Sunday, August 28, 2016

God Said, "No"

I had always wanted to be a writer, practically from the first time I learned that one could take those letters we were being taught and shape them into words, which could be gathered together into sentences with which to create stories someone would want to read.

So I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. And I read and I read and I studied how those who wrote the things I liked to read wrote. Why does this sentence work? Why was this detail revealed here and not elsewhere? Besides teachers and profs, my instructors were L'Amour and Lewis, Christie and Faulkner, Hillerman and Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Tolkien, and hundreds more.

And I prayed.

I prayed for over 40 years that God would use my writings for his glory and the support of my family. And God said, "No."
With my last work, "The Last Valley" trilogy, I prayed and researched and wrote my best work, each sentence carefully chosen to advance the story and convey the message that I thought God had given me. I worked to pour layer after layer of heart and metaphor into the tale in hopes that I had finally written what the best thing I had ever written.

God said, "No."

I put out fleece and the answer God gave me was, "No."

There was a time when--one month of March and one month only--I sold over 200 copies of my books. I prayed that was the start I had been praying for, but it was a sales height never reached again, apparently a fluke. Two years later, after constant prayer that I would be the writer that I was supposed to be and that my books would "take off", I was selling 3-5 books a month. I advertised, I used social media, I even tried eschewing those things and "leaving it in God's hands".

So I put out fleece. I prayed from the beginning of the year that during March I would sell 100 books. If I didn't, I would accept that God did not want me to be a writer.

Boy, did God say, "No!"

In March, I sold 4 books. Not 100. Not 10. 4.

I am no longer a writer. Maybe I never was. Not a good one, anyway. I wanted to be a writer, a novelist. Maybe I was good but …

But God said, "No."

Friday, August 19, 2016

Good Listener

I am known as a "good listener".

I am not.

What I am is quiet.  For most people, that seems to be enough. In this world, people are looking--mostly in vain--to find someone who will allow them to complete their own thoughts. Barring that, at least a single sentence. I do that: I sit silently while they speak and don't interrupt until they're done, so people assume that I'm listening.

Or, they just like the appearance that I'm listening. Because everywhere else they go in life, someone finishes their sentences for them.

Why do people do this? Is it because the other person is talking too slowly? Maybe, but probably not. The real reason we interrupt each other is not to help them along but because we think whatever we have to say--even about their own personal thought--is more important than what they were going to say.

Whether it were accurate or not, I remember reading a book years ago about how the Indians--when they gathered in a teepee or wigwam or whatever--considered it very bad form to interrupt another speaker. So one man, usually one of the older ones, would speak and everyone else in the teepee would be silent until he stopped speaking. When he finished, someone else would speak. And, supposedly, they would speak in such a way as to show they respected the previous speaker by accurately quoting him and/or responding to what he said. This could go on for some time because everyone got their turn to speak and everyone was respectful--even of opinions they disagreed with.

I'm pretty sure such a process would kill most everyone I know. We interrupt, we talk over, we make arguments that have no bearing on the conversation, we plan our next statement without hearing out the current speaker, and we leave knowing far less about the topic at hand than we could have if we had swallowed our pride and ... listened.

I get the feeling that these people who compliment me on being a good listener don't, in the main, care whether I actually listened to them or not. They just wanted to speak and were glad someone let them.

So go ahead and speak.

I'm listening.

Or quiet.

And do you really care which?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Why I Prefer the Prequels to Episode 7

OK, I know my title is already causing some readers to object and/or question my sanity. I realized that when I wrote it. I didn’t want to write some cutesy blog where-in I bury the lead somewhere near the bottom. So, just in case there’s some doubt, let me assure you that:

                --yes, I really do prefer the prequels to episode 7; and
                --yes, I am talking about the “Star Wars” movies.

In our culture, saying you like something over something else—especially when discussing anything even vaguely art-related like movies, books, paintings or music—far too many people assume that what’s really being said is, “I like that one and hate this one.” So no, I didn’t hate Star Wars 7 (sometimes called “The Force Awakens”). I even saw it in the theater three times and I liked it more each time. Overall, though, I think my opinion of it is best summed-up by someone I overheard while exiting the theater following my second viewing, “Well, that was the seventh-best Star Wars movie I’ve ever seen.”

I am not here to bury or praise Caesar, or SW7, for that matter. I might get to what I liked and didn’t like about it—depending on how I’m feeling in a few minutes—but my first focus is to give some basic reasons why I liked the prequels. [Notice: there’s an assumption here that the original trilogy is almost universally liked. Of course, some people don’t like it at all but, among us die-hard StarWarsians, the original trilogy is very well thought of. I find this interesting because, from about 1984-1998 I frequently read articles by people who didn’t like “Return of the Jedi”. Then, they had something else to throw aspersions at, so “Jedi” fell into good graces and poor Richard Marquand finally got to rest easy in his grave.]

But I liked the prequels. I even (this will make some more heads explode and I don’t really care because I doubt their loss will negatively affect the gene pool in any way) liked Jar-Jar Binks. I didn’t want more of him, but I thought he did what he was supposed to do: provide some slap-stick and comic relief for the kids. I remember when my children first saw The Phantom Menace. They were enthralled with all of it, but got a special kick out of this goofy, gangly, funny-talking Gungan. Was he Shakesperean? Of course not. But for my money, he was far less annoying that C3PO is in any given appearance of the golden droid.

Which isn’t to say I ever wanted to do bodily damage to good ol’ 3PO. He’s funny, he’s occasionally helpful, but he is always rather prissy, like an upbeat Marvin. R2D2 is cool, of course, and I think it’s clear that the movies generally hold him back. (Was this the real reason he has such a limited role in 7? The fear that he would take over?)

People complain about the politics of the prequels; namely: there’s too much politics in the prequels. I never have shared that complaint. Were the debates in the Senate as interesting as, say, watching Darth Maul get de-lowerhalfatated? No, but they weren’t supposed to be. George Lucas had created this grand saga about a whole galaxy and the politics of that galaxy informed the action. Back when Governor Tarkin said the Emperor had dissolved the Senate, we all wondered what the Senate was—how did it operate? if it existed at all, how does a ruler disperse with it and still keep things together? didn’t those who were disbanded object? And then, when we saw the Emperor in “Jedi” (and glimpsed through hologram in “Empire”), we wondered, “How’d that creepy-looking freak get to be in charge?!” We’d heard rumors about Obi-Wan fighting Darth Vader on the edge of a volcano, but what happened to that old dude?

And, as I watch through the prequels (and read the books about George’s early drafts of all of the 6 original movies), I see an overarching story, with themes that rhyme (Eps 5&2 rhyme, then 6&1, then 3&4 tie up the poem) and the decades-long story of a galaxy’s change-everything war told through the eyes of a single family (and their droids).

I even like the dialogue in the prequels. Where some people complain—to the point of seemingly giving themselves bowel problems—about the dialogue between Anakin and Padme, I am impressed as a writer with what Lucas attempted. It’s just the typical story of the girl from the right side of the tracks who’s falling for the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks/galaxy. Do people really talk like that? No, but that’s the point: this isn’t southern California. These are a royal and a knight on a far off world. They’re not supposed to talk like the people you live next to! Did Lucas perfectly capture what he was going for there? Maybe not fully, but that brings me to a point where I have to mention 7.

Some of the things I have just mentioned that I liked in the prequels, I find missing in 7. Now, maybe, when 8 & 9 are out I’ll look back at 7 and see that it wasn’t just the world’s longest trailer, but was actually a quality launch-point for an inventive and well-told trilogy. Right now, though, I’m looking back at the prequels and seeing that Lucas tried (and, for me, succeeded) in both filling in a back-story and staying true to an incredible vision and I compare that to 7, which strikes me as the best …

I keep thinking back to a friend I had back in elementary school who lived down the street. He came from a rough home (pretty sure there was some abuse there) and loved to find solace by escaping into Star Trek, Space 1999, etc. When Star Wars came out, it became his world for several years. We both had a few action figures (which would be worth nothing now because we played with them ‘til they fell apart) and he had this idea of taking an 8mm movie camera and making a stop-motion version of “Star Wars” with our figures. Not a new story. He was mapping out how to create every scene from what would later be called “A New Hope”. It was going to be nothing more than a remake, a tribute, with no originality at all—at least as far as story went.

We went our separate ways in junior high, but it dawned on me while watching 7 that maybe my friend finally got his wish because someone went and made the best fan-boy copy-movie ever. With millions of dollars and the world’s best special effects guys (apparently), they went out and created a really beautiful tribute to (mostly) “A New Hope” with nods to “Empire” and “Jedi” thrown in. Even the official magazines of the movie tell of how the director and co-writer of the movie walked around NYC and Paris, talking about the movie and I picture one of them saying, “Remember that scene with the mynoks in ‘Empire’?” and then the other guy says, “Yeah! Let’s make the mynock bigger and put it on the front of the ship!” And on and on they went until they had created a visually stunning but creatively rehashed movie. Instead of continuing the poetry, if I may mix metaphors, it seems more like they’re just a really good cover band that just can’t quite capture the magic of the original song.
It’s making millions of dollars. Billions, even. People love it. “Rey” will probably jump up to the top 10 of names for little girls and “Finn” will be in the top 20 for boys and the percentage of people naming their sons “Poe” will jump from .000001 to .000002 overnight.

But I still like the prequels better than 7. When Obi-Wan says that what they’re going to do with the obvious trap is spring it (right after what gets my vote for the best space-battle ever filmed), I get a smile just thinking about it. As the pod-race goes on a little too long, I still crank up the sound to feel that thump-thump-thump noise in my chest. As the Jedi prove to be far more vulnerable than we had thought on Geonosis, I wonder why we’re surprised when Obi-Wan told us long ago that the Jedi were all but extinct—they had to have lost somewhere along the line and lost big.

I think it comes down to the fact that George Lucas’s vision caught my imagination, through all six movies but, to re-use my metaphor from earlier, the work of this cover band is good for a cover band, but it’s not really the way I want to hear the song.

In case you’re curious—and I can’t imagine why you would be, but since you’ve read this far—the “Star Wars” movies arranged in order of my preference would be 4-5-3-2-6-1-7. The order I usually watch them in is still 4-5-6-1-2-3 (and then 4-5-6 again) though there’s something to be said for the idea of watching them 4-5-1-2-3-6, as if 1-2-3 are Anakin flashing back to what led him to that moment where he hacked off his son’s hand.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

An Open and Honest Discussion

                Or, “Give me what I want, not what I asked for.”

It happened again.  Another article about some person who has left the main-stream church—or, in this case, church entirely—and is hoping that their speaking out will cause churches to finally talk about the issues, or have a dialogue, or some such contemporary catch phrase.

Yes, I am treating their desire lightly.  Because I have serious doubts that it’s what they want.

Telluride in the summer
Years ago, I saw a documentary about a prominent and popular singer who had a reputation for, shall we say, something less than sobriety.  He was a professing believer, or so he professed, and used to even teach Sunday school but had quit the church because they had some kind of wacky objection to him being high while teaching the youngsters.  He was convinced that the attitude was the church’s problem to overcome rather than his own.

And he’s such a good singer that, well, we’ve got to listen to him, right?

The more recent article was about another singer who had left the church because she had decided to engage in a sexual lifestyle that ran counter to what the church she had been attending taught.  She claimed to only want said church to have an honest and open dialogue about her proclivities.

Call me skeptical.  I don’t know the woman—which is one of the reasons I am not mentioning her name here—but I have a sneaking suspicion that she only wants a dialogue if she’s pretty certain the outcome will favor her and her lifestyle.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe she’ll sit down one day with the leaders of that church and they’ll all have a calm, reasonable, loving discussion about the issue.

How will she react if the church finally says, “Ms. Entertainer, we have enjoyed getting to visit like this with and we love you, but after careful study of Scripture we still believe the lifestyle choices you have brought before us are sinful and, therefore, we cannot condone them.  We humbly entreat you to repent of them and we would love to be here to help you fight these temptations—just as we would like to have you help us fight ours.  However, if you cannot admit that these actions are sinful and refuse to make any effort to submit them to the Holy Spirit, we’re going to have to ask you to leave.”

I realize that last paragraph started with a question, so there should be a question mark somewhere, but I’m not sure where to put it.  How about here?: ?

Anyway, how do you think she would react?  Is it unreasonable for a church to behave as I have just described?

What I have found is that a lot a lot of people want a middle ground.  They don’t mind if the church teaches that their particular vice is a sin, just so long as no one calls them personally on it or does anything about it.

So they go in search of a church that will uplift them (somehow) with appreciated music and encouraging speakers but won’t ever trouble them with any kind of “thou shalt not”s.

Now personally, I am not a fan of the pulpit-pounding-brimstone version of church oratory.  I like to be encouraged.  I like uplifting tunes.  I am also a great believer in and fan of grace—that free gift from God that none of us can earn.

What if, however, having accepted God’s grace and submitted to the Lordship of his son, there is an expected life to be led?  Not in a “how close can I get to the edge without falling out of God’s favor?” but as in a “how close can I live to God?!?”

What if these churches are not trying to be nefarious but are actually doing the best they know how to lift their people closer to God?  I don't deny that there have been abuses in the name of God, but in the modern era I am convinced that such infractions are the vast minority.  Unless you are of the opinion that anyone who tells you "no" is somehow infringing on your rights or just harshing on your mellow, the most harmful thing done to anyone today by the church is probably to leave them alone.

Living better involves eliminating some things from our pre-saved life and I just don’t think a church that doesn’t encourage all it’s members to strive to live better, to daily climb back up on that altar and offer ourselves as living sacrifices, is worth being a part of.

My reply to some wonderful comments (below): Thanks C.D. and D.S. for great comments.  We live in an age when more and more people are turning hostile to the gospel, while claiming it was the gospel that turned hostile to them!  For a case in point, read this article I found just this morning:  The author is honest enough to admit, though, that if the church changed she probably still wouldn't attend.  Could that be because she knows that a church that waters down it's message to meet a fickle public isn't worth the bother.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Can There Be Such a Thing as “Christian Science Fiction”?

The old trope says there’s no such thing as a dumb question, but obviously that’s not true.  Questions like the above and “Will government intervention actually lower the cost of college (or anything)?” are patently stupid questions.

Yet, we ask them often, mainly in the hopes of starting an argument.  I mean, that has to be the answer, right?  Because to pretend the answer to our dumb question is not self-evident is to be even dumber than our question.

Actual photo of a real--not fictional--mushroom growing in central Oklahoma
For starters, let’s look at the last word in our headline question: “fiction”.  What is fiction?  According to Merriam-Webster, fiction is defined as “written stories about people and events that are not real, literature that tells stories which are imagined by the writer, or something that is not true.”  Examples of fiction might include “Gone with the Wind”, “Catcher in the Rye” or the Affordable Care Act.

Fiction, then, can be set in any world, in any world-view.  Want to write a story set in the mythical world of Candy Land?  Go ahead.  Want to envision a world where the sky is plaid with floating cans of aerosol cheese the only sentient life?  You can do that, too.

The thing is, there really are no rules for fiction, per se.  There are rules for writing … sort of.  If you want to write something and have it graded for school, it needs to conform to the grammar and spelling rules your school subscribes to.  If you want to write something for publication in a magazine, check with that magazine to find out what rules they enforce.  Even if you were to try and write sports articles for the website SB Nation—where there are no rules concerning grammar, spelling or coherence—there are vague guidelines (I assume without evidence) stating the article needs to be about sports.

Now, in front of the word “fiction” we (mankind) often attach like a spavined horse unwillingly dragging a rattletrap wagon loaded with carcasses to the butcher (where the horse, too, will be executed) certain qualifying words.  “Western” fiction, “romantic” fiction, “pulp” fiction and, yes, “science fiction.”

These words rarely mean what any rational person would think they mean.  While “western fiction” conjures up in the mind images of cowboys, Indians and log forts in lands where there are no trees, it is often interchangeable with “frontier fiction” and can be set in the forests of Maine or on the beaches of Barbados.

The term “science fiction” might lead one to think that writings falling under that general heading are based in science.  Oh how innocent you are, little blacksmith!  Among the aficionados of science fiction, one of the favorite pastimes is the casting of aspersions on anyone who deviates from orthodoxy in the slightest way.

What is the orthodoxy from which people stray?  Each aficionado has their own definition.
See, for most of us, “science fiction” describes a wide variety of “fiction”.  (Remembering, of course, that the word “fiction” means “they made it up.”)  Most of us luddites consider science fiction to contain Stars Trek, War and Gate, as well as Captain Midnight, the works of Poul Anderson, and that episode of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” where they dream about the walnuts.

Not the aficionado.  The thing the science fiction aficionado loves best about science fiction is arguing what’s in and what’s out.  One aficionado considers “Star Wars” to be science fiction because they hold a very broad definition which includes “anything in space” while another considers “Star Wars” to be space opera and most definitely not science fiction because there’s no scientific basis for X-wing fighters to make a sound in the vacuum of space.  Still another likes to argue that “The X-Files” was science fiction because they pretended to use science even though they never went to space.

However, I have tried to argue that the greatest science fiction show ever on television was “Quincy, M.E.” because it was “fiction” that used and highlighted “science” and have found that this idea generally makes the aficionados collective heads explode.  (In fact, the only person I have ever unfriended on Facebook was this knucklehead who’s only apparent joy in life was belittling everyone who didn’t subscribe to his exact take on what did or not constitute science fiction and I’m pretty sure he would have physically accosted me over my Quincy take had we not been in separate states. [I was in Texas, he was in Denial.])

This all being said—for no easily discernible reason—of course there can be Christian science fiction.  Fiction is a story someone made up.  To be at all palatable, it has to be set in some sort of setting.  That could be the above-referenced plaid-sky planet, a world where there are no deities or a world (or universe) where there is a deity.  Christian science fiction would, therefore, simply be a science fiction story that—in some way—subscribed to Christian tenets.

The funny (as in the sense of “ironic” rather than “ha-ha”) thing is that those who argue most vociferously against Christian science fiction are often the same people who will argue that the point of science fiction is to explore the possible and impossible, to speculate on what is or might be or never was.  In other words, they want limitless creativity … with limits.

Some will argue Christian science fiction is possible, there’s just never been any good Christian science fiction.  I’ll not deny that there has been bad Christian science fiction—by someone’s rubric—just as there has been bad agnostic or atheistic science fiction.  When I hear this argument being made (or that there are no more good westerns, romances, or military thrillers) I generally tune out because the speaker has already revealed their bias and their willingness to be dissuaded is not worth my effort.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Who Was the Reason for the Season, Again?

Fill in the blank, “__________ is the reason for the season.”

We’ve been conditioned by lapel pins, T-shirts and bumper stickers to say that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” But what if that’s wrong?

Now, it came about because people who celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ perceived that the holiday was getting drowned out by all the trappings: gift-giving, shopping, eating, decorations, Santa, etc. So they wanted to remind themselves, and everyone else, that the reason Christians celebrate Christmas is because we’re celebrating the birth of the Son of God.

Leaving aside arguments about whether Jesus were born on December 25th or not (my response: who cares?), I’d like to think that we Christians can come together in joy over the fact that the Son of God was born. Born, lived, died, rose again … that’s big stuff!
Still, we’ve got this holiday—a whole holiday season—during which we celebrate that birth and it is annoying to see someone proclaim that “Christmas is about giving” or even “Christmas is about family” in such a way that they never even mention the Son of God. So we rebel against the commercialism or take down all decorations that don’t have the nativity depicted in/on them and tell people that Jesus—as opposed to gifts, shopping, eating or anything else—is the reason for the season.

But then again, maybe he’s not.

Recall with me, if you will, one of the greatest of all Christmas stories.  Jesus is traveling through Jericho, great crowds have gathered to see him, but one guy who desires to see the Lord can’t because of his height.  So Little Z climbs up in a sycamore to get a look at the Master and what does Jesus do?  Rather than just trying to avoid eye contact with the nut (ha!) in the tree, he stops and says, “Zacchaeus, you come down.  I want to eat at your house today!”

Being such a well-known Christmas story, you probably remember what happened next.  Zacchaeus takes Jesus home, they eat lunch (or, as it’s called in some cultures, “lunch”), and Little Z is so struck by the Lord and overwhelmed with love for him, that he vows to pay back everyone he has cheated.

Isn’t that a great Christmas story?  What?  You didn’t know it was a Christmas story?  Well, let me point you to the verse where Jesus tells Little Z not just why he came to his house, but why he came to earth:

Luke 19:10
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. (NIV)

You see, Jesus isn’t the reason for the season: you are!  He didn’t come because he had a cool song he wanted Isaac Watts to write (“Joy to the World”), he came because he wanted to find you!  So, this Christmas, I encourage you not to focus on a little baby in a manger, but the full-grown Son of God who came to find and save you!

Merry Seasonal Greetings to You!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

If Your Church Went Away

I have gotten in the past an advertisement that begins with a question like, “What if your church went away, would anyone notice?”  The implication is that my church is so inconsequential that no one would.  Therefore, I need to buy their product (or program or whatever) which will revitalize my church so that my city would notice it (if it went away).

Bishop's Castle, Colorado
Leaving aside the value of the offered program, I have been thinking about that question of, “If my church went away, would anyone notice?”

I think the answer is: it depends on how it goes away.

First off, are we just referring to the building?  If my church(building) [hereafter referred to as the CB] were to go away because someone torched it, that would probably be noticed because there are people living nearby.  It might even make the news, especially if it could be proven to have been a “hate crime”.  But the news would soon fade away, except that the local news might come back later and run a paragraph and a picture about the grand re-opening.  Otherwise, the story would soon fade from the collective consciousness.

The same might be said by other, more mundane methods of losing a CB: faulty wiring leading to fire, drunk plows his car into the building, neighborhood rezoned and plot of land turned into a Quick Quack (car wash or emergency care center).

Now, if the CB were taken out by something that was clearly an act of God—like a fireball from heaven plowing into the building leaving said CB as nothing but a smoldering hole in the ground while the rest of the neighborhood stays intact—that might be noticed a little more.  Might even make the national news—especially if there were people (hopefully not me, personally) inside at the time.  But, soon, it would disappear from the news and the minds of everyone except for those people who run those “end times” conspiracy websites*.

These scenarios aren’t really what the ads were talking about, though.  The church they are talking about going away is actually the group of people who meet in the CB.

Where did they go?  And did anyone see them leave?

The implication is that the answer to the second question is “no” which makes the answer to the first question, “Who cares?”

According to the fliers—either implied or stated outright—we churches have lost influence in our neighborhoods/communities and, if we go away, we won’t leave a hole there, physically or spiritually and I don’t argue with that assessment.

With one caveat: are we talking about one church going away at a time?  This does happen from time to time and this is what the flier-writer knows and is trying hedge against (make a profit off of).  Second Church of the Lower East Side used to be quite a going concern, with a choir and a youth group and all but, over the years, it shrunk numerically.  Maybe the neighborhood demographics changed, maybe the whole town changed, or whatever, but it grew smaller and smaller until—like those grotesque and cheaply produced puppet aliens at the end of the Star Trek episode “Catspaw”—it just dried up and blew away.  No one—or almost no one—noticed because the influence was long since gone.  Some people may remember that church fondly and kind of wish it were still around, but a] it’s not a big deal to them and 2] there are lots of other churches around now.

Which may be a big part of the story of Lower East Side.  When first founded, it was not only the only church in that part of town, it was the only thing going at all in that part of town.  In the years since, several other churches have moved in and—in addition—the focus of the people of the neighborhood has been pulled away by their kids’ athletics, cable & satellite TV, the Rubik’s Cube and a general desire to sleep in on Sunday mornings.

The flier wants to provide a remedy (often at some expense) to this malady and show me how to “double my Sunday school in six weeks” or “create a rockin’ worship experience” or whatever.  Some of them even have ground-breaking—nay, even revolutionary!—ideas, like returning to the concept of the sufficiency of Scripture.

Without getting into the value or validity of their offers (in this blog, anyway), I’m still wrestling with that question of, “If the church goes away, would anyone notice?”  [The astute reader will notice this isn’t exactly the question as written earlier in the blog.]

Again, how is it going away?  A collection of fireballs that wipe out each individual church member (we’re not talking CBs here!)?  The rapture (as some envision it)?  I’m going to answer this question by saying that either yes, they would notice because this is a large portion of the world’s population suddenly turning up missing or no, because the non-millenialists were right and this was the end of the world, in which case there’s no one or no thing left to do the noticing.

If I’m “doing church” to be noticed, or if I judge the efficacy of my church (or CB) by the metric of being noticed, I am probably doing it for the wrong reason.  Like the guy Jesus talks about whose prayers are lifted up so he may be noticed by men and his reward is on earth (and, by implication, not in heaven), having my church noticed on earth is at best a side-benefit but likely a hindrance to what should be my goal (pleasing God).

Should I worry about the church going away?  No.  God’s pretty clear on that: there will always be at least a remnant on this planet until he sends his son to come and get us.

Should I worry about my church going away?  Again, that may be the wrong focus because 1] we’re specifically told not to worry and b] my focus should be on God and serving him.  If I am doing that, it will probably strengthen my local body.

* Which are kind of fun to visit and read, though they often have a grasp of scripture somewhere south of Joel Osteen (but still ahead of Rob Bell).