Church of the Week: The Salvation Army, Lancaster, OH

The Salvation Army corps (church) in Lancaster, Ohio, has been featured before as Church of the Week on this blog (here), but since I had the honor and joy of preaching there yesterday, I thought I'd mention it again. This was the first church we pastored and our first assignment as Salvation Army officers. We arrived in June 1980, and served there for three years. In our twenties. Before we knew how little we knew.

It had been more than thirty-one years since I had preached in the lovely wood-ceilinged chapel of this church at 228 W. Hubert Avenue, on the southern end of Lancaster. And I think the above photo was taken right as I was saying something like, "Don't mess with me, hear?" That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

For more about this lovely church and service center, where our friends Bryan and Laura DeMichael are serving, go to the previous post (here) or to the Lancaster Corps web page here.

The Downside of Liturgically Literate Churches

Pastors and Policies

One of the ways I have missed the Gospel in my years as a pastor and church leader has been in relating and responding to people legislatively instead of pastorally. While of course there are times when rules must be set and policy must be followed--I'm a big fan of smart policies and procedures--it is always a mistake to apply them without a loving pastoral heart.

For example, remember. Jesus' encounter with the "rich young ruler?" It's an amazing interaction:
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth (Mark 10:17-22, NIV).
I imagine if those first followers of Jesus had been more like us they would have reasoned, "Ah, so to be biblical, we must apply Jesus' challenge to that guy across the board, to everyone. That means to enter the kingdom, you gotta sell everything; Jesus said so. Poverty is the policy. So, Zacchaeus--you're out (half just won't do). All you women who say you follow Jesus and provide his needs--give it all to the poor or you're not a true follower of Jesus."

Can you imagine? I can. Because we do it all the time. We try to legislate people's paths. Rather than approaching people as varied as Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the rich young ruler, and others differently--personally and pastorally, according to their needs and gifts and so on--we strive for consistency and uniformity in conversion, discipleship, leadership, etc. Even though Jesus didn't seem to do that.

To some extent, at least, I think we are often motivated more by a desire to control than by faith. For example, take the woman who was caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). Jesus demonstrated compassion and forgiveness to her, and told her (after saving her from death by stoning) "Go and sin no more." But where was the follow up? He didn't prescribe a recovery group or accountability process. He showed what must seem to twenty-first-century church leaders a surprisingly lax attitude toward her conduct after that moment (see this post). Was anyone responsible for checking on her? Was there any strategy to make sure she didn't return to her sinful conduct? Or was it left up to her? Seriously?

To be fair, these incidents are not recorded in novelizations. The Gospel writers felt no need to tie up the loose ends of every encounter they recorded. But they do seem to contrast with the way we treat people today--as if laws and policies are more effective in changing lives than the living presence of the loving Christ.

I could be wrong. I'd probably like it better if I were.

Church of the Week: Westover Retirement Community "Chapel"

When my father, Vernon, was more ambulatory, I would pick him up at his digs in the Westover Retirement Community (just a few miles from my doorstep) and take him to church with me. However, these days that is nearly impossible, so he worships at home, in services conducted on site at Westover. 
One afternoon a week, the activity room at Westover transforms into a warm and welcoming chapel, complete with stained glass and other accoutrements. The service is well planned and well attended, and Pops rarely misses. 

I'm grateful for the thought and care given to this space and to the schedule by the good folks at Westover. It is not only my father's home these days, but his church as well.

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 36)

The pastor's desk pictured above is that of Rob Elliott, who will soon complete a successful ministry as senior pastor at Milford Bible Church in Connecticut before taking on new responsibilities as senior pastor at Calvary Bible Church in Nassau, Bahamas. Some guys get all the plum jobs.

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature on the Desperate Pastor blog, submit a single photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk--but no tidying up before taking the picture, mind you--to, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

Before Amen

Max Lucado never disappoints, and neither does his latest book--Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer. In his inimitable style and with his signature sensitivity, Lucado distills the prayers of the Bible into six short lines:
you are good.
I need help. Heal me and forgive me.
They need help.
Thank you.
In Jesus' name, amen.
He writes of prayer in such an inviting way that any reader will be likely not only to keep reading but also to begin praying. And that's the point, of course.

Lucado's take on Scripture has always resonated with me, and this book is no exception. His recreation of the wedding at Cana is delightful. His illustration of the scapegoat is impactful. His retelling of the parable of the friend at midnight is fun. And I enjoyed his handling of the familiar (and often misused) Revelation 3:20 ("I stand at the door and knock"):
Jesus waits on the porch. He stands on the threshold. He taps...and calls. He waits for you to open the door. To pray is to open it.
Even better, pre-ordering the book (see the button below) could net you not only a free copy of Lucado's book, Second Chances, but also a chance to win an iPad mini. But notice that you have to pre-order by September 29. Which I suggest you do. And then give the iPad mini you win to me. After all, I'm the one who told you about it.

Max Lucado Before Amen