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Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. –Exodus 20:8

It was one year ago today that the World Council of Churches met and made an audacious proposal to the rest of the world:

They suggested that we add an eighth day to the week.

Since it was their idea,  they decided to call the day “Sabbath-Day-OK-This-Time-We-Really-Mean-It”.

The scientists said “Sure, time is a human construction, and we can make it whatever we want.” So they eliminated January and February from the calendar, and did a few more tweaks here and there, and got us back to 365 days a year.

Non-churchgoers loved the idea of an extra long weekend every week. Business owners found that their productivity stayed strong as worker morale improved.  And as for  Christians, celebrating their “Sabbath-Day-OK-This-Time-We-Really-Mean-It”?

Attendance went down.

That’s right. Attendance figures just came out for the past year, and worship in American churches has dropped another tenth of a percent.

It would appear that with more time on the weekend people just did more stuff. More visiting with the grandkids. More time for yardwork. More camping trips or sleeping in.

A tired-looking president of the World Council of Churches issued a statement just moments ago:

“Well, fellow Christians, we tried. We cleared a whole extra day for you to keep the Sabbath, but you just keep doing other things! As of today I am resigning my position. I’m looking forward to a nice long break, and this weekend I plan to go visit my grandkids.”

Rumors of a proposed ninth day of the week movement has met with much criticism. As one Christian said, “Honestly? I think they could add five more Sabbaths every week and it still wouldn’t make a difference. Worship and rest is still a priority for people, but it’s just not the only priority, and not always on Sunday. I love to go to church, but I’ve got other things I want to do, too. So I do my best to balance it out.”

And so, the Eight Days A Week movement, as it has been called, was a success for everybody except the people who proposed it in the first place. Lately, there’s been talk about moving back to the old system. People miss Martin Luther King Jr Day and Valentine’s Day in particular.

As for my humble take on things, I think the church is going to be okay, and I think Christians are going to be okay, but not without some tough times along the way.  Our society has definitely steered away from notions of Holy rest and worship, things God says we clearly need.

I predict people will still gather for worship on the Sabbath, but maybe we need to focus our efforts towards teaching people how to be Holy…

on the other six days.

Or seven.

Whichever calendar you’re using.

Have a good week,

Mitch

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Hypocrite in Untraining

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“I do not sit with the deceitful, nor do I associate with hypocrites.”  –Psalm 26:4

“Yes, you do.”  –Mitch Todd

Is it true?  Are Christians hypocrites?

To find out, I followed someone home from church this week, just to see how hypocritical they actually were.

Here’s a summary of my findings:

  • On Sunday they were a model citizen, until they started shouting obscenities at the game on TV.
  • On Monday, they told their spouse about something from work, and made it sound like they were the hero, when they really weren’t.
  • On Tuesday, they turned the channel away from one of those “starving children” commercials, so they wouldn’t be convinced to give.
  • On Wednesday, they went well over the speed limit.
  • On Thursday, they didn’t tip a waitress, because she brought them the wrong drink.
  • On Friday, they visibly tensed up when someone who didn’t look like them brushed past them at the store.
  • On Saturday, they made a little too merry, and said a few things they probably shouldn’t have.

Nothing earth-shattering there, but everyone of those actions represents some type of hypocrisy.  As Christians, we’re not supposed to exaggerate, or turn a blind eye, or break the law, or treat others rudely, or act out of fear, or over-indulge, or speak carelessly. Right?

That (imaginary) church member should know better!

Every day we have an opportunity to represent Jesus Christ in this world, and every Sunday we declare our desire to do just that. And every week, in small ways and great big ways, we fall short.  We all do this.

Most of our shortcomings are the kinds of minor things anyone might do, but when Christians, who proclaim to live according to a higher authority do them, it’s a glaring misstep.  It’s hypocrisy at its finest.

Here’s the deal: Despite what many might think about our religion, we haven’t arrived at some perfect destination.  Rather, we’re on the journey of a lifetime.  A journey to become more and more like Christ.

Methodists call this sanctification.  To be made holy.  The journey has twists and turns, road-blocks, U-turns and slowdowns, but God willing, we grow in our faith.

We’re hypocrites in “untraining.”

It’s like a sign I made years ago. It said,

“Yes, I’m a Christian.
Yes, I’m a hypocrite.
Yes, I’m working on it.”

When others look at me, I want them to see a reflection of Christ.  But when I fail at that, I want them to see someone humble enough to admit it and try again.  Worship at its best instills in us that kind of humility.

On Sunday morning, when you come to church, don’t pretend to be something that you’re not.

Admit it–you’re a hypocrite!

But take a look around…

you’re in good company.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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NOTE:  As we continue prayers for Texas and the Houston area, I invite you to donate to the United Methodist Committee on Relief.  This organization is among the first on the ground and the last to leave when disaster strikes.  Donate through them by visiting UMCOR.

 

The Cheap Seats

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A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to do something pastors seldom do in their own church:

Nothing.

It was a special Sunday, Children’s Sabbath, and our children were running the whole show (with expert help from our staff).  I was, for once, superfluous on a Sunday morning so you know what I did?

I sat up in the balcony.

Each week I watch this crew of folks who choose to sit in the balcony.  Lots of kids, laid back parents, folks who seemed to take things a little casually.

I decided I wanted to see what it was like to just be a spectator–an audience member up in the cheap seats, so I climbed up, sat down, got comfortable, and discovered that I was wrong about the whole thing.

I was wrong about worship in the balcony.  I hadn’t fully realized that it was a holy place of worship just like any other place.

If I truly wanted to do “nothing” that Sunday, I was in the wrong place.  There was nothing superfluous up here.   No audience members or spectators.   Only worshippers in our balcony.

In fact, the unique perspective added to the experience.  We were hovering down over the worship leaders and the rest of the congregation — I’d call it an angelic perspective.

We stood and sang at the hymns, we prayed at the prayers and we listened to the sermon, just like anybody else. But from our vantage point the whole sanctuary was laid out before us.

It was quite beautiful, really.

I always wanted to sit in the “cheap seats” because it looked like fun.

Turns out it offered the richest of worship experiences.

Have a Great Week,

Mitch

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AttenDance.

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It’s the newest sensation that’s sweeping the nation.

I call it “The AttenDance”.

Here’s how you do it:

You go to church a couple Sunday’s a month,

and on the other weeks, you don’t.

On those off weeks, you dance around to 101 different activities.

Watching the kids do sports.  Or watching the NFL.

Grocery shopping.  Or sleeping in after a jam-packed Saturday.

Visiting family outside of town.  Or getting caught up on housework.

The AttenDance may look different depending on who does it, but more and more active Christians are trying it out.

The result:  Average worship attendance numbers are dropping almost everywhere.   (Giving may be down, too.)

With so many Christians — even self-professed active and committed Christians– missing so much time in worship, the change I wonder most about is to the vitality of Sunday morning.

What happens when we’re not all together in one place?

You know, like at Pentecost?

The Bible tells us that the disciples were all together in one place–filled with the Holy Spirit, dancing around.

Was Pentecost a reward for perfect attendance?

Will the Holy Spirit still come to us even if some of us are dancing off somewhere else?

Of course!  Jesus said, “Where 2 or 3 are gathered”…right?

Absolutely.

Okay.  We all have real-world and spiritual priorities to reconcile in our own ways.

We live in a busy world, and Sundays have become just as busy as other days.

Does that mean The AttenDance will stick around or is it just the latest fad?

I really don’t know.

Some will say we need to “come back to church”.

Others will say we need to “change with the times.”

I say, let us never forget

that wherever we find ourselves on a Sunday morning…

We’re together in Spirit.

 

Have a great week,

 

Mitch

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Announcing: The UMFL!

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–Lawrence, Kansas

In a surprise move, the United Methodist Church announced this week that it will launch a new semi-professional football league in time for the 2014 season.  The UMFL will begin in the newly formed Great Plains Conference, which encompasses all of Kansas and Nebraska.

Rev. Mitch Todd was one of the organizers of the league.  The idea, he said, came from equal parts frustration and innovation.

“2013 has been a fantastic year for Chiefs football (The Kansas City NFL franchise), but it’s definitely hurt our attendance.”

Once Todd and other area pastors recognized that Sunday football was the primary reason for the reduction of Sunday morning worshippers, they put their heads together, and the UMFL was born.

“Right now we have 16 churches signed up for next fall,” Rev. Todd said. “We invited any church to join.  Thankfully Church of the Resurrection (a 15,000 member mega-church in Kansas City) politely declined.  They already have several Chiefs on their rolls.  They would have wiped the floor with us.”

“Basically,” Rev. Todd explained, “we’d have football on Sunday mornings, instead of regular church.  We’ll start with tailgating, then have a short coffee hour, and then have the game.”

When asked about actual worship and Sunday School, Todd turned reflective.

“Oh yeah.  Worship.  Sunday School.”  He looked off into the distance, wistful for a moment, and then his smile came back.

“Did I mention that every church will come up with a crazy mascot to run around the sidelines?  The kids will love it.”

Rev. Todd says if things go off as planned, the UMFL will be a fun and economical sporting event for the whole family.

“I predict a 40% growth in attendance,” he announces.

While some see the idea as an effective way to bring more fans to church, others are skeptical about the loss of a regular opportunity to both reflect and act upon the presence of God in one’s own life and world.

God, when reached for comment, had this to say:

“I never miss worship.  It’s one of the high points of my week.  I’m sure Rev. Todd means well, but I would never want church to go away!  It’s where my children gather.  It’s quality time, with me.  I guess you could say it’s where we’re all on the same team.

“Now, I’m also a football fan.  Love it.  I don’t want to miss a single play if church runs long…”

“And that’s why I created…

the DVR.”

😉

Have a great week,

Mitch

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