Church Heroes I’ve Known

Reading this blog, you could get the impression that everything is falling apart in the church. That certainly is not so. There are a number of areas where the church is thriving. One I want to write about today: the encouraging people who’ve come along side of my life at critical points. I call them church heroes.

Back in 1975, I was married just before my senior year in college to a woman who was in remission from leukemia. Marj and I lived in Easton, PA while I finished up my studies. However three months in, the leukemia returned with a vengeance and a month later, a few days before Christmas, she died. (See the side bar, A Walk with God to Remember for the details.)

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Chestnut Hill Hospital in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where Marj was treated for her leukemia.

In the midst of it, the Body of Christ went into action. A day before she died when she went into a coma, the pastor from the church we attended near Easton, sent two couples to come an hour and a half to where our families were. I knew them from the InterVarsity group we had all been a part of. They came and stayed with Marj’s family and I, and supported and prayed with me through the time of her death. They were the extra presence I needed at the time that told me that God was there.

Fast forward to 2012, I had been married to my second wife, Diane, for 19 years, when she was diagnosed with a return of endometrial cancer from five years before. The only way to treat it was a massive surgery called an exeneration, where they take out the bladder, vaginal area and part of the rectum. It was a 12-hour long surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, an hour and a half away from home.

Johns Hopkins Hospital, where Diane had surgery for her cancer.
Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD, where Diane had surgery for her cancer.

My wife’s sister and her husband came, but more amazing was one man in our small group at the time, who came down and was with me for most of the time of her surgery. While we were there, he and my brother-in-law decided to form a fund for the huge bill we anticipated even with our good insurance. In the three weeks of her recovery at the hospital, a number of others that we knew from past churches and groups came down. One couple even came three and a half hours! After she was released to a local hospital for rehab, our church along with the fund then contributed extensively for our bills, brought food to our home for many nights and even sent some of the youth to mulch our gardens. And of course the cards were overflowing.

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Lancaster Regional Hospital, where Diane had her recent heart catheterization.

Fast forward to just these last few weeks. We have been at the church where I am serving as a pastor three-quarters of a year, and Diane has had another medical issue. This time it was a blocked heart artery. It was taken care of with stents in relatively quick time, nowhere near the ordeal of before, but the Body of Christ once again went into action with cards, visits and food. I joked with one couple, that visited us, “I am supposed to visit you, not the other way around.” They just smiled but we were thankful.

That is the way it’s supposed to be in the church. It’s like a family where each is helping out the other. It’s living out 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (Apparently the church there was good at it, too.)

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The Church’s Golden Calf?

soundboardThe church where I serve has just installed a brand new audio-visual system with a huge control desk and two flat screen TVs in the front of the auditorium. As we adjust to using them, the new microphones and speakers will help all of us to hear better, and the big monitors will enhance our worship with videos and written material. There is a lot we can do with it; the possibilities are endless. We used the donation from the inheritance of one man who recently passed to buy it. As a church we are praising the Lord for that gift.

golden-calfBut we must be careful! We don’t want this new system to become a golden calf in the church. You remember the story of the Israelites in the desert (Exodus 32:1-6); their worship was getting old, as they waited for Pastor Moses to return from his sabbatical. They needed an image to jazz up their worship. So the associate pastor, Aaron, conducted a fundraising campaign, and when the goal was met, he created a state-of-the art idol, just like those that were in, back in Egypt. After the ribbon cutting ceremony, they worshipped it and had a big meal in the fellowship tent.

Any new technology can easily become such an idol. Take how some teens act with a new smartphone. Their life is so wrapped up in it that you don’t see them anymore and can’t talk face to face with them. It has become an idol that controls their lives, rather than a tool to enhance their lives. In modern parlance, we call such idolatry, materialism.

smartphone_safety425In my research, I came across an article from ShareFaith Magazine that shows what materialism looks like in the church. Based on that picture here are some questions to ask to safeguard the church as it takes on new technology:

  • Is it seen as a way to overcome problems in the church?
  • Is it more important and time-consuming than the lives of those in the church?
  • Is it symptomatic of a preoccupation with budgets, balances and funding?
  • Is the money for it an indication of our security as a church?
  • Are we more committed to putting on a good show than feeding the sheep?
  • Is it a way of being obsessed with the programs of the church?
  • Are we relying on the beauty of the media, the power of the music, or the skill of the technicians to drive the church service?

If the answer to any of these is yes, then we have fallen into idolatry.

So as we think about new technology in the church, let’s make sure it’s not an idol of materialism that preoccupies and controls us. Instead let’s use it for serving the church as a tool for God’s glory.

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