Journal: The Joy of Giving

Something inspirational that Nancy and I experienced last Sunday in worship as church members (and non-members) came forward to place our estimates for giving in a basket. This physical movement forward, together with fellow congregants, was visually symbolic of our collective response to God in sharing our blessings for the benefit of the work of the church we all love.

“Estimates of Giving” forms were mailed out the previous week.  The pastor reminded us through a children’s message and sermon of the JOY that comes in returning to God from blessings received.  As the members and friends of the church came down the center aisle with “Estimates of Giving”, I found myself watching and contemplating the importance of sharing our blessings – time and talents and money – with God with every step we take and every breath of air we breathe.  It is a genuine joy to return to God from blessings received.

The symbolism of this physical motion was not lost.

  • We joyfully give to the church so we can participate, together, in worship in giving glory to God.
  • We joyfully give to the church in order to hear and respond to inspirational sermons.
  • We joyfully give so the children and youth can learn more about God and Christ in Church School
  • We joyfully give so that those who are hurting or in need of special help can receive pastoral care.
  • We joyfully give so that people who are less fortunate can partake of many blessings through the mission work of the church.
  • We joyfully give so that the church, as a large family, can enjoy being in fellowship together.

This final thought: A blessing really doesn’t have much value for me and my family unless I can find a way to share it with others.   Giving to the church is an excellent way to share our blessings with others.

In what ways have you found to share your blessings with others through the work of the church?

**  Nancy and I are now worshipping 007at the Second Presbyterian Church of Saginaw, MI. 

Journal: Church Membership and Baptism

Some Wednesday Morning thoughts: John Vest in his blog asks an interesting question.  Why join the church?  I decided to respond with my own journal reflections.

Speaking from my own experience there isn’t much of a difference between attending a church as a visitor and formally joining a church. In my former parish we had several non-members who were active in serving on committees. They also volunteered to help with church programming.   I recall a woman who was active in worship and church programming for over twenty years.  She never joined.  This was a personal decision.

Another gentleman didn’t join the church out of respect for his parents who were Roman Catholic and wouldn’t understand his becoming a Presbyterian. This gentleman was as active and invested in ministries of the church even serving as a regular worship leader.   The rest of his family and children were all baptized members and officers of the church.

I have known of others who won’t formally join until they are more comfortable with the profession asked of members: “Jesus Christ is My Lord and Savior”.  Even confirmands were given the option not to join if they didn’t feel comfortable with the profession of faith they were asked to make.

In my former parish we created a “FRIEND OF THE CHURCH” category for those who wished to maintain a relationship with the church without formally joining. John Vest  talks of “Institutional Maintenance”.   So we simply create rosters and lists to help us stay in touch with our constituents?  Is this the sole value of having these lists?   Is this what church membership has become—Institutional Maintenance?

“Friends of the church” in many cases were active in worship and fully engaged as participants in church programming.   Some of our “Friends” were active in supporting church programs while maintaining an active membership in another church.  Many church “Friends” also made financial contributions.  From my experience, financial contributions come from both members and non-members.  In fact, churches that don’t actively invite non-members to contribute may be missing a valuable stream of income!

John Vest writes in his blog:

For a lot of people I think that membership has more to do with institutional maintenance than anything else. Sure, non-members support the church all the time.  But it may be that people have a greater sense of investment (emotionally and financially) in an institution of which they are ‘members’.   Becoming a member can (but not necessarily does) signal a shift from being a consumer to being more invested in the community and its institutional expression for the present and the future.

So back to the question: Is there a difference between joining and not joining?  Being a consumer of what the church has to offer is one thing.  Being fully invested in what it means to be part of the living and vibrant the ‘body of Christ’ is another.

This for me is the real challenge. Are we talking about the church as an institution or the “Living and Vibrant Body of Christ”?  What does it mean to be a baptized a member of Christ’s body—regardless where formal institutional membership rests? Can a person be fully engaged in growing in his or her relationship with God without formal membership?  Can a person be involved with more than one church?  Some interesting questions.

I believe it is time again to focus on what it means to be baptized a member of the living and vibrant “Body of Christ”! As adults, what does it mean to re-affirm our baptism?  Can reaffirming one’s baptism be done without formally joining a church?   Can a person join a church without professing and believing Jesus is Lord and Savior?  

I believe John Vest is correct in acknowledging that formal membership helps with the administration and institutional maintenance of the church. Otherwise, I think the church needs to be in the business of investing in the work of making disciples and baptizing them in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  (Matthew 28:19)

My Wednesday morning thoughts.

Saturday Morning Political Rant

A few thoughts after listening to a half dozen political commercials on television early this Saturday morning—in a span of just thirty minutes! In addition to the miss-information coming from these commercials from both political parties, I am frustrated with the phone calls and emails asking for money.  I guess they assume they already have my vote!   I don’t mind the signs in the yards.  They don’t talk!

Example: Both candidates for Governor in Michigan have been spinning whether or not public education has received a billion dollars on their watch. Neither party is telling the whole story. 

What upsets me most are these smiling faces who have become experts in spinning just about any fact in order to get our votes on November 4th.  While I hope people turn out to vote, I also hope women and men will time to look beyond these commercial and emails in making their decisions.

This question, once the dust settles after November 4th: What kinds of decisions will these leaders really make in order to improve life for constituents?  The simple truth is the fact that these political leaders can’t promise me anything without first finding a way to work, collectively, with others.  Working with those on the other side of the political line?  What a novice idea!   I am not hearing political ads saying with any sincerity that candidates will commit to working with the “other side” in solving problems!

It seems that the candidates from both parties, Democrats and Republicans, have voiced no sincere promise to search for common ground on issues that impact the majority of citizens. While there may be candidates willing to do this, I’m not hearing conviction in these promises.  For example, the gap between the Democrats and Republicans has become so wide that I’m not sure there is any hope for these two parties to work together in finding common ground when it comes to the most contentious of issues facing the world today.

Heaven forbid it taking a CRISIS, like another attack on the homeland, for these two political parties to come together. I fear this is exactly what it will take.

Does this sound like I am becoming an INDEPENDENT?   Hmmmm!   What I would like to hear from both the Democrats and Republicans is a platform that states, basically:

I will not be imprisoned to vote only along party lines.

I will not be held captive by the leadership of my party that threatens to punish me by taking away my ability to serve, for example, on important committees.

I will listen and hear what all the people with varied opinions are saying.

I will cross party lines, if necessary, with my votes. 

In this may sound rather Calvinistic: I will vote my conscience!

Just some random thoughts on a Saturday morning.

All of this being said, I want to promote “getting out the vote”.   We still live in the best nation in the world with a democracy, while imperfect, still manages to keep our nation safe and afloat.  While millions of people are suffering, I still have hope that a few of our elected leaders will be more concerned about the welfare of people than their political career.

Enough of a rant. I wonder how I will feel after November 4th?


Has the church become “too easy”, “too comfortable”?  Has the church lost its relevance in the promotion of social change? To quote from Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, “If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.” 

I thank Diana Butler Bass for posting on Facebook (10/8/14) a portion of Dr. King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.”   From Dr. King’s Letter:

“I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen….

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. . . Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future.”

Living Missionally

Clark Cowden is on target with his three points.

Clark Cowden's Blog

Culture shifts are difficult for organizations to make. In particular, organizations that place a high value on their history find it very challenging to make a shift in their culture. One such organization that values its traditions is the church. There is good reason for this. Many churches have a long history. Many churches have a long history of good deeds, helpful contributions, and a significant impact on their local communities. So, it is no wonder that they value their past. They have good reason to do so.

But, what do you do when you fall on hard times? What happens when more of your people are looking in the rear view mirror than through the windshield? What if most of your people are looking at what is behind them instead of what is in front of them? Then, something needs to change. It has been said that, over time…

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