Rappin’ With Rick

A Pair of Swords

While on His way to the Garden of Gethsemane after celebrating the Last Supper with His disciples, the same Jesus who taught His followers to turn the other cheek said something that many find hard to believe. He said to His disciples, “When I sent you out without purse and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you? But now, let him who has a purse take it along, likewise also a bag, and let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one.” (Luke 22:35-37) The disciples responded that they had two swords, and Jesus said that was enough.

Apparently there is a time and a place to use a weapon in defense of others, or yourself. And as Peter demonstrated by swinging wildly and slicing off the ear of the high priest’s servant, it’s also imperative that if you carry a weapon you must become proficient in its use.

Sadly, the need to protect followers of Christ, and the need to know how to use defensive weapons, was demonstrated in a Church of Christ in Texas last week. As the Lord’s Supper was being served, a disturbed individual who had not been satisfied by the minister giving him food instead of money, pulled out a shotgun and killed a man who was passing communion, and another who attempted to stop him. Within six seconds he was, however, stopped by the head of the church’s volunteer security team.

In light of renewed concern about the threat of a violent intruder into a house of worship, I want to assure you that we have taken steps to keep everyone as safe as possible. Several of us attended a Sheepdog Seminar a few years ago where we were taught how to protect the flock, and we do have armed individuals in our worship services who train regularly. We also lock the doors shortly after the services begin, and the children’s worship leaders and nursery workers have been instructed to take the children to the outdoor nursery playground in the event of an intrusion.

If the need for defensive action to be taken should ever arise, it would be very helpful if everyone would take cover in the pews for a few moments, before going to make sure their children are safe.

Obviously, we pray such action will never be needed.

God Bless, Rick

Are You Regular?

Remember the perfect attendance pins that were worn with pride many years ago? The first year you had perfect attendance at Sunday School you were awarded a nice little pin to wear on your lapel, and every year thereafter you were awarded a banner that was attached to it. I think I did win a pin, but I know I didn’t have one with ten or twenty banners hanging on it, as did some of the adults who had come faithfully to Sunday School since childhood.

I’m not advocating a return to the pins, but I do think it would do us all good to give prayerful consideration to our attendance in worship, if not Sunday School, as we begin a new year.

It’s been well reported in the media that church attendance in the US has been declining for several years. That’s old news. What was new news to me is that what is considered to be “regular” attendance has also been changing.

I recently read that while attending three Sunday’s a month was considered to be “regular” a few years ago, now attending just once a month is considered to be “regular.” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at that.

Unless failing health or extenuating circumstances are a play, I can’t believe anyone would think their attendance in worship is “regular” if they only made it once a month. Do you?

God Bless, Rick

Rising Tithes

“Digital giving is making the church— and software companies—more money” was the caption of an article entitled “Rising Tithes” I read in CT several weeks ago. At the time, I decided I would use it as the basis of a column when we were considering our financial projection for the new year. What I failed to realize was that it would appear in the last church paper before Christmas. I’m not sure I can make a Christmas message out of it, but I’m going to try.

The article noted that tech companies like Pushpay, Tithe.ly, and easyTithe let church members tap their way to a tithe through smartphone apps, websites, and text messages. Pushpay processed a record $4.2 billion in giving last year, making them $98.4 million. Digital tithing companies boast that churches that use their services have seen giving go up 30%, 50%, and even more than double. They claim the reason they work so well is that they avoid the summer slump since recurring transfers continue to process even when people aren’t in worship, and even average churchgoing families aren’t likely to be there every week.

As you may have noticed, we never resort to fund-raising campaigns, nor do we hire experts to help us raise money. Many years ago we did have stewardship emphasis months when teaching was needed to establish an understanding of what good stewardship entails, but now we only preach about giving when it comes up in the text we are studying. And there is no need to do more.

The projected financial need for 2020 was presented last Sunday, and there is little doubt that it will be met. Our giving exceeded last year’s projection by over $300 a week, leaving us a bank account that will hopefully enable us to do something about the parking lot next year.

Now on to Christmas. If the magi from the east had used Pushpay, they wouldn’t have had to travel so far. They could have just stayed home on Christmas, and Mary’s account would have shown gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Minus fees of course. And minus the worship.

God Bless, Rick

Giving Up the Bottle

The sixth chapter of Hebrews begins with the all important “therefore.” When trying to discern what the “therefore” was there for at Bible Study last Wednesday, we were taken back to the mention of Melchizedek, and how Jesus was designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

The author realized that the mention of Melchizedek would puzzle his readers because they had become “dull of hearing”, so before going on he stressed the need to go from milk to solid food, to leave the elementary teachings, and to press on to maturity. What he listed as elementary teachings, however, is surprising. He said we shouldn’t keep “laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” As a class, we were forced to sharpen our senses to hear what he was saying.

If the focus of our preaching and teaching isn’t to be about repentance and works and faith and baptism and spiritual gifts and the second coming and judgment, what are we to talk about? If those things are elementary foundational teachings, what are the more advanced teachings we are to focus on?

We pondered that for quite a while, and someone suggested, tongue in cheek, that we could just talk about Melchizedek. We eventually came to realize this doesn’t mean we never talk about these things, but that we must dig into the implications and application of these foundational truths, and then build upon them. Our conclusion was confirmed by Thursday’s reading in The Message.

“Don’t lose a minute building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.”

Let’s not be afraid to think, to dig a little deeper, and to expand our spiritual diet.

God Bless, Rick

How to Read Your Bible

“God helps those who help themselves.” How often have you heard someone supposedly quote that from the Bible? It’s not in there. At least I didn’t think it was until last week.

In a selected passage for the day from The Message, Micah was responding to false preachers who were saying he shouldn’t tell people bad things were going to happen. They even questioned the message he had been sent to declare by asking, “Does God lose his temper? Is this the way he acts? Isn’t he on the side of good people? Doesn’t he help those who help themselves?”

I had to laugh when I read it, and I figure Eugene Peterson laughed as he wrote it. Some, however, don’t think paraphrases are a laughing matter. In fact, they don’t even like translations of the Bible, thinking the only way to accurately read the Bible is in its original languages.

I recently read an interesting article in CT entitled “Your Bible Translation is Imperfect.” It acknowledges that all translations from one language to another are imperfect, but points out the need to hear or read the Bible in a language, or even a dialect, you can understand. It pointed out that after years in captivity Ezra explained the Law in Aramaic because the people no longer understood Hebrew, and that on the Day of Pentecost the people heard the mighty deeds of God in their own tongues.

I studied Greek for three years in college and was led to believe if I conquered it I would have a correct understanding of everything written in the New Testament. Later, to my chagrin, I discovered that those who had studied biblical languages on a much deeper level than I often disagreed on what was meant.

So what do we do? Just keep reading the Bible in any and all formats you are able, pray for guidance from the Spirit, and strive to understand what God is trying to tell you.

For the last two years many of you joined me reading the Bible chronologically, first in the NIV and then The Message. Next year I’m going back to my favorite, the NASB. The Daily Reading Bible in NASB is only available in a Kindle version, so I’ll be reading the Bible on an iPad next year, which is a new format for me.

Please feel free to join me.

God Bless, Rick