Western Civ to Go

Just another WordPress site

Worse than Nothing, Part 3

Posted By on December 30, 2017

 

 by Teri Ong 

 [This is the third of three posts about abandoning attendance in a local church congregation. If you are reading this and getting a little uncomfortable about your own practices in regard to building up the Body of Christ, I only have one suggestion: go to Scripture and the Lord for yourself and see what He would have you do on a regular basis. We, as American Christians, are so spoiled by our ease and affluence; perhaps we need to take some time out for honest self-evaluation.  

This post picks up our imaginary round table discussion where we left of in Part Two.] 

 Wounded:I don’t think I’m being vindictive, and I do love God! But you are right about disasters. 

 Moderator:Apostle John, what do you think about that? 

 John:If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:20-21) 

 Wounded:We don’t hate the people who have hurt us. We still love them, but we just can’t trust them not to hurt us again. We don’t want to be around them. Frankly, we are afraid. 

 Moderator:That’s an interesting idea. Would you think your husband loves you very much if he didn’t want to live in the same house with you? Or what about your children? What would you think if they wanted to move out and live with other friends? 

 John:You may be deceived in your understanding of what true Christian love is. “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:16-19) 

 Moderator:When we think about how much God has forgiven in us, it should make it easier to forgive others. If God could love us, we should be able to love fellow believers. 

 Wounded:But every time we have tried to go back and be part of a church body, we’ve been hurt again. How many times do we have to go through the same thing? 

Peter:I had the same question for Jesus when we were together on earth. I thought I was being very generous to offer forgiveness up to seven times. But He told us we had to forgive up to seventy times seven. (Matt. 18:22) Sometimes I thought I could take advantage of a technicality if I could just find the four hundred and ninety-first offense. But I know Jesus would want me to forgive that one too. I know my list of offenses toward Jesus was much longer than 491, and He always forgave me, and He didn’t give up on restoring me to fellowship and ministry. (John 21:15f) 

 Wounded:But it’s so much easier to go it alone, like the song writer said, “Just Jesus and Me,” you know. 

 Moderator:Easier isn’t always better when it comes to growing up in the Lord. Paul, what do you think? 

 Paul:I implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,  being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:1-3) 

 C.S. Lewis: May I interject on this subject, please? 

 Moderator: Please do, Mr. Lewis! 

 C.S.Lewis: It is easy to get into slothful habits under the guise of legitimacy. “When I first became a Christian…I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches and gospel halls; and then later I found that this was the only way of flying your flag. (5) [8-9] 

 Wounded:What do you mean, “flying your flag?” 

 John:I think I know what he means. Jesus told us, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35) 

 C.S. Lewis: That’s what I meant precisely. But “of course, I found that [flying my flag] meant being a target. It is extraordinary how inconvenient to your family it becomes for you to get up early to go to church. It doesn’t matter much if you get up early for anything else, but if you get up early to go to church it’s very selfish of you and you upset the house.” [8-9] 

 Wounded:Then isn’t it more loving to stay home and not upset the house? 

 C.S. Lewis: The question whether we are loving God or the earthly Beloved “more” is not, so far as concerns our Christian duty, a question about the comparative intensity of two feelings. The real question is, which (when the alternative comes) do you serve, or choose, or put first? 

A man, said Jesus, who tries to serve two masters, will “hate” the one and “love” the other. It is not, surely, mere feelings of aversion and liking that are here in question. He will adhere to, consent to, work for the one and not for the other. (6) 

 Wounded:But I’m not choosing between God and my family; I’m choosing between church and my family. At least, that’s the way I see it. 

 C.S.Lewis: What is hard for all is to know when the occasion for such “hating” has arisen. Our temperaments deceive us. The meek and tender– uxorious husbands, submissive wives, doting parents, dutiful children– will not easily believe that it has ever arrived. (6) 

 Moderator:It seems that God is always working with us to reveal what is truly in our hearts by having us make such choices. 

 Wounded:But I thought church was supposed to be a “safe space.” 

 Moderator:That is a very silly 21st century notion. Being a Christian has never been “safe.” It is more safe for you in America than it has been at any other time or in any other place. And it has made you very soft. Jesus told His disciples to expect persecution. (John 15:18-19) 

 Wounded:But we shouldn’t be hurt by our brothers and sisters in Christ! 

 Moderator:That is the way things should be, and the way things will be when the true church is perfected in heaven. But I have to say, every letter written to a church recorded in the New Testament was written to address some dire problem. 

 Wounded:I thought they were written to tell us how to live the Christian life. 

 Paul:That is partially true. They were written to teach believers how to live the Christian life on this earth, where conditions are never perfect. I had to admonish churches about false teaching and all sorts of sinful behavior in the church, including drunkenness, gluttony, immorality, prejudice, disrespect, evil speaking, and sins that aren’t even common among unbelievers. (1 Cor. 5:1) I could only compare some of these types of people to lions and wolves. (Acts 20:29) That does not sound “safe,” and it never has been. But that is how we learn to rely on our Savior more fully. 

 Wounded:I think there are things God may ask or even command us to do, but He doesn’t really expect that we will do them. After all, He knows that we are sinners. He remembers we are dust. He knows we are weak. There are things that are just too hard to give up– like family events. There are ideas that are too hard to give up– like our family convictions. There are offenses that are too hard to forgive. 

 Jesus: Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me? (Jer. 32:27) 

 Wounded:Lord! 

 Jesus:I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.  ‘Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. ‘So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.  ‘But you have a few people…who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. ‘ He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. ‘ He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’  (Rev. 3:1-6) 

 If there is no church good enough for you, you are saying that every church within an acceptable radius of your home is worse than nothing. 

The Lord speaking to many professing Christians in the 21st century church in America might sound like this: 

21 ” Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  22 ” Many will say to Me on that day, 

 “Didn’t we stay home in your name?Didn’t we feed our family on canned sermons and quick-serve devotionals? Didn’t we protect ourselves and our own from being hurt by prickly, hypocritical saints? Didn’t we teach our children to be discerning about people who don’t see things the way we do, in your name?” 

   23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’  (Matthew 7:21-23) 

 

 A Reflection by William Cowper

 

And is this all? Can Reason do no more, 

Than bid me shun the deep, and dread the shore? 

Sweet moralist! Afloat on life’s rough sea, 

The Christian has an art unknown to thee. 

He holds no parley* with unmanly fears; 

Where Duty bids, he confidently steers, 

Faces a thousand dangers at her call, 

And, trusting in his God, surmounts them all. 

*conference between opposing sides 

 

References:[Field] 

(1) Cowper, William. Poems. London: J. Johnson, 1808. In the preface by John Newton, p. i.x. 

 

(2) Paton, John.  John G. Paton. Banner of Truth, 1965 reprint. 

 

(3) Murray, John. Adapted from his biography 

 

(4) Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Discovery House Publishers, cr. 1963. Date references for the specific quotations are in brackets. 

 

(5) Lewis, C. S. The Inspirational Writings of C. S. Lewis. New York: Inspirational Press, 1994. In The Business of Heaven. Dates listed in brackets. 

 

(6) Lewis, C. S. The Inspirational Writings of C. S. Lewis. New York: Inspirational Press, 1994. In The Four Loves, p. 279, 280. 

 

Scripture references are from the NASU. 

Worse Than Nothing, Part 2

Posted By on December 24, 2017

by Teri Ong 

We have already looked with sadness on the problem of churches cancelling services for reasons that are less than legitimate. Their reasons often are pragmatic and/or humanistic, but they don’t stand up to Biblical scrutiny. As sad as it is when churches cancel services, it is even sadder that there is a large population of people who profess to be members of the body of Christ – the church universal– that cancel service in church for themselves on an almost weekly basis. They find many reasons for forsaking the assembly. 

I have met many people who were church-goers at one time, who now won’t “risk” uncomfortable human interactions to give God His due on His chosen day. Most will not come right out and say, “We don’t go to church because it is more comfortable, physically and socially, to relax at home,” but that is what their given reasons boil down to. Most have been emotionally wounded by a pastor, church staffer, or fellow member, and “just can’t face being wounded again.” One devotional writer whose name I can’t remember right now astutely pointed out that when we say, “I can’t,” to God, we are really saying, “I won’t,” since God always empowers us to do His will. 

Since so many godly men have addressed the issues at stake here, I have constructed an imaginary round table discussion between a wounded saint and a number of wise men of the past. John Newton once wrote of his friend William Cowper, “His satire, if it may be called so, is benevolent (like the operations of a humane and skillful surgeon, who wounds only to heal) dictated by a just regard for the honour of God, and indignant grief excited by the profligacy of the age, and a tender compassion for the souls of men.” (1)   

Though I possess much less skill, it is in Cowper’s spirit that I offer this dialogue for your consideration.  

Moderator:I understand you are having trouble finding a church body in which to fellowship and serve in your town.  

Wounded:Yes, we have visited almost every evangelical church within a reasonable driving distance from our home. We just haven’t found anything to meet our needs. 

 Moderator:How large is your town?  

 Wounded:Oh, about 100,000, I guess. 

 Moderator:That’s pretty large, and I understand you live in America where there is freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. It would be very unusual if there were no Bible-preaching churches in an area that size. 

 Wounded:There are plenty of churches where the pastor preaches from the Bible– probably 20 or 30 at least– but there are other considerations, you know. 

 Moderator:Twenty or thirty! That’s amazing. For most of the history of Christendom, the Lord’s people have had very few choices. In the first place, most of them have had to walk to  church. If they were particularly blessed, they might have had a cart or carriage, but still they were limited to something very near their home. If there was a Bible-preaching church within walking distance, there was probably only one. And often, God’s people were restricted by law to one state-approved parish church, perhaps with an unskilled or unsaved pastor. In other places and times people risked their lives to worship with others in secret. Mr. John Paton, please tell Wounded about your family. 

 John Paton: Oh, aye. My father would walk us some four miles into town for church on the Lord’s day. Of course, not all of us could walk that far. Mother and the little ones had to stay home, but Father would get all he could from the minister’s sermon. Then, when we got home late in the afternoon, we would have family worship and Father would repeat the sermon to Mother and all the children who didn’t get to go. 

 Moderator: That is amazing! Surely your family must not have kept that up for very long.  

 John Paton: Oh, no. You are mistaken. In the forty years that my family lived in Torthorwald, my father only missed church three times. Once when the snow was so deep he couldn’t find the road, once when there was so much ice my father had to climb back up our brae on his hands and knees to get home, and once when Dumfries was closed to travelers because of a cholera outbreak. It wasn’t so hard really. I would have given almost anything to have such easy access to church like that once my wife and I got to the island of Tanna. With the cannibals there, our lives were at risk every moment, but we were there to share the love of Jesus, no matter what. (2) 

 Wounded: Well, yes. That all shows remarkable dedication. But since our whole family can  go, we would like to find something that suits everyone. You must understand, we would like a pastor that is encouraging and uplifting, but not over-long. We want music that is upbeat– not stodgy and dead. We need a good youth program that isn’t all fun and games. And we need a children’s program so we don’t have to wrestle with the youngsters in the worship service. It would be nice if most of the others in the group made the same kinds of lifestyle choices we make, too, so we could feel comfortable. 

 Moderator: I see. John Murray– didn’t your son go to church with you when you were an itinerant pastor to several Scottish villages in the 1950’s? 

Murray: Yes, that’s right. Often our services would go on for two or three hours because it was so hard for folks to get there. My churches were in very rural areas. Many of the roads were little better than sheep tracks. Once the people were at church, they might as well get a good fill of the Word of God and fellowship with other believers. My son was very young at the time and his mother was home with our new baby and taking care of my elderly sister on our croft.  

 Moderator:You must have had a good nursery or children’s program for your son to be able to attend. 

 Murray:The nursery attendant was very stern– it was I! If my little son became sleepy as the service went on, he would curl up in the bottom of my pulpit and sleep there while I preached. With a congregation of only a dozen or so, we all stayed together to worship our Lord. There was no idea at all that we would split up the families or send the little ones off separately. (3) 

 Wounded:That was very creative on your part, I’m sure. But if we dragged our kids out to sit in a small congregation and listen to two to three hours of preaching, they would rebel and never want to go to church again. And to be perfectly honest, that’s part of the reason we are not going to church now. You see, our children have also been hurt by being snubbed in youth group. And when we tried to talk things out with the parents of those other children, they blamed the problem on OUR children. It was all too much for us emotionally. 

Moderator:It was good that you went to the parents. Did you ask for the pastor’s help? 

 Wounded:Oh, yes. He said he would moderate a meeting between our family and the other families that had been cruel to our children.  But he wouldn’t believe that our children were innocent and the others were the problem. He said he could see issues on both sides, and that hurt our family even more. Later he told us that if we were truly suffering unjustly, we needed to count it as a blessing! Can you believe that?! 

 Moderator:Jesus did say that those who are reviled and persecuted are blessed, especially if people are saying things against you falsely for the Lord’s sake. Isn’t that right, Peter? (Matt. 5:10-11) 

 Peter:That’s right. “Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (1 Peter 3:13-15)  

Wounded:But you don’t know how much they hurt us. You have to understand, we’re sensitive people; we’re not calloused like the brutes that snubbed our children.  

Moderator:Mr. Chambers, Oswald, I remember that you had false accusations brought against you at one point. You are a sensitive, artistic man. How did you handle your tests? You’ve been around the world and seen people of all sorts in the body of Christ. You have spoken often about how Jesus uses our trials. What do you say? 

Chambers:The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount produces despair in the natural man– the very thing Jesus means it to do. As long as we have a conceited notion that we can carry out our Lord’s teaching, God will allow us to go on until we break our ignorance over some obstacle, then we are willing to come to Him and receive help from Him. (4) [7-21] 

 Wounded:There you go, now, implying I am conceited and ignorant, even after I just told you I was very sensitive. 

 Chambers:I intend to do you good.  The people who do us good are never those who sympathize with us; they always hinder, because sympathy enervates. [8-10] You cannot keep yourself fit if you give way to self-pity. Our circumstances are the means of manifesting how extraordinarily pure the Son of God is. If God puts you there, in a hard place, He is amply sufficient. [5-14] 

 Wounded:Mr. Chambers, I do understand that God uses hard times to teach us things, but we don’t have to stay in a bad place or put ourselves at risk of being hurt even more unnecessarily.  

Chambers:God is determined to make you pure and holy and right: He will not let you escape for one moment from the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit. “Is this a God of mercy and of love?” you say. The moment you realize God’s purpose, which is to get you rightly related to Himself and then to your fellow men, He will tax the last limit of the universe to help you take the right road. If you say, “I wonder why I don’t go on with God?,” I ask you, are you paying your debts from God’s standpoint? [7-1]  

Wounded:What do you mean, “paying my debts?”  

Chambers:Jesus said we are to agree with our adversary quickly. Have you suddenly turned a corner in any relationship and found that you had anger in your heart? Confess it quickly, quickly put it right before God, be reconciled to that one– do it now. [6-30] 

 Wounded:I wouldn’t say I am angry with those who have hurt us: I feel sorry for them. I think I have forgiven them, but I just can’t trust them. It’s not worth the risk of being hurt again. To be honest, that is one of the reasons we aren’t looking too hard for a new church. 

 Chambers:The refusal to be disillusioned is the cause of much suffering in human life. It works this way– if we love a human being and do not love God, we demand of him every perfection and every rectitude, and when we do not get it we become cruel and vindictive; we are demanding of a human being that which he or she cannot give. Why our Lord is apparently so severe regarding every human relationship not based on loyalty to Himself is because He knows that every relationship not based on loyalty to Himself will end in disaster. [7-30] 

Wounded:I don’t think I’m being vindictive, and I do love God! But you are right about disasters! 

 

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART THREE 

 

References: 

(1) Cowper, William. Poems. London: J. Johnson, 1808. In the preface by John Newton, p. i.x. 

 

(2) Paton, John.  John G. Paton. Banner of Truth, 1965 reprint. 

 

(3) Murray, John. 

 

(4) Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Discovery House Publishers, cr. 1963. Date references for the specific quotations are in brackets. 

 

(5) Lewis, C. S. The Inspirational Writings of C. S. Lewis. New York: Inspirational Press, 1994. In The Business of Heaven. Dates listed in brackets. 

 

(6) Lewis, C. S. The Inspirational Writings of C. S. Lewis. New York: Inspirational Press, 1994. In The Four Loves, p. 279, 280. 

 

Scripture references are from the NASU. 

Worse than Nothing Part 1

Posted By on December 17, 2017

by Teri Ong  

[Introductory remarks – I wrote this a long time ago, but I needed to carefully consider whether it could be helpful to anyone or might be merely inflammatory. Many years ago I heard a song by a country Gospel group that was much more concise than what I have written, but along the same lines. The song was called “Excuses.” It was all about the excuses people give for not going to church, and believe me, in 40 years of church ministry, I have heard every one of them given. There are sometimes legitimate reasons not to attend congregational worship, but most of the time we are just “excusing” ourselves. After 10 months of prayerful consideration and sharing this three-part piece with godly colleagues, I offer it here for your prayerful consideration as we soon come to another holy-day season.] 

 Today is New Year’s Day 2017. It also happens to be Sunday. Today we worshiped the Lord on His day as we always do – corporately – in church – with brothers and sisters in Christ who also believe it honors the Lord to honor His day. Today, as on other Sundays, we prayed together, sang together, read Scripture together, heard God’s Word taught and expounded together, ate together, shared our lives together, and celebrated the Lord’s Supper together. 

Today it happened that we had a couple from another city join with our little church family because their church cancelled services on Christmas Sunday and New Year’s Sunday. I can’t wrap my mind around the concept of closing the church doors on the day we celebrate the Lord’s first coming to earth as a man, the day we celebrate His birth in space and time so He could ultimately carry out God’s plan of redemption. After all, we have designated Christmas as a “holiday.”  “Holiday” is simply a compound word made up of the two words “holy” and “day.” Worshiping as members of His church on a day on which we especially acknowledge the miraculous incarnation of our Savior is not only appropriate, it should be our highest priority. 

All of the attendant activities that are part of holy day celebrations are fine and good in their place – gathering with family members, special foods and feasting, gift giving, music making, etc. God Himself gave His blessing on these types of activities. Look at all the references in the Bible that contain the word “feast.” You will see that God is pleased when we set aside “laborious work” for a period of days and eat good food, play happy music, and in all ways express our joy for all His good provisions. The fact remains, however, that “holy days” are holy because they are set apart by and to God.  Moses explained this truth to Pharaoh, “…We must hold a feast to the LORD.” (Ex 10:9) 

Why would an otherwise biblically sound, evangelical church cancel worship services “to the Lord” on a Sunday because it is Christmas? Like King Solomon, I “set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven.” (Eccl. 1:13) Here are my speculations about possible reasons. 

 

1.The church leadership doesn’t want church services to stand in the way of traditional family celebrations for others in the congregation and will sacrificially cancel services, even though they would rather be worshiping in church. 

 2. The church leadership doesn’t want church services to stand in the way of traditional family celebrations for themselves and will altruistically extend a “day off” to everyone in the congregation.

 3.The church leadership anticipates that there will be very few in the congregation that will show up for church and don’t want to waste time, effort, or material resources to prepare a service or open the building for the hand-full that will come. 

 4.The church leadership knows that there are some “pillars of the church” that don’t plan to be in church, and the leadership doesn’t want to alienate any VIP’s by making them feel guilty about not being in church for Christ’s birthday celebration. The way to avoid this situation is to cancel entirely. 

 5.The church leadership realizes that everyone will be so tired out from all of the partying around the “holiday” season, or that all the mothers will be so stressed out about all the preparations for the partying that must take place after services are over, that even those few who show up will be there in body only. Since worship is to be “in spirit,” and no one’s spirit will be there, there is no need to have a service. 

  I have no way of knowing whether or not I have touched on anyone’s reason for canceling normal worship services on Christmas Sundays or not. Perhaps I am not imaginative enough or sensitive enough to come up with better or more accurate reasonings, but all of the ones I did come up with are pretty flimsy.  

Church leadership that would cancel for the “benefit” of the congregants isn’t spiritual “leadership” at all. No activity is more beneficial to an individual or a family than gathering with other members of the body of Christ to worship Him. Church leaders that encourage members of the flock to think more highly of themselves and their family traditions than they ought to think– that is to say, more highly than they think of worshiping their Savior– are leading people down the broad path that leads to spiritual ruin. Christ made it clear that family concerns, even momentous concerns such as a death in the family, are not to supercede our duty to follow our Savior. (Matt. 8:22) 

Leaders who cancel for their own convenience are teaching their flock that personal convenience and comfort are the highest good. They are teaching by their example that Christ is not pre-eminent in their lives or in their church, and that He is not worthy of setting aside our little human concerns. As to the issue of wasting time and resources on a reduced or even meager attendance, could it not be possible that God would be especially blessed by the more extreme sacrifice shown by persevering when attendance is down? The size of a meeting has never been a hindrance to the God who promises to be in the midst of “two or three gathered together.” (Matt. 18:20) What if God decided to take a “day off” from us personally or from the average church?   (Acts 17:25) 

But what about demonstrating love to other weaker brothers and sisters by not making them feel guilty or convicted about abandoning the body of Christ on Christ’s holy day? Isn’t that legitimate? A wise woman I know taught that we need to distinguish between “love” and “indulgence.” True Christian love is willing to exhort and correct when necessary. Remember what the writer of Hebrews said: 

 12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; (Heb. 3:12-14) 

 

What was the reason for this bold exhortation? The writer of Hebrews was recalling what happened when the Israelites provoked God in the wilderness with their worship gone wrong. (Heb 3:15-19) One notable provocation happened when the Israelites decided to have a “feast to the Lord,” but they didn’t do it God’s way. They chose to celebrate in an idolatrous and fleshly way. Sadly, there are many ways that their way is also the “American way.” 

 

5 Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” 6 So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.7 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. (Ex. 32:5-7) 

 

If all these possible reasons for cancelling worship are inadequate for Christmas, they are doubly so for cancelling on New Year’s Day. That ranks right up there with cancelling on Super Bowl Sunday. New Year’s Day is not traditionally set apart as a holy day like Christmas. For Americans, it is often a day of recovering from the drunken revels of the night before. Is there any sense that New Year’s Day should be set aside to God? Scripturally, first days are very important to God. Look at Exodus 12:2 and 40:2. God chose to have His tabernacle set up on the first day of the first month, and the first month was established to coincide with the exodus from Egypt.As Christians, New Year’s Day can be a special remembrance of what God took us out of– a life of bondage to sin– and an acknowledgment of our Savior Immanuel – the one who came to “tabernacle with mankind.” 

Cancelling corporate worship in church on holy days sends the message to a sinful world that gathering with believers to worship God is worse than nothing. Is that the message we want to send? 

 

 O Come, O Come Emmanuel 

 

1) O come. O come.  Emmanuel, 

And ransom captive Israel, 

That mourns in lonely exile here 

Until the Son of God appear. 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel! 

Shall come to thee, O Israel. 

 

3) O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free 

Thine own from Satan’s tyranny; 

From depths of hell Thy People save 

And give them vict’ry o’er the grave. 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel! 

Shall come to thee, O Israel. 

 

4) O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer 

Our spirits by Thine advent here; 

O drive away the shades of night, 

And pierce the clouds and bring us light. 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel! 

Shall come to thee, O Israel. 

The Mother of All Birthday Parties

Posted By on December 11, 2017

by Teri Ong 

 This weekend is the end of the annual “birthday” cycle for our immediate family. Even all of our children’s spouses fall within the January 5 to October 15 range. So far we only have one grandchild outside the range, but even he gets his in by the end of October. This gives us a couple months for focusing on Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. 

As our children were growing up, they understood that it would happen fairly frequently that we would not be celebrating “their day” on their day. This was particularly true if “their day” happened to be on the “Lord’s Day.” If we happened to have a church dinner that fell on such a birthday, we sometimes brought a special cake to share, but partying was reserved for another time.  

It has always bothered me that mainstream American Christians will let almost any other type of event supercede attending congregational worship on the Lord’s Day. One of the most prevalent reasons is because they have scheduled a family celebration of some sort at lunch time on Sunday. Even when these events involve working people and school-age children, there is no real reason why they need to be on a Sunday afternoon instead of a Saturday afternoon, except that it is easier to get people to give up group worship on Sundays than to give up personal leisure on Saturdays. 

But this year, the Lord has taught me something about birthday parties. 

 Our church congregation was blessed this summer to begin what we hope will be a long relationship with a group of Karen Baptist refugees from Myanmar (formerly Burma). Many in their congregation left severe persecutions in their homeland for the privations of a refugee camp in Thailand. Some of them were in refugee camps for six or seven years. Some of the young people were born while their families lived in the refugee camps and never knew any other way of life until they were allowed to come to America under special resettlement programs. 

Even in America, for several years their congregation didn’t have a permanent place to meet for worship. The congregation that is with us now formerly rented a Christian café, but they could only be in it for two hours a week. Many of their other weekly meetings floated from home to home, until neighbors would complain about the parking and traffic. Since July they have met in our church building for two hours on Sundays and four to six hours on Saturdays. On Saturdays, they have Bible classes, choir practices, and at least two people praying continually on a rotational basis. 

The greatest blessing to us is that they desire to hold a joint worship service and dinner with our congregation once a month. We are not just their landlords, we are brothers and sisters in Christ, who happen to speak very different languages and have very different cultural backgrounds. 

We are not so naive as to think that one cultural expression of Christianity is automatically more pure or holy, and hopefully, we are not of the kind that believes our own way is better just because it is ours. We are seeing and learning amazing things from each other; we hope we are not polluting the Karen congregation with our soft American ways. We are learning about the preciousness of worship born out of persecution and suffering. 

Back to my topic of birthday parties– 

At the end of July my husband was asked to preach a birthday sermon at the 20th birthday of the daughter of one of the Karen elders. We readily agreed to attend. It was to be held at their home on a Saturday at the end of July. 

The home was a very modest American split-level. The only furniture in the living room was a small futon-style sofa and a low table decorated with a lace scarf and a vase of flowers. We were invited to sit on the sofa. Everyone else who came in sat on the bare floor. Pretty soon, most of the congregation was there.  

The pastor took his place, seated behind the little table. He got out his Bible and began the birthday worship service with Bible reading and prayer. The choir stood up in the middle of the living room and sang a hymn. My husband preached the birthday sermon for about a half hour. A congregational song and another Scripture reading followed. Then a family friend who had come from Denver gave a special birthday devotional for about 20 minutes. There was another congregational song. Then the birthday girl got up and thanked the congregation by singing a song that she had written for the occasion. 

The worship service lasted for an hour and a half. Mothers, fathers, babies, young children, teens, all sat together and worshiped together in the 95 degree heat, and then followed it up with an amazing banquet, set out in bowls and platters in the middle of the floor. We joined the group on the floor and were instructed in how to fill our noodle bowls and about the merits of the various treats.  The whole afternoon was wonderful– sweaty, but wonderful! 

A few weeks later we were asked to participate in another birthday party and in a house dedication party, both of which were on a Sunday following the regular services. At the birthday party we sat on traditional mats on the floor. The worship service only lasted an hour before the feast was served. The birthday boy was only 3 after all.  The house dedication service lasted the better part of an hour, and another feast was served.  On that particular Sunday, the congregation had participated in about 5 hours of worship that included Scripture readings, prayers, hymn singing and preaching. 

I have changed my opinion about the merits of birthday parties. The Blessing of Karen congregation has taught me about the potential of sanctifying special occasions – like birthdays and house dedications– with the Christian fellowship that comes through serious-minded corporate worship and joyful feasting. Their birthday parties outstrip many American church services in both aspects. If we could learn to worship the way they party, we would be much better off spiritually. Perhaps we would anticipate more fully and be better prepared for the Marriage Feast of the Lamb if we practiced up for it now. 


At Thy feet, our God and Father, 

Who has blessed us all our days, 

We with grateful hearts would gather, 

To begin the year with praise. 

 

Spread Thy love’s provisions o’er us; 

Give us strength to serve and wait, 

Till the glory breaks before us, 

Through the City’s open gate. 

 

[verses 1, 5 by James Drummond Burns, 1823-64] 

For Heaven’s Sake, Don’t Give a Fish

Posted By on November 11, 2017

by Teri Ong 

 Besides summer wildfires and autumn hurricanes and all their attendant disruption and destruction, other forces of impending doom have been in the news in the last few weeks. I speak of top tech industry leaders warning about how artificial intelligence is going to cause catastrophic collapse of the workforce as we know it. Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Sam Altman have been holding conferences giving predictions about the millions of workers who will no longer be employable when their current jobs are taken over by automation. 

This kind of thing has happened before when there have been significant changes in technology. Many people lost their jobs when McCormick invented a machine that could take dirt and seeds out of cotton bolls. People lost their cottage industries knitting socks and sweaters when large scale powered looms were invented. People who spun wool yarn and wove fabric on backroom looms likewise lost out during the Industrial Revolution. 

Men and women who made a fair living and got personal satisfaction hand-crafting any number of beautiful, practical and individualized products lost out to cheap factory made goods. To keep from starving they had to do repetitive and menial jobs in the factories that had displaced their crafts, often for slave wages. But in time, people adjusted to new circumstances and found ways to cope, especially if they coped or they starved. 

We are facing a new revolution, in which it will not be the craftsmen who lose out; it will be the workers that already do menial “entry-level” work – the ones that take orders at fast-food places, that drive delivery trucks and cars, that fill packages, that mow lawns. Robots, voice-activated computers, drones, and self-driving vehicles have already made inroads. Someday we may not even need human workers to harvest crops, run the machines that manufacture items, or even to start IV’s or take blood samples. 

What will all of these unemployed and unemployable people do to support themselves? Well, some of our super-rich, technological elites have suggested that we set up a governmental program to provide a “UBI,” or Universal Basic Income. This is welfare on steroids! Finland is currently testing this sort of program for a very small number of chronically unemployed– 2,000 people to be exact. And some of our tech gurus are touting the Finnish program as a model. But supporting 2,000 people on tax money is a far cry from supporting 20 million, or 30, or 40, on the backs of the relative handful of people that will actually be providing a service or a product that generates enough cash to be taxed. 

The provision of money to supply basic necessities is only part, and not even the most important part of what employment does. Working at something is a necessity for the soul. Think about those retirees who seem to shrivel up as human beings when they suddenly quit doing meaningful work. The connection between work and purpose is not just for the elderly, who have worked at something for a good long while. Young people need the purpose attached to work as well. 

I believe the reason so many young people seem unhappy and disaffected is that they haven’t experienced the satisfaction of working at something to provide for their own basic needs. They have food, clothing, a roof over their heads, automobiles, car insurance, health insurance, provided by mom and dad until they are nearly 30 years old. They have been given so many fish that they have no interest whatsoever in learning to fish, unless learning to fish is a new kind of virtual reality game you can play in your parent’s basement. However, the Bank of Mom and Dad, for most young adults, cannot continue doling out forever. Mom and Dad have a 20 to 30 year head start on ultimate reality – death and taxes. So it is no wonder that Bernie Sanders knew where to turn to get support for his political program of “free everything for everybody.”  The same crowd will undoubtedly be there when it is time to vote for the Universal Basic Income. They have been taught to believe they should be able to get a career-track living wage for flipping burgers. It is merely one more small step to believing they are entitled to a career-track living wage just for taking up space on the earth. 

Idealists believe people with a Universal Basic Income will have much free time and will turn their energies into all kinds of creative pursuits. But how many garage studio drummers does the world need? How many guitarists that only know how to play primary chords? How many “ultimate cupcake” bakers will a local economy support? How many sculptors that make non-representational figures out of dryer lint and Gorilla Glue? 

The social experiences of Saudi Arabia, and more locally, of Alaska, where citizens are given stipends based on oil income, indicate that most idle people don’t turn their energies to creativity, even lame creativity. They become accustomed to watching daytime television, to playing internet poker tournaments, to buying things on the home shopping channels, trolling social media, wasting away physically in video game marathons, etc. In Saudi Arabia, the barrels of money are no longer rolling in with the barrels of oil, but the government is having a hard time getting people to go back to work to diversify the flagging economy. What a surprise! 

And when life gets to be unbearably dull and meaningless in almost any society, people turn to self-destructive behaviors that involve chemicals, sex, and/or violence in a variety of forms. Some form of stimulation is better than nothing. 

We have seen it ourselves in foreign countries we have visited. One time in London we got off the “Tube” at a station that was unfamiliar to us. We came up from the station in a neighborhood where the streets were lined with disenchanted male Millennials leaning against the store fronts, just waiting for a reason to pick a fight. We made a quick U-turn and went back to our familiar neighborhood. 

We have seen it in our own state. Since the legalization of recreational marijuana, our street corners are filled with able-bodied male Millennials who have wasted their substance,  their bodies and their minds on chemical addictions. And since there is no Universal Basic Income at the present time, they spend their free time creatively begging for money. It pains me deeply to see able-bodied males frittering away what should be the prime years of their strength in purposelessness and self-destruction. 

In an excellent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Dan Nidess observes that a Universal Basic Income might address the material needs of the unemployed, but that it would “undermine their aspirations” at the same time. In regard to the human need for purpose, he astutely writes, “…purpose can’t be manufactured, nor can it be given out alongside a government subsidy. It comes from having deep-seated responsibility – to yourself, your family, and society as a whole.” [Wall Street Journal, Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, p. A13, col. 1-4] 

As a Christian, I would add to his list “And to your God.” Honest labor is not a necessary evil; it was given to humankind as a gracious gift before the fall of man. The first thing we learn about God in Genesis chapter one is that He made things, and later we are told that He did it all for His good pleasure. Finding joy and pleasure in satisfying work is part of the image of God in man. And overcoming the painful and burdensome aspects of labor reminds us of our status as sinners and of our need for a Savior.  

As redeemed sinners our work gives us many opportunities to demonstrate character. In 2 Thessalonians 3 the Apostle Paul challenged his readers to exemplify a disciplined Christian life through their employment, as he did. 

 

6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept  working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; 9 not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example.  

 

The worst thing we could do as a nation to further erode our already perilously weak moral fiber is to start giving out the proverbial free fish. The Apostle Paul further wrote that those who don’t work for the food they eat shouldn’t eat. He understood that an empty stomach can be the best motivation to get out and do something purposeful, even if the purpose is just to fill your stomach. Those who won’t do that will come to a bad end. 

 

10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.   

We will never make progress as a society against crime, gang violence, chemical addictions, domestic violence, and radical political and religious violence, if we feed our young people on UBI’s instead of honest purposefulness. 

 

“Go, labour on, spend and be spent, 

Thy joy to do the Father’s will; 

It is the way the Master went, 

Should not the servant tread it still?” 

–Horatius Bonar, 1808-1889 

The End of Desire 

Posted By on October 19, 2017

by Teri Ong 

 Introduction: I wrote this blog two weeks ago, just after the Las Vegas shootings. In the weeks since it happened, we have learned a little more about the shooter, his name, his age, his socio-economic status, and a few other perfunctory details. But we have learned very little about his inner motivation. The act was thoroughly premeditated. However, if anyone knows what made this man buy $20,000 worth of firearms, not to mention thousands of rounds of ammunition, plus surveillance cameras, tripods, chemicals for bombs, then set up his own deadly machine gun nest in an expensive hotel room, they are not talking. I was gratified in a sad way that after I had written this piece, I heard a radio analyst say that the shooter did what he did “because he wanted to.” 

 In the middle of last night, I was awakened by a news bulletin on the radio of the worst mass shooting in American history. A man in his 60’s rented a hotel room on the 32nd floor of a hotel across the street from an open-air country music festival. For some reason, probably known only to himself, he opened fire on the crowd with a variety of automatic weapons that did great damage in a short time. From his vantage point, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Then when the police were closing in him, he shot himself. 

As crazy and inexplicable as it seems to us “normal” people, the reason he shot at the crowd of 22,000 people across the street from him hotel is because he had a desire to shoot at them. So far, we don’t really know why he had that desire. But desire it he did. He planned it out weeks in advance, buying unusual weapons and a large supply of ammunition, making hotel reservations for a particular floor overlooking a particular venue. Perhaps he got some sadistic satisfaction as he pulled the trigger. Perhaps he vented a lifetime of hatred and frustration. Perhaps he felt an evil thrill from the adrenaline rush. Then it all came to a quick end when he shot himself. 

In Charles Williams’, spiritual thriller, Many Dimensions, the action revolves around the Stone of Suleiman Ben Daood (Solomon, Son of David) set in the crown of a Jew, (p.14) and inscribed with the Divine Name. The stone has a mystical power to fulfill anyone’s desires. In fact, the legend of the stone declares it to be the “end of desire.” However, the more it is used for temporal or material benefits, the more desires people have. Various characters are willing to sacrifice great sums of money, enter into unholy alliances, deceive people into performing dangerous experiments, and even commit murder to have control of the stone.  

Two characters in the story have a different desire. They want to uncover the true secret of the stone and remove it from the grasp of greedy, self-serving humanity. As the story unfolds, the reader comes to understand that the stone is symbolic of the Biblical “Stone of Stumbling” or “Stone of Offense.”   The secret of the stone is that when the holder submits to the will of the stone, the holder no longer has any desires of his own and comes to perfect peace and rest. In other words, he finds the happy end of desire.  But anyone who uses the stone to fulfill his own desires comes to ruin or destruction. 

In “real life,” Christians know that peace and satisfaction are indeed found in submitting to the will of Christ, the Stone which the builders rejected. And in “real life,” we also know that God sometimes gives sinful people their way, and then sends leanness of soul. (Psalm 106:15) The Las Vegas shooter found the end of earthly life after he tried to find the end of his desire (whatever it was), but he did not find the end of desire. Probably, like the rich man in Sheol, he just found different unfulfilled desires. (Luke 16:24) 

In Williams’ novel, the ruination of some of the characters leads to the enlightenment of others. Perhaps the shock of one evening that started out as innocuous entertainment but ended in unexpected terror and devastation will cause some of those who were present, and some who have watched from the distance of news media, to consider that life is a vapor and that the blessed end of desire is found in a relationship with the Eternal God. 

Ironically, the evening before the terrible shooting, I had been studying the lesson by the Puritan William Ames for the Lord’s Day Number 40 in A Sketch of the ChristianCatechism , which is on “You shall not murder.” (Ex. 20:13) Ames wrote, “Murder is the gravest injury that can be inflicted on a human as far as this present life is concerned.”  The uses’ he lists for his lesson on this topic include, “that we may take heed to ourselves to depart from all affections and internal dispositions by which people are customarily provoked and led to wounding their neighbors unjustly.”  In other words, we need to check our hearts for evil motives that may cause us to want to hurt others.  He lists the following possibilities: 

1.Irascibility [that is, easily becoming irate] 

2.Hatred … confirmed and lodged in the mind… from which the impulse to wound follows 

3.Envies by which people bear the condition of others so grievously that they wish some evil on them 

4.A desire for vengeance by which people customarily render evil for evil. 

Photo Credit: Teri Ong

 

As bad as it is to harm our neighbor physically, Ames points out, “The life of the spiritual man is his most precious possession, surpassing the corporeal life by far.” For this reason, doing injury to someone’s spiritual life is a greater evil than harming their body, though we should strive to do neither. But even Christians tend to think physically and fail to think about how we can injure and wound our neighbors spiritually. 

The end of Ames’ lesson states, “Our duty is not only to abstain from the things by which the life of our neighbor may be wounded, either corporeally or spiritually, but also studiously to exhibit everything by which his corporeal and spiritual lives can be aided and made more lively.” He suggests the following: “1) the study of peace, 2) patience, 3) civility, 4) mercy and kindness, and 5) the spiritual alms of instruction… as the occasion should demand.” 

I pray that as our attention is drawn once again to a massive failure of love, love toward God and toward fellow men, that we will consider carefully how we can submit our own desires to the will of our Savior and show sacrificial love as He did on our behalf. 

 

Sweet Will of God  

My stubborn will at last hath yielded; 

I would be Thine, and Thine alone; 

And this the prayer my lips are bringing, 

Lord, let in me THY will be done. 

Sweet will of God, still fold me closer, 

Till I am wholly lost in Thee. 

-Leila N. Morris 

The Anglo File

Posted By on April 1, 2017

by Teri Ong

My husband and I have made frequent trips to England since our first one together in 1999. But every first time experience is especially memorable, and our trip in ‘99 was no exception.

In his masterful tale, At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances, Alexander McCall Smith through his character Moritz Maria Von Igelfeld, observes, “Why is that everyone expects that one has had a good journey, when traveling is notorious for hardships. One is often forced to see things one doesn’t want to see, smell things one doesn’t want smell, sleep places one doesn’t want to sleep…” And we would have to agree. On a long journey there are inevitable hardships that we travelers hope will be offset by the pleasures of the adventure.

Fortunately, very few of our handful of hardships in going to England have been repeated on any successive trip. But out first journey was a doozey!

We left Denver at about 8:00 p.m. on January 1, 1999. There was only one non-stop flight to London out of Denver at the time– a British Airways flight that promised to give us a little foretaste of the mother country before we ever left the ground. But right away there were sights we didn’t want to see and smells we didn’t want to smell in the seat back pocket. Then there were sights we wanted to see, but couldn’t, because of the broken media player in our row of seats.

Oh, well! We were to be traveling at night. We would probably sleep through our boredom anyway. One of the media players was working– my husband’s– and he was fascinated with the trip map and flight information. A couple hours into the flight he noticed that the flight path had changed. Instead of showing a line “up and over” towards England, the line was now due east toward New York City.

We watched our progress along the new line for at least an hour before a member of the flight crew announced that there was a problem with one of the plane’s fuel sensors. We were indeed going to land at JFK in New York, but not until we had dumped fuel in Lake Erie. None of this information led to a sense of peace and well-being among the passengers. We had already gotten a late start because of having to de-ice in Denver– twice– because we were held on the ground too long after the first time. Now we would be delayed even more.

We landed in New York about 2:00 a.m. local time. It was now Saturday, January 2. For awhile, the hospitality crew came through the cabin on a regular basis offering us water or juice. But then they all seemed to disappear.

We had been on the ground for over an hour, and no one was forth-coming with any information at all. Nor did there seem to be any activity at the airport at all. Could this really be New York City? Could this really be JFK?
After another hour there was some movement of people at the front of the plane. There were over 400 people on the flight and we were way in the back, so we were always the last to know anything. Someone came on the PA system and informed us that we were going to be taken to a hotel for the night (what was left of it) and that we would be flying out at the earliest possible time later that day. All of our baggage was going to be kept secured until we flew out later.

The natives were getting very restless. Some people from the back were trying to jockey for positions closer to the main exit, but to little benefit. Mothers with babies were being de-planed first and loaded directly onto one of the two buses that were being used to shuttle us to hotels. We started calculating how many trips those buses would have to make to get us all delivered.

We finally got to our hotel at 4:00 a.m., only to have to stand in line with about 200 other people needing to be checked into rooms. At least we didn’t have the worst of it. Some mothers and babies ended up at one hotel while the dads and diaper bags ended up at another!

We were a little uneasy about what “earliest possible flight” meant. Were we going to be checked in, get to a room, flop on the bed for half an hour and then be loaded back onto the bus to the airport? No one knew, or at least no one was saying.

Our room was very cold, and the heating system was out of order. We turned on the hot water in the shower to warm things up a little. We crawled into bed in our clothes– our PJ’s were “secured” at the airport– and we threw our coats over the bedspread to retain a little extra warmth.

After a short and fitful sleep, we went down to the desk to find out when we would be leaving New York. The plane had been fixed, but there was no fresh crew available to fly it. We would have to wait until the crew had had their mandatory rest. We would be leaving about 7:00 p.m. We had a couple meals at the airline’s expense, but thought more about the concert we were missing in London and about how we were going to miss going to the Metropolitan Tabernacle for church on Sunday morning. We could not even take a good nap since we had to check out of the hotel long before we were scheduled to go to the airport.

It was nearly dark before we boarded the shuttle bus. We were sitting just behind the driver who had a terrible cough. He kept swigging from a paper cup that sat on a shelf at his left elbow. I wished he would pay more attention to the road and less attention to his drink. He was going too fast around some of the curves and nearly sideswiped a couple motorists.

“This cough is just terrible! If it wasn’t for my home remedy here, I’d be home in bed. It’s cognac and Ni-quill. Great stuff!”

All I could think was, “I’m going to die before I ever get off the ground!”

We finally made it to the airport and to our gate. We were checked in again based on our old ticket information, which meant we were in the same row in the back with the same sights we didn’t want to see and smells we didn’t want to smell. We hoped the fuel sensor had gotten more attention in the past 24 hours than the econo-cabin had gotten. We also hoped there would be no more delays since word came down that a blizzard was on its way east and Chicago O’Hare was already closed because of it.

The next 12 days in England and Scotland were wonderful in the main. Seventeen years later I can still recount the details of our itinerary, including the good, the bad, and the bumpy. When we got home, we decided to let British Airways know that when people would ask, “So you had a good flight?”, we would have to say, “Well, actually…”

I suggested that we ask for a credit voucher to cover our losses in London. The airline very generously gave us refunds and vouchers so that the next year we were able to fly across the pond for a mere $75.00. It was the beginning of a decades long adventure full of exciting places and wonderful people. Yes, we have had a good journey.

Ebenezer Scrooge: My Funny Valentine

Posted By on March 18, 2017

By Teri Ong

My husband and I are on a two-day Valentine retreat. He saw some cut white roses and a pot of live red roses and couldn’t decide which to get me, so he got both! While he was at the store getting flowers, the checkout person wanted to know if he was playing the mega-million supermarket game, and if he wanted pieces. This led to our discussion of what we really want from a retail store– the lowest prices without a percentage of OUR money going to prize pay outs.

This thought led to evaluating the common practice of asking customers to “round up” to the nearest dollar for the charity du jour. This takes extra time at the checkout and lays a guilt trip on you if you are too stingy to give fifty-nine cents to medical research or needy children. [thought– does that count as a “micro-aggression”?] Then, within minutes of that conversation, I was reading a feature in a magazine about a woman with a boutique that is part of the “shopping without guilt” movement. When you buy things at her store, you get upscale one-of-a-kind items, AND you “do good” because she donates 7% of her profit to a variety of charities.

I wonder how she would take it if I asked for a 7% rebate if I didn’t want to donate to “Gophers Unlimited” or “Save the Pine Nut” this week. I already shop without guilt by carefully selecting and pricing things we need. And we already give above and beyond our church tithe to help meet a variety of worthy needs. My goal is to be as frugal as possible so I can use my own resources in the way I see fit. I now steer away from places that are going to use an extra portion of my money to give prizes or support causes that don’t fit my criteria.

C. S. Lewis thought it was unfortunate that the Greek word for “love” in 1 Corinthians 13 was translated as “charity” in certain English Bible translations. The semantic distinction in that well-known passage reinforces a false dichotomy and faulty notions about love and charity. Charity, as we use the word, should be given as an act of love, not out of compulsion. (2 Cor. 9:7) And love should cause us to do acts of “charity” when we see people truly in need. (James 2:15-17)

In Dickens’ novelette A Christmas Carol, two men come into Scrooge’s place of business seeking donations for the poor and needy at Christmas time. They ask Scrooge what they can put him down for. He replies, “Nothing.” They reply in pleased astonishment, “You wish to be left anonymous?!” To which he sternly replies, “I wish to be left alone.”

I am sorry to say it, but that is how I often feel when answering phone solicitations for a wide range of causes (many of them unworthy and mismanaged), when I am coerced at the checkout counter, when I am accosted by able-bodied young men with cardboard signs at traffic stops, when the first thing I see inside a store is the massive box for donated toys or school supplies for the children of parents who need to take responsibility, or when the postal service leaves a plastic bag for me to fill with canned goods for the food bank. Ironically, our church then has to buy the canned goods from the food bank to distribute to the poor and needy!

Unlike Scrooge, I am not a greedy, stingy person. We give generously to our church, to its missions, and to many special needs brought to our attention. So please, let me love the way I want to love. Let me keep my money to feed the people of my choice; let me care for children by teaching them life skills rather than give unnecessary stuff; let me care for the victims of foreign disasters rather than preserve domestic wetlands, if I choose. And above all– leave the gambling in Vegas!

Worse than Nothing

Posted By on January 21, 2017

By Teri Ong

Today is New Year’s Day 2017. It also happens to be Sunday. Today we worshiped the Lord on His day as we always do – corporately – in church – with brothers and sisters in Christ who also believe it honors the Lord to honor His day. Today, as on other Sundays, we prayed together, sang together, read Scripture together, heard God’s Word taught and expounded together, ate together, shared our lives together, and celebrated the Lord’s Supper together.

Today it happened that we had a couple from another city join with our little church family because their church cancelled services on Christmas Sunday and New Year’s Sunday. I can’t wrap my mind around the concept of closing the church doors on the day we celebrate the Lord’s first coming to earth as a man, the day we celebrate His birth in space and time so He could ultimately carry out God’s plan of redemption. After all, we have designated Christmas as a “holiday.”  “Holiday” is simply a compound word made up of the two words “holy” and “day.” Worshiping as members of His church on a day on which we especially acknowledge the miraculous incarnation of our Savior is not only appropriate, it should be our highest priority.

All of the attendant activities that are part of holy day celebrations are fine and good in their place – gathering with family members, special foods and feasting, gift giving, music making, etc. God Himself gave His blessing on these types of activities. Look at all the references in the Bible that contain the word “feast.” You will see that God is pleased when we set aside “laborious work” for a period of days and eat good food, play happy music, and in all ways express our joy for all His good provisions. The fact remains, however, that “holy days” are holy because they are set apart by and to God.  Moses explained this truth to Pharaoh, “…We must hold a feast to the LORD.” (Ex 10:9)

Why would an otherwise biblically sound, evangelical church cancel worship services “to the Lord” on a Sunday because it is Christmas? Like King Solomon, I “set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven.” (Eccl. 1:13) Here are my speculations about possible reasons.

1. The church leadership doesn’t want church services to stand in the way of traditional family celebrations for others in the congregation and will sacrificially cancel services, even though they would rather be worshiping in church.

2. The church leadership doesn’t want church services to stand in the way of traditional family celebrations for themselves and will altruistically extend a “day off” to everyone in the congregation.

3. The church leadership anticipates that there will be very few in the congregation that will show up for church and don’t want to waste time, effort, or material resources to prepare a service or open the building for the hand-full that will come.

4. The church leadership knows that there are some “pillars of the church” that don’t plan to be in church, and the leadership doesn’t want to alienate any VIP’s by making them feel guilty about not being in church for Christ’s birthday celebration. The way to avoid this situation is to cancel entirely.

5. The church leadership realizes that everyone will be so tired out from all of the partying around the “holiday” season, or that all the mothers will be so stressed out about all the preparations for the partying that must take place after services are over, that even those few who show up will be there in body only. Since worship is to be “in spirit,” and no one’s spirit will be there, there is no need to have a service.

I have no way of knowing whether or not I have touched on anyone’s reason for canceling normal worship services on Christmas Sundays or not. Perhaps I am not imaginative enough or sensitive enough to come up with better or more accurate reasonings, but all of the ones I did come up with are pretty flimsy.

Church leadership that would cancel for the “benefit” of the congregants isn’t spiritual “leadership” at all. No activity is more beneficial to an individual or a family than gathering with other members of the body of Christ to worship Him. Church leaders that encourage members of the flock to think more highly of themselves and their family traditions than they ought to think– that is to say, more highly than they think of worshiping their Savior– are leading people down the broad path that leads to spiritual ruin. Christ made it clear that family concerns, even momentous concerns such as a death in the family, are not to supercede our duty to follow our Savior. (Matt. 8:22)

Leaders who cancel for their own convenience are teaching their flock that personal convenience and comfort are the highest good. They are teaching by their example that Christ is not pre-eminent in their lives or in their church, and that He is not worthy of setting aside our little human concerns. As to the issue of wasting time and resources on a reduced or even meager attendance, could it not be possible that God would be especially blessed by the more extreme sacrifice shown by persevering when attendance is down? The size of a meeting has never been a hindrance to the God who promises to be in the midst of “two or three gathered together.” (Matt. 18:20) What if God decided to take a “day off” from us personally or from the average church?   (Acts 17:25)

But what about demonstrating love to other weaker brothers and sisters by not making them feel guilty or convicted about abandoning the body of Christ on Christ’s holy day? Isn’t that legitimate? A wise woman I know taught that we need to distinguish between “love” and “indulgence.” True Christian love is willing to exhort and correct when necessary. Remember what the writer of Hebrews said:

12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end; (Heb. 3:12-14)

What was the reason for this bold exhortation? The writer of Hebrews was recalling what happened when the Israelites provoked God in the wilderness with their worship gone wrong. (Heb 3:15-19) One notable provocation happened when the Israelites decided to have a “feast to the Lord,” but they didn’t do it God’s way. They chose to celebrate in an idolatrous and fleshly way. Sadly, there are many ways that their way is also the “American way.”

>5 Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” 6 So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.7 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. (Ex. 32:5-7)

If all these possible reasons for cancelling worship are inadequate for Christmas, they are doubly so for cancelling on New Year’s Day. That ranks right up there with cancelling on Super Bowl Sunday. New Year’s Day is not traditionally set apart as a holy day like Christmas. For Americans, it is often a day of recovering from the drunken revels of the night before. Is there any sense that New Year’s Day should be set aside to God? Scripturally, first days are very important to God. Look at Exodus 12:2 and 40:2. God chose to have His tabernacle set up on the first day of the first month, and the first month was established to coincide with the exodus from Egypt. As Christians, New Year’s Day can be a special remembrance of what God took us out of– a life of bondage to sin– and an acknowledgment of our Savior Immanuel – the one who came to “tabernacle with mankind.”

Cancelling corporate worship in church on holy days sends the message to a sinful world that gathering with believers to worship God is worse than nothing. Is that the message we want to send?

O Come O Come Emmanuel

George McDonald’s Church now used for a karate gym

1) O come. O come.  Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel!

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free

2)Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy People save
And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel!

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer

3) Our spirits by Thine advent here;
O drive away the shades of night,
And pierce the clouds and bring us light.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel!

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Hallowed Ground

Posted By on November 14, 2016

by Teri Ong

camp-woods2

The backwoods of northwestern Ontario in 1972 is my story of long ago and far, far away. I was to spend my summer there that year, and several others after that. I was going to be a kitchen helper, counselor, story teller, puppeteer, musician and all-around go-fer at a mission camp well off the beaten path between Dinorwic and Sioux Lookout.

Camp-of-the-Woods was still in the development stage in those years. More cabins were needed to replace the cabin-sized tents on wooden platforms. A workshop/shed/barn was in the planning phase, as was a house for the missionary family in charge. But the swampy lakeshore land first had to be cleared of all brush in order to drain well enough for building.

There were no young campers there in mid-June, only those of us volunteers who could come early and stay late to get things in shape for the “real” work– four weeks for area campers plus evening VBS programs on nearby Cree reserves. During these prep weeks, the guys would spend hours with chain saws leveling everything that grew where a building was going to be one day. Then we gals would wade in and haul out anything loose that was laying in the bog.

All of the land we were working was squishy, but not all of it had standing water. Pulling out the small stuff at the edges of the wetland was not too bad. We could make quick progress. We knew we would be wet and dirty, but we would enjoy the evening fire in the lodge that much more, knowing we would at least start out with dry work clothes the next day.

As we worked farther into the area, however, the brush got bigger and taller and the water got deeper. There was no alternative to wading right in calf-deep, knee-deep, or thigh-deep as needed. We would heft the vegetation up on one shoulder and drag it out to the distant brush pile by brute force. Branches would inevitably get trapped in undergrowth and two or three people would have to give them the old heave-ho to pull them free.

camp-woods3I had been working in the brush for several days, long enough that I had run out of fresh clothes and thoroughly dry work boots. Every muscle in my body was tired. My legs were swollen from a multitude of itching, oozing mosquito and spider bites– yes, they could somehow find ways up my pant legs. My hands and arms were scratched and bruised, my face was sunburnt, my hair plastered down with dirt and sweat.

I forced my body to take one more step. There was a crack of branches beneath my foot and I sank deeper into the muck. My shoe made that slurping sound that signals imminent loss if great care is not given to pulling it out of the mire. I got it out– praise God!– and forged ahead.

Ahead of me was a felled sapling with a 6 or 7 inch diameter trunk. It was hard to estimate how tall it had been. Trees seem taller when they’re upright than they do on the ground. But it was a healthy tree with lots of spring sap in it– very heavy!

I strained to get the trunk up on my shoulder. I strained to take each step out of that swamp. I strained to pull that tree over to the brush pile many yards away. With each step I took, my mind chanted, “I think I CAN’T, I think I CAN’T…”camp-woods4

Then there came a realization that flowed over my mind, down to my heart, eventually reaching all the way to my sodden, aching feet. It almost felt like tears flowing down. “This tree is nothing compared to the one Jesus struggled to carry for me.”

My slow chant changed. “I can carry this tree because He carried mine; I can carry this tree because He carried mine…”

The six summers I spent in that place were the most spiritually significant times in my life. God used that place and the people of that place to keep me from turning aside onto the broad road to destruction.

Just as the cross itself was only a small part of the suffering of my Savior, the tree in the swamp would be only a small symbol of the many life struggles that would need to be shouldered in the next 45 years.

In his hymn about the suffering Savior, Joseph Swain poignantly wrote:

 

They pierced through his hands and his feet,

His body he freely resigned;

The pains of his flesh were so great!

But greater the pangs of his mind.

 

The dark swamps with their thick entanglements, heavy weights, impossible tasks, miserable damps and chills, and venomous adversaries now only pictured the greater pangs of the mind that we all experience. Peter taught us that we can suffer such pangs because of our own sinful choices, or we can suffer them righteously for the Savior’s sake. ( 1 Peter 4:1-2) We need to choose well every day.

 

No nearer we venture to gaze

On sorrow so deep, so profound;

But tread with amazement and praise,

And reverence such hallowed ground. (Swain)camp-woods