Monday, April 23, 2007

A Flag Flown High

The largest flag flown on the tallest flagpole in the U.S. is visible just a mile down the road from my house, even though it is 10 miles away. Last week, that flag hung limply at half-mast as a tribute to the Virginia Tech students whose lives were snuffed out by a deranged shooter. It was not the only U.S. flag lowered in their honor.
I think it is right for us as a nation to stand back and recognize their deaths. In some way, the act that robbed them of a future robbed us, too. I'm not so sure, though, that lowering the American flag is the way to do it.
It is right to lower the flag to honor those we have elected or who have been chosen to serve as our governing officials. Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, and others have been chosen to represent us. They have offered to serve the public, and have been taken up on that offer. We lower our flags to honor them at their death.
Today there are thousands of men and women who have chosen to represent us in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan and other locations thoughout the world. We do not have a draft system, so they chose to represent us. And yet...when one or two or ten of them fall before a deranged shooter, our flags fly high. Why is that? Should we not honor them, at least in their home states, when their lives are shortened in the cause of freedom? Should we not lower our flags for them?
Whether or not we support the war in Iraq, or Afghanistan, should we not support those who represent us there?
On a related issue...
Our society has become so infatuated with numbers...more and more and more has come to mean more meaningful. If only 3 students had died instead of 33...Would we have lowered the flags for only 3? Does a single human life still count?
I wonder.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Pastor's Wife

Since returning from the RHMA conference for small-town pastors yesterday, I’ve been catching up with many of my favorite bloggers. A current meme that has been circulating among blogsites is “the …. formerly known as …” A particularly poignant posting by Lyn Hallewell at Beyond the 4 Walls is called: “The Women Who Have Been Known As The Pastor’s Wife.”
After spending the last three days in the company of pastors’ wives, it saddens me to realize that a significant number of them are suffering from the same wounds experienced by Lyn Hallewell. Some of those wives were young—still in their 20’s or early 30’s. Some were still full of ideals. Some had already been sliced in pieces and didn’t know who to turn to for help. Some of the older ladies had built walls for protection. And some, I’m sure had made peace with their “calling” or their martyrdom. And I never even got to know them.
Even though the theme of the conference was to measure our ministry by God’s standards rather than by man’s, I wonder how many of these women will allow isolation and criticism and unrealistic expectations to destroy them. I wonder if anyone ever gets to know them.
Then, as I read the news headlines tonight, “Tennessee Preacher’s Wife Convicted,” hit me between the eyes. Only God knows the back story here, but there are many pastor’s wives who can read between the lines. They feel deserted by both God and their churches and become vulnerable to Satan’s lies.
How can you and I reach out to the pastors’ wives in our communities? What positive things can you do today to build up them up?

Measuring Your Ministry

This past week, I’ve taken a 4-day blogfast as my husband and I spent our days at a conference for the pastors of small-town churches. We were an anomaly there in some ways.
First, neither of us are pastors.
It’s an unusual twist on the usual problem that pastors and their wives face in the congregation—social isolation. In this case, we were the “isolates”. Actually, we did have some peers in the group—the other two elders and their wives from our church. We are not a typical pastor-led church, so it’s always a bit dicey when we introduce ourselves and get rather blank stares from the clergy. Often, they seem to be a bit embarrassed to see us there, like finding a second-stringer elbowing his way into the starting line-up. We are on the same team, but not part of the inner circle. And I think most pastors (and especially their wives) deal with that “differentness” in their own lives, in their own churches.
On the other hand, our church is decidedly small, and we do have many of the same concerns for the ministry God has given us.
The conference theme was “Measuring Your Ministry”, and the speakers really did address the pitfalls of trying to measure God’s work against men’s standards. Kent & Barbara Hughes, authors of “Liberating Ministry From the Success Syndrome,” were pretty transparent about their own struggles in the numbers and expectations game and shared some practical ways to avoid falling into the same traps.
Phil Tuttle from Walk Thru The Bible spoke on thriving and surviving and did a super session on rediscovering the joys of ministry. He, too, was very real in telling about his own struggles with the success thing and how God led him to recognize real successes.
It was a refreshing time, and I’m glad we were able to go. RHMA will host another conference in Lancaster, PA, in May. I’d recommend it to any pastor of a small or small-town church—and perhaps even for the success-driven pastor of a large one.
What do you think is success in ministry?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

RHMA Conference

In just a few hours, my husband and I will be on our way to the RHMA Small Town Pastor's Conference in Morton, IL. Tax Season is history...Life resumes!
And blogging least for a few days.
Tony Sisk did a partial blog fast a couple of weeks ago, and now I'll see if I can take it cold turkey.
I'll report on the conference when I get back.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The New Crusaders

Christian bloggers in the US tend to think that the most important theological issues today revolve around the “Emergent” vs. “Modern/Evangelical” perceptions of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and its outworking in the Church today. Is the Church missional…attractional…or…is it…dangerous? As some theologians move to deconstruct entrenched hierarchies and creeds, another movement has arisen while we were looking elsewhere.

A front-page article by Andrew Higgins in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, entitled “As Religious Strife Grows, Europe’s Atheists Seize Pulpit”, explores the rise of militant atheism in Europe. Although Europe’s churches have been in decline for years, the influx of adherents to Islam has made religion a growing issue. A dying religious brand of Christianity was not a threat, but a growing and more committed Muslim population is. That combination of religious ideology and a growing demand for political voice has brought the atheists out into the playing field.

France, in particular, has experienced both civil unrest because of Muslim discontent and a rise in what Higgins calls “zealous disbelief in God.” In fact, Michel Onfray, the French “high priest” of atheism, has written a book entitled, “Atheist Manifesto”. It is a best seller in France, Italy and Spain. In it, he suggests that “change is at hand and the time has come for a new order.” Since the meaning of “atheos” is “godless”, Mr. Onfray is opposed to any representation of God or a god, such as Allah, Buddha, or any other worshipped being.

The French are not the only ones promoting the new atheism.

Last month there was a public debate in London in which British atheists contended with defenders of the Christian faith. Tickets cost nearly $40 each, and the event sold out…with the atheists declared the victors.

What does this mean for Christians here in the US? Will we demonstrate classic American myopia and spend our days debating each other over denominational politics, definitions, and methodology? Will we even support our European brothers and sisters? Atheist thinking has undermined much of our culture and even much of the church. Will we wait for a declaration of war by American atheists before we realize that while we’ve been fighting among ourselves, there is a battle to be fought right outside the Church door?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Uppers and Downers

Yesterday, many churches sang the wonderful words, "He arose a victor from the dark domain, and He lives forever with His saints to reign." Soul-stirring words, weren't they?...yesterday...

Easter is a soul-stirring day, an emotional "upper" for the Church of Jesus Christ--His Body here on earth. Many of us rose early to greet the sunrise (if there was one, and even if there wasn't), and we sang "Christ Arose." We believed it then.

And we filled up on sugar (Easter breakfasts and Easter candy)...and on spiritual sugar, too...eye and ear candy to seduce us into believing that what we were doing was "worship". The music was great, even if there were none of the old hymns, and the beat was a trifle loud and we stood looking at lyrics on the wall for 40 minutes. The pews were cushioned, even though we had to sit a lot farther back in the sanctuary than usual. The dramas were, well...dramatic. The message or reflection or meditation was short enough so that we could get home in time to change out of our church clothes and prepare a "Martha" meal for the extended family. Appetizers, salads, an interesting entree and plenty of yummy dessert. Insulin, adrenaline and somnolance. Now that was a great Easter...wasn't it?

Or was it?

It's Monday morning, and where is the resurrected Christ now? And where are His saints? Are they truly reigning? Is He reigning in them? Is He reigning in me? Are today and tomorrow and the tomorrow's after that downer's? Are we living in the reality of Christ's resurrection? Or are we all just a little sick from all that sugar? Too much sugar is bad for the heart...and maybe for the soul and spirit.

If we truly believe what we sang as the sun rose yesterday, we'd better let Christ reign in us today.

Monday, April 02, 2007

For Sale: Easter

For the industrialized church, Easter is the greatest marketing opportunity since Christmas. Re-enactments of Christ’s Passion, Seder for Gentiles, Tenebrae, Taize, Cantata’s…all are employed to fill the pews and to reinvigorate the faithful. Each year we have been conditioned to expect something just a little more spectacular or a little more “spiritual” to satisfy the vague discontent we have with the product offered each week at our local house of worship. Why?

Is it because we are so used to media hype in every other area of life that we have come to expect it in our spiritual lives, too?

It is a great temptation for church leaders to follow the world’s example and to use Easter (and Christmas, for that matter) as a sales pitch…a public relations opportunity to get their name out before the public at a time when it is politically acceptable to do so. We’ve all gotten the catalogs offering Easter press kits and door hangers and bulletin covers and posters and DVD’s and… We are a nation of consumers, so I guess we expect people to respond to advertising, but I don’t see that as a Biblical principle in evangelism. There is more to making disciples than persuading people to wear team t-shirts or lighting candles or walking a labyrinth once a year or packing a pew.

Perhaps a more pervasive problem to that vague spiritual discontent felt by so many believers is that we are also a nation of spectators. There are far more people in the stands at a football game than there are on the field. From a spiritual standpoint, there are far more spectators in the congregation than there are vibrant players in the field—and I don’t mean the worship team or the Sunday School teachers or the pastor. We all have the option of becoming spiritual spectators instead of participants in the Body of Christ. And spectators become bored and dissatisfied when the team isn’t winning.

So, every year it becomes a greater challenge to motivate people to appreciate the Ultimate Sacrifice. Where does the answer lie? Should we quit celebrating the Resurrection as a one-time event, and begin looking at it as a present reality?
What do you think?

Check out's The Dangers of Easter”
and Greg Laughery’s Living Spirituality at