How do you Know if it’s a Friendly Church?

Tampa Storm 2012

I am writing today from the dark and stormy Tampa Bay area.

Back in the ’80s I was invited to preach in a church in Northern Oklahoma. I arrived in time for Sabbath school, and heard the Sabbath School superintendent talking about how everyone should be friendly, and if we have guests, invite them home for lunch. I thought how nice! After my sermon, as I was greeting people on their way out, the Sabbath School superintendent shook my hand, thanked me for coming and then joined her family in the car and drove away. As she walked away, I almost said, “So, am I supposed to follow you to your house?” Seems to me, we sometimes want to be known as being the friendliest church in town, without actually having to be the friendliest church in town, or being friendly at all for that matter.

I have often said that you can’t tell how friendly a church is on Sabbath morning. It is during the week that you find how friendly a church is. On Sabbath people will smile and greet you. By the way, may I throw out there, that if you are not the designated greeter, that it is even more important for you to greet others? When you are a guest and get greeted by the greeter, that is like the free space on the bingo card. Being greeted by the greeter does not make you feel extra warm and welcomed. You just perceive that as the greeter doing her job. While everyone is friendly during church, the question is how many are friendly after church? How often do you call your church members during the week? By the way, it is not your pastor’s job to be visiting everyone. It is your pastor’s job to encourage everyone to visit everyone.

Fellowship lunches are nice, but I have made some observations. I have seen entire families sitting at a table all by themselves. My reaction is, you could have sat all by yourself at home. I imagine they would like someone else to sit with. That is why they came, but no one else will sit with them. Oh sure, they will smile and wave at them, and even shake their hand when meeting in the hall, but genuine friendliness goes a lot farther than that. By the way, I realize many people drive great distances to church, and its not really practical to ask someone to your home for lunch when its a two hour drive. Therefore the church makes a nice meeting point for lunch and fellowship. But is that always the reason for having fellowship lunch? Could fellowship lunch at church be a nice way to be friendly without actually having to have someone come into your home? Could it actually be a way to be friendly while still being a bit standoffish? Do we meet people at church to avoid having them in our homes?

So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, Acts 2:46 NKJV

Here I see the early church first of all not just being friendly on Sabbath but being friendly daily. I also see them doing it in their homes and not just the church. Indeed it is not on Sabbath, but during the week when you see just how friendly a church is.

In June, I published a post about losing my mother. I was so comforted by the comments and kind words that followed. It was healing to know that I had friends around the world that cared for me everyday and not just on Sabbath.

Just a couple weeks ago I had a  rare weekday afternoon free, and the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team also had a rare weekday afternoon game, so I went to enjoy some alone time. While there I walked over to the section where I sat with my mother and father the last time they went to a game with me. Suddenly and unexpectedly a rush of sadness came over me. I went by myself to enjoy some alone time, but I am sure many of you will understand when I say, my alone time turned to loneliness and despair.  The Rays won 2-0 but as I walked out there was this huge cloud hanging over me, separating me from the sunshine of God’s love and the love of my friends. I know the sun is still there even when the clouds block it, and I know God’s love is still there even when “clouds” seem to block it.

I got in my car, feeling gloomy. I started driving towards the beaches that my mother loved so much. Then that gloomy cloud hanging over me started dropping raindrops of doubt. “You are all alone William. Look you are here all by yourself, no one cares!” Never mind the fact that I chose to go the game alone for some alone time! Never mind all the kind words people shared on SSNET and cards, calls and texts. But our emotions like to play mind games with us, and they lie to us about the reality of God’s love and the love of our friends and family. As I pulled over near the water to stop and pray, those raindrops of doubt started to pour. Now I know full well that the Bible and the Bible alone is all I need to know that I am very deeply loved. Even while my emotions were playing mind games with me, I knew not to trust my feelings and to trust the Bible. But something wonderful happened. The sunshine of God’s love broke through my metaphoric cloud. At that same moment when I thought I had myself convinced that I was all alone in the world now, my cell phone beeped and vibrated. I looked down and read this text from a friend far away.

Hey William, Just checking in to see how things are going. I was just thinking about you and wondered how you are?

In an instant I realized how stupid the gloomy cloud hanging over my head really was! I felt again what I already knew, that those raindrops of doubt were nothing more than hollow lies! God used a friend I had met years ago at church, who moved far away, to show me real friendliness, not in church Sabbath morning, but on a weekday afternoon.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here. 

PS I want to take this opportunity to thank my friend who texted me that day from Indiana, and all my friends who continue calling and texting, keeping the clouds away.

Acts of Humanity

Indian Rocks 5

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

As this week’s SS lesson talks about acts of inhumanity being sins against God, I would like to write about acts of humanity.

 

Taking a walk in Texas, I came across a beautiful patch of Texas Blue Bonnet flowers and Indian Paint Brushes. Among the flowers I saw some litter. I thought to myself, as ugly as sin has made this world, God still has His beautiful flowers for all to enjoy among the litter.

 

Not long after the New York World Trade Towers were hit by terrorists, New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani, said, “Evil manifested itself that day, with those who were willing to die if they could just kill someone else. Good was manifested that day by those rescue workers who were willing to die if they could just save someone else.” Crashing the planes into the towers was an act of inhumanity, but the rescue workers running into the disaster area while everyone else was running away were performing acts of humanity. As terrible as that day was, it was a defeat for Satan, as we actually saw more good than evil. We saw a handful of terrorists taking lives, but we saw hundreds of rescue workers saving lives. We saw planes being forced out of the sky and landing in places like Nova Scotia, where the townsfolk took some of these traveling strangers in and boarded and fed them. Acts of humanity were everywhere.

 

Last year I made two trips to Connecticut and Massachusetts, while doing evangelistic meetings. Never having been to New England, I was taken in by the beauty of the area. It seemed so peaceful. I loved visiting the pleasant little villages and old churches. The people were so kind and pleasant to be around. One evening I took the night off from meetings, and visited Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox baseball team. They were playing my Tampa Bay Rays. Even though I was for the other team, everyone was very polite and helpful – from the people who helped me get on the right subway, to the Japanese  tourists, who sat next to me, asking me Red Sox trivia questions throughout the game, not realizing I was not a Red Sox fan. I surprised myself on how well I could answer their questions. On the train to my hotel, after the game I ran into nothing but the nicest people ever. Even traveling alone, I never felt alone.

 

Imagine my shock and horror when months later a crazed gunman walked into a Connecticut school and started committing one of the ugliest acts of inhumanity ever seen. When I thought of the wonderful people I met there, I could not imagine such a thing happening. Later I heard about something I could imagine. Victoria Soto, a young school teacher, died in the gunfire while unselfishly protecting the children. That was an act of humanity. After recently being in New England I found the gunman’s actions unbelievable for that area, but I found the action of Victoria Soto to be what I would expect from people in the area.

 

Last Monday Satan raised his ugly head again in Boston as people were innocently trying to finish a marathon. An act of inhumanity. But we see videos of people rushing to the aid of those who were hurting. That night I thought of Paul writing in 2 Timothy 4:7 NLT “I have finished the race” – the race of life and he would be receiving his prize at the Second Coming. I don’t think Satan is going to be as happy at the end of that race as he was at the end of the Boston Marathon.

 

A few weeks earlier, I had watched a documentary which left me upset. It was about a child who was abused and killed back in the 1960`s and the trial that brought justice. It was very disturbing, and I think I should have followed the counsel of Philippians 4:8 and skipped the documentary. Like the Boston Marathon bombing, the acts of inhumanity in this documentary were senseless. I was so angry with the evil people that I wanted them to suffer justice! It reminded me of a time many years ago when I was watching Roots, with my grandmother. As a child watching the movie, I was outraged by the cruelty many slave owners practiced towards their slaves. As I was watching, I thought in my ten- year old little mind, “I wish I could bring those slave owners back to life and beat them back to death again! They are so cruel!” I started to tell my grandmother how I felt, when she looked and saw how upset I was. She was upset too, but she said, “It makes you want to bring those poor slaves back to life and be good and nice to them, right?” I agreed with her and didn`t tell her what I was really thinking. My way of thinking, bring the slave owners back and beat them to death, would only continue the inhumanity.

 

My grandmother died decades later, never knowing what an important lesson she taught me that night. She does not even know she rebuked my attitude, when she said, “It makes you want to bring the slaves back to life and be good and nice to them, right?” I was plotting acts of inhumanity while she was plotting acts of humanity.

 

After watching the recent documentary about the child who was abused to death, I was thinking how senseless this crime was and I realized I could not bring that child back to life to demonstrate love. Jesus can and will bring people back to life and treat them with love, but in the meantime I`m thinking of what I can do. I can commit senseless acts of kindness in this child’s name.

 

The next day I found myself having lunch with a friend at one of our favorite restaurants. I saw a family eating together at a nearby table. I told the waitress, “Give me their check.” I did not know the family. They may have had more money than I did. There was no reason or motive for my actions. It may have been totally senseless for me to pay their bill, but that was the point. I decided if some people are going to be senselessly mean, then I am going to be senselessly nice!

 

I learned my lesson watching Roots with my grandmother that night long ago. I don’t want to continue with acts of inhumanity. Count me in with the millions who are committing acts of humanity!

 

God, I don’t want to be another piece of litter. Please make me a Blue Bonnet or an Indian Paint Brush. 

 

Will you join me in committing `senseless` acts of kindness to make this world a little better for some of the people in it?  Perhaps it will catch on.

 

I’m In Love With Fenway!

I am writing today from beautiful and historic Boston.

This week I am in Connecticut, holding some evangelist meetings for a small church in Torrington. However, with no meetings yesterday, I drove up to Boston to visit Fenway park and cheer on my Tampa Bay Rays who were playing the Red Sox. I took the Subway from Braintree to Kenmore. When I went around the corner and saw Fenway, I was actually surprised that my first reaction was not one of awe, like when I saw Wrigley in Chicago. My first reaction was it reminded of me the first minor league ballpark I went to as a small child. The park was not intimidating. It was homey. Having seen it so many times on Television it was like I had already been there, so I thought. Later, I started to realize that I felt like I was at home, because this ballpark was more like a home than some of the newer bigger stadiums.

I did not realize, when I bought my ticket weeks earlier, that this would be the 8,000th game played at Fenway. They had a special ceremony honoring Fenway park and some of the best Red Sox players who had ever played there. Carlton Fisk, Carl Yastremski, and many others were there. Ortiz was honored as one of the best ever. As they introduced each former star player, and they came walking onto the field, again I was amazed, that instead of appearing as super stars, they seemed more like old friends. Sure I have never been a Red Sox fan, but you can’t follow baseball without being familiar with the Red Sox traditions and stars.

Even though I came by myself to a ballpark in a city I had never been to before, I never felt alone. The place is very friendly. Walking across the street from my hotel to a nearby restaurant, I was amazed how the cars all watched out for me and gave me the right of way when they saw I wanted to cross. The people at the hotel helped me find the subway I needed, and the people on the subway were very helpful and friendly. I was kind of confused, no really confused as I had never ridden a subway before, but the other riders were most helpful and friendly. At the game I met more friendly people. A lady from Japan sat near me and asked me all kinds of questions about the Red Sox, assuming I was a Red Sox fan. I did my best to answer all her questions. After all, like I said, you can’t be a baseball fan without knowing about the Red Sox.

I pray about everything, big or small. I have been praying about my meetings of course, wanting to win people to Christ. I also told God that it would be real nice if I could see a home run over the famous green monster. Sure enough Ben Francisco hit one for the Rays over the green monster right after Carlos Pena’s blast over the center field wall.

Oh, and that Citgo sign, you always see on TV that looks like it is right behind the green monster? It is actually a lot farther away than it looks. It was a couple blocks away, right across the street from the Subway station.

They still have the original gate to the grandstands before they added more seats. Fenway was built in 1912 and opened the same weekend the Titanic sank. One voyage for the Titanic and it was gone the same weekend it started. A hundred years and 8,000 games later Fenway is still going strong.

On its outside wall, Fenway has a sign recognizing the Red Sox 1918 World Series victory and then another sign recognizing their victory right after that in 2004.

They have shops selling souvenirs and food inside and outside the park. I was surprised how reasonable the prices were. Nachos were $4.50 here. I think in Tropicana Field in Florida, they are like $6.50 or $7.00 or something like that.

This is a statue of Ted Williams. The park is filled with statues. There is just so much history and tradition here. From the green monster, to hearing the crowd sing “Sweet Caroline” (watch the video I made of the crowd singing here.) in the middle of the 8th inning, it was one of the purest and richest baseball experiences I have ever had. Some may think I am crazy, but Fenway park reminded me of old Engel stadium, where the Chattanooga Lookouts used to play. Again, this is a major league ballpark with a small town, atmosphere that makes you feel at home. The first time I came through the gates, I felt at home and like I had always lived there! A friend told me once I visited Fenway I would be a Red Sox fan. Well almost Pastor Ken, almost. I will have to say. I loved every moment of it!

Garments of Grace; Clothed In Christ

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area, and home of the 2008 AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays.

This week’s SS lesson (Phone App) quotes the verse, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”  Colossians 3:1-2

 

I have been to several Tampa Bay Rays games over the years, but one time in particular, I went with my friend David in 2008, to The Tampa Bay Ray’s stadium, Tropicana Field, where we watched the first place Rays defeat the second place Red Sox 2-1. It was a great game and the Rays did not win it until the bottom of the ninth, when our catcher, Dioner Navarro hit in the winning run.

 

While at the game I noticed several Red Sox fans. You could easily spot them with their Red Sox shirts, caps, and jackets. I even sat by one. He assured me that the long fly that Ortiz hit to deep right center for an out would have been a homerun at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox play their home games.

 

I noticed something about the Red Sox fans. They came into our home ball park but still dressed and acted like they would at Fenway. They did not buy the Tampa Bay Rays t-shirts and caps and try to blend in at all. While most of them were very polite and pleasant to be around they still made it clear that Tropicana Field was not their home and the Rays were not their team. They did not mind looking like visitors. They did not mind that they dressed and looked different. They were proud of their team and where they were from. They did not cheer when we cheered. They did not mind standing out in the crowd and looking and acting different. They dressed and acted in Tropicana Field, they same way they would dress and act at Fenway. Do we dress and act here on this earth, the same way we would dress and act in our home which is heaven?

 

As Christians, let’s let the world know earth is not our home. While being as polite and pleasant to be around as possible, let’s still let it be known our home is in heaven, not here. We do not blend in with the world because we are not a part of this world. Let’s not be afraid to look different and act different. Let’s be as proud of where we belong as the Red Sox fans were proud of where they belong.

 

Jesus Wept; The Bible and Human Emotions, Lesson 3; Top Ten Ways to Avoid Stress And Live a Productive Life

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

To download the Sabbath School lessons to your android phone click here.

In conjunction with this week’s SS lesson on Stress, here is my top ten list of

The Top Ten Ways I Avoid Stress and Live a Productive Life

10. Make Life as simple as you can. Avoid clutter. Every few months I go through my apartment just looking for things to throw away or give away. I do the same with my life. My life is simple. I am not embarrassed by being a simple person living a simple life. Life was never meant to be complicated. It is complicated because of sin, not by God’s design. The closer we get to God’s design the more simple and happy life becomes. When I was a kid I walked into Taco Bell and there were 9 items on the menu. That was great! I bought the bean burrito. Now I walk into Taco Bell and there are over 50 menu items and I buy the bean burrito. Today Their menu board looks cluttered and confusing. Why does Taco Bell make life complicated for no reason? Why do people make their lives complicated for no reason? I have seen so many people stress themselves out doing needles projects, and then look at me like I am lazy for not helping them out. I am not lazy, I just don’t think your daughter really needs a $7,000 sweet sixteen birthday party, so forgive me for not helping you put it together. Take her to Taco Bell and buy her a bean burrito, and say, “Happy Birthday!”

9. Have a planned daily routine. I cannot tell you how important this is. When I first started working at UPS I had to get up at 2am to get to work by 3am. It changed my whole life. In orientation class at UPS they told us, in order to cope with these strange work hours we had to have a planned daily routine, not just at work but all day long. Once I got into a planned daily routine, life got so much easier and working at one of the most stressful jobs during the most stressful hours became fun and enjoyable.  I actually miss it!

8. Exercise! If you have a desk job, you will think so much more clearly if you exercise your whole body. Exercise clears the brain so you can think and study better. It makes life more balanced and healthy. I used to obsess about things a lot. Now that I have taken up golf in the last few years, instead of stressing and obsessing, I go play a round of golf and come back to work with a clear mind, and emotionally balanced attitude.

7. Music. I am not a musician. I do love to listen to music though. In the car I have to have more lively music, but while working on my computer I have to have classical music. I was never into classical music until about 11 years ago when I got a computer. The music with lyrics distracted me from what I was reading or writing, but classical music, for the most part, does not have lyrics so it worked out great. Now I have several classical CDs and attend symphony and orchestra concerts. Music keeps me from being stressed. I remember years ago, while working as a Bible Worker in the Weatherford Seventh-day Adventist church, I would be having a stressful day. I would stop by the church office for something, and if nobody was around, I would go into the sanctuary, go to hymn number 86, “How Great Thou Art,” and sing my heart out so loud it raised the roof. Then I felt much better and went about the rest of my day with a renewed attitude.

6. Write. Keep a journal to record your thoughts. Start a blog. There is therapy in writing. I have no way to prove this, but I also believe there is emotional therapy in writing your feelings out by hand instead of typing. The important thing is to write. I kept a journal in my teens. I look back and read it now and discover things about myself that I did not see at the time. I even look back and see clues as to why I annoyed certain people even though I could not figure it out at the time. When I first moved to Texas, before laptops and cell phone texting, I would go into restaurants with pad and paper and write letters back home while I ate. Then I made friends where I was at, and went to eat with them, and stopped writing letters back home. I miss that. Even today I will occasionally leave my laptop at home and go to a nice restaurant and write a hand written letter back home.

5. Don’t take yourself seriously. Laugh at yourself. A while back someone insulted me in public and I was very offended the person insulting me said what they did in front of everybody. Later, while talking to some of the people within earshot of the insult, I realized they did not even hear what the person said. They were not paying attention, and had other things on their mind. The only person who remembered it was me. I wonder how many times I have been stressed out from embarrassing situations that are recorded in my brain and nowhere else.  I have learned not to be so intense. Some insults that I have taken to heart in the past, I found out later where not given as intensely as I took them. Being melancholy, I think everything has to be perfect. I have realized, that being a perfectionist is a flaw. I don’t need to stress because of the small dent on my  new car. I don’t need to stress because of a little dust on my bookshelf. I don’t need to stress because a friend is a little upset with me. Relationships, like everything else, don’t have to be perfect in order to be absolutely wonderful.

4. Set goals, but don’t cut your wrists if your goals are not met. Have a minimum and maximum goal within reason. For example, as a Bible Worker, I have a goal of how many people I want to contact every day. Some days I can contact 40 or more people. Some days I can only find 10. So 10 is my minimum goal which I can live with while I try for 40 or more. Some days, I get a phone call from a Bible student who is struggling with something, and I take the day and just hang out with them, encouraging them. That is okay too. My goal was not met, but I am not cutting my wrists over it. That would freak my Bible student out!

3. Pace yourself. Take time to relax. Sometimes I will be working on a Seminar presentation or sermon and I get a mental block. I put down my laptop and take a walk. I relax my brain, and then the ideas for my presentation or sermon just start popping into my head. Sometimes my best ideas come on my day off while I am relaxing and reading  or praying.

2. Remember all stress is relative. During the 1998 home run record chase between Sammy Sosa and Mark Mcgwire, I believe it was Sammy Sosa who was asked how he was handling the stress of chasing the home run record. He responded, “This is not stress. Having no food on the table is stress.” Last year, after the Tampa Bay Rays lost a close game, radio announcer Andy Freed refused to call the game a “heartbreaking loss.” He said “having a child in ICU at All Children’s Hospital is heartbreaking! This is just a game.” While a little stress is good as it keeps us shooting for our goals, remember it’s all relative. Some things need to stress us out but not everything. What will it matter ten years from now or even next week?  Several years ago I was working in the church office as an office administrator as well as Bible Worker. There was an older man who could come into my office and talk my ear off while I was thinking about all the things I needed be getting done. He was a dear man, very close to Christ. He would tell me stories, while I would fret about getting all of my work done. A few years later, while sitting at his funeral, I asked myself, Was I really all that busy?

1. Prayer and Bible study. Jesus accomplished so much that John says the world could not hold the books that would be written if everything He had done was written down. Still, He spent long hours in communion with His heavenly Father. Before we can live like Jesus, we must pray like Jesus. His life was spent between the mountain and the multitude. We can’t expect to accomplish all He accomplished without praying like He prayed. I talk with people who tell me they are too busy to study and pray. Life is just too busy, they say. I say, if life gets too stressful and busy for prayer and Bible study then forget life! I won’t live without my time with Jesus! If life gets so hectic that I don’t have time to spend with Jesus, then life has just defeated its own purpose! My life has no purpose without God, so why would I let life make me so busy I have no time for Him?  You can accomplish so much more in life, after you spend time with God and leave your stress with Him, than you can by ignoring Him and carrying all that stress yourself.

Jesus Wept;The Bible and Human Emotions, Lesson 2

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Here are my thoughts on this week’s SS lesson. You may also download the SS Lesson to your android phone.

For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.  Philippians 4:11

One thing I have noticed is, anxiety is relative. The “A” student fears he may make a “B” while the “B” student fears he may make a “C”. In 2008 I was afraid the Tampa Bay Rays would lose the World Series, while the year before, I was afraid they would lose 100 games. Today I get anxious if I run off and forget my cell phone at home. 15 years ago I did not even have a cell phone to forget at home. I talk to young people who are scared they may never get married. I am 45 and have never been married while enjoying life. With thinning hair I am afraid I may go bald. Meanwhile, my bald friends go about their merry lives.

In today’s economy I worry about losing my job, while I have friends who have been out of work over a year now, but by God’s grace, have never missed a meal or lost their home. With my parents being in their mid ‘70s now I fear I may lose them one day, while I have friends my age who lost their parents long ago. By God’s grace, my friends continue making the most of their productive lives while looking forward to the resurrection. I have observed that everything I fear may happen to me, has happened to other people already, and by God’s grace they have survived and even thrived. Even if death comes my way, I have an older Brother in Jesus, who was dead and is alive again!

I have learned not to be anxious, because after all, all those wonderful things that I am afraid of losing I don’t deserve to have anyway. Who am I to have, when there are so many more worthy than myself who have not? While in Peru on a mission trip, we spent the night at the Lima airport when our flight was cancelled. It did not bother me, when I considered that there were people more worthy than myself who had no bed that night either. What had I done to deserve a bed to sleep in? Nothing!

In this life, worry, fear, and anxiety, have not earned me a single bite to eat or thing to wear. They have not put a roof over my head, but God’s grace has provided all those things.  And what’s more, when it comes to the next life, I am told by Jesus, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32

Worry, fear and anxiety are legalism! They are the works of the flesh that we use to replace God’s grace. When you receive God’s grace you don’t have to worry, fear or be anxious anymore. You can be content in any and every situation. Even today, many people are content, while in a situation you fear you may be in one day. They are content by God’s grace. Grace and contentment will never be earned by worry, fear and anxiety.