Contest News, Oh My!

In January my wife and I entered a writing contest. There were several categories in which to enter. I sent pieces in for the “flash fiction” and “articles” bracketsFresh 2015 Voice. Lo and behold, I was a finalist in each of those two categories! There were only two finalists and the winner announced. As a matter of fact, Sandra, also was a finalist in the two groups she had entered, “devotionals,” and “articles.” The only two finalists in the Articles grouping were Curt Lovelace and Sandra Lovelace. My award is proudly displayed here. Here is the really funny part. I do not write fiction! This was just something I put together out of the blue one day and Sandra encouraged me to enter it into this contest. Below is the flash fiction piece. Next week I’ll share the article. Let me know what you think.

 

To The “Old Sod”

The tide rolled in, as tides will inexorably do. Bob sat on a rock looking across at where he imagined Ireland to be. He’d never been to that land of his ancestors. Heck, he’d never been anywhere except New England. “I don’t even have a passport.” He thought. But, he dreamed of Ireland.

At 32 years old, Bob had a stable and mostly enjoyable job. He was an engineer. “Engineers don’t dream fanciful dreams,” he told himself. But, he dreamed of Ireland. He was not interested in a short visit. No, Bob wanted to go all in. He wanted to move to the “Old Sod.” He knew the history. He knew the geography. He’d heard Larry Cunningham sing “Lovely Leitrim” hundreds of times. He longed to see Loch Allen and watch the Shannon waters flow.

It would be irresponsible to just pack up and leave, wouldn’t it? He would leave behind his family and his friends, the familiar places, the girl with whom a relationship just might bloom. He knew he could get a job. He’d already checked online. Engineers can get jobs.

On Monday morning, Bob was at the Post Office in Portland where he made out his passport application. He even paid the extra $60 for expedited service. He’d made up his mind. He was going. He was moving to Ireland. There was no need to dawdle now. Having taken the day off from work and made a list, Bob went about his business, his exciting business. Bob was moving to Ireland.

Next Bob went to his bank and made sure of the procedure for transferring his savings to an Irish bank once he was settled. As a single, employed, unattached engineer, Bob had accumulated a sizeable amount of savings. He made sure his ATM card would work in the Republic of Ireland.

Being an engineer, of course, Bob had a plan as well as his list. He’d already checked Ireland’s website for entry requirements. He needed no visa. He could make arrangements for a stay longer than three months once he arrived and settled. He had already booked airline tickets on Aer Lingus. He was flying to Shannon Airport in one month. A room was booked at a bed and breakfast in Carrick-on-Shannon for two weeks. He had signed on with an engineering head-hunter. He was already getting job possibilities.

“I’m moving to Ireland,” Bob exulted. Now he needed to resign from his job, with good references, he assumed. Then he’d dispose of his belongings, give notice to his landlord, and begin the series of goodbye parties that would undoubtedly ensue. He was on his way.

Three months later, winter had come to Galway. The temperature was near freezing. A slight rain was falling. Bob loved it. Secure in his new lodgings and his stable and enjoyable job. He was happy. “I did it. I moved to Ireland,” he mused. It hadn’t been entirely easy. There had been some difficult periods in the transition and he still had to go through the legalities of long-term residence. But, he was beginning to enjoy a new circle of friends and he’d already had a visit from his lady friend who still lived in Boston. Guinness was better when it was fresh. Bob was home.

The tide rolled out, as tides will inexorably do. Bob sat on a rock in Galway Bay and looked westward, imagining the rocky coast of Maine – and smiled.

© Curt Lovelace, 2015

We interrupt this blog…

10 from Dock

From our dock one can see the beach and the house. Notice how clear the water is.

…to share this important message (at least it’s important to us). Some of you may be aware that Sandra and I have put our home on Loon Pond in Maine on the market. We have created a website to showcase this lakefront property. I show it here because, even if you don’y have an interest in it, you may know someone who would like a place on a lake. Please feel free to pass this around.

11 fall trees (1)

This could be your view. This photo is taken from our sandy beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To see the whole story and more photos, please click here or go to https://lakefrontretreat.wordpress.com.

Church Culture II

Aspects of Culture – There are many aspects of culture both in society as a whole and in smaller groups such as corporations, social clubs, and churches. Here I take a look at just a few of these items and how they relate to society in general. How do these cultural maters affect the church?

  • Language – One of the most obvious aspects of culture, and one which is often the most sensitive. French have a gov’t bureau to protect theirs; we have a constant issue about English as national language; Canada has areas where signs must be in French – no English allowed. The church, of course, has its own vocabulary.
  • Art and literature – Very often the morality of a nation is seen through its art and literature, including music. Especially, but not exclusively, music has been an ongoing battlefield for many churches over the past twenty years or so.
  • Technology – Very often our obsession with our technologies will say a lthot about our culture. During the decades of the Soviet Empire, their only technological growth was in those areas which provided military applications, including the launch of Sputnik in 1955. Other areas suffered (medicine, agriculture, etc). How does your congregation employ technology?
  • Dress – How people dress does help to give understanding to the moral health of a nation – or congregation. My wife refers to the church as the “mudroom to heaven.” How do we dress as we prepare to enter the church? How does the pastor/preacher/presenter/facilitator (we see a cultural issue right there) dress?
  • Law – Homosexual marriage; state-sponsored gambling; marijuana laws all affect the entire nation and conflict many church groups. How does the church relate to the society? This affects the internal workings of the church, not just its relationship with the culture-at-large.
  • Relationships – How we treat one another. Battle of the sexes – at the same time as the sexual revoltion. Hip Hop demeaning women; racial tensions continue. Do these attitudes get carried into your congregation?
  • Communication – How do we communicate? Important field of studies with departments at many major universities. The big publication in this field was “The Medium is the Message” by Marshall McLuhan (though it was many years ago). He introduced the idea of a global village as a result of communication technology (like the fax machine. This was the 1960s. Anything by McLuhan is worth reading, BTW. He actually coined the term “media.” This is one of the most fascinating aspects of culture to me. It is very important in the culture of the church. How do we communicate with one another?

What is Your Church Culture?

A few years back, I led a weekend retreat regardingculture church culture. Looking over that material this week, I have decided to revisit the topic. There were four topics for the weekend. They looked like this:

  1. What is Culture?
  2. What is Church Culture?
  3. What is Your Church’s Culture?
  4. What is a Biblical Church Culture? How Do We Get There?

I will, of course, edit and update. Feel free to jump in and make suggestions or criticisms.

Our topic is not church and culture. We are not looking primarily at how we deal with the culture outside the church doors, although that will come into the discussion. Our overall goal will be to figure out what our own church cultures are; what they are supposed to be; and what we need to be and do to affect positively the culture of our congregations.

Part One: What is Culture?
I. Intro and Definitions.

The word culture has a lot of definitions.  For some folks it is an appreciation of good literature, music, and art.  Some of us call that “Cultchuh.” In biology and medicine, it may be a colony of bacteria or other micro-organisms growing in a Petri dish.  For people who are referred to as Social Scientists, culture is the full range of learned human behavior patterns.

Culture is an amazing thing. It’s slippery. You can’t always figure out what a culture is and where it’s going, because it really isn’t made up of tangible things. It isn’t buildings and machines. These are only products of our culture. Another thing about culture is that once you begin to figure it out it has probably changed.

Here’s the definition I’m going to be working with: Culture: The system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors, and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation.

Some questions to ponder before I continue on this journey next week:

What do you think of when you think of culture?

  • How about the culture of France?

  • The culture of the South?

  • The culture of New England?

  • What are the differences?

Reviewing “Children in Church”

It has been a while since I plugged our book, Children in Church: Nurturing Hearts of Worship. This week I will allow a well-known Christian leader and educator do the honors.

CIC coverI recently asked a well-respected evangelical leader about the statistics of the number of young adults walking away from the church. He said, ” I don’t think they’ve ever been in church…” He’s right. If we want to reclaim the rapid growth and enthusiasm of the early church we must figure out how to make church more like a family reunion and less like an adults-only club. Curt and Sandra show how it can be done – with purpose and relaxed joy – in a way that restores the hearts of the older to the younger and the hearts of both to a God who delights in children.

Jeff Myers, Ph.D. President, Summit Ministries

The book is available at ChildreninChurch.com.

When Is a Church Not a Church?

Following up on the mostly external challenges to the Church which I posted last week, I am sharing, this week, a post from R.C. Sproul.

When Is a Church Not a Church?

FROM  Aug 03, 2015 Category: Articles

When is a church not a church? This question has received various answers throughout history, depending on one’s perspective and evaluation of certain groups. There exists no monolithic interpretation of what constitutes a true church. However, in classic Christian orthodoxy certain standards have emerged that define what we call “catholic,” or universal, Christianity. This universal Christianity points to the essential truths that have been set forth historically in the ecumenical creeds of the first millennium and are part of the confession of virtually every Christian denomination historically. However, there are at least two ways in which a religious group fails to meet the standards of being a church.

The first is when they lapse into a state of apostasy. Apostasy occurs when a church leaves its historic moorings, abandons its historic confessional position, and degenerates into a state where either essential Christian truths are blatantly denied or the denial of such truths is widely tolerated.

Another test of apostasy is at the moral level. A church becomes apostate de facto when it sanctions and encourages gross and heinous sins. Such practices may be found today in the controversial systems of denominations, such as mainline Episcopalianism and mainline Presbyterianism, both of which have moved away from their historic confessional moorings as well their confessional stands on basic ethical issues.

The decline of a church into apostasy must be differentiated from those communions that never actually achieved the status of a viable church in the first place. It is with respect to this phenomenon that the consideration of cults and heretical sects is usually delineated. Here again we find no universal monolithic definition for what it is that constitutes a cult or a sect. Both terms are capable of more than one meaning or denotation. For example, all churches that practice rites and rituals have at their core a concern for their “cultus.” The cultus is the organized body of worship that is found in any church. However, this cultic dimension of legitimate churches can be distorted to such a degree that the use of the term cult is applied in its pejorative sense. For example, the dictionary may define the term “cult” as a religion that is considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist. When we talk about cults in this regard, what comes to mind are the radical distortions in fringe groups, such as the Jonestown phenomenon. There, a group of devotees attached themselves to their megalomaniacal leader, Jim Jones, and illustrated their devotion to such a degree that they willingly submitted to Jones’ direction to take their Kool-aid laced with cyanide. This is cultic behavior with a vengeance. The same kind of thing could be seen among the Branch Davidians, the followers of Father Divine in Philadelphia, and other lesser groups that have come and gone over the course of church history.

It is noteworthy that almost any compendium that treats the history of cults will include within its studies large bodies of religion such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nevertheless, the sheer size and endurance of such groups tend to give them more credibility as time passes and as more people associate with their beliefs. When we look at groups, such as the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we find elements of truth within their confessions. Yet at the same time, they express clear denials of what historically may be considered essential truths of the Christian faith. This certainly includes their unabashed denial of the deity of Christ. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons have this denial in common. Though both place Jesus in some type of exalted position within their respective creeds, He does not attain the level of deity. Both groups consider Christ an exalted creature. Following the thinking of the ancient heretic Arius, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that the New Testament does not teach the deity of Christ; rather, they argue it teaches He is the exalted firstborn of all creation. They say He is the first creature made by God, who then is given superior power and authority over the rest of creation. Though Jesus is lifted up in such Christology, it still falls far short of Christian orthodoxy, which confesses the deity of Christ. Passages in the New Testament such as Jesus being “begotten” and His being the firstborn of creation” are incorrectly used to justify this creaturely definition of Christ.

In the first three centuries of Christian history, the biblical passage that dominated reflection on the church’s understanding of Christ was the prologue of the gospel of John. This prologue contains the affirmation of Christ’s being the Logos, or the eternal Word of God. John declares in his gospel that the Logos was “with God in the beginning, and was God.” This “with God” suggests a distinction between the Logos and God, but the identification by the linking verb “was” indicates an identity between the Logos and God. The way in which this identity is denied by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cultists is by substituting the indefinite article in the text, rendering it that the Logos was “a god.” In order to wrest this interpretation from the text, one must have a prior affirmation of some form of polytheism. Such polytheism is utterly foreign to Judeo-Christian theology, where deity is understood in monotheistic terms.

THE THREAT OF CULTIC DISTORTIONS IS SOMETHING THE CHURCH MUST STRUGGLE WITH IN EVERY GENERATION AND IN EVERY AGE.

The threat of cultic distortions is something the church must struggle with in every generation and in every age. It is also important to understand that even legitimate churches may contain within it practices that reflect the behavior of the cults. Cults can emerge within the structures of certain churches. In the Roman communion, for example, we see in Haiti a mixture of Roman Catholic theology with the cultic practices of voodoo. Also in that same communion there is no question that large groups of people venerate Mary to a degree that is beyond the limits espoused by that church itself, degenerating their worship into a cult mentality. But such can be the case among Lutherans, Presbyterians, or any group, when orthodoxy is sacrificed for the devotion to idols.

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.

 

The Challenged Church

Most of us have heard at least one sermon on the Greek word “ekklesia.” We know that it has to do with being “called out,” and that it means the assembly of those called to be in Christ. We use that word to describe the Church.

th-3I like to look at this term, “called out” from a different perspective, also.

In the jargon of the day, to call out is to challenge; often in the context of a fight. It means something like: “You and me behind the school at 3 o’clock.” The fact of the matter is that the Church is both corporately and individually, a bunch of people who’ve been challenged to a fight.

The several Greek words for fight are used sparingly. There is, however, a lot of military imagery, as in Ephesians 6:10-18, in which we are told to wear armor – and to “stand firm.” Them’s fightin’ words!

Other fighting words are found in, 1 Tim. 6:12, in which we read:

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which
you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Taking hold of the eternal life to which we are called includes fighting the good fight of faith. It means standing up to the predominant culture when it besmirches the Name of Jesus; when it ridicules the Church (not that we haven’t called a good bit of ridicule on ourselves); when it demeans members of the Church for their faith.

Paul explains this concept of fighting for the faith further when he w
ites to his young protegé Timothy, in 2 Tim. 4:7:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

To Paul, keeping the faith included having fought the good fight. Being a member of the Church, those called out by God, means fighting the good fight.
One final, and obvious, example will be offered here. It is found in Jude 3. Here we find this challenge:

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

How do we, who are members of the Church, called out both in the sense of being part of the assembly and in the sense of being challenged, contend for the faith? Learn it; understand it; act as a body as we fight on behalf of the Church. It is the role of the Church, individually and corporately to contend for the Church itself; to stand up for the Church; to understand the proper role and authority of the Church; to behave as though the Church is something special – because it is.

The Church is under extreme pressure from the dominant culture today. Challenges to out way of life and our beliefs abound. Christian merchants are not allowed to act according to their beliefs without threat of governmental oppression. Marriage has been fundamentally lettered into something that God’s Word does not recognize as valid. Human life is not viewed as sacred, but as something that is both dispensable and profitable.

In the movie “On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando uttered the famous line: “I coulda been a contender.” That means he could have fought for the title. We don’t have to fight for the title. It is already won by the blood of Jesus, which purchased the Church. We still need, however, to be contenders.

God Must Be Our Focus of Worship

th-2The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks this question: “What is man’s chief end.” The answer is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”  We ought to recognize  these are not two separate commands. To Glorify God is to enjoy Him. This is worship. The more we learn of God, the more we can appreciate Him – and how great His love is for us.

In Romans 5:8 we read, “… but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Can we read that; understand it; and not glorify Him; not revel in His love? Not enjoy the blessing of being one of His?

Now, understand. We DO live in a sin-filled world. It’s a hard world to enjoy sometimes. God knows that. Do you think Jesus was smiling as the thorns bit into his skull; as the breath was crushed from His body? Enjoying God does not mean that we have to slap a fake smile on and pretend that all is right on earth. But we do need to remember that God is in His heaven, and He has both the power and the will to love us beyond our own imagining.

Here’s another important little snippet from the Westminster Divines:

Q: What is God?

A: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

God Must Be Our Only God

God does not enjoy competition. Jostling to get the front of the line of those mankind worships is NOT His idea of a good time.

In Exodus 20:3, we read, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (ESV).

We should have no gods in front of Him – or beside

thHim. This claim of God on our allegiance to Him is an exclusive claim. In other words, if we worship Him, we may not worship any other, whether it be a false god, a person, or things. Let me give you an example. US citizenship is intended to be exclusive. Technically, an adult may not be a US citizen and a citizen of another nation. We do not allow dual citizenship. Now I know that this law is poorly, if ever, enforced, and there are many loopholes and technicalities. The principle, however, is that it is impossible to split your allegiance between two sovereign nations. This was the same thinking that went into the internment of Japanese people in the United States during WWII. Jesus stated the principle pretty clearly in Matthew 6:24,

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

So what’s the practical application of this principle? Here are a couple of ideas in that regard.

  • We may not make things (even ideas) into gods. Men and women worship just about everything. History, of course is one of the greatest idols of academics and non-scholars alike. Today’s greatest false god is Nature. To be an environmentalist today doesn’t mean caring about your environment and being a good steward of the universe God has created. No, it means to call the earth, “Mother Earth,” and to extend to this mother all the worship and allegiance due God – who created the earth. We also worship wealth and belongings, and power. Some even worship their own children. Then of course, there are the false gods in the traditional sense: Buddha, Allah; Krishna, etc. We cannot worship Buddha and the true God; the Lodge and the true God; the zodiac and the true God; we cannot worship both the church and the true God. God tells us, “know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.” Deuteronomy 4:39 (It would be good to take time to read this in context, beginning in v. 15).
  • We may not make ourselves into gods. In Romans 1:25 we see that God is angry with mankind and has turned us over to the workings of our own depravde minds, “…because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

We human beings do tend to deify ourselves. Instead of reliance upon our God; our reliance is upon our own wisdom. We deify science and claim that discoveries come from our own fertile minds, while we are merely discovering what God has created and put in place for us. We worship strength and beauty and youth. We adore wealth and power and connections. But we need to be brought back to our senses and remember that we already have a perfectly good God who does not need to be replaced. Why try to replace Him with a frail or faulty copy which can only lead to hell?