Of Action and Prayer

I ended Of Prayer and Action rather abruptly. Some might even believe I ended it in a heavy-handed way, sort of a “my way or the highway” thought. My real purpose was to make readers think about what I said. If you’re reading this, I might have succeeded. If you have not read the previous piece, you might want to before reading further in this one.

My feelings on the topic of prayer and action, or action vs. prayer, are the result of my Christian Walk. I first learned about God and Christ as a small child, but I did not learn at church. I learned from stories my mom read to me and let me read. They were Bible stories for children, and most of what I knew about our Father in Heaven could be summed up in the Lord’s Prayer and the child’s prayer I was taught to recite before I went to bed.*

In both of those prayers, I was praying for God to do the work. He was asked to supply my daily bread. He was asked to keep my soul and take it if I died, and in at least one version of the bedtime prayer He was asked to guide me should I live. It seems these themes have become mainstream thinking within much of Protestant Christianity at least. We pray! God does!

In the modern world of social media and evolving politics, the pastor’s message discussed in Of Prayer makes a good deal of sense. Modern communication systems, and the stress many feel today, make it easy to do something we will regret once we are no longer blinded by rage or hurt. Praying is something in which we should engage before responding to an insult or position that one cannot support. Prayer is certainly much better than counting to ten, or more, as many suggest before responding. Yet, prayer is not a substitute for action.

God would not be much of a deity if He expected us to pray simply so He would know what we wanted. He would not seem very omnipotent if waited for our permission to act. He would not be a very good Father if He treated us like puppets instead of letting us learn. He expects us to take action, not simply pray and wait for Him to fix things.

If that was not the case, why did Jesus send the Apostles out to build the church? He did not say sit here, pray for where you want people to believe, and I’ll take care of it. He sent them forth to spread His message, sharing the truth of His birth, death, and resurrection.

The Bible contains our marching orders. It gives us the blueprint of how we are to live, what we are to do, and how we are to accomplish our tasks. Prayer is our way to consciously reach out to God. Prayer, like talking to an old friend or confidant, is a way to process our thoughts and articulate what God knows we are thinking. He will, if He thinks it necessary, respond in some tangible and clear way. My experience in this area leads me to believe He only has to make His position obvious when we are lying to ourselves, but that is a discussion for another day.

For today, here is the bottom line. If we feel strongly we should take some action, move in some particular direction, or feel strongly we should not do something, we should pray about it. If God does not send us a sign, and in most cases that is the last thing you might want, we have to decide what to do, using the counsel and resources available to us.

If we are attempting to do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, God may not stop us. That is the price of free will, and it is also the price we pay for lying to ourselves. The vast majority of us know when what we are thinking is wrong. On the other hand, He may stop us, but there will still be a price to pay.

If we are doing the right thing, for the right reason, God will see us through, even if our efforts are not successful. Sometimes failure is the only way we learn. Yes, even failure has a purpose.

* I was only taught the short version of this prayer as a child. Some sources say that was the “original” version, but no one seems to know for certain. Also, as with anything relating to religion, other traditions or denominations have variations of which I have little knowledge. One of the best pieces I found concerning the origins of the prayer was in a newspaper, the New Haven Register.

© sinnerswalk.com

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An Old Preacher’s Sermon*

While watching a little TV one day instead of going to church, I watched a church in Atlanta honoring one of its senior pastors who had been retired many years. He was 92 at that time and I wondered why the church even bothered to ask the old gentleman to preach at that age.

After a warm welcome, introduction of this speaker, and as the applause quieted down, he rose from his high back chair and walked slowly, with great effort and a sliding gait to the podium. Without a note or written paper of any kind he placed both hands on the pulpit to steady himself and then quietly and slowly he began to speak….

“When I was asked to come here today and talk to you, your pastor asked me to tell you what was the greatest lesson ever learned in my 50-odd years of preaching. I thought about it for a few days and boiled it down to just one thing that made the most difference in my life and sustained me through all my trials.
The one thing that I could always rely on when tears and heartbreak and pain and fear and sorrow paralyzed me… The only thing that would comfort was this verse…….

“Jesus loves me this I know.
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong,
We are weak but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.”

When he finished, the church was quiet. You actually could hear his footsteps as he shuffled back to his chair. I don’t believe I will ever forget it.

A pastor once stated, “I always noticed that it was the adults who chose the children’s hymn ‘Jesus Loves Me’ (for the children of course) during a hymn sing, and it was the adults who sang the loudest because I could see they knew it the best.”

Here is a new “senior” version just for us who have white hair or no hair at all. For us over middle age (or even those almost there) and all you others, check out this newest version of Jesus Loves Me.


Jesus loves me, this I know,
Though my hair is white as snow
Though my sight is growing dim,
Still He bids me trust in Him.

Though my steps are oh, so slow,
With my hand in His I’ll go
On through life, let come what may,
He’ll be there to lead the way.

When the nights are dark and long,
In my heart He puts a song..
Telling me in words so clear,
“Have no fear, for I am near.”

When my work on earth is done,
And life’s victories have been won.
He will take me home above,
Then I’ll understand His love.

I love Jesus, does He know?
Have I ever told Him so?
Jesus loves to hear me say,
That I love Him every day.

If you think this is neat, please pass it on to your friends. If you do not pass it on, nothing bad will happen, but you will have missed an opportunity to “reach out and touch” a friend or a loved one.

God Bless Us All!!!

Author Unknown

*Someone shared a version of this with me on FB, and then it disappeared because the original post was apparently not shared publicly. I found the story in multiple sources on line, but I was unable to establish the origin of this piece. I cannot tell you if it is just a great story or the truth. Either way, it I wanted to share.

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Of Prayer and Action

One of my favorite lay pastors was a retired doctor with a sense of humor. He often used his sense of humor during his Sunday morning remarks at our Adult Bible Study. Occasionally he crossed a line or two with some in the study. You see, he was the Life Stage Pastor for the believers fifty and above. Many were well into their seventh decade, and in some cases, their sense of humor seemed to have disappeared in the annals of history.

One joke, in particular, brought a scathing rebuke from one of the group matriarchs. Standing at the podium one morning he was attempting to make a point similar to the one I hope to make here, prayer without action is sometimes not the answer. The joke goes like this:

A young woman, a strong believer, prayed regularly. She prayed for all the things one would expect, but she also prayed she would win the lottery. One morning during her prayer time she stopped and looked up toward the heavens. With a sigh, she raised her arms and said, "Heavenly Father, I have prayed for years to win the lottery, so I could use that money to do good works in Your name. Why have I never won?" As she closed her eyes and lowered her head again in prayer, a voice whispered in her ear. "First, you've got to buy a ticket."

Okay! If you saw the movie “Bruce Almighty,” you have a pretty good idea of how many people are praying to win the lottery. As a believer you, just like the lady in the class, likely do not think God would answer such a prayer, and if He decided to grant her wish she wouldn’t need to buy the ticket. Still, the idea of taking action is the topic here, not the lottery or winning scads of money.

The point the pastor hoped to make was prayer alone is not always the answer. Sometimes believers must actually do something. We cannot sit back and wait for God to supernaturally print a winning lotto ticket and place it in our hands. The lady in class may have been right when she told Pastor Jim God would never answer such a prayer. If He did, the recipient’s lesson might not be what they expected, but that discussion will need to wait for another day.

Sincere prayer is a necessity in any believer’s life. It is important as it is an expression of one’s submission to God’s power and authority. It is important as it helps us focus on our relationship with God. It is important, because He expects us to ask for what we want and need, not simply be bystanders waiting for someone in the parade of life to throw us a candy bar.

Sadly, the pastor delivering the Sunday sermon which inspired this essay may have left some who heard him believing that is exactly what a believer should do, pray and wait. I do not feel he meant it that way, but that could have been the message many heard.

The mistake, if he made one, was tying the message to the debacle that was 2020. He was attempting to preach a message of hope, by admonishing us not to become so wrapped up in the world that we forgot God is in control. He specifically, mentioned the tendency to lash out at others or express our views on subjects via social media. He encouraged us to fall back on our faith, pray and trust in God.

What made the message so ironic in a way was the opening message from another member of the pastoral staff. In his opening remarks, he shared how much our congregation had done through tithing to help saints around the world fight for the unborn, fight to stop human trafficking, and take other steps to help believers deal with the world. Yes, as a church we prayed for God to do something about these issues, but we also took action to do what we could to deal with the matters.

Prayer is essential to a mature believer’s life. Yet prayer in and of itself is not all God calls us to do. He calls us to support, financially and otherwise, those called to the ministry and mission field. He also calls us to be a light, to let others see Him through us. That is very hard to do if all we do is pray and expect God to do all the heavy lifting.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2021

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Speaking Gratefully: God is in Control

One of my little vices is listening to talk radio in the car. It allows me to keep up with the local news, the national hysteria, and the latest celebrity fund-raising gimmicks for one charity or another all at the same time. One local show is very entertaining and informative, as well as somewhat objective.

To make things even more interesting, the host claims he is a Bible-believing Christian. Mixing religion, politics, and current events can lead to interesting confrontations, as it did recently.  The topic, of course, was President Trump’s attempts to stop the president-elect’s confirmation.

At one point, the host claimed he would be grateful to God for President Trump regardless of how things went. He elaborated by making the point, President Trump’s Supreme Court choices made him grateful, even in the face of rulings he might not like.

A short time later, a caller challenged the host on his comment. The caller was upset about the court’s decision to refuse to hear the Texas litigation designed to overturn the 2020 election. The caller wondered if the host would still be grateful if the court made other decisions that conservatives did not like.

The host took the easy way out. He said he could not know what decisions the court might render.  I say he took the easy way out because answering the question to most people’s satisfaction would be impossible.

The true answer would be, “I will be grateful because I believe God has a plan, and whatever the court rules will further that plan.”  Of course, the vast majority of the people hearing such an answer would find it unsatisfactory. Not only would they find it unsatisfactory, but they would also charge the host with trying to weasel-word his way out of the situation.

The problem facing the host, or anyone, trying to answer such a question reminds me of the Jack Nicholson line in an old movie. While testifying in a court marital Nicholson’s character explodes, “You can’t handle the truth!” His response is to Tom Cruise’s character shouting, “I want the truth!”

If one is a believer, there is truth in the belief that God has a plan. There is also truth in the statement that everything, including Supreme Court rulings, may be part of that plan. The problem is we may not always like God’s plan, and the old quip, “in His time,” is something we may not like either.

The Bible teaches many bad things will happen before God’s plan is fulfilled. Someone understanding that is one thing; being okay with it is another. That is why attempting to use God’s plan in a discussion such as the one mentioned above may not go the way one would hope.

I made this point some years ago in a piece titled Of Job and Ants.  In Biblical times people understood their relationship with God.  They knew His plan was to be fulfilled. They also knew they might not appreciate everything that happened in the interim. Still, they would believe it was part of God’s plan. They would understand things, court rulings, laws, elections, crimes they did not like would take place, but that did not mean He was not in control.

Unfortunately, the phrases “In His Time” and “God’s perfect timing” are not understood by many believers, much less skeptics, and others. If that were not bad enough, many so-called Christian leaders today distort the idea of a “Loving God,” especially those in the health, wealth, and prosperity pulpits.

God made the Israelites wander in the wilderness for forty years because they were not ready to enter the promised land. He allowed, and still allows, Christians to be looked down upon in some countries and persecuted mercilessly in others.

If Job were alive today, he would know what the host meant. A few years, or decades, of questionable Supreme Court decisions, should not cause great despair. Job would know, as would Paul, Stephen, and many others in New Testament times, that suffering and disappointment are inevitable. Still, they would be grateful that God is in control because of what awaits believers in the future.

There are reasons for the trials, tribulations, and disappointments we all face on Earth. That is the point that needed making. That is the explanation the caller needed to hear. Unfortunately, that is a bit much to explain in a few minutes on the radio. 

© sinnerswalk.com – 2021

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A Question of Leaven

The image to the right may bring mixed reactions from people of faith. Some might find it amusing, some might find it offensive, and others might find it insipid. Pilsbury might find it a violation of their trademark rights. I found it interesting.

Without knowing its origin, one might have trouble interpreting it. For example, one user attempted to show it as a celebration or acknowledgment of Easter and Passover, two religious traditions, or beliefs.

Others made only tongue in cheek references to Easter, but none that I found were horribly offensive. Of course, some people can be offended by almost anything, especially something that has fun with a spiritual or biblical belief.

In my mind, the intent is of little concern. Intentionally or not, this cartoon’s creator and subsequent play on words humorously point out a major difference between Christianity and Judaism. At least the difference between the two faiths for the last 2,000 years or so. Of course, as with any analogy or simile, the danger of oversimplifying or skewing the point is possible.

For example, this cartoon is playing with the concept of leavened and unleavened bread to compare the Christian and Jewish beliefs in Jesus. One belief is Jesus was the Messiah, who died and was resurrected. The other is the Messiah is yet to come, and the claim Jesus was resurrected is folklore bordering on blasphemy.

Leaven has nothing, or at least very little, to do with the resurrection of Jesus. “He is risen” does not mean He, like a lump of dough, grew larger because of yeast or some other substance. So, comparing the resurrection of the Christ with Passover is a poorly worded way of saying Jesus was a Rabbi, possibly a prophet, but not the Messiah.

Part of the problem may be in translation, as well as tradition. Yes, the Old Testament prohibits the eating of leavened bread in many verses. Still, the reasons may seem unclear or confusing at times.

The New Testament repeats the prohibition in a few passages. Some believe mentioning leaven is a way of remembering lessons or commands from the past. Yet others believe the lesson of leaven in the New Testament is related to the purity of Jesus.

This is based on the primary argument about the meaning of leavening agents in biblical terms. Leaven, or yeast for simplicity, is invasive, infecting if you will, the entirety of the dough. In doing so, it releases carbon dioxide, which essentially makes the dough swell or blow up as if it were a balloon. Of course, the best analogy might be it creates millions of tiny balloons in the dough, causing it to grow larger.

The most common understanding of why such ingredients should be avoided is that it spreads out, infecting the dough. In this sense, it is thought to represent sin, which will permeate one’s life or the greater society. Today, we often speak of sin or the manifestations of evil as a cancer or virus spreading throughout someone’s body or a world. The idea is the same, however one chooses to illustrate it.

However, I will argue that whoever first crafted the cartoonish comparison above hit upon another meaning that should be considered. Perhaps, leaven is not all bad. Instead, how it is used matters. After all, most of us would agree sourdough or whole wheat bread is better for making sandwiches than a piece of matzah. Matzah and other flatbreads or crackers are great for some things. They just fall short if you want a nice juicy sandwich.

Some believe the prohibition concerning leaven in the Old Testament was another sign pointing to Jesus, as Jesus was without sin and was the Bread of Life. Also, the Last Supper was celebrated with unleavened bread, which is considered Jesus’s body. The idea that yeast or other leavens are bad in a symbolic sense seems logical.

Yet, some scholars point out Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to leaven in the New Testament, which causes disagreement over the question of goodness vs. evil. At least goodness and evil when it comes to leavening agents. That brings me to the point I think the cartoonist likely missed.

From a spiritual standpoint, the act of leavening is not as much about rising or puffing up as it is the invasive nature of leaven. A small bit of yeast, a leavening agent, can cause a much larger amount of flour to rise. One source states one teaspoon of yeast is enough to make four cups (144 teaspoons) of flour rise. That is an excellent ratio of cause to effect it would seem.

What if we are the equivalent of spiritual leaven. All believers are charged with carrying the good news to the world. We are supposed to be the one infecting others with our faith. We may not be as effective as yeast in bread dough, but we are still charged with sharing our relationship with Jesus. Which brings me back to the cartoon.

Judaism does not spread the good news, in the sense of evangelism. Some within the Old Testament faith say they did reach out centuries ago but stopped during the Roman persecution of Christians and Jews. Whatever the reality, the cartoon illustrates the difference beautifully. One system is trying to infect the rest of humanity with the love of Christ, the other is stuck in the traditions of the past.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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Seeking . . . an excuse; revisited

An Old Sinner’s Place debuted nine years ago today with a piece titled “Seeking … an excuse”* Given what has transpired in the world in the last nine years, and 2020 especially, I thought it might be appropriate to revisit the problem discussed in 2011. 

Pre-COVID-19, Sunday was a special day to most Americans and many others worldwide. Whether it was the day to go to church or watch your favorite professional sport, it was a good day. Believers and seekers entered churches across the land and in many other countries. Hopefully, believers came to worship, and seekers often entered simply to see if there was anything to this church thing.

Yes, seekers, believers, skeptics, even atheists might be in a congregation on any given Sunday. Beginning in early 2020, that changed. Relatively suddenly, gatherings of more than a handful of people were either banned or discouraged. As with schools, movie theaters, sports venues, and many businesses, churches shifted to alternative forms of accomplishing their mission, with decidedly mixed results.

Some, such as the mega-churches with satellite campuses, found it easy to make the change. Smaller or more traditional assemblies found it difficult and expensive. In one case, a small church resorted to recording the service on a smartphone until they could afford a more professional system. Friends shared the video was marginal, and the audio was horrible, yet they and the church persevered. Now, as we enter the fall of the strangest year, anyone alive can remember, churches are attempting to return to pre-COVID normal.

The lessons I tried to preach in “Seeking … an excuse” may be more important today than back then. Whether one wishes to believe it, or not, there is more going on in the world than a virus. As many know, some politicians live by the code of “Never let a crisis go to waste,” and they are not alone in this belief. Today, it should be clear a battle between good and evil is playing out before our eyes.

Atheists are attempting to destroy organized religions. Governments want to make believers more dependent on them than God. Faiths that teach destruction as a way to paradise are working overtime to turn believers and seekers alike. The world is a mess. 

As we return to corporate worship. As we return to outreach ministries within our communities and around the world, we must remember. Some are coming with open minds and hearts. Others are coming seeking excuses to avoid admitting God exists. Others are coming to destroy the faith of the weaker brothers and sisters.

We must not allow our human frailties to be used against our Father, our Church, or our work. Do your best to avoid being someone’s excuse for turning away from a Walk with our Lord and Savior.

*Seeking … an excuse

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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Of Signs and Messages: Music

Some years ago, I decided I would no longer ask God for a sign, at least about certain things. I do pray, as do many I hope, that He will reveal things to me or help me see things more clearly. I feel He has been very generous over the years, engineering little “coincidences,” which helped me see things differently or confirmed something I was feeling. The most recent of those little happenings concerned the title of this piece.

Many believe there is power in music. In fact, some very learned people over the years have claimed music can be more powerful than laws when it comes to shaping or controlling a nation.1 I first heard the claim in a lifeskills or self-help seminar years ago. It made sense in many ways, but I did not fully understand the power of music until I returned to Church.

Certainly, like many others over the years, I thought certain forms of music were suggestive of behavior that might not be the healthiest. Sex, drugs, rock, and roll had more meaning than many wanted to admit a few decades back. In more recent times, certain forms of music again seem to spread unwelcome actions and agendas in some areas.2

Originally, this piece was going to focus on the power of worship through song. As a long time choir member, I had been suffering through virtual services. Singing along in the living room while streaming a service was not the same as being in the choir loft or congregation during worship in song.

Thankfully, we returned to in-person services for limited numbers a few weeks ago. Even in a mostly empty sanctuary, singing with others was great, even if worship was led by a few singers and a small number of instruments. Feeling the meaning of the hymns and relating that to one’s relationship with God almost nullified the disaster that is 2020 for a time.

That was to be the sole focus of this piece initially. How great it felt to be back in a congregation, worshiping in song with other believers. Then, as I was preparing to write, I made the mistake of checking to see what others said about this aspect of worship, as I know there are differing opinions.

The first focused article I found was from a young man with excellent credentials, including a Ph.D. in theology. He was downplaying the importance of music, especially traditional hymns, as part of worship. He actually said he got very little from most hymns and felt more contemporary music would help engage attenders more meaningfully.

His writing did not change my opinion. However, it did make me wonder if I should do more research, find more resources, and read the views of others. Then God arranged one of those little coincidences for me. It came as text from my daughters wanting me to join them the next Sunday at their church for a special music program in place of the traditional service.

My daughters attend Denton County Cowboy Church. I have become a fan of their church, and the country music spin they put on worship songs and traditional hymns in some cases. As I’ve mentioned to many friends, you’ve not really heard “The Old Rugged Cross” until you listen to it accompanied by a steel guitar. I decided I should take the time to see my daughters and my grandkids, as well as check out this special service.

The special service was led by Alvarado Road Show. This is two brothers originally from Alvarado, Texas. They started this ministry years ago, and they were great! Their ministry is traveling the country, performing their country music worship songs, and sharing their testimonies. On this day, their message nailed me.

It was a great service and was as close as one can come in modern times to a message written on the wall, for me at least. In fact, there were two messages.

The first was the Ph.D. was wrong. Songs definitely can be a big part of worship and understanding. Anyone truly listening could hear the faith and heart of these two brothers. You could hear it in their stories, and especially their music. All anyone had to do to get closer to God that morning was listen.

As I have written at other times, we as believers can block His messages if we choose. It seems many do, especially when it comes to music. They either feel it is superfluous or simply to entertain. Sometimes it is, but not every time, and not if the worship leaders have their hearts right.

The duo’s story about the way they were dealing with the pandemic spoke to me as well. I have been procrastinating about the next step in my efforts to have a ministry of my own. This blog was supposed to be the starting point, not the primary attempt. Yet, I seemed to be blocked for one reason or another at every turn, and I began to wonder.

I wondered if I was stuck because I was not the right messenger. I wondered if this was the right time. I wondered if pursuing what I felt was my calling would be too costly or too time-consuming. Would it interfere with family life, much less my ability to produce income for said family?

I wonder no more. It is time to take the next step. If I am making the right move, God will let me know. If I am wrong, He will make that clear as well, but He will not take me by the hand and do the work for me. He expects me to stand up for what I feel and believe.

1 This idea is most often attributed to 17th century writer and politician, Andrew Fletcher.

2 Any student of history can understand the way music was used by those in power to breed sentiments and attitudes designed to inspire submission to a cause, or stoke the embers of hatred or superiority.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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Of Faith and Fear

Fear is an interesting concept in Christianity. We are to “fear” God, but that does not mean we should be afraid of God. Okay, that may be a bit simplistic, but the more poetic or academic descriptions or contrasts can be just as simplistic in some ways. In other ways they may be simply confusing. At least they were to me when I reviewed the writings of several different pastors and theologians concerning fear.

My problem however, is not with fearing God. At least I do not think that is the problem. My fear is misinterpreting or misunderstanding what God is telling me. Whether one is speaking of understanding God through Scripture or understanding God through signs, visions, or an “ah ha” moment during prayer, I wonder if I am deluding myself when I think God has given me a sign.

A human being is the only creature in God’s creation that can lie to itself.* For example, some of us stand in front of the mirror in the morning and see physical or other flaws where none exist. Then there are those who know flaws exist, especially character flaws, yet convince themselves they are just fine.

King David was an excellent example of this trait. David spent a great deal of time asking God’s forgiveness, because of his wrongdoing. Some might argue David did not understand what he was doing when he sinned against God, but if that is true David had to be the dumbest king who ever existed. Take the example of David’s plan to build the temple.

David’s decision that he should build a temple was the height of arrogance and stupidity. Yes, David was a man after God’s own heart, but he had sinned in numerous ways including murder. Yet, he was able to convince himself and Nathan he was the man to build the temple. The result was God admonishing them both. Thankfully, He still loved David, and it was from the line of David God brought Jesus into the world.

Currently, I seem called to do something in God’s name. If He is calling me, then I will have the opportunity to help others find their way back to their faith, or find their faith for the first time. The problem is, like David the sins in my life are numerous. Yes, I found my way back after straying far from the path I started walking as a child. Yet, am I like David? Is God wanting to use me as a messenger, or are my arrogance and pride pushing me to do something that He would not want?

It is in moments such as this one’s faith is tested. Fear of both God and man can convince us we should not take risks such as David almost took. Yet faith should lead us to believe whatever happens is part of God’s plan. If we suffer for a decision, He is trying to teach us something. Our job is to learn from those mistakes, not hide from them.

Still, I lay awake at night wondering if in my own small way I am a David, pushing my agenda not His. Then I wonder if I am allowing my fear of those who may attack me keep me from following God’s plan for me. Which way am I lying to myself, and what do I do?

In the end, if my faith is strong, I will move forward and see what happens. If I succeed, that was God’s plan. If I fail, He was teaching me another lesson. And there lies the question, just how strong is my faith?

*Some nitpickers may argue humans are the only part of God’s creation that can lie at all. Anyone believing that defines the term lie too narrowly, and has little knowledge of the rest of God’s creation. Other creatures may not be able to speak or think a lie, but they can certainly be untruthful and deceptive in their appearance and actions.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

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Monastically Speaking: Rationalization

In “Monastically Speaking,” I expressed fears concerning the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on believers coming together to worship. In “One Slice at a Time” I stated those fears were becoming more of a probability than a possibility. Now, I am seeing signs church leadership may be surrendering to the powers that be without so much as a fight. Instead, they may be seeking ways to rationalize what is becoming an all-out assault on church attendance.

Before going further, let one point be clear. The following is not a condemnation of a pastor or minister who urges his flock to accept the governmental mandates interfering with corporate worship. Christians are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place when dealing with the virus crisis, for at least two reasons.

First, Christians are expected to submit to the government unless the demands are so outrageous God’s Word demands action. So far, the COVID-19 crisis does not seem to justify flaunting government dictates or other legal concerns. Still, it seems some Christian leaders are bending over backward to make current government interference more acceptable.

Over the last few weeks, my wife and I have attended three traditional services at our home church. By traditional, I mean they were held in our church sanctuary, and the ones we attended featured traditional worship music. The services were far from traditional when one considers the hoops everyone is jumping through to come together in worship. From only a handful of worshipers to the steps taken to keep that handful safe, it was not Sunday services as usual.

Of course, the church’s desire to keep everyone safe while still allowing some believers to attend is understandable. From a personal standpoint, I am thankful they are making the effort. It was refreshing and meaningful to be in the sanctuary, worshiping in song with other believers. Also, it was great to see familiar faces and know your brothers and sisters in Christ were upright and moving. Yet, the comfort factor was shaken by the apparent acceptance of this being the new normal.

The most unsettling aspect of the current experience was not with the limitations on attendance, wearing protective equipment or social-distancing. No, those can be understood, and are not necessarily precursors to the cessation of traditional worship experiences. Comments made not directly related to worship are what seem foreboding.

It was troubling to hear church leaders justifying the interference in the worship experience. It was troubling to hear leadership speak of how successful the ministry still seemed to be, without members and visitors coming together as a body. It was even more troubling during a virtual gathering of believers later to hear the minister leading the discussion appear to downplay the need for traditional corporate worship. In fact, he quoted scripture he believed supported a more individualized worship experience.

Without saying it, the minister was endorsing a modern version of monasticism enhanced by virtual gatherings and online Bible lessons and studies.

As I’ve noted previously, humans are creatures of habit. Additionally, many of us have very short attention spans, and as any life coach or psychologist can tell you keeping someone focused on a goal can be difficult. Whether you are talking about weight loss, breaking bad habits, or studying the Bible, we have a tendency to take the path of least resistance, and often that is the path to failure when it comes to our goals.

The ministry of Jesus was based on bringing people together to hear the Word. It was not based on lone individuals studying the Word in private or listening to it while in isolation.

© sinnerswalk.com -2020

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One Slice at a Time

Reportedly, the old saw, “Death by a thousand cuts,” came from an ancient form of torture. Today, it is often used to describe the destruction of something or someone, one small attack at a time.

Christians with any knowledge of history know they and their faith face an enemy practicing this philosophy. The attacks on Christianity throughout the centuries range from crucifixion to stoning to modern-day genocide. The victims of those attacks range from Jesus to modern-day children in countries dominated by anti-christian politics or religions.

Today, Christianity faces a new form of assault, one that seems logical, even justified. Still, it is just another part of the same process. Atheists, other faith systems, and even different traditions with supposedly Christian foundations are slowly chipping away at the faith of believers.

In Monastically Speaking, I suggested some forces within this country were attempting to drive a stake into the heart of Christianity; corporate worship. The COVID-19 crisis gave them the perfect opportunity to prevent Christians from coming together to hear God’s word.

In some ways, my fears were theoretical. As with the pandemic’s impact on traditions such as handshakes and hugs as forms of greetings, the idea that believers would stop coming together on the Sabbath was just a possibility. Over the last few Sundays, I realized it is more of a probability.

These were the first Sunday services at my home church since the pandemic shut everything down. In one way these were great experiences. In another, it was a frightening confirmation of my fears.

In a sanctuary capable of seating 1,200, attendance averaged fewer than 200. Yes, two of these Sundays were the beginning and end of a holiday week and government guidelines limited capacity to 300 or so plus staff and volunteers. Still, the number of reservations and the number in attendance dropped for each new service.

Humans are creatures of habit. That is why we face so many challenges when we need to change behavior. We may know eating too many sweets is adding inches to our waistline, and shortening our lives by months, if not years. We may realize our sedentary lifestyle increases our risks even further. Yet, changing how we go about our days is just as difficult as changing how we eat. The same can be true about beliefs and the practice of one’s religious traditions.

It is so easy to justify pulling away from corporate worship and fellowship. Watching the church service online is so convenient. In some cases, virtual attendees can chat with each other. Also, they can grab a snack or take care of personal issues without disturbing other worshippers. Heck, they can text, email, or rearrange a calendar without disturbing the others watching the service.

Of course, there are other perks as well. If friends want to do brunch on Sunday, it is possible to meet them, and catch the service later, at your convenience. That’s a lot more fun than driving to church and sitting in the pew for the whole service.

Sadly, I believe there are forces at work counting on exactly that. They hope to make it difficult to attend church with other believers. They want to force believers to transition to virtual attendance, virtual small groups, even virtual Kid’s Camp or Vacation Bible School. Then, it is only a matter of time before many believers will be far removed from the feeling of inclusion, fellowship, support, and love one can feel at church.

Even a congregation seated in a way to conform to social distancing guidelines, and minimize fear of contagion can feel a sense of community that is impossible via the internet. Without that feeling, that camaraderie, that proximity to other believers, our faith may become what it was to me, and many others I’ve known in the past, something I used to feel.

© sinnerswalk.com -2020

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