is so boring, and you just might start realizing He loves you more than He hates you. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Like I was saying, I hate people sometimes. The guy in the Mercedes that cuts me off in traffic -- what, you have more money than me, so that three seconds you saved is more valuable than the three I lost? -- the lazy guy that at work that won't pull his weight while I'm in the office at 4:30 a.m. every day, the woman who leaves the shopping cart out in the middle of the parking lot because she can't be bothered to put it away ... it's sad, really, but I could go on and on. It seems there are a lot of people I hate.
But it's all trivial, when you come right down to it. There's no real reason for me to hate those people, but the same thing that makes me say things I don't mean or gossip or drive too fast or say mean things about people or do things to hurt my body is the same thing that makes me hate people for no good reason. It just happens because on a very basic level I'm a bad person, redeemed though I am.
While reading Judges, I came across an interesting albeit all-too-common moment between God and His chosen people. Exasperated, God seems to throw His cosmic arms up in the air and say, "You know what? I'm doggone fed up. I brought you out of Egypt. I fed you every day. I told you where to go and where not to go, the better to keep you safe. I fought -- and won -- battles for you. And, most imoprtantly, I provided a means by which you can be redeemed of your sins and reconciled to Me so that, when this charmed life you are living in a land I specifically designated for you and in which I destroyed all your enemies is over, you can come to the Kingdom of Heaven and live in eternity with Me. Despite all of that, you still, just like hundreds of times in the past, turned away from Me and worshipped some sculpture whose only intrinsic value lies in the metal in which it was crafted -- which, incidentally, you should have saved for swords because the next time some random army comes rolling through Canaan, you folks are on your own. I'm OUT!"
Obviously, I pulled a Eugene Peterson and paraphrased my way through a passage of scripture. Here's what God actually said in Judges 10:7, 11-14 (and I'm going to use the King James version here, because it, well, is funnier:)
"And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the children of Ammon ... And the LORD said unto the children of Israel, 'Did not I deliver you from the Egyptians, and from the Amorites, from the children of Ammon, and from the Philistines? The Zidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites, did oppress you; and ye cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand? Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation.'"
Man, that is so great ... I love that line "Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation." My paraphrase? "Look, if that half-man/half-fish thing statue was so great, give it a call ... I'm sure it will be happy to bail you out the next time Tom the Amalekite and 40 of his spear-wielding buddies come strolling through your camp with a little pillaging on their minds."
I probably don't need to tell you how this story worked itself out: "And the children of Israel said unto the LORD, We have sinned: do thou unto us whatsoever seemeth good unto thee; deliver us only, we pray thee, this day. And they put away the strange gods from among them, and served the LORD: and his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel (emphasis mine.)"
Yep. You guessed it. He bailed them out. Again.
The temptation is to say, "Man, that God ... what a sucker." But if you read through the Old Testament from the Exodus from Egypt all through the minor prophets -- and pray while you do so, remember -- you'll see one great love story unfolding. That's what the Old Testament is. God did not hate the Israelites. God does not hate you.
Now, non-believers like to point out God's flooding of the earth, His slaughter of Egypt's first born, etc., as evidence of a cruel, hateful deity. To forgo the discussion of the duality of God's nature -- that is, that He is both merciful and just; people like to embrace the former and discard the latter -- the fact remains that God's treatment of His people were actions of love. Their behavior broke communion with Him. It had to. They were imperfect, He was perfect. (For that matter, we are imperfect, too.)
So what did He do? He constantly reminded them who He was, and bailed them out EVERY TIME they screwed up. That the way He dealt with them -- yes, often harshly -- didn't work to permanently change their hearts wasn't His fault. It was theirs. See, they failed to realize that each step in His relationship with them was a different God-directed paradigm building to the moment that He would enter human history and lay down His life in His final act of saving grace, the benefits of which you and I now can freely accept.
That means how He deals with people like me and you is quite different than the way He did to people back then. In an ironic twist, when I hate people I have no right to hate, that gives Him a reason to, in turn, hate me. Which, of course, He doesn't do, no more than He hated the Israelites every time they kicked Him to the curb in favor of the latest fashion trend in god worship.
That is such beautiful truth it brings a smile to my heart.
(copyright 2007, andrew j. beckner. all rights under copyright reserved.)

Jerry Falwell: 1933-2007

I can't say I always agreed with Jerry Falwell -- maybe rarely did -- but we agreed on the one thing that mattered: the redemption of man through the saving grace and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

So, he's now hanging out where I'm headed.
2007-05-14 0 comments

Simple moments

Quick story, at the risk of my own embarrassment:

I'd had a hot dog the other day -- I'm not sure what they do to you, but let's just say I was a little bloated.

So, I took care of the problem ... in baby parlance, I tooted.

My oldest daughter -- that's her, by the way -- who is in the midst of potty training, made a gasping noise and said:

"You poopy? Wanna go potty?"

(Maybe you had to have been there.)

When I became a father, I waited for these profound moments of parental joy. I imagined they'd be commonplace, you know?

To be sure, there were some. The first time I heard my daughter say the name of Jesus was such a lovely and moving experience I want her to say it all the time. That's an example. Every time she says, in broken English, "I love you," is another.
But more common are those daily occurences that remind me of how absolutely blessed I am to be a father ... and how important that I realize her life is on loan. If our lives are for service -- and they are -- then we must serve first those to whom God has entrusted us. My life should be spent mirroring Christ to her.

And you want to know something? When that not-quite-two-year-old girl asked her 31-year old daddy if he needed to go to the potty, I'd be willing to bet Jesus had a little laugh Himself.


Why, yes, that is a cold chill down your spine ...

Audio/visual Monday ... but nothing uplifting today. Sorry. I know it's Monday and all. I'll do better next week.

Make sure you watch until the end, when the children begin calling into the show. Think there will ever be peace in Israel until Christ forces the issue?

2007-05-13 0 comments

For week of May 6-12

For Heaven's sake, hug your mom today.
So, let me get this straight. Not only do we need to expand gambling in West Virginia every few years and deal with the resulting calamity on our communities, we should do away with an independent and successful gambling hotline and replace it with those who'd rather problem gamblers keep feeding those slots. Talk about the blind leading the blind. (By the way, vote no on June 9.)
Not one evangelical leader in America made the list. I'm not sure if that's the result of cultural bias toward "Jesus freaks" or if we're not doing a good enough job of confronting the culture. Probably a little of both.
There are a lot of bad guys in the world today -- well, OK, all of us are bad guys, when you get right down to it -- but Robert Mugabe is near the top of the list. Bin Laden has become the face of individual evil, and that's a pretty fair characterization, to be sure. But when you get right down to it, Mugabe is worse. He runs a country ... and does it right into the ground. You can read some of the highlights here. Anyway, kudos to the Catholic leaders literally risking their very lives by taking a stand in a country with 1,593 percent unemployment. That's not a typo.
When I was a kid, my favorite character from the Bible was Samson. Maybe it was because he was kind of like an Old Testament super-hero -- the Incredible Hulk meets Father Abraham. And, yes, I had a Samson action figure. You know what? I liked my He-Man toys better.
Sorry, fellas. You can't prove the existence of God without the Bible. At least not in the way an unbelieving public expects -- or wants -- you to. You just can't. Coming to Christ is not a matter of believing in the rationality of the supernatural. It's a matter of faith.
Briefly: Did you catch the 20/20 episode Friday night on faith in America? I thought it was a pretty even-handed treatment, although we could have done without the sensationalist segment on demonic exorcism ... The Motion Picture Association of America will now consider smoking on par with violence and bad language in rating movies.
See you tomorrow. Grace and peace ...
2007-05-10 0 comments


CHEERS and jeers to local church leaders for their work -- or lack of it -- in hoping to defeat the West Virginia table games legislation.

Cheers to Seth Polk, senior pastor at Cross Lanes Bible Church, who preaches against the expansion of gambling in West Virginia -- right from the pulpit! Gasp! He even plans to put inserts into Sunday bulletins highlighting the dangers of institutionalized gambling! Egad!

Then, there's Paul Ronk, minister at King's Way Christian Church in Nitro -- who could do more. He said in a recent newspaper article "... you have to be very careful on how you say it. I do it more on an individual basis." That's because some of his parishoners favor the legislation, and he doesn't want to offend anyone. Yeah. Jesus didn't either.

Finally, jeers to Dennis Johnson, senior minister for Charleston Baptist Temple, who allows those opposed to institutionalized gambling to post things on the church bulletin board, but that's it. "I really think in many ways the steam's kind of gone out of this issue for a lot of folks. It comes down to a matter of personal choice at this point." So does salvation, incidentally.

2007-05-09 0 comments

Potpourri, part two

So, which are you?

Are you this?

How evil are you?

Or, are you this:

How evil are you?

Not to human bash or anything here, but you are more like the latter than the former. Just a fact. I took the quiz twice, and got the first result. I could have easily got the second.

Why? Look at it this way (and this is not an original illustration ... I got it from Don Miller's Blue Like Jazz).

Let's say a parent had twins. One was given discipline, instruction, teaching and training. Right from wrong, not to shoot people, that sort of thing.

The second? He was left to his own devices. Play in the street? No big deal. Kick his brother in the head? Well, boys will be boys, yes?

Not to get into a nature vs. nurture debate here, but how would those two kids turn out? The bottom line is that we are broken. Our souls are damaged property.

Want to know how to fix it?

Click here to read the story of how humans got here in the first place ...
2007-05-08 0 comments

At home in a house church

I grew up in a non-denominational church, but you could call us Baptists when you get right down to it.

Oh, and I almost went to a snake handling church one time -- I was invited as a reporter by a congregant who wanted to get the word out to anyone interested in praising Jesus with a canebrake rattler or two -- but moved out of the area before I could take him up on it. I seriously wanted to go, and still do. I've been to Penecostal churches and Churches of God and United Bretheren Churches and Catholic Mass.

Then, there was the first time I went to a Methodist Church. I didn't like it very well because I had a raging hangover from partying too hard the night before and I kept having to stand up and sit down, stand up and sit down, stand up and sit down while saying things like, "We lift our praises to the Lord." Bells figured prominently in the serivce.

It was not a great introducution to Methodism, even if if was my fault. Not that I would condone alcohol-induced debauchery, but if you're ever hung-over, stay away from very large Methodist Churches. If the Holy Spirit's conviction doesn't get you, the bells will. Just pray while lying down in the bathroom and save yourself the time.

These days, I love my church. Love it.

My pastor, Frank, is a wonderfully beautiful being, a corny joke machine that you just want to hug. Then hug again. The other people, too.

Frank is a wonderful teacher, too -- when he teaches (not preaches), he is all the time telling us stuff like the Greek root words of New Testament scripture or the original Hebrew from Old Testament text. This makes everyone feel smart. And everyone wants to feel smart. Especially Christians, who often are made to feel so very dumb.

My church is what you might call a house church. On any given Sunday there are, oh, about 20 or 25 of us -- children included -- and we meet in the lobby of a dentist's office. Frank's wife works there as office manager.

We're part of a growing trend these days toward smaller, more intimate congregations. Oh, sure, churches like Lakewood, Saddleback and Mars Hill get most of the publicity these days with mega-churches being all in vogue, but there's a movement afoot that's growing in spite of itself.

The numbers, according to the Barna Group, an evangelical research organization:

  • Between five million and 20 million Americans participate in house churches each week; that's between 9 and 11 percent of Christians.
  • The average size of a house church is 15 people, with five children.
  • 72 percent of house church congregants are satisfied with the sense of community they get on Sundays.

Whether you want to call it organic church, house church or simple church, the fact is that this is something of a phenomenon.

House2House, an organization that promotes house church and offers resources such as the website Simple Church, claims "Christians in the United States are moving toward house churches faster than any American religious movement of the past 250 years." I can't say I dispute that, becaue there's no way of knowing to what they are comparing it. But when you factor in that if nine percent of Christians attend house churches compared to one percent 10 years ago, well, that's not exactly an explosion of growth. Evidence that there's some sort of momentum, to be sure. But house churches have not gone viral.

But many of us who call house church our home, we're missing something here: the long-term impact. Just what is it?

In more proof that Generation X is slouching toward respectability, my biggest concern about home churches has to do with my kids.

Home church, at least in our time, is a new concept, the effects of which over a longer period can't be known. What of my two daughters? Will the efficacy of Jesus' gospel be hindered by their being raised in a house church? I grew up in a traditional church, and my foundation was strong because I was given age-appropriate training in biblical wisdom. Now, I know it's trendy to decry this type of "indoctrination" of youth, but the Bible admonishes us to train -- not raise, train -- our children in the ways of God. If that means teaching Jesus while using a flannelboard, that's not all bad, is it? What about children's church? Lock-ins? Group trips to bowling alleys or swimming pools? House churches decry this sort of "programming." Besides, there aren't enough people to minister specifically to kids anyway.

To House2House's credit, it addresses the issue, saying "our house churches do not sufficiently emphasize the importance of growing children. The war is won or lost by the age of 13." I don't agree that the war is won or lost by the age of 13, but the point is well made.

Then there's the issue of insularity. In a recent story in the Colorado Springs Gazette -- Colorado Springs is the home of the massive New Life Church, better known as the former pastorate of Ted Haggard -- a "pastor" of a house church there was quoted as saying "We focus on each other. We don't exist for anything less than that." The question remains: do they exist for more than that?

Again, house churces decry programming, but if all a house church exists is for their own sense of community -- and I can attest that our congregation loves each other very much, which is the very epitome of Christ's message -- then what's left for a needy world?

Indeed, the Colorado Springs story says -- written by the author, mind you -- people "involved in house churches often don't feel a need to network with large groups of people. That's part of the point." And that point is a problem.

The author acknowledges this, writing, "Other critics believe house churches are ... unwilling to reach out and help those outside their close-knit group."

I wonder what Jesus would make of church today. What kind would He go to? Would He go at all?

A lot of this house church growth certainly comes from the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, but its roots are in the meetings of the first-century Christians. But we look at the first century church through what Mars Hill calls "a brush of idealism."

Yes, the first century church met in small groups, but that was a function of both persecution and the fact it was a new faith with relatively few followers. They had to grow. Does that mean bigger churches are more effective, considering the biggest explosion in church/Christianity happened after those first house churches, through the power of the Holy Spirit, flourised into something that could more effectively minister the Gospel?

There are, to be sure, pros and cons on the issue of house churches:

  • PRO -- It's hard to be anonymous in a house church and, thus, hard not to be involved. If you're hurting, someone will see it, and someone will ask if they can help. A pro-house church writer once said (and I'm paraphrasing), "If you feel lost and ignored in a large, traditional church, it's because you are." I don't agree, but you get the point.
  • CON -- A bigger church means a bigger impact in the community. Our mission is to love others, to serve the world, to make a difference in the lives of those around us. Say what you will about a big -- and some would say, impersonal -- church, but its size, if not its collective passion, enables it to do big things.
  • PRO -- Sermons can be interactive, with "parishoners" asking questions that emphasize key points and make the message more relevant to each person.
  • CON -- My daughter is pretty high strung, and when she decides she doesn't want to sit there anymore, EVERYONE has to hear it.
  • PRO -- Ever taken communion with just 15 other people? It is indescribably beautiful.
  • CON -- Start times are nebulous, at best. Church can't really start until most people get there, and if more than one family is late, it holds things up.

There are more questions here than answers. There's a reason for that. The movement, while not brand-new, has reached a tipping point where some of this stuff has to be addressed if we're to understand how Christ wants us to move His church forward.


I didnt' get this written in time for Tuesday -- which is normally one of two days for original content -- meaning I've run into Wednesday's links day. So, here are a few, courtesy of those you can always access on the sidebar on the right-hand side of your screen. For starters, you can access house church websites by clicking here (House2House), here (SimpleChurch), here (OpenChurch) or, check out the Wikipedia article on the house church movement here.

Agape Christian Fellowship -- Our church. As the unofficial webmaster, I'm at work right now tweaking the website to offer streaming video of Frank's sermons, complete with slides of scripture and study notes.

On the Way Ministries -- I had a chance to meet Bill Smith, founder of On the Way Ministries, last summer. Sharp, sharp cookie. He has some great insights.

Theology Online -- Like to debate? Click on over here and have at it.

Grace and peace ...

2007-05-07 0 comments

That's My King

It's audio/video Monday, which sort of sounds like shop class on the first day of the school week when Mr. B was coming off a long weekend bender and didn't feel like teaching. I'm not so far removed from my wild and crazy days that I can't relate.

So how about checking out this is sermon by the late
S.M. Lockridge -- you can read about him here -- who gave a sermon some years ago in which he attempted to describe our Savior. (Sounds like he did a doggone good job.) It's another great video from the good folks over at Igniter Media, and I promise to look elsewhere for a video from another source next week.

Not only do I love the video itself, but it's even better because it reminds me of the types of sermons I used to hear when I was a kid, when preachers would kick off their shoes and stomp up and down the aisles proclaiming God's goodness.

Quick story, and I have a ton of these days from an idyllic childhood sitting in the second pew on the left, beside my granny, at the Bancroft Church of God Mission: one of my favorite old saints was a guy named John, who doubled as the church janitor -- in those days, you didn't have to call someone a custodian for the sake of political correctness.

I called him Big John because he was a pretty hefty dude to eight year-old eyes. He had these big ears and an even bigger smile, old tattoos on his forearms inked during his days in the Army ... and this was before barbed-wire tattoos were common on 18 year-old white kids from the suburbs, mind you. There was still significant social stigma attached to people inked up. His had turned green and faded over the years enough that you couldn't quite make out what they were supposed to be.

One Sunday -- and I'm not sure why; it doesn't matter -- John got caught up in the Spirit. He raised those tattooed arms in adulation of his God, stood from his pew with his head upturned so that tears flowed down his checks and onto his wrinkled neck. He didn't bother wiping them off; heck, he probably didn't even know they were there. He shouted his praises and walked around the sanctuary, up and down the aisles and, then, he walked through a side door and back toward the Sunday School classrooms. You could literally hear him shouting from back there, getting alternately quiet and loud as he walked around, unseen by anyone but God Himself, in the empty spaces surrounding the main auditorium.

When he finally came back around, he appeared at the door that led out to the choir loft -- he was still weeping, still shouting, still raising those tattooed arms -- before walking back down the steps by the pulpit and sitting down at his seat.

And you know the greatest thing? No one missed a beat. No one. The service rolled on, the choir still sung, people still stood and testified, all while Big John went about his business. It wasnt' that they were ignoring him -- no, Big John was given the freedom to worship His savior as he saw fit.

I can understand why public displays of emotion in adulation of Jesus might be off-putting or even uncomfortable to some people these days -- and maybe even threatening. It's not particulary dignified, at least in the way that a lot of people would define it, but it is beautiful and it is true and it is real. At least that's the way I remember services like that --and sermons like this -- and I do so very fondly.

Sadly, these days it's easy to dismiss acts of worship like the ones from my childhood, because they are characterized as those delivered with histronics by big-haired preachers or bigoted fundamentalists who'd rather shout at you about hell than hug you and tell you about heaven. You call that narrow minded?

Those with culturally acceptable tunnel vision who view southern-style Christianity without once looking beyond their pre-conceived notions and embrace that the very true story of Jesus should understand that the Gospel can come in a high-brow and very intelligently written diatribe or in the rhythmic cadence of a black preacher pouring out his heart -- or, in the weeping adulation of a simple man in love with his God.

So, in honor of both Shadrach Meshach Lockridge -- and my friend Big John, who spends his days now raising his arms in the literal presence of My King -- I ask you: do you know Him today?
2007-05-04 0 comments

More housekeeping

So here's the plan. The more you update you blogs, the more "pings" you get on blog search engines and the like.

And the more "pings" you get, the more readers you get.

And the more readers you get, the more people hear about Jesus.

And the more people who hear about Jesus ... well, if you know Him, you know what I mean.

So, in the interest of writing something on the blog six days a week -- and that's the plan, for good or ill -- I've decided to have a feature specific to each day of the week, barring Saturdays. That's my day off from adding my two cents to the blog-o-sphere.

Here's the lineup:

MONDAY -- Audio/video day ... there's all sorts of interesting and faith-related stuff on YouTube, VidMax and the like. The plan is to post one of them every Monday.

TUESDAY -- Original content ... you know, the stuff I write

WEDNESDAY -- Links day ... I'm always browsing, surfing -- pick your synonym -- and coming up with interesting sites of faith that are worth visiting.

THURSDAY -- Potpourri ... that's how you spell it, yes? Just a random collection of thoughts, kind of like Jack Handy (a reference you'll get if you were in high school/college in the 1990s.)

FRIDAY -- Original content

SATURDAY -- Yard work, rough-housing with the kids, staying out of trouble with my wife ... typical day off

SUNDAY -- News of the Week

There you go. Hope you'll come back.

2007-05-01 0 comments


If you read yesterday's post, you know there's a squabble going on between the Southern Baptist Convention and the Acts 29 Network, an emerging church organization that plants churches nationwide.

The rift is nothing new -- it's in many ways the same back-and-forth between established, modernist denominations and the new, post-modern emerging church movement. There's plenty out in the blog-o-sphere about all this, and since I didn't plan on writing anything today I'll not rehash it all here. It would take more time than I have (although, like all other bloggers, I have an opinion ... and, yes, I'll be sharing in the coming days. You're welcome.) I am technically at work right now.

But as a sidebar to yesterday's news of the week item regarding all this and in response to a story that threatens to get bigger and bigger, Acts 29 released a statement yesterday that bears repeating here.

There's just too much misunderstanding about just what the emerging church movement is, what it hopes to accomplish and what its leaders believe. I can certainly understand the concern groups like the SBC has ... after all, some of the more radical leaders of the emergent movement (which is part of the larger emerging church movement ... I know, I know. It gets complicated. Read up on it ... you should be aware of what's going on in the 21st Century Church), make dangerous and heretical claims.

But Acts 29 is not a radical group by any stretch of the imagination ... at lest, not radical in the sense that they capitulate on critical areas of basic Christian doctrine. Indeed, the group is very, very evangelical and, in many ways, fundamentalist. After all, what is more fundamental than the fact that Jesus is The Way, The Truth and The Life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him? That's Acts 29's position. Interestingly enough, it's the SBC's position as well. How's that for common ground?

Anyway, read the Acts 29 statement here, and, while you're at it -- and, if you're interested -- check out a primer on emerging church courtesy of Scot McKnight, who writes the Jesus Creed blog that's listed under by blog roll and who wrote the invaluable, Cliff's Notes version of it all with his essay "The Future or Fad." I've also added my two cents a number of times here in this space, and I'd invite you to take a look back through the archives if you'd like (it just dawned on me that I should make a list of topics we've covered here and list entries under their respective headings ... I'll add that to the ever-growing list of things to do.)

Oh, and one other thing. Take a look at the SBC's list of basic beliefs, then read Acts 29's statement of doctrine. Once you read between the lines, there's not a lot of difference there. Sheesh, what are you guys fighting about? An elder in some Acts 29 church somewhere drinking a Blue Moon and a minister somewhere else serving a $9 Shiraz for the Lord's Supper?

I once heard a dear friend of mine, who is a Pentecostal preacher, give a sermon at the chuch where he grew up. This church ... well, let's just say it's not a Penecostal church. It's idea of being in the spirit is singing with your eyes closed.

Before his sermon, this preacher, a very smart and astute man with an understanding of his congregation, said that if he and the members of the church would make a list of doctrinal positions, putting them in sequential order of their importance, they would likely find themselves into the 50s before any disagreement.

The lesson? We're all on the same team here. It's a lesson the SBC and Acts 29 should take to their forgiven hearts.