1st, ARGH curse the 49ers! I guess I’ll be pulling for Kansas City now in the Super Bowl.

Not really about pastors but I think it is probably the same.

2nd, Pam and I have a code for something that we don’t want to go to but we know we will be thankful for going to after the fact. The code is “handbells”. It comes from Pam’s personal experience when she played handbells. She would often not look forward to going to handbell practice but she would almost always come back from handbell practice grateful that she had gone.

You may have some experiences like this. You don’t want to do it or go to it at the moment, but you know that if you just start then you will realize that you are glad you did. This was church for me this morning. I really didn’t want to go this morning. Usually I love going to setup for church on Sunday mornings. In fact, setup is often my favorite part of church. Today, however, my bed was calling out to me. Its voice isn’t usually that compelling on Sunday mornings, but it was today. I blame Yoga with Adreine.

Still by the end of tearing down everything we setup each week I was so thankful that I had been there. I love and appreciate all the “threads” that make up Tapestry. Y’all are so wonderful and I was very thankful to have worshiped our Lord with you and pleased Him with our friendship today.

SIDE NOTE – here’s an interesting article from Christianity Today “Want To Pastor A Church You Love? Love The Church You’re Pastoring“. Unfortunately I have known more pastors than I should who loved pastoring but did not necessarily love their present church. They often had no friends within the church (sometimes justifying that by saying it was best not to have friends in your present church – which I am certain is wrong thinking), and often had no love for the place/community in which they ministered. I really like this quote form the author:

Most of the time, pastoral relocation is not because churches want them to leave, but because the pastor is looking for something better – and better is always defined as bigger.

3rd, Pam and I saw Jojo Rabbit Saturday and it was a amazing. I enjoy a super hero movie and sequels as much as the next guy but I wish there were more original stories in film . Jojo Rabbit was truly original. It was funny, emotionally compelling, and just plain excellent.

Online Savings Accounts & Smaller Churches

While I have never in my life desired to be an accountant I do have a strange fascination with filing taxes. I organize for it pretty much all year long and I file as soon as I possibly can (except for the rare occasions where we have owed the government – in which case, I wait as long as I can – and don’t get me started on getting a return equaling giving an interest free loan to the government, I know that is the case, but there are other reasons that we try to make sure we get a return). Then once I have finished our returns I look to see if the boys or mom need/want/will allow me to help them. I’m not looking for any others because I fear it will turn the process from enjoyable to burdensome, so don’t view this post as an open invitation for me to do your taxes. 🙂 I should probably add here that I am not a tax professional and nothing in this post should be construed as actual professional advice – if you want tax advice you should go to a professional rather than me.

Anyhow, this wonderful time of the year has begun and tax forms are beginning to head our way. One of these coming forms is what I am now going to write about because the 1099-INT points to a subject that I would like to discuss. Since we were married twenty-nine years ago Pam and I have tried (sometimes more successfully than others) to maintain a savings account that contains an emergency fund. The purpose of this account is to quickly be available for when we face financial emergencies, not so much to actually increase in value. It is good that the purpose was about preparation rather than a substantial increase in valuation because, as you probably know, the annual percentage yields on most savings accounts have been so low that you really didn’t make any real money on them. For us this has meant that since the IRS changed the rule concerning the amount of interest at which the bank has to send you a 1099-INT (if you earn less than $10 interest in a year they don’t have to send you one) we have not receive a 1099-INT from our main bank (though you are still supposed to report your earned interest on your tax forms). In fact, I already know we won’t receive one this year either because we earned a grand total of $4.03 in interest this year on the largest of our emergency accounts. The the annual percentage yield on our banks savings accounts is a whopping 0.03%.

We also are members of a credit union that pays significantly more at 0.25% APY, which is significantly more than our bank but still not enough for them to need to send to us a 1099-INT.

Then along came the online banks and FinTech companies. This past year we started savings accounts with three online banks/FinTechs. These companies pay much higher rates of interest since they don’t have branches. Here’s what we are receiving rate-wise.

  • online bank #1 – 2.02%
  • online bank #2 – 1.75%
  • FinTech company – 1.80%

The reason I am writing about all this is because of the disruption that these online banks and FinTechs are making in the financial services industry. You see in the first month of being a part of online bank #1 Pam and I earned more interest, on less money, than we had in the previous four years total at our traditional bank. This wasn’t a huge amount (about $20), but still it was 48 times more than my traditional bank had paid me each month. I am pretty sure by the end of 2020 we will have earn more interest in our online bank #1 account than we have cumulatively in our traditional banks’ savings accounts for all of 29 years of our marital life.

Every now and then you need some disruption. We’ve seen it in other industries – 10 years ago who would have thought that you would have jumped into a stranger’s car instead of hailing a taxi (Uber and Lyft), or that I would randomly stay at a stranger’s house instead of a hotel or motel (AirBnB and VRBO) – and it is happening now in the financial services industry. This is why you are beginning to see the big banks do some of this too. For example, Capital One now offers 1.70% APY on their 360 savings accounts, and Goldman Sachs and American Express are doing the same thing. Smaller banks and credit unions have done this for awhile but you know when the big banks change is coming – they don’t do something unless they have to do so to stay competitive.

It is a reminder to me that just because I have always done something a certain way doesn’t mean that is the best way for it to be done any longer, or ever. This isn’t just true for savings account, transportation, lodging, and the other industries that have been disrupted in the past 10 years, and it isn’t always something big happening. Sometimes the disruption is a move to something smaller. Read about the phenomenon over the past few years of local, independent bookstores reviving – here’s a quick search of related articles. These independent bookstores offer something that people want and isn’t being offered by the big book stores and Amazon don’t/won’t/can’t offer. It is also why some small coffee roasters are producing coffee that is widely recognized as amazing (I’m looking at you Ruby).

I wouldn’t be surprised if small churches aren’t this disruption in modern Christian faith in the near future. For the longest time in American Christianity (specifically, but not exclusively, Evangelical Christianity) the mega-church model has been the goal for so many churches. I’ve heard the saying “if you aren’t growing, you’re dying” or “healthy things grow” in various church conferences and events more times than I can remember. I’ve discussed before some of my struggles with such a mindset (HERE), but it can basically be summed in the mindset that healthy things mature, rather than necessarily grow. There are a lot things about big churches that can offer a great deal to help people mature as disciples of Jesus Christ, but there is also much that smaller churches can offer that larger churches don’t/won’t/can’t. Being a small church may be an advantage that Christianity in America needs right now. So many of the voices that I admire in Christian writing and thinking right now, voices that I believe are speaking prophetically, producing maturity, and calling disciples to deep faith, are involved in small communities of faith. This could just be me connecting to people from smaller churches, BUT it might be something about smaller churches that is more conductive to producing this type of mature faith. Just because the big church has been the model of success in the church for the past 60 years doesn’t mean that it should be the model now, and that model may be being disrupted during our present age.

As I have written before small churches are wonderful things.

Idolatry in the Modern Church

I don’t feel like the modern church does well with its own idolatry. The church points out the false gods of those outside of the bride of Christ but I don’t think we do a good job of pointing out our own false gods. This is partially because we have mistaken the role of the prophet. We tend to think that the prophet goes to those who are not followers of God and shouts “you are sinning and not following God.” That does happen. It is what Jonah reluctantly does. The beginning of the book of Amos is another example of a prophet doing just this. Amos looks to the nations surrounded Israel and says:

This is what the Lord says:

“For three sins of Damascus,
even for four, I will not relent.
Because she threshed Gilead
with sledges having iron teeth,
I will send fire on the house of Hazael
that will consume the fortresses of Ben-Hadad.
I will break down the gate of Damascus;
I will destroy the king who is in the Valley of Aven
and the one who holds the scepter in Beth Eden.
The people of Aram will go into exile to Kir,”
says the Lord. (Amos 1:3-5)

HOWEVER preaching about the sins of those who aren’t followers of YHWH isn’t the primary role that the prophet fills. Typically the prophet goes to the people of God and says “Hey you’re supposed to be acting like the people of God and you’re not.” The prophet primarily confronts those who claim to be the faithful.

Which is why I think the church struggles with its own idolatry. The church doesn’t confront its own false gods. We would rather preach against other people’s false gods. Here are some of the idols that I believe are inside the church being worshiped instead of God.

Celebrity – Celebrity is the cultural currency of the world outside the church, and unfortunately it is also the cultural currency of the church. The celebrity pastor is a pretty big thing and it isn’t even really a new thing. Of course, pastors aren’t the only ones being turned into celebrities. Bloggers, bible study leaders, and others are turned into idols that Christians flock too. We have established a culture within the Bride of Christ that lifts up celebrity status as the goal, we just say we’re going to use our celebrity status to tell people about Jesus. Therefore Pastors aim to be writers and speakers rather than pastors.

Power /Success – Just like the world around us we love success and power. Our love of success and power often leads to us idolizing them. Somehow a successful person must be holier than an unsuccessful person. If they are powerful God must have honored them with the power and if they are weak it is probably because of immoral choices. So we treat weakness as those it is the result of sin and power as if it is the result of holiness. You doubt this? When is the last time you heard someone demand drug testing of corporate executives before their companies could receive government subsidies (corporate welfare) versus when you heard the same request concerning the weak and the poor? We proclaim the weak messiah to be Lord but we lift up power in our churches.

Relevance – This one might be a stretch but I feel like many in the church feel the need to make sure that the gospel relates and connects with “real” life. So we lead parenting classes, financial courses, etc. etc. These are good things but they aren’t the main thing. Still we put our trust for church growth in our ability to show that the message of Jesus relates to better lives. Christianity isn’t about people living their best lives. It is about Jesus making the way inviting us to be a part of His kingdom of grace. We don’t shape the gospel to fit “real” life, we allow the gospel to shape our lives around it. I doubt the apostles lived “their best lives”, but they did live faithful, kingdom lives, which cost them everything.

Size – Bigger is better. We all know that. So many things in the world around us point to this. So we live it out in our churches too. If you aren’t growing then you aren’t being faithful. After all, healthy things grow. At least that’s the analogy we often use in the church, never stopping to think that it is actually healthy things mature, not necessarily grow. How many 10′ tall people do you know? If you met one do you think they would be very healthy or riddled with health issues because humans weren’t meant to grow to such height? Jesus’s ministry shrank from possibly 25,000 followers to around 300 at the point of his death and resurrection. Was His ministry healthy? I think so! 

There are so many other things I could mention. Money. Beauty (look at the beautiful people we put on our stages). Etc. Etc. We sing and talk a lot about being so different from the world but most of the time our churches live out the same values as the world. We trust in strength and power. We shout down and hate our enemies. We show favoritism to the rich and powerful. And so on and so on.

Our Lord won His victory on the cross through weakness, suffering, and apparent defeat. Maybe our churches should be more like that. Are you looking for a church right now, maybe consider finding a weak one.

I Confess I Can’t Remember Verse References

I don’t know why but I often find it difficult to remember Bible verse references – the chapter and verse numbers that we use to signify where a particular verse is found in scripture. This is only important because it is basically a part of church culture that when you quote a verse of scripture the church culture mindset is that you add the reference to it.

Have a friend who is dealing with worry and you want to encourage them? Well Matthew 6:34 is a great verse to remember (the first verse of scripture I ever memorized)  Therefore, you would tell your friend, “Well Matthew 6:34 says, ‘ Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.'” Struggling with feeling content in a situation? Philippians 4:13 (one of the most misused verses of scripture there is) is a good verse to share. “Have you considered Philippians 4:13? “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

When I started getting serious about studying the Bible and therefore started memorizing scripture I learned in a culture where you quote the reference at the beginning and the end of the quote. So you would say:

John 14:6
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”
John 14:6

We quoted the reference twice, while the verse only once – I’m not really sure what message quoting the reference twice and the actual verse once actually sent (and I may not want to know).

Anyhow my problem is that I have always been,and still am, lousy at remembering the verse references of the scripture I memorize. I am good at remembering the actual verses, really good at remembering the content around the verse itself, and even better at remembering whole stories from scripture. In fact, when I try to lift up myself or someone else with scripture I usually go to the stories of scripture. “You’re struggling with God’s presence? Let me tell you about a time in a garden when Jesus felt that same way.” “You don’t feel like God can use you? Can I tell you a story about a man named Ehud?” Still remembering verse references is a pain for me.

Earlier this week I was with a group of men that I study the Bible with each week. We each were discussing one verse that really hit us from one of the chapters of the study. When it was my turn I brought up, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.“. I was immediately asked “What’s the address” (this is the cool kid way of saying “what’s the reference?”) and I had to admit that I couldn’t remember other than it was in the Psalms.  Once again I felt the pang of shame.

These are guys that I love and I know love me, so I’m not bringing this up to say they did anything wrong, they didn’t. Instead I bring up this example in order to admit that at one time in my life I would have felt shame over the fact that I remembered the verse (the actual inspired text) and not the reference (the non-inspired text). In fact, at one time in my life I would have preferred to have the reference memorized rather than the verse, because if you had the reference memorized you could always look up the verse and make sure you had it right.

When they came around references were a huge help. Suddenly you knew exactly were a statement was because of the book name, chapter, and verse numbers. This was a huge step forward. Yet with a miniature super computer in your pocket that can search the whole Bible in less than a second those chapter and verse numbers really aren’t as important anymore. It is more important that we know what is actually in the verse. So why do I let myself feel shamed for not knowing something that I’m not really sure actually helps my faith?

Maybe this is just my own problem and no one else struggles with this, but at one time I seriously struggled, and every now and then I still do,  with feeling guilty about this. I’m a pastor, after all, I should have these references memorized. What type of example was I setting by not knowing the reference? Funny, I never asked myself what type of example I was setting by worrying to the point of shame about the non-inspired portion of the Bible more than the inspired portion. Jesus didn’t quote the references … well … because He didn’t have them. Our chapter and verse references didn’t develop until the mid-16th century (chapter numbers started appearing by themselves in the 13th century). Sometimes He referenced the author, others times He just said the passage with no reference to the author, and other times still He merely alluded to the passage. If Jesus did this then why do I feel bad when I can’t remember a reference that wasn’t added to the Bible till the mid-16th century and is by no means inspired by God. For the Lord did not say “AND THIS A VERSE NUMBER WILL BE PLACED HERE!”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes a wonderful statement in one of his letters from prison. He writes:

We ought to find and love God in what he actually gives us; if it pleases him to allow us to enjoy some overwhelming earthly happiness, we mustn’t try to be more pious than God himself and allow our happiness to be corrupted by presumption and arrogance, and by unbridled religious fantasy which is never satisfied with what God gives. (Emphasis added by me – Robert)

“More pious than God”. Yep I can relate to that temptation.

It is very important that we hide God’s word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11😁) because it helps us to follow Him, but we (or maybe just me) have to remember what is inspired and what isn’t. For we have an enemy, the Accuser, who will try to use anything to shame us as we follow Christ.

Me: I quoted the verse.

The Accuser: But you didn’t quote the reference.

Jesus: Ahem, I didn’t say the reference anyway and Robert has a cellphone and can look up the non-inspired reference in about 2 seconds, so shut your mouth.

Jesse Tree Week #1

During Advent at Tapestry we participate in Advent Conspiracy with lots of other churches around the nation.  I’ve written about this before on my blog (here’s one such entry). The basic goal of Advent Conspiracy is to encourage Christians to celebrate the remembrance of the birth of the Messiah in a manner that will actually please Jesus. So we focus on four things:

  • Worshiping Fully
  • Spending Less
  • Giving More
  • Loving All

As a part of this year’s Advent Conspiracy we are going to focus the messages around a Jesse Tree celebration with the kids, and anyone else who wants to, making the ornaments for each week. Here’s this week’s ornament suggestion and instructions.

SIDE NOTE – If you aren’t doing so already I would highly encourage you to begin some Advent traditions with your kids. Last year I wrote about some that have been helpful for Pam and me. Here’s the post.

Potluck Tomorrow

I assume that everyone who reads my blog posts knows that I am a Baptist minister (pastor of a small and wonderful church and chaplain through a great company). As a Baptist minister I am fairly sure that my spiritual love language is the language of potluck. I really do love them.

Not so much because of the food, though I do love that also, but more because I believe there is something God honoring and wonderful about them. At a potluck everyone brings something that they like, like to make, or like to serve. Some people spend hours on it, while others spend minutes. Some people make something, while others buy something. There isn’t really any rhyme or reason, no really plan or agenda, people just bring what they want to bring and something wonderful comes out of it.

For example, I am an OK cook but Pam is the one who really shines at cooking in our home. She is amazingly creative and very skilled. She wasn’t when we first were married (we used to thing that hamburger helper was fine dining) and she didn’t really have any family experience with creative homemade meals. She developed it on her own and has gotten better with the years. Anyhow, she’s the real cook, but there are a few things that I make better than her.

Two of things I make better than her are salsa and chili dogs. So that is what I am bringing tomorrow for Tapestry’s potluck – Chips & Salsa and Chili dogs. Not a normal combination, but when you add it with all the other things that everyone else will bring it will lead to a wonderful meal. We feed each other with our small gifts and great, God honoring things happens.

I’m sure there is analogy in there somewhere but I need to stir my hot dog chili.

Have You Used Your $2?

Sunday as a part of the message I gave out $2 bills and asked people to grab a few and find a use for them that will somehow reflect the kingdom of God. It is easy to think that the big actions, the ones that are so often beyond the abilities of so many of us, are the only actions that matter. The reality is that such big actions are almost always the result of lots and lots of little actions and are usually done by people who have been trained by lots of small actions. So I asked people to grab a few $2 bills and do a kingdom act, after all those of us who are followers of Jesus are a part of a kingdom from which evil flees when that kingdom is really lived out.

So my question is simply this – what have you done with your $2 bills? If you haven’t done something yet, why not think about, or better yet pray about, what you can do.

I have a suggestion, if you don’t figure out something on your own. I know a person who is a part of Place of Peace (remember Tapestry does the meal this week and for the first time in a long time we aren’t doing jambalaya) who is having to drive to Marshfield each week for chemo and could use some help with gas. That might be a good use. No matter what doing some small kingdom act this week.

Quote from “The Hole in Our Gospel”

The small group to which I and Pam belong is presently reading Richard Stearns’ modern classic “The Hole in Our Gospel“. I read this book years ago and it is wonderful how pertinent it still is. Here’s a part of the book that hit me today.

Finally, many Christians believe poverty to be the result of sinfulness and therefore see evangelism as the best, and sometimes only, medicine. They reason that if only the poor were reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and their spiritual darkness lifted, then their lives would begin to change. Poverty indeed can have profound spiritual dimensions, and reconciliation through Christ is a powerful salve in the lives of the rich or poor. But salvation of the soul, as crucial as it may be for fullness of life both in the here and now and in eternity, does not by itself put food on the table, bring water out of the ground, or save a child from malaria. Many of the world’s poorest people are Christians, and their unwavering faith in the midst of suffering has taught me much.

Perhaps the greatest mistake commonly made by those who strive to help the poor is the failure to see the assets and strengths that are always present in people and their communities no matter how poor they are. Seeing their glasses as half-full rather than half-empty can completely change our approach to helping.

SIDE NOTE – If you aren’t reading my wife’s blog you should – she doesn’t blog often but when she does it is consistently wonderful and challenging.

Hour Reminders Next Week

How I typically draw out Jesus as the mediator.

Today in Tapestry I encouraged the “threads” to pick one or two moments during the day to use as a reminder that as a disciple of Jesus Christ we should recognize Him as mediating our present experience. In other words, for a follower of Jesus we would connect with, view, and experience everything through Him.

I used this image as an example:

I have written about Jesus as the mediator of our lives in this post. Such practice has been a part of the church for a long time as the canonical hours. I will be singing the doxology, a prayer that recognizes that all things do praise God, while also being a confession and commitment that we will praise God.

Anyhow below is the church Google Calendar with the canonical hours setup as a reminders.  That way you can subscribe to the calendar and have reminders on your phone.