What Your Church (Probably) Doesn’t Want You to Know about Giving

It’s the giving season.giving

If you haven’t noticed, you soon will. As Christmas approaches, we will soon be bombarded from all sides by messages urging us to buy expensive gifts for our family and friends. Charities will use this time to raise money for their programs. If you live in the northern hemisphere, Autumn is upon you and many churches and organisations use this season to run pledge drives to underwrite their budgets for the following year (This works so well with back-to-school ‘Homecoming’ or seasonal ‘Thanksgiving’ themes).

Churches rely on gifts from their membership to sustain the many programs they run and to employ staff. Today it seems we must have some sort of structure and this requires finances to maintain.

I am in no way against supporting my local church. If I align myself to a congregation in my community and receive nurturing in that context, it’s only right for me to give to keep the church doors open and support-providing programs running.

What I cannot support, however, is the growing number of pastors, evangelists, and Christian churches and ministries who keep the subject of giving in front of their congregation, constantly reminding and reprimanding them with commands from the Old Testament in order to keep giving to the church/ministry, and promising them God’s blessing if they do so.

Following are four observations I have made about this from my own experience.

Giving to your Church is not the same as giving to your community.

In most cases, over 95% of your community does not have anything to do with your church. While the argument is often made that the church facilitates ‘the work of God’ in the community, statistics fail to support this.

Then there’s the question of what actually is ‘the work of God’? Is it running programs on Sunday to benefit the children of those who attend the church? Is it facilitating a seniors’ ministry on a weekday morning for the elderly church members and their friends? Is it putting on special events to draw in the community in an effort to ‘share the gospel’ with them in exchange for entertainment, food and/or fireworks?

Or is ‘the work of God’ that which Jesus time and time again exemplified in stories such as the Good Samaritan and the Lost Sheep and in such sayings such as found in Matthew 25:35-36–

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

It has been my experience that, whenever churches in the Evangelical tradition speak about ‘Giving,’ they are referring to giving your money to The Church to enable it to run its programs and pay its staff, or giving your time to be on any number of church ministry rosters—from music to making coffee; from cleaning the church to teaching Sunday School.

And, while this is often called ‘giving to the community,’ is more likely has absolutely  nothing to do with the wider community and everything to do with meeting budget and providing programs for the initiated ones.

Giving to your church is not a Biblical requirement.

I had a friend who visited a growing evangelical church in our area a few years ago and I asked him what he thought of it (he is Catholic). He said the service was uplifting, the people were friendly and the sermon was very helpful and practical. Then he shared how, as he entered the door, he saw tables set up and people sitting at either side of them filling in forms and exchanging money. When he asked about this, he was told it was for the purpose of tithing. On one side of the table sat the church elders who were questioning the church’s members about their income the previous week and then taking 10% as a tithe for the work of the church.

Like me, he found that very strange a practice.

But it is common—maybe not so blatantly, but still a popular notion in Christian circles that members are asked (required?) to give at least 10% (the ‘tithe’ is stated as 10% and ‘offerings’ are anything above that).

Others have written extensively about this practice on both sides of the debate. One of the most thorough treatments I have seen has been this one by L. Ray Smith.

In summary, the tithe is an Old Testament ‘tax’ on God’s people to pay for the upkeep of the temple and its priesthood. There are other tithes in Scripture as well—of produce, of stock, and a ‘poor tax.’ Some have estimated that, if we are to be ‘Biblical’ about tithing, we would be giving around 20% of our income, not just one-tenth.

That said, St Paul writes about those who ‘labour in the gospel’ (which we would understand to be those whose only job is full-time service in the Church) to be deserving of payment for their labour (1 Corinthians 9:14), yet he himself didn’t do this just in case people thought he was profiting from his preaching. How unlike many of today’s money-grabbing televangelists.

Giving to your Church is not a measure of faithfulness to Christ.

I am convinced that, many times, church ministries become the conscience-salve we use when we want to stay in a safe, protected environment. It’s the love of the familiar, for those who were raised within its doors. It’s easy because all you need to do is sign up and show up. We won’t be subject to constant swearing, the mentally ill, addicts and we won’t have to give our time to those who we may deem to be ‘unworthy.’ Apart from one morning a week and the occasional evening, we’re not really put out that much at all. And the added benefit is that we will been seen by all our fellow churchgoers to be faithful to Christ. (Should we choose not to be involved, we can still give our money and that will be enough to keep the pastor from calling us, maybe…)

I remember a funeral I attended once where a rather ordinary man in his 60s was being farewelled after a brief battle with cancer.* He wasn’t actively involved in his church, though he was respected by all who knew him. The funeral was simple—a few hymns, a eulogy from his eldest child, and a slide show. Then . . . then the testimonies started. “He regularly volunteered with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for those in need.” “He showed up every Thursday at the homeless shelter to serve lunch.” “He visited the local school and helped kids with their reading.” “His neighbours could depend on him any time to help them out.” “His work colleagues were amazed by his positive attitude and caring words.” “He was a blood donor.” “He sponsored three children in Kenya.” “He volunteered with the State Emergency Service.”

What an inspiration! He followed the example of Jesus in giving over and over again and, in his giving, influenced more people than those who sacrificed every cent and every moment of their life to church ministries. His faithfulness to the calling of God in his life was evident inside and outside of the confines of his church circles.

Giving is a lifestyle choice.

Generosity is a choice we make every day when we plan our time, our spending and our priorities. We decide to be generous when we decide to smile and give our co-workers encouragement. We follow the example of Christ when we give to those in need without being asked, begged, or solicited by a door-knocker. We contribute to our community in meaningful ways—not simply as an armchair activist or opinionist. We know the truth of the saying attributed to Jesus, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive,’ and so we cheerfully dig deep, bring a plate, buy the next round, open our home, give our time and talents to our larger community, not just to those who think the same way we do.

In doing this, we truly show ourselves not only to be people of integrity and purpose, but people who love, following in the generous path of the One who loved humanity and showed it in the generous grace of giving.

_______

*Details have been altered so as not to identify the man or his family.

The Church Creative

ChurchCreativeI’ve been reading John C. O’Keefe’s excellent book The Church Creative: How to be a Creative Gathering in the 21st Century. What strikes me about this book is its numerous typographical and grammatical errors (just kidding!). No, what I find striking is the pointedness at which O’Keefe identifies the problem (lethargy) and presents a solution (creativity).

I must admit that I found the first section a bit sluggish to get through. Perhaps this is because of my experience in the middle of the gigantic mud puddle that is the Church Lethargic. Whilst O’Keefe goes to great lengths to demonstrate there is this lifeless spirit killing the Christian Church (generally speaking), I can see it around me and in my history. He’s preaching to the converted.

And his remarkable solution? Creativity. Unleashing the great ideas and those gifted with bringing these things to life: art, music, drama, prayer, liturgy, architecture, and so much more.

This is more than another program, he is adamant. This is about change–real, committed, dramatic, paradigmatic change.

I’ll let the author tell it like it is:

Like me you have tried every program placed before you to make the right changes to provide missional awareness, and they never really worked. Like me, you’re listening to the world, and not what the Divine was saying. We allowed the present hard time to define us, while not embracing the coming good time.

We’ve done the 40 days of… (fill in the blank) and found nothing truly worked. We’ve tried so many different programs that at this point we’re programmed out. Some of us are at the point where we doubt who we are, our call and even those around us – we’re so beaten down that we have become lethargic.

We’ve invested so much time, money and people into all different kinds of programs, conferences and books, all the time getting nowhere – or we’ve seen a slight bump, only to decline soon after the program ended, which just brought us down further.

No matter what Christian Bookstores tell you, no matter what the Christian Publishers tell you, programs never work all the time, for all our gatherings or for all the people. Programs, it seems, are designed to suck you in, chew you up and spit you out. But, because you want the program to do for us what you’ve heard it did for others, you’re quick to get the next latest and greatest program only to fail again. You’re like Kevin Bacon’s character in Animal House, as he’s being bent over and smacked by the paddle, screaming, “Thank you sir, may I have another” every time you get smacked with a program.

What is the last thing you need right now? Think in terms of your gathering; what is the last thing you need? If you’re thinking that the last thing you need is another program, you would be right. What I’ve found is that all programs are designed to fit a new idea into your old system – and that never works.

Knowing that a program is the last thing you need is a good thing, because creativity is not another program; a program is something that costs you money, time and people; something you do for a short period of time with the expectation of the promised magic results. What I’m talking about with creativity is not a program designed for some quick fix. Creativity is a refocusing in the way you think; a way of becoming, a way of moving from where you are now, and into the idea of becoming a missional gathering.

Think of it this way, it’s a new way (actually, a very old way) of defining your life and gathering, in a redirection; shifting you from where you are now, to where you should be in the future, while bring about a core change in your thinking. It opens you to a way of embracing your gathering where you invite those who are the Creatives to move about in a fluid nature with their natural energy and envelop the entire life where service, unconditional love, grace, forgiveness and acceptance are a way of life. The best way to address a lethargic gathering of followers is to invite creativity and its natural energy to the table.

Many gatherings of followers today have lost creativity, lost the desire to even try to bring it back – so they’re in what I call Maintenance Ministry. The curse of lethargy has taken root and they’re taking care of a dying, lethargic congregation, getting them ready to close their doors. Even worse, they’re ready to simply accept their current condition and walk in the status quo.

In my view, neither is a good place. We need to move past the lethargic nature we find ourselves in and open our eyes to the Church Creative. We need to embrace the energy that Christ gives to each of us…

“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.”

When you focus on creativity it brings something amazing, something so wonderful, once you try it you will feel the shivers of excitement run down your spine and your toes will tingle. Something so life enhancing, so entrancing, so wonderful it will cause you to look at the world in a whole new way. Once you taste what creativity has to offer, you won’t settle for anything less.

What is this amazing thing creativity brings to the table?

No, it is not a 100% fat free ice cream with zero calories that actually tastes like ice cream — though that does come in a close second.

What is it? It’s called change.

That’s right, change.

This is a necessary step the gathering must take and O’Keefe has done a brilliant job in showing the way.

How to accomplish this may not be so cut-and-dry, black-and-white. But if what this book says is even partly true, then it must be all about creativity.

Scriptural Marriage

What is it with the fixation Evangelicals in the U.S.A. (and, increasingly, here in Australia) have on standing against marriage equality?

It seems that the majority of conversations I have with American Christians online somehow end up on this issue.

And these conversations are more often than not liberally sprinkled with phrases such as “God’s Word says . . .” or “We need to get back to Scriptural Marriage.”

To the first, I will reply: “Do you mean your interpretation of one of the many English translations of the collection of documents determined by the Church of the 4th-5th centuries to be included in what is called ‘The Holy Bible’?” (For the briefest of history lessons, see the Christian Canons section of this Wikipedia article.)

To the second, there are numerous answers, but this is one of my favourites from Chad Estes, written during the ruckus caused by the revelation that proceeds from the sales at Chick-fil-A (an American fast food chain) were going to right-wing Christian ‘family’ groups fighting same-sex marriage:

Thank God. At least somebody has the guts to stand up for our scriptural heritage. I guess I’m just not sure which heritage he is referring to.

  • Adam and Eve– married a woman created from his own rib. Kind of cool. Kind of weird. (Personally, I couldn’t find one of these, even on Craig’s list.) It was also necessary, although creepy that their kids had to marry each other. (I know my kids wouldn’t stand for that.)
  • Abraham – had a wife, Sarah, and a concubine, Hagar, and he fathered nations from his sons from both of them. When Sarah got jealous Abraham sent Hagar and their son out in the dessert where they nearly died. (Somebody should have gone to jail for abuse.)
  • Isaac & Rebecca – His dad sent a servant to go pick his wife. (I don’t have a servant and my kids want to choose their own spouses.)
  • Jacob married both Rachael and her sister Leah. (I love my wife’s sister, but not like that.)
  • Onan and his sister-in-law – They were supposed to get married after his brother died, but Onan didn’t want to have kids with her. (I told my brother’s wife that I was available for her if the unmentionable happened and she would have nothing to do with it. She gagged and walked out of the room.)
  • Potiphar and his wife – she tried to pull Joseph into her bed. (I do own a shotgun, Jamie.)

Okay, let’s just say I don’t want a biblical marriage from the book of Genesis. Let’s move on to the rest of the Old Testament.

  • Find an attractive prisoner of war, bring her home, shave her head, trim her nails, and give her new clothes. Then she’s yours. — Deuteronomy 21:11-13 (I bite my own nails, I’m not going to start trimming someone elses.)
  • Marry a prostitute like Hosea (Roxanne, you don’t have to put on the red light.)
  • Purchase a piece of property, like Boaz, and get a woman as part of the deal, like Ruth, who will come to you when you are drunk and night and uncover your feet (If you know what I mean).
  • Go to a party and hide. When the women come out to dance, grab one and carry her off to be your wife.– Benjaminites  in Judges 21:19-25 (Actually, this one might work.)
  • King Xerxes found his wife through a yearlong beauty contest. (But ever since Donald Trump started running the beauty pageants I just want him fired.)
  • Solomon – Marry a thousand women (how could the world’s wisest man be the craziest?)

Isn’t there a man after God’s own heart when it comes to marriage? How about King David? How did he get a wife?

  • Circumcise 200 of your future father in law’s enemies in order to win his daughter’s hand.
  • Kill a friend of yours and take his beautiful wife that you watched bathing.

Okay, let’s leave the Old Testament out of this. Let’s look at some New Testament examples.

  • Joseph and Mary – (Immaculate story, but hands off my wife’s womb please, God.)
  • Um, New Testament couples please? Are you serious? There are no examples of “biblical marriages” and how they met, married, had kids, and got along? How in the world are we supposed to figure this out by being Biblical?

Here’s another interesting take on this topic:

So please do not say ‘Biblical Marriage is between one man and one woman’ because, as you can see, that is a premise that just can’t be solidly defended from the Christian Scriptures.

Unless, of course, you refuse to consider any verse that does not support your own definition of marriage. (In which case, I would recommend you read the results of this study: ‘God, as it turns out, looks a lot like you‘)

Brian McLaren on Islamophobic Evangelicals

Brian McLaren has written an excellent piece on CNN.com about the Islamophobia which is becoming more and more widespread in Christian circles–particularly in those who claim to be Evangelicals. Do yourself a favour and read his post. Especially with a view to recent events, it makes more sense than ever that those who are followers of Jesus need to start living as disciples and not like fearmongers. As Brian writes:

Islamophobic evangelical Christians – and the neo-conservative Catholics and even some Jewish folks who are their unlikely political bedfellows of late – must choose.

Will they press on in their current path, letting Islamophobia spread even further amongst them? Or will they stop, rethink and seek to a more charitable approach to our Muslim neighbors? Will they realize that evangelical religious identity is under assault, not by Shariah law, not by the liberal media, not by secular humanism from the outside, but by forces within the evangelical community that infect that religious identity with hostility?

If I could get one message through to my evangelical friends, it would be this: The greatest threat to evangelicalism is evangelicals who tolerate hate and who promote hate camouflaged as piety.

No one can serve two masters. You can’t serve God and greed, nor can you serve God and fear, nor God and hate. (Read the full post here.)

And if you haven’t ordered Brian’s new book, do yourself another favour and get on to it!

Church Slogans

A slogan or motto can be a great rallying cry. It joins people together for a cause. It gives a purpose to the organization and to every effort by the people within that community.

Who can’t visualize a healthy, athletic-type person running down a road with Nike’s “Just do it” slogan written across the page? What about “I’m lovin’ it” under McDonalds’ golden arches logo? Or “Go well. Go Shell?” And if you need more, you’ll find a good starting list on Wikipedia (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Advertising_slogans).

Slogans define a company or organization in one simple statement. A well-created motto will do more for a brand than any number of pictures, advertisements, or other media efforts.

This commercial success principle is not lost on churches. A very popular theme among those of the evangelical, church-growth model, is a statement such as “A Church for people who don’t like Church.” Much lower down on the effectiveness list would be clichéd lines such as “Where you’ll find God,” or “A church that cares.”

I came across a blog post discussing this subject on Genesis2k (read it here). The author (Greg) writes:

“Now, read just some of the church mottos I plucked from my own local telephone directory:

Where people gather…to worship, share and learn
A growing church serving a growing community
Building people through a loving, caring fellowship: Building a church through loving, caring people.
Where Truth and Love Make difference
We Build Hope
In the Heart of the City – With the City at Heart
Large enough to serve you, Small enough to know you
Transforming Lives and Building Dreams
Reproducing Authentic Christianity
The End of Your Search for a Friendly Church
A Place For You
Biblically Based…Family Oriented…Dynamic Fellowship
Living Hope For Real People

King James Version Only
Proclaiming & Demonstrating the Love of God through Christ
Bible Believing, Christ centred
21st Century Church – Come see our NEW Building
A Community Dedicated to Seeking God and Serving People
A Church involved in & Caring About the Community
Experience God’s Presence – The Church That Cares
Start a New Way of Living!
Where the Bible is Believed and Taught
A Historic Building
Building a Community of Grace
Unique, Expressive & Powerful!
Building Holy and Healthy Lives
A Family Church
Growing Together
We are followers of Jesus Christ inviting you to follow along with us
Proclaiming the Good News of God’s Sovereign Grace
Where God’s Word & Spirit bring Freedom
End Your Search For a Friendly, Spiritual Church
The Liberal Religious Alternative

“With all these descriptions, one would think “Wow! There’s got to be a great church for all our needs in one of those mottos!” I mean, just think about these: Building people through a loving, caring fellowship: Building a church through loving, caring people. Where Truth and Love Make difference We Build Hope End Your Search For a Friendly, Spiritual Church . . .”

I’m all for slogans–if they truly encapsulate what the church is about. They really do unite people around a purpose and, perhaps, a vision.

I remember in the years surrounding our relocation to our new building, the motto “A people with a passion for God and His kingdom” was something we heard just about every week, and was found on just about everything that originated in the church. This theme also found its way into many services, sermons and meetings in one form or another.

Later on the slogan “Moving on in faith” became set in our hearts and minds as we anticipated the big move.

More recently, we have been called “The church with a view,” capitalising on our location on the top of a hill overlooking a large part of the city, using that to say that we have a view upwards toward God, inwards for each other, outwards in our community as we fulfill our mission.

Slogans tell both the church family and the larger community what we are all about, what our primary mission is, what we consider to be of utmost importance. Let’s not be ambiguous, clichéd or irrelevant in our choice of words to represent our faith community. So, if we think we must have a slogan, then let it be something that doesn’t exclude, won’t open itself up to misunderstanding, and won’t make it seem that we’re languishing in the evangelical subculture of the 70s.

 

Book Burnout

I’m experiencing book burnout at the moment. I really enjoy reading, but need to do so in small doses at the moment. My system is a little overloaded.

The unfortunate fact is that there are some really great books out there at the moment and it’s tempting just to get onto the Book Depository or Amazon Kindle Store and get my hands on them. But I’ve got so much information going around in my head that my thought-train is threatening to de-rail.

Recently, I’ve been challenged greatly by Brian McLaren‘s Naked Spirituality and by Rob Bell‘s Love Wins. These two recent publications have joined Hugh Halter’s And: The Gathered and Scattered Church in giving me hope in what is possible for the Faith, Christianity and the Church at what many have called a crossroads in its existence.

Mike Foster’s Gracenomics inspired me to lean more towards mercy in my life and give people a second or third or fourth chance.  

Shane Hipps’ well-researched volume, Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith, shows how this marketing guru-turned-pastor sees the way our faith is faring, growing, changing amidst the onslaught of new technology at our disposal (I am still digesting this one).

I really enjoyed the way Pete Rollins underhandedly sparked my thinking in his collection of modern-day parables, The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales. What a great, creative gift of storytelling this man has been given!

Then there are a couple of books that are more challenging to read since they are written by people who do not share my same belief-branding: The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, and Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became one of America’s Leading Atheists by Dan Barker. I say “challenging to read” because sometimes what these men have written unsettles me, makes me squirm, and necessitates that I put the book down and do some further searching, study and praying. So many of the questions asked need to be asked–answered, re-phrased, discussed–not simply dismissed. The sad truth is both of these books contain truth, and sometimes address in very direct terms the deficiencies that pervade Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christianity today.

I have often heard the comment (from those with the best of intentions): “We shouldn’t be reading anything but the Bible,” or a variant, “We should only be reading books that are solidly based on Scripture” (what actually qualifies in this capacity usually are those books that agree with my own interpretations.)

While I see the value of not constantly surrounding oneself with “error,” it also must be said that we do ourselves no favour by blocking our ears and crying out “la la la” while others are raising genuine questions. We who claim to want to be like those of Berea who “searched the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so (Acts 17),” have much to answer for if we fail to understand the claims of those different to us so as to critically (Scripturally?) give a credible response.

And what McLaren has penned in A New Kind of Christianity and Ken Howard in Paradoxy: Creating Community Beyond Us and Them gives me hope that we can have meaningful dialogue–and find friendship–with those who differ from us.

Meanwhile, too much thinking is “doing my head in.” I’ve removed the half-read stacks of books next to my easy chair and on my bedside table. For now I need to sit back, draw some deep breaths, mull over some well-written words and ideas and pray.  I think I’ll be back in the library or on the ‘net before you know it. But, for the moment, I’m taking a little time out for sanity.

Witnessing? Really?

Did the One who preached on the hillsides of ancient Palastine hand out gospel fragments written on papyrus scraps in the city streets? Did he preach hellfire and damnation atop an orange crate in the centres of commerce? Would he have waved Scripture banners in the Colluseum? Did he paintsakingly hold to his idea of what ‘church’ is . . . or did he join people wherever they were and, by so doing, make every place holy?

I am still amazed how those who were influential around me as I grew up seem now to have such a different view of what classifies as ‘witnessing.’ (For the uninitiated, witnessing may be classified as doing or saying anything that tells another person that you are a Christian–this may include telling the gospel story, but is not limited to this.)

So every time we sat down in a restaurant to eat, dad had to say grace (and we all had to bow our heads and close our eyes). this was witnessing.

Every time we went somewhere on vacation, we needed to take a good supply of gospel leaflets with us which we would put in people’s letterboxes with a reply-paid card in case they wanted to know more about Jesus. This was also witnessing.

When we said ‘Goodbye’ to a Christian friend at an airport, we had to pray and ask God’s blessing on their travels, and sometimes we even sang ‘God be with you till we meet again.’ This was, after all, a great way to witness.

Sunday mornings were an excellent opportunity to show that we were Christians, first of all by our signs. We put the church sign outside of the rented building (after we cleared away the beer bottles from the party the ‘unsaved’ people had the night before). After all, we didn’t want anyone who would come to our services to think it was US who had drunk all that evil booze.

Then we would set out the chairs (usually three long rows to allow for our family, the other family who came, and the three or so others who decided our church was where God determined they should worship. We would put out the hymnals, practice the ‘special music’ (usually a duet or trio involving me, my dad, and/or my sister). Then we would do church.

I was reading Frank Schaeffer‘s novel Zermatt the other day. It is a coming-of-age story about a young lad, Calvin Becker, who has the unfortunate situation of being born to Presbyterian missionary parents (loosely relating Frank’s own life as the son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer of the Evangelical mission ‘L’abri’ fame). I pick up the story as they prepare their hotel’s dining room for their Sunday morning service.

‘Calvin! Haven’t you heard one word I’ve been saying? Now help me put out the hymnbooks,’ Mom muttered.

‘We already did. And we’ll have to collect them all again and I’ll be even later getting out to ski,’ I muttered.

‘Calvin! If the Lord calls just one of the hotel guests or staff to come to church, I want them to see they’re welcome and expected,’ Mom snapped.

‘But it looks so dumb,’ I said.

‘Calvin! How can you say that? We put out the chairs and the hymnbooks as the Lord prepared the wedding banquet and sent his servants out into the hedges and byways to seek the guests! It is our job to be faithful! The Lord will bring in the harvest in his own marvellous and miraculous timing.’ Mom took a deep breath, smiled, and started talking in her cheerful voice again, but now it was a little higher than before and the lines on her forehead were still there.

‘Don’t you see, dear, that everything is for a purpose, even our vacations? There are no holidays from God! And this year we have a piano! And it may be that the English General or the Swedish ladies or other guests who once knew truth and fell away from the Lord – perhaps even the Germans – will hear the piano. And they will be in their rooms, perhaps even with a hangover from drinking and dancing the night away to fill the empty place in their souls, and they will hear the sound of “Abide with Me” coming up the stairs as Janet plays the piano; and tears will fill their eyes and they will come down, haltingly, embarrassed that they have fallen so far from grace, and they will peek around the corner and see a chair set out for them waiting and a hymnbook lying on that chair and you singing from the bottom of your heart. And I will hand that poor lost sheep a book, opened at the right place, and point to the verse we’re singing. And with tears streaming down his cheeks the lost sheep will begin to sing, at first in a soft quivering sorrow-filled voice, and later with a voice full of praise. And he will open his heart to the Word that is preached when Ralph is anointed and the angels will rejoice over that lost Iamb brought back to the fold, and what was meant for satanic purposes, the piano, and the bandstand, and instruments, will have been turned to good and the prodigal will have returned and—’

‘Mom?’ asked Rachael.

‘Yes, dear?’

‘But the English General and the Swedish ladies and the Germans and everyone else are out skiing, so how will they hear the piano?’ asked Rachael.

Mom got angry again and stamped her foot.

‘Rachael! Will you just stop it?! The Lord may cause him to fall and hurt his leg so that he will be up in his room by ten,’ Mom said.

‘You want God to break the General’s leg?!’ I asked.

Rachael laughed. Mom’s brow puckered even more.

‘Sometimes He has to chastise those of us He loves!

I’ve always had a feeling that the English General gave his heart to Christ, perhaps long ago as a boy, and he has wandered from the truth. It is quite possible, you know. There used to be many Bible believing Christians in England before the liberals took over all the Anglican seminaries. Haven’t you seen the way he looks so wistfully at us when I say grace before we eat at dinner?’

‘I think he’s just staring at us, Mom,’ said Rachael. ‘So much the better. It is good to bear witness in all things!’

The fact that we had the piano for church did no good at all. No one even glanced through the windows no matter how loudly we sang.

It reminds me of the ‘John 3:16‘ banners that pop up in American stadiums during sport telecasts, the street preachers on soapboxes, and those who hand out gospel literature. Sure, there are stories of those who are miraculously ‘saved’ out of these types of ministries, but I wonder how much more damage we may do to the cause of Christ by appearing to be the ranting fools, setting our minds on the success of such methods in decades or centuries past.

Did the One who preached on the hillsides of ancient Palastine hand out gospel fragments written on papyrus scraps in the city streets? Did he preach hellfire and damnation atop an orange crate in the centres of commerce? Would he have waved Scripture banners in the Colluseum? Did he paintsakingly hold to his idea of what ‘church’ is . . . or did he join people wherever they were and, by so doing, make every place holy?

Would his good news be: ‘By meeting together / saying grace in public / preaching on street corners / handing out gospel tracts will people know you are my disciples’? Or would he say something like this: ‘By this will all know you follow me: if you love one another’?

After all, it was not with the waving of banners, the building of megachurches, or the mass distribution of literature by which the kingdom of God would come, but in deeds of kindness done in humility and with great love that would bring about the greatest reveolution the world has ever known.