A Church That Makes a Practical Difference


My wife comes from an Evangelical Friends background, a splinter group of the Quakers. Her experience was always with the more doctrinally solid and conservative part and less with the group known for social action and a more liberal theology.

But curiosity is a powerful lure, and early in our marriage we attended an “inner light” Quaker service just to see what it was like.

For about an hour, people sat quietly, communing with God, listening. From time to time the silence would be broken by someone who felt led of God to share  a spiritual insight. Also, people would stand and request prayer for various issues or needs, some of which were quite personal and sad. The group would then pray for them.

Say what you will about this more liberal sect of Quakerism, but I was struck by the simple truth that time was given for people to share real needs.

I know far too many Evangelical Christians whose churches are not aware of their suffering. Creating a safe place for sharing those needs and getting them addressed in prayer and with practical action would seem like a lifeblood activity of any local church. Why then is it so rare?

People with needs are often afraid to confess those needs before the church for the following reasons:

Pride, as their invincibility and bootstrapping will be shaken

Fear, as someone will certainly question their faith

Disappointment, because they anticipate that nothing will be done because nothing ever is

Resignation, because they asked once before and were rebuffed

I once told an Internet friend who had been out of work for a long time and suffering greatly that he should stand up in the middle of his church service one day and just say, “I need a job. Can any of you help?” I suggested to another that he call a well-known parachurch ministry in his area that is always talking about how men must be the breadwinner in order to be good Christians and ask them, “What jobs do you have available for me to do so I can be the man you insist I must be? I can report to work tomorrow.”

The sad thing about both those cases is that neither the church nor the parachurch ministry would encourage that kind of confession. But if not the Church, then who?

Every church should have a time on Sunday morning to allow people to share their needs. I don’t care if it takes an hour to run through all those needs, the whole church needs to hear them. Because no one knows who sitting in those pews might have the immensely practical solution that confessor needs. And church leaders need to stop thinking that they alone can handle all these problems and start turning them back to the laity.

Even more, the church needs to take a Sunday now and then to have those people who confessed a need update the church on how that need did or didn’t get met. That allows the whole church to see what God is doing. And isn’t that exactly what a lot of us need to hear? Doesn’t it seem that sometimes the only places God is working are in some distant land? That’s not at all true, but the way we bury both needs and the rejoicing in met needs, we in the seats just don’t hear enough of either to think much of this Christianity thing we do. How sad!

None of this is rocket science. It takes no great leap or huge bankroll to make happen. Every church in America could start this Sunday. We just have to do it.

Resisting Your Own Little World for the Sake of the Kingdom


Tim Challies linked to an interesting article that reflects a topic I’ve discussed in depth: technology’s attack on genuine community. A good article, worthy of your time and consideration.

Toward the article’s end, one educational scientist, William Kist of Kent State University, makes an intriguing statement:

[Kist] also pointed out that the “real world” that many social media critics hark back to never really existed. Before everyone travelled on the bus or train with their heads buried in an iPad or a smart phone, they usually just travelled in silence. “We did not see people spontaneously talking to strangers. They were just keeping to themselves,” Kist said.

Many Christian writers/thinkers/pastors/bloggers talk about community, but rarely have I heard any of them discussing what Kist states above.

That ability to engage a stranger is foundational to any healthy society. And it goes beyond simple transactional engagement, such as asking the butcher for pound of ground chuck.

As Kist notes, in the days before the proliferation of tech devices that wired us into our own little worlds, people were already in that world, we just couldn’t see it. Lonely in a crowdI would contend that industrialization and social Darwinism abetted that transformation long ago, as we heartily received the false gospels of self-sufficiency and survival of the fittest.

Ours has become an “I don’t need you” society where people fight over scraps. Witness how easily a simple pending snowstorm turns grocery shoppers into frightened hoarders because their self-sufficiency is briefly threatened.

I honestly believe we can counter some of that mentality if we break out of our little worlds.

I was that guy on the plane flight who was chatty with the people in my row. I’m told that makes me a nuisance, but that was before everyone was plugged into a computer, iPad, iPod, Blackberry, or whatever. And you know, I never once had a conversation with rowmates that wasn’t fascinating. Nor did I ever get the feeling that those in the conversation resented the chat.  People did open up. In fact, most people would leave the plane laughing or smiling after such a talk. Made the flight go faster too.

What got me was that just talking with a stranger opened up a level of connection that most people now avoid like the plague. Tech only makes it more obvious. (I would tend to disagree with Kist, in part, because a person with a gadget truly is less likely to engage another, lost as they are in their cyberworld. People may have been silent in the past, but that was only because they’d been acclimatized by conditioning to be so. Now, it’s supplemented.)

Those conversations I have on planes (and in checkout lines, buses, sporting events—wherever) have meaning. They tie people together and remind us that we’re not only NOT self-suffucient but that other people have worth, that their stories matter in the larger story of God’s redemptive history.

This brings me to my final point.

I’ve been wondering why Christians today are so lousy at personal evangelism, and I believe these issues play right into that. If we can’t engage people, if we aren’t the ones who break the silence, then no one will hear about Jesus.

I’m constantly amazed at the personal details I hear from strangers I engage. The young woman running my bag of carrots over the grocery store scanner has a story. And if I talk with her, I may find out her husband just left her and the kid to fend for themselves. Or that her mom just died of cancer.

For those of us who are Christians, how can we be silent? How can we be buried in an iPad when the drama of the lives of broken, shattered people plays out around us?

Do you think Jesus has anything to say through your lips to that young woman whose husband just left? Does He have anything to offer her after her mom died right when she needed her most?

Each day, our opportunities to lead lost people to Jesus are legion. How can we possibly be silent, to let others pass by trapped in a world they can’t understand, while we who claim to know the answers dwell in our own little world, oblivious?

How God Is


On Thursday, my family and I drove up to Columbus, Ohio, to meet up with a friend of mine from my Carnegie Mellon University days back in the early ’80s. That’s a long time to know someone, but old friends are often the best friends of all. The last time Bob and I got together in person was at my wedding 13 years ago, so it has been awhile. Still, we have kept up by phone, email, and now Facebook.

The crux of our getting together this time was another wedding, his. Though we were not able to make the ceremony, as we do not travel well at this time, I was relieved that he and bride Christin would be only two hours away as part of their honeymoon. That WAS doable.

What I didn’t realize until the morning of the meeting was that Bob and Christian were attending the Origins Gaming Fair, the big convention for fans of role-playing games, boardgames, military strategy games, and…well, most any kind of game out there. I’ve never seen so many gaming fans together in one place. Our son was with us, and I knew he would eat up all the fun stuff going in within the many rooms of the convention center, and indeed, we had a blast.

But it wasn’t on the convention floor that I was most blessed.

As it was a meeting to celebrate a wedding, we brought a gift. I thought about that gift a long time and was able to find exactly what I was looking for to give to Bob and Christin. When we met, they were waiting there with a gift in their hands, too, something I did not expect.

Bob asked me to open the bag—inside was something very special.

When I was still in my youth, my brothers and I had a copy of an aerial combat game called Ace of Aces. By using an innovative game mechanic, two people with the small, paired, illustrated books of maneuvers could participate in a real-time dogfight. The game was brilliantly simple, and I loved playing it. And if I loved it, I knew my son would, too.

Sadly, though it was highly regarded, the many Ace of Aces variants are all out of print. Copies sold online command very high prices. I know; I checked. It seemed to me that my son and I would have to pass up playing this game together.

When I opened up the gift bag from Bob and Christin, I found a copy of Ace of Aces. It had been the copy that Bob and his son (now an adult) had played. I couldn’t believe it.

Walking back to my car to safely stow this wonderful gift, I got a tear in my eye. I kept thinking that this is how God is with us. We seek to bless Him, but what He blesses us with in response is much more than we can imagine. Just as my friend had been paying attention to a comment I made on Facebook about searching for this game, God hears us and plans great things for our pleasure, because He loves us so very much.

God cares about our needs, but He also cares about our joy. A little game I can play with my son may not seem like an earthshattering thing, but its an example of God’s goodness in even the smallest things.

After we left Bob and Christin, we met up with a Cerulean Sanctum supporter, Travis, one of the longest-running readers of this blog, A gift from God, one of millions...and someone I had not had the pleasure of meeting face to face. We ate together in a nearly deserted Bob Evans, and we talked about his new daughter. Just some regular folks hanging out and talking about life. Driving home, my family and I saw a rainbow. Last night, we watched two baby finches, whose nest was in our hanging fern outside, take their first flights and disappear into our woods. On a sweltering evening, we felt the first cool breezes of an oncoming nightfall before the stars came out thick and bright, the Milky Way lighting up the sky.

God cares about us and shows it in a million little ways each day. My prayer is that you can find the time to exult in those blessings and realize how much you are loved.

Be blessed and cultivate joy. It’s all around you.