Friday, August 27, 2010

Churches, Pastors, E-mail, and the Great Commission

Now that I have moved to Greenville, begun a job, and gotten my kids into school, one of the remaining big decisions is choosing a church. This is not as easy as it may sound. There are a plethora of Bible-preaching churches here in the Greenville area. I have already visited ten, some of them more than once.

I obtained a list of churches concerning which I had some confidence in their doctrine. They were from a variety of denominations, although most were independent and the majority were Baptist. After whittling the list down due to geography and other factors, there were still more about which I had interest.

Visiting a church by yourself, or with your spouse alone, isn't too bad. But when you have four children to farm out to Sunday School (or whatever childrens' ministries may be planned for that time), it's a bit more complicated. And quite frankly, I don't want to spend all of 2010 visiting more churches and making this decision. So for churches I had not yet visited, I decided to check out their websites for additional information, and after writing a generic letter with several key questions (designed to eliminate churches which were unlike what we are looking for), planned to send it to another ten churches.

That's when the problems began.

Of the ten churches, it appears five do not have websites.

One of the churches with a website had no contact information beyond the church address and phone number and service times.

Another church—and this was annoying—did not contain an e-mail address but instead had a place to type your message and send it on one of the pages. Trouble was, I had to enter a six-character security code to send the message...and it wouldn't let me! So that church hasn't heard from me.

So if you're keeping track, that means I sent three e-mails at approximately 11:00 p.m. yesterday. Here are the results:

One pastor responded about an hour later. He wrote a message of near-sermon length which, indeed, sounded like a sermon transcript on ecclesiology (the study or doctrine of the church). The whole tenor of the response, though both thorough and innocuous, was vaguely disconcerting. Perhaps we will visit this church. Perhaps not.

A second pastor responded the following afternoon. This was the polar opposite of the first response: Curt. He did not answer some of my questions, yet threw in some information I had not asked about. We will not be visiting this church.

The third pastor has not responded yet. [Update: The third pastor gave me a phone call the day after I wrote the original post, answering my questions in a friendly and helpful way. We will likely visit his church.]

So what have I learned from this?

The first thing I learned is that if I ever become a pastor or leader of a church, there will be a website and it will have every possible means of getting in touch with our church. This is not simply a matter of convenience; it is a means of fulfilling the Great Commission. If I am a pastor, and there is someone out there who is actually seeking a church (and especially if they are asking questions relevant to their faith), don't I want to be doing whatever I can to draw them to my church like a magnet draws iron?

The first pastor who responded to me, to his credit, seems to understand this. He wasted no time—writing near midnight—responding and inviting me to his church. The second pastor does not; his response came across as, at best, dutiful; at worst, annoyed that I would bother him.

But apparently at least six other pastors also do not understand this...the ones whom I could not e-mail. Surely we all must recognize by now that so many people who don't care to darken the door of a church will still use e-mail to communicate! The lost can be reached this way—why are pastors and churches not taking advantage?

If you are a pastor (or you have influence on a pastor), I implore you: Get a website and a church e-mail address. Emblazon it upon all your materials, from bulletins to tracts. Let the world know how, even if in the privacy of their own bedroom, they can contact you. And if you have a facebook page, a blog, or a Twitter feed, so much the better. You can still give your address and phone, draw a map, and give the service times, but take advantage of 21st-century technology to reach the world around you.

Friday, August 20, 2010

So Is He Muslim or Not?

Much has been written this week in the news that one-in-five Americans surveyed believe President Obama is Muslim. He, as he has always done, denies this and claims to be a Christian.

I am really curious to know how many Americans think he is a Christian.

Thankfully, as always, we have the Bible to give us insight about things like this. Let us begin with a passage from Matthew 7:

15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
The whole context is provided, but focus on verse 20: A man is known by his "fruits," the evidences that his life provides to the world. So let's summarize some of our president's "fruits."
  • He shows great reverence and friendliness to Arab and Muslim leaders, not wishing to offend them or their beliefs. Meanwhile, Israel is snubbed (ask Mr. Netanyahu) and other nations with historically Christian backgrounds (think: England) are treated in a second-tier way diplomatically.
  • He shows deference to Islamic practices and participates in their events. Meanwhile, the National Day of Prayer events at the White House are canceled.
  • He has no problem with a mosque being built in lower Manhattan.
  • Church attendance: Obama has hardly been to church since becoming President. Prior to 2008, he attended a church that was supposedly Protestant (in a very stretched-out definition of that term) and had a pastor whose anti-American rants became legendary...yet he stayed there until political expediency drove him out. This "pastor" (again, the definition—a biblical one—must be stretched) married him and his wife and was referred to in high praise by our president before his reputation became national.
  • On the other hand, our president does not openly participate in Islamic worship, either.
My assessment of this: Our president seems to be un-religious, but prefers Islam to Christianity. He is clearly not devout to either one. But my deeper question: Is he a Christian?

Let us look at 1 John 2 for further guidance:
3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
6 He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
Verse 4 is very troubling. The context, and centuries of consistent exegesis, tell us that "keepeth not his commandments" refers more to a pattern of life than to individual, moment-by-moment decisions; all of us "keep not" God's commandments from time to time. The "keepeth his word" in verse 5 holds a similar idea, as does "also so to walk" in verse 6. Is the pattern of our president's life that he strives to keep God's commandments and to walk as Christ walked? Or does he not consistently strive to keep the commandments of God? Again, a look at the fruits:
  • Our president is openly pro-abortion, and has a voting record to back it up (the blogprof blog has done a great job documenting this over the past two years, with this as a recent example).
  • Unlike Jesus Christ, who regularly spoke out against sin, Obama seems perfectly OK with homosexuality, immorality, and other sins in our society.
  • Has he spent his free time with Christians, or with former terrorists and others who are openly hostile to the Bible?
Unfortunately, aside from his own weak proclamations and White House statements of his Christian faith, I cannot see any evidence from the Bible that our president is a Christian. We need to pray for him to repent, accept Jesus Christ as his Savior, and do what is right.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Eternal Importance of Christian Education

A friend began a facebook discussion today on the general topic of placing one's child in the government's care (read: public school, day care) for such a large portion of that child's life. She took the very sensible position that God does not give children to parents for that purpose.

This stimulated further thought in my mind for much of the rest of the day. There are the usual list of reasons why you should give your children a Christian education, such as:

  • Superior academic education, compared to public schools in general
  • Less dangerous environment
  • Doctrines like creation and salvation are taught, not stifled
Today, however, I was on a deeper wavelength. I want to communicate on this deeper level now.

God has given me and my wife four wonderful children (my friend is anticipating her fourth's arrival within the next several months). The moment we conceived them, they became our responsibility—a profound responsibility—to rear, to discipline, to love, to train. They are not, nor ever have been, nor ever will be, the government's responsibility. In order to fulfill the God-given responsibility, there are a number of things we must do; one of these is to provide them with Christian education.

[Parenthetical: Some parents will choose to homeschool their children in order to meet this responsibility. As long as the education they provide is both thoroughly Christian and strong in academics, I have no problem with that. Others, including us, will choose to partner with a Christian school that will teach the Scriptures in all subject areas and support our family and our values as Christians. Such a Christian school needs to be both thoroughly Christian and strong in academics, too.]

The child, ultimately, will be inevitably impacted by the education he is provided. If a strong Christian education is provided, then he will be more likely to follow in the path of Christ-likeness and go on to serve God for the rest of his days on earth. He will be more likely to avoid the guilt and consequences of sin. He will probably have more joy and peace in his life, and if he marries someone else who loves and serves God and seeks to be more like Christ, he will likely have a happier marriage than most.

But more importantly, if a child is provided a Christian education—particularly at a young age—he is much more likely to accept Jesus Christ as his Savior and spend eternity in heaven. That is not something most day cares or public schools are going to encourage; indeed, the truth will most likely be stifled or ignored.

If you have children, make up your mind: Are you going to take the responsibility to provide your child with Christian education that will positively impact their lives both now and for eternity, or are you going to hand over your responsibility to the government, leaving them open to temporal misery and possibly eternal damnation?

NOTE: I certainly don't want to imply that eternal damnation is the certain fate of those who attend public school today. Please understand that my meaning is that the risk of a child turning away from God and Truth is heightened when the child is put into an environment where God's truth is maligned, ridiculed, neglected, or blasphemed. For a parent to consciously take that risk with his child's soul is inexcusable.

And on the other hand, there are certainly Christians among the many public school teachers out there, who are striving to be lights in the midst of darkness. May God bless them and give them success as they try to reach out to the students in their care.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Greenville Restaurant Review: Economy Version

I have been living in Greenville for almost five weeks now, and since I have spent most of that time away from my wife, I have taken several opportunities to sample the local fare. And since I don't have a lot of money, I have stayed mainly in the "low-budget" or "economy" class of restaurants.

I also like BBQ and southern fried chicken, so with Greenville's abundant restaurants, I have had plenty of options. Here are some that I have visited:

[Note: I went to McDonald's, too. Service and food quality about the same there as any other typical American city. Moving on....]

Chick-fil-A: Do you own a restaurant? Are you concerned about the quality of customer service at your store? Then get yourself to either of the two Greenville-area Chick-fil-A stores that I ate at recently (Woodruff Rd., Cherrydale). The service is of the type most fast-food restaurant owners only dream their employees are providing (I say most, because some don't even dream that it would be this good). That alone would be enough. But...

The food is good, too. Both times I ordered the same thing, a Chicken Sandwich meal (#1 on the menu board). The sandwich consists of the following:

  • Bun
  • Sizable piece of hot chicken
  • Two pickels (and I don't even like pickels)

This, alone, makes a great sandwich. If you like ketchup or mustard, use it sparingly so as not to disrupt such a fine sandwich.

The waffle fries are great, too. And there's refills on the Coke. You have to go to the counter for the refill, but in both cases there seemed to be one employee who was taking most of the responsibility for doing this with a smile on her face.

Should I ever find a town with both a Culver's and a Chick-fil-A, I will consider moving there.

Grade: A+

Zaxby's: This chain has gotten 500 stores in 20 years throughout the South, and it's not for nothing. I ordered the grilled chicken sandwich meal (fries, drink). I had only ever eaten at a Zaxby's once before, about a decade ago, so I was eager to visit again.

I used the drive-through, which may have been a mistake. By the time I got back to my place, the fries and bun were a bit damp from the condensation inside the styrofoam-like container they were found in. I'm also not convinced the fries were terribly hot when I got them at the window, either. The chicken was good, but I would have preferred a lot less of the mustard-type sauce they slathered on it.

Nevertheless, the meal was pretty good and the girl at the drive-through was quite friendly.

Grade: B

Henry's Smokehouse: This was the first BBQ place I visited after arriving in Greenville, at the advice of a good friend. It was good advice. I was encouraged to try the BBQ on a bun with slaw (I am still uncertain what possessed me to agree to this, unless it was the radiant looks on the faces of the clerk and my friend), and to my surprise, it worked. Quite well. Three days later I visited with other friends who served BBQ sandwiches, with the BBQ bought at Henry's. This time I ate it without slaw, and it was again good.

The only downside was that the BBQ was a bit drier than I prefer. The atmosphere was, shall we say, what I think of under "small-town redneck." But it worked.

Grade: A-

Sonny's: I have already blogged about Sonny's, which I never cease to enjoy. I visited with two friends who enjoy it, perhaps, even more than I do.

The food was as good as I expected. The prices have risen noticeably since my last visit in late-2007, however, which did not make me smile. The service, too, was good; but again, not as good as my last visit (see linked blog post). This will likely not be in the category of "inexpensive family-of-six eating out destination" any longer.

Grade: A-