Monday, May 18, 2009

Squeezing Blood from the Turnip

In our current economy, there are thousands, if not millions of families who are struggling financially. Many people have received past due notices, foreclosure notices, and negative bank statements in the mail. Our family has been close several times, but have yet to receive these. So, you can imagine my surprise when I opened my mail last week and had a notice from a company that audits our church claiming that we had not met the amount that we had 'pledged' back when the church started a building fund campaign. I was floored. So, I went into our 2008 tax information to get the statement of giving we received from the church. Total, we gave more to the church than what we had pledged for this campaign, but stopped mid-year writing 2 checks so that they could keep track of what portion was our tithe and what portion was for the campaign. So, apparently what we gave wasn't separated.

Receiving a notice like this from a church is simply not something I can understand. Especially when it is a church who has a brand new worship building, student center, coffee shop, and bell tower, yet not enough funds to pay for it? Why? Because apparently our (and I'm sure we weren't the only ones who received this notice) pledge wasn't met and funds weren't coming in to cover their expenses. At the end of the letter, they asked how much would we be contributing in 2009? None, because we do not intend to continue attending this church. If a church can't take into consideration and have compassion for the economic hardships that their members are enduring, then I think they are completely missing the point. A big beautiful building isn't what makes church, a high tech nice student center doesn't make a church, a coffee shop isn't church, a bell tower certainly doesn't make a church, what makes a church is Christ being the center, and the people coming together to worship Him. "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:20) I know it is a difficult thing for churches to ask their members for money. It is a touchy subject for most people. I understand that it is a necessity for members to give to the church in order for them to meet their financial obligations, it is even commanded. We are also commanded to not be in debt. This is something that Dave Ramsey has based his financial messages on. "The borrower is a slave to the lender" (Proverbs 22:7) I think it is wrong for a church to send out passive aggressive reminders that members didn't meet their pledges in a campaign that was unnecessary in the first place. I was speaking to a fellow Christian brother about this, and he told me about two other churches that he knows have a strong financial foundation. One has paid for a new building with cash, and another is head of their weekly budget and ahead of their debt repayment and are not sending notices to members that have missed the mark with their pledges. There are many church members that may have not have the funds to be able to give over and above what they tithed to the church, but they were able to give their time. The body giving time to the church is an invaluable asset that is often taken for granted and caused discouragement and discord within the church. When members receive reminder notices that they still owe money to the church, it is an insult, at least it was to me. We are called to be cheerful givers. "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:7) Will people now give out of necessity or obligation instead of out of kindness and from their heart because of these notices? Are other churches able to stay ahead of debt repayment and meet their weekly budgets because their members are cheerfully giving and not being reminded of what they weren't able to give? I don't know. I only know our families situation and my opinion. I want to be a cheerful giver and I will certainly be praying for this church. I pray that the members do not get discouraged, and that the leadership leads in a manner that glorifies God.

"In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive." Acts 20:35

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Communion Tray Etiquette

I came across this blog and had to share this post called "Communion Tray Etiquette". I typically post pretty serious topics, so I thought I'd change it up a little. Pretty funny, yet true stuff. Enjoy.
If you’d never been to church before and someone handed you a plate of wafers and a spaceship-designed, traveling presentation tray full of juice cups during the middle of service, would that be weird? Would proclaiming that we’re about to eat the body of Christ clear things up? Probably not. You’d be puzzled, maybe even a little sweaty, until someone leaned over and handed you a copy of this book. And then everything would be alright because you’d know the five easy rules of Communion Tray Etiquette:

Rule 1: Always be prepared.The second you realize you’re about to share communion, start scouting out which direction it’s coming from. Watch the back-and-forth, every-other-aisle jump the ushers are doing to determine if it will be passed from your left or your right. Assess the possible handoff skills of the person next to you. Do they appear cagey? Nervous? Old? Remember, they’ll be passing the tray to you with only one hand since their other hand will be holding the cup or the wafer. If you have even an inkling that your pew neighbor won’t execute a perfect handoff, prepare a two-hand reception. Not alligator-style like in God’s favorite sport, Frisbee, but with both hands out gently, as if you’re saying, “Hey fella, that’s OK, you can hand me that tray. It’s in good hands. You’ve done a great job. I’ll take it from here.”

Rule 2: Move it along.The biggest communion tray foul you can commit is to hold the tray too long. You’re essentially causing a pew traffic jam or “PTJ.” While you sit there and tediously make up your mind, you’re signaling to everyone else sitting next to you, “Don’t mind me, I’m just preventing you from partaking in the most tender sacrament of faith. I’m blocking you from the body of Christ.” Aim to receive the tray, make your selection, and pass it to your neighbor in under two seconds. Sound impossible? It’s not if you follow rules three and four…

Rule 3: Practice quick cup selection.I don’t know what kind of tray your church uses for communion, but growing up we used silver dishes with elevated, circular rows of cups. Kind of like the hats that Devo wore in the “Whip It” video. As you look down on all these options, you’re going to be tempted to analyze which one “looks best.” “Which is the fullest? Which one looks like it might spill? If I take a certain cup, can I empty a row like some sort of reverse game of Connect Four? Shoot, someone already took the center cup. That’s my favorite cup! That’s the King cup.” Ignore these thoughts. They’re only going to slow you down and make it look like you’re still deciding how you feel about this whole “Jesus thing.” Grab the first cup you make eye contact with and pass.

Rule 4: Break bread, not your concentration.Chances are the bread or wafer will not be uniform in size. You might be looking at a plate full of wafers broken up into a variety of shapes and girths, or an actual loaf of bread will land in your lap. Do you put the tray down so you can use both bare hands on the loaf? Do you keep the tray in one hand and try to form some kind of eagle claw that can rip a chunk of bread out even though you’re not stabilizing the loaf? How much bread is too much bread? How big a wafer should you choose? Deep breaths, deep breaths. We’re going to get through this together.First and foremost, regardless of what’s on the tray, don’t root around. You’re not digging for buried treasure. As far as bread goes, I’m a fan of using both hands. Place the tray quickly on your lap, use your left hand to gently touch the back of the loaf and then pull a gumball-sized piece of bread off the front of the loaf with your right hand. (If you can fit both butter and jam on the piece of bread you’ve selected, you’ve gone too big and should be ashamed of yourself for hogging Jesus.) Then move on. No regrets about your piece. You got a great piece. It’s a fine piece. Let it go.

Rule 5: Pace yourself with consumption.It’s hard to know when to eat your bread and drink your wine because different churches do communion different ways. So watch the crowd and the minister. Wait until you see a majority of people partaking. And be prepared to pretend you were just scratching your cheek if you go to put the bread in your mouth and realize right before it touches your lips that you were too early.

Ultimately, you might mess up all five of these steps. You might drop the tray on the floor and cause a huge commotion and have everyone stare at you. But I think if you did, God would say the same thing we say at our house when somebody spills: “No big deal.” Because it’s not about the cup or the wafer or the cold the person next to you is inevitably going to give you. It’s about Christ and He tends to live outside of etiquette.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Acupuncture for Sin

About two months ago I started going to an acupuncturist. Now, I know most people think "whoa, that's weird" and have images of Pinhead from the movie Hellraiser in their mind. But it's really worth trying. I have suffered from migraines for about 10 years and have run the gammit of treatments and pills, none of which have eliminated the problem. So, I decided that instead of being on pills for the rest of my life, that really wouldn't solve the problem I would try something different which is what lead me to go see an acupuncturist. The doctor that I went to see is the most thorough doctor I've ever been too. He ran some allergy tests on me and discovered that my biggest problem was my caffeine & sugar intake. My body sees caffeine as a toxin and sends me into a cycle of problems. I eliminated caffeine from my diet and significantly reduced my sugar intake. And after a few weeks of going to see this doctor, and my new diet, my headaches were completely gone! I felt like a completely different person. It's amazing what pain-free living can do for your overall mental, physical and spiritual health. Then, a few weeks ago I started back on caffeine. Which leads me to why I'm posting today.

Why do we as Christians do stuff we know is bad for us? For me, I wanted something to help with my energy level when exercising, and I knew that headaches could be a possible side effect, but if they came back I would stop taking it. Well, I've stopped, but the headaches are still there. This is so symbolic of how life really works. People get involved in things that they know are wrong, but say to themselves or others "I'll stop when I need to" or "nothing will happen to me", and they set themselves up to deal with the repercussions of sin. Now, did I sin when I started taking caffeine again? No, but it was stupid. And because my headaches are back, my attitude is affected and it is harder to be patient with people, and that can turn into sin. That is how sin works. It's deceptive and although whatever people involve themselves in may not directly be a sin, the consequences could lead them to sin. If you haven't tried acupuncture, it's definitely worth doing. It's natural, and doesn't hurt, and worked wonders for me. I'm back at it again, and this time I'm sticking to what I know works.

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved." Ephesians 2:1-5

Friday, May 1, 2009

Jesus on the Wall

I was thinking about the image I had of Jesus when I was younger. In my home, we had a picture of Jesus on the wall, one which I'm sure many of you also had. It's the most popular picture of Jesus, and shaped what I thought Jesus looked like, but not necessarily what Jesus was to me. It wasn't hung in my home for any reverence purposes, but rather for decor. Which wasn't much of decor since it was painted in ugly muted browns and yellows, which matched the nicotine stains on our walls. I can remember wondering what Jesus was really like when I would look at this picture. I had heard through the few times that I had gone to church with my grandmother that Jesus was a loving, joyous, wonderful, forgiving father. In the picture itself he looks sad, morose even, peaceful but not happy. The picture never really clued me in at all on what Jesus was really like. It was just Jesus on the wall. Sure, I looked at the picture everyday, but that's about all he was to me. A picture. Sort of like an absentee father, there to look at, but not really there. This is how my father was, so it was very hard for me to accept the idea that a heavenly father loved me, when my own father had a difficult time showing this. It is interesting to me how our image of God is formed. For some it is through going to church and through learning at an early age from parents. For others, it is through learning the hard way. Which is exactly how I learned. Since I viewed God much like an absentee father, it was almost impossible for me to accept the fact that he died for me, and loved me, and would forgive me. It wasn't until I accepted that idea that I needed his love, acceptance and forgiveness that I really began to be open to the idea of a real Jesus instead of the sad Jesus on the wall. I didn't accept Jesus through faith first. I was brazen enough, while in the midst of sinning to say, "I know I'm playing with fire", but I simply didn't care. For me, Jesus was still moping on my parents wall and didn't want anything to do with someone like me. I'd already been hurt by my earthly father, I certainly wasn't going to open myself up to being hurt by my heavenly father. But then my life came to a point where the Jesus on the wall was my only place to turn. And Jesus showed me that He loved and accepted me through other people, specifically my husband. He showed me that He had been there all along, and that He wasn't the absentee father painted in yellow & brown, and definitely wasn't just hanging on the wall to be walked by and ignored everyday. Instead, he had been painting a picture of himself on the walls of my heart, and this picture was much prettier than the one I had become accustomed to.