Eight years ago today...

I moved from my comfortable surroundings of rural Cleveland, Tennessee to the raging metropolis of Chicago, Illinois!

That was EIGHT YEARS AGO today! Wow, what a ride it has been.

I feel like I have lived here for much longer than just eight measly years!

God has been good! Life has been "interesting"--for lack of a more "bland" word that doesn't insist on further description.

Yes, it's "my kind of town."

Church Issue #3: Non-Abusing Churches

I wish I could say that my journey as a Christ-follower has been flawless, or almost near-flawless.

Alas, I cannot.

And neither can you.

One of the things that deeply troubles my spirit is the way some "local church" leaders carry out their "ministry." I have heard and seen way too many situations where the leadership was downright abusive to the parishioners under their care. I know of one pastor who absolutely will 'trash' anyone who dares to disagree with any given point that he proposes.

It is truly sad. Many good people have left that congregation, because they did not have the freedom to "disagree" with anything. I made the mistake of telling this pastor that I was responsible for maintaining my own household, paying my bills, working a full-time job, and making sure that "personal things" were accomplished. This pastor couldn't understand why I did not spend "every single available minute" at the "church doing things."

And I caught the "wrath" when I just couldn't take the abuse and deception any more.

I've seen it happen to many people in FAR TOO MANY places.

I've also seen "abusive congregations" who are terribly difficult on every staff person who ever comes to serve them. I've seen congregations who will withhold their offerings and tithes just because they don't like the pastor, or something the he/she has said, or supposedly done.

I've seen congregations who absolutely didn't want "those kind of people in our church"--and refused to entertain the thought that maybe GOD HIMSELF had brought the "undesirables" (in their estimation, not mine) to them.

It's time for the "church" to stop abusing itself. It's time for pastors and others in leadership to think about "God's sheep in their care"--not their sheep...but GOD'S SHEEP.

It's time for local churches to stop abusing the "shepherds" whom God brings to them. This is GOD'S SERVANT....not "your hireling."

A couple of years ago I was privileged to speak in a local congregation where a friend of mine is the senior pastor. Afterwards, one of the parishioners cornered me to tell me about how certain "people in this church" had abused their families, their positions, and their reputations.

I hurt for that person (whether they were telling me the truth or not), and I hurt for that local church.

I've been around 'the church' all my life. I know how wonderfully helpful and healing the "local church" can be. And sadly, I have experienced how very harmful and damaging and abusive the local church can be as well.

So one of the great "Church issues" in my opinion, is that we (the church) become "non-abusive"--and we can do it.

I know we can.

Church Issue #2 Authenticity and Integrity

I believe that "authenticity" and "integrity" go hand in hand. They really can't be separated, in my opinion. "Sista" OPRAH may not join these two terms together, but Scripture does.

We only need to look at the New Testament models of the Church (in the NEW TESTAMENT, of course) and we will see what it means to be truly "authentic." Authenticity isn't a difficult concept to understand. But, to hear contemporary culture tell it, "being authentic" is a tremendously difficult principle to live out in daily life.

What made the New Testament Church(es) models of authenticity?

1. They gathered together regularly (that "community" phrase again) for worship, prayer, meals, fellowship among other things.

2. They (the New Testament followers of Christ) were continually learning and growing in their ability to "follow the Lord". Their entire "relationship" with Christ was one of "following Him" and doing it with absolute obedience. Of course there are numerous examples of those who didn't "follow Christ" with absolute obedience--one need only read the Book of Acts, and the rest of the New Testament.

3. These Christ followers realized that their lives were not their own. Living in "community" was more than just being a "collection of individuals." It was "being the people of God"--people who are called out, and called together, and called heavenward. It meant realizing that we really are just "pilgrims and strangers" here on this earth.

4. Integrity was a way of life. And when any "follower" compromised their integrity, it was the responsibility of the church to gently, yet firmly called that Christ-follower back to the place of authenticity and integrity. Church discipline was not a "novel concept" that leaders were afraid to use.

What troubles me now is the very feeling/idea/concept that the "church" is nothing more than a very religious social club, and we like to welcome people in when we get bored with each other. It's a nice social club, but nonetheless a social club. Nothing tremendously different, or life-giving, or life-transforming.

Instead of having altars of repentance and weeping, now we just have "prayer partners" in case someone has a "spiritual issue that you want to talk about." Instead of preaching against greed, hording, selfishness, gossip, and personal sin, it's just so much easier to talk about the "national issues facing us in this election." (And I firmly believe THOSE ISSUES should be preached from the pulpit and preached ONLY from the biblical perspective.).

Instead of accountability, we really want people to "mind their own business." And the sins, struggles, failures in my life ARE "your business" if I am part of your family.

Whether I like it or not.

It's time be people of integrity and authenticity again.

Church Issue # 1: Community...

I've been in "the church" all of my life. Really, I have.
I came to Christ as a small child, and have faithfully desired to follow Him ever since that time almost 40 years ago....I've not been anything close to "perfect"--many times failing and falling from the "way"...but God in His grace has always seen me through.

One of the things that I glean from the Scriptures is that we Christ-followers really do belong to each other. This is not a difficult concept to "understand"--yet it seems, in our contemporary culture, supremely difficult to "live out." And I'm not even sure that I "understand" it as fully as I should.

We are "called out" from the world of sin, and transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God's Son, the kingdom of light. This makes Christ-followers a very special breed, indeed. It also means that Christ-followers have a new identity, a new family, and a new blood line. We really do belong to each other.

But, one would hardly notice this "belongingness" in contemporary society. Some of us are contented (or maybe a better word is "resigned to") seeing So-and-So on Sunday mornings, and exchanging small talk. We never really have a "connection" with them any of the other 166 hours during the regular week. We know little, if anything, about them. We continually exchange our "pleasantries" or our "politenesses" every week...

And we think that we are "community."

Maybe, we are more "good, occasional acquaintenances."

To face all that the people of God will be challenged with in the coming days, we must become MORE than just casual commarades in the "church family." We must become tightly-knitted together. We must know more about each other.

We must weep with those who weep. We must rejoice with those who rejoice!

We really do need each other.

More than 20 years ago, then-Pastor Chuck Swindoll preached a powerful message entitled "People of Refuge."

While I won't rehash the entire message here, let me say this:

We are all we've got. The family of God is the most precious possession in my life. Fame, fortune, recognition, ability, or anything else will NEVER replace the preciousness of this "family" in my life.

We really do need each other. And in the coming days, we will see just how much.

The State of the Church in 2008

Not too long ago, I wrote several posts about what I consider to be the "major national issues" facing the United States in 2008, as well as in the near future. While some folks agree/disagree with me, I just wanted to go "on the record" with how I feel about some of the more "pressing" items in the life of this nation.

But now, I want to explore the "state of the Church in 2008." What are the "real issues" facing the "Body of Christ"--those redeemed, blood-bought Followers of Jesus Christ in our contemporary society?

This post won't be as long as mine usually are (not that I'm ever overly wordy, by the way). I just want those of you who read my "blog" to respond on what you consider to be the "major issues" "challenges" facing the church now and in the very near future.

I'll write more...this week...I promise.


A few years ago, someone gave me one of the most valuable gifts I've ever received. My good friend presented me an autographed copy of Healing the Masculine Soul by Gordon Dalby. And I'm still trying to process many of the concepts that Gordon presented.

On my way to the gym this morning, I was thinking about some of the "wounds" in my own soul--and how my life has been influenced by these "things" or "scars" or whatever else one could call them.

And sitting here today, I've been thinking about how most people have "wounds" in their lives...and the real issue becomes not the "woundedness" but what one does once they are in "recovery."

Think about Michael Phelps. YES, THAT MICHAEL PHELPS!

This marvelous athlete didn't grow up in the "lap of luxury" from all indications. He grew up in a single parent home (which is better than a NO parent home), and was diagnosed early on with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Many folks thought he would be mediocre at best.

And he's ANYTHING but mediocre. He can now claim the title of being the BEST OLYMPIAN of all time! He has exhibited that attitude of humility, confidence, gratitude, and great poise....all at the same time. And he's one INCREDIBLE swimmer on top of all that!

But we don't have to look to the field of "star athletes" to find "wounded" folks. I can start by simply looking in the mirror (which reminds me of another story, but then again MOST things remind me of a story). The "wounded" man I see in the mirror can overcome the worst obstacles that are placed in his path. But he must want to overcome them. Simply wishing it were so---or even wishing it were different, accomplishes nothing.

The Lord helps us overcome...because HE has overcome death, hell, and the grave. We can overcome the "wounds" because He was WOUNDED for us.

Starting today, I plan to "overcome" all the wounds I find in my life.

Starting today.

Yes, I'm getting back into shape....

I decided (a while back, actually) that "round" is not the SHAPE that I wanted to define my life.

Six days ago, I started getting back "into shape" i.e., getting in a good exercise routine/workout. Strengthening my cardiovascular organs, strengthening my legs and arms, strengthening my back/chest/abdomen, and trying to look younger than I am.

Yes, I'm sore.

Very sore. I woke up this morning, and had to make REAL effort to get out of bed, and into the hot shower, to warm up my sore muscles.

I'm no athlete...but I do want to get myself in much better physical condition than where I currently find myself.

After all these years, it's ABOUT TIME...

that I get my flabby self back into shape.

And I started this morning. Really, I did! I actually got up and was in the local "gym" before 5:45 a.m.

A new "Cardinal Fitness" center opened one block from my apartment. I watched it go up several months ago...and when they had open membership registration, I was one of the first to "sign up." And the gym actually opened today.

I was there early...and I got a pretty good workout (for beginners, of course). I stayed until 6:30 a.m. I spent about 20 minutes on the treadmill, about 10 on the elliptical, and did some of the weight machines.

I'm actually very pleased with myself so far. I have committed to go to the "gym" five mornings a week--Monday through Friday. I might go on Saturdays, and I'm definitely NOT going on Sundays.

But this is the first day of a "brand new me."

So, here's what I want ALL OF YOU to do: Keep me accountable! Make sure that you ask if I have been "faithful" in my commitment to "fitness."

I need this to be a reality in my life.

Just because I am 40-something doesn't mean I have to look the part.

Well, not THAT part at least.

Mr and Mrs Jeff Knapp: Congratulations!

A first for me:
Last Saturday, I had the awesome responsibility and HIGH privilege of being the "food manager" for the wedding of my great friend Jeff Knapp and his new wife, Melody.

Jeff and I have been friends for almost 8 years now. He is now 40 years old, and happily married so far!

The wedding was performed at The Moody Church (www.moodychurch.org), where Jeff and Melody are both active members. It is also my home church as well.

About a month ago, I offered my cooking skills and services to this wonderful couple--just a way of showing them how much I love them both, and how thrilled I am for their decision to "unite."

It was alot of work...ALOT of work, saints!

It was alot of fun too.

Whatever could go wrong in the first floor kitchen at the church--it did!

But the Lord helped me (us) through it all, and the Reception Buffet was flawless and seamless. I praise the Lord for that!

Someone came over and asked, "Phil, if you get married, who is going to cook for you?" My immediate answer, without even hesitating, was, "We'll all go to Cracker Barrel."

But I want to congratulate my wonderful, wonderful friends, Mr and Mrs Jeff Knapp.

May the Lord bless your marriage in every possible way.

Living SINGLE in a "Doubles Church"...

I am a "never married, no kids" very educated, military veteran. I'm very, very single--and have no "aching in my soul" for that "ideal woman." While I wholeheartedly endorse the institution of marriage, and believe that God created a wonderful thing in the marriage relationship, I am happily single.

In another forum, I posed this topic: "Living Single in a Doubles Church"....Here is just one of the responses that I received:
Ninety eight percent of the churches you see do NOT know what to do with a single individual. You let a Barbie and Ken couple with two or three kids drive up in a mini-van and three kids bail out-they will be all over them-the church is designed for them.

Go over a pastor's preaching schedule and you'll find at least half of it devoted to The Christian Home, raising kids, family day, Back to School Day, a Big Family Christmas sermon, Church Family Thanksgiving Supper. Then there's Father's Day-where they recognize all the dads and Mothers Day- and it goes on and on.

Since I left my pastorate and I don't have duties on Sunday AM I've taken occasion to visit a couple of churches incognito-and you would be SURPRISED at the reception I get as a single man coming in, compared to the reception I get when I carry a wife and two teenage daughters in with me. It's just the way it is-at most churches.

Families are the dual-income tithers, they are the ones who pump the numbers and only take up one parking space. They look better on State Reports, speaking of which actually call Wednesday night Family Training Hour.

Basically Phil-a single is a pariah. We don't want you in our church because you can do little for us.
While I understand that the last statement was "tongue in cheek"...I often wonder how many "local churches" really do feel this way about their single congregants.

Here is my response to this person:
I'm glad that you labeled me a "pariah"....even though it is NO WHERE near the truth.... "you can do little for us"---oh, is that a fact?

Who else is going to head up the kitchen committee for the Sunday evening fellowship time after service (i.e, this means being at the church ALL day on Sunday...and spending the afternoon preparing for the "fellowship time" after the service).

Who else is going to help "give out a bottle of cold water" in the name of the Lord to all the "joggers" and "runners" who pass by the church neighborhood on a hot Saturday, or early Sunday morning?

Who else is going to take "vacation time" and work in Vacation Bible School five mornings a week...serving almost 300 kids?

Who else is going to help organize the "food and social time" after a large men's gathering of some 400 people on a Friday night in the dead middle of winter?

Who else will step up and fill in the last male part of an ensemble at the last minute on a Sunday that is already crammed full of activities--and lunch is probably NOT one of those activities..

Who else will be there to make the coffee for the entire Church (or those that will get there for Sunday School) at 6:15 a.m. on "Chicago Marathon Sunday"--the marathon runs right in front of the church...so getting to the facilities early is a MUST.

Yep, that is me...."Brother Pariah"...oops, aka Phil...and other single people that serve the Lord and their local churches faithfully, week in and out...

The only ones bothered by "singleness" seems to be those who are not single anymore.

Go figure.

What do you think?