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Checking out churches

April 14, 2020 Leave a comment

For the second time in a year, I had a Sunday off. My work schedule shifted, so as of now, I am now off Sundays at my primary job. 

Due to the COVID-19 quarantine, I watched two different church services on live stream through Facebook.

One church, the pastor had a strong drawl and was trying to tell some amusing anecdote. He had no sense of timing or execution, making me think he was trying to be the late Mississippi humorist Jerry Clower and, well, having no success. My gut told me his Bible teaching would not be any better. Soon, I lost interest and decided to try another church.

Next stream, the pastor was talking about the resurrection, citing scripture, and talking about the eternal hope that comes from Jesus rising from the dead. The church, on its Website, talks about the service being informal as far as attire goes. It reminded me of that Michigan church’s slogan: Dress casually. Jesus did.

Despite this promising sign, I’m almost afraid to go back to church. Four times I’ve attended churches and splits have happened. At one church, a Sunday School teacher disliked the direction the pastor was going and convinced three or four families to also leave. At one church in San Antonio, the pastor’s wife was a cosmetics distributor and shunned those who weren’t her customers. Then, at a church in Michigan and one here in Texas, the pastors left due to a desire to have almost total control over the church. (Read the Old Testament story of Joses and Jethro to see why this isn’t a good idea). As far as I could gather from the second one, the young pastor conflicted with the “old guard.” 

I’ve often wondered how much time churches spend teaching the Bible, versus preaching “do this” or “don’t do that.” Too many Christians reach a point where they don’t know why they believe what they believe. Sometimes it’s because not enough time was spent studying what the Bible really says, and sometimes because in their spiritual walk, they spent time in churches that focus on adhering to rules to strive for holiness.

Here’s one suggestion: instead of preaching to a congregation about TV shows* they shouldn’t watch or musical bands** they shouldn’t listen to, why not teach what the Bible says about spiritual discernment and the importance of putting healthy things into your mind?

* One certain Baptist minister preached about how evil The Simpsons was because the show was about “mocking your parents and having a rebellious attitude.” One warm, godly Christian minister I know admitted to me he likes the show and thinks it’s hilarious.

** If you’re a pastor and ever want to get your teenagers curious about secular music, preach against it from the pulpit. Sure, some are pliant enough to obey and stick with Fanny Crosby and Al Smith, but some will get curious and listen.

Richard Zowie has been a Christian since the days of the rotary-dial telephone and when the Betamax and VHS battled for supremacy. Post comments here or email: richardstwoshekels@gmail.com

How can some churches be so gullible?

March 14, 2020 Leave a comment

A friend wrote about the anniversary of her father’s passing. “Monica” described him as a man who was a great baker, brilliant salesman, never met a stranger. Everyone at church loved and respected him. He’d often take a big Bible with him to services.

However, her father was a different man at home. He was abusive and had anger issues.

The day finally came when Monica’s mother separated from the father and was planning to file for divorce. He disappeared, and his body soon was discovered in a bay in northern Washington State. 

Her mother received no support from the church over the separation. They felt she should stay married to her husband, no matter what. After all, who in their right mind could possibly want to leave such a popular man?

In my experience, those with dark sides tend to be extraordinary actors.

Monica observed, “This spiritual abuse and horrible advice is so very common even today.”

Here’s why: Monica has another friend who’s married to an abusive husband. The friend’s pastor tells her divorce is wrong and she needs to stay married to her husband, regardless.

You know what’s so ironic? The pastor is the wife’s father.

Normally, parents can see right through our partners and can tell us who’s a good fit and who’s not. 

If you’re reading this, it’s this simple: whether you’re a man or woman, if you’re in an abusive marriage that seems like it’s the same cycle after another, I have two words: Get Out.

If you’ve had enough of an abusive partner and your church tells you that you’re sinning by getting a divorce, get out. It’s a cult.

If you’re in an abusive relationship and need help, go to the Choose Courage Foundation.

Post comments here or email them to: richardstwoshekels@gmail.com

Pro-Life on paper only?

February 10, 2020 Leave a comment

Just a reminder to Christians who like to get politically involved.

Being pro-life is far more than just posting memes on Facebook or holding “Abortion Kills Children” signs at rallies or clinics.

However…

If you see a single mother, help her out. Get to know her enough to where you can watch her kids and give her a few hours to herself. If you have extra clothes, give them to her. Give her a grocery gift card. Be a listening ear. Donate diapers and other supplies to ministries that reach out to single mothers.

This is the type of “works” James talked about. Christianity in action.

Making single mothers feel like outcasts is what fuels the pro-abortion side.

Yes, there’s personal responsibility, but do your part and show compassion. Remember that Jesus spent much of his time with people whom polite society considered outcasts.

Post comments here or email them to: richardstwoshekels@gmail.com

Why I am no longer an Independent Fundamental Baptist, Part 2 of 4

February 14, 2013 Leave a comment

That being said about my background, I offer this observation: the purpose of IFB, what many might call an ultra-bland, neo-puritanical lifestyle, is to eliminate all sinful elements that would deprive you of being a godly Christian, having an intimate understanding of the Scriptures and having an intimate relationship with God. Sadly, it has turned out to be more about control. If control runs amok without accountability, it results in a cult.

Also, while we were encouraged to study the Bible and ask questions, ultimately it was up to your pastor and church leaders to decide for you what is acceptable and what is sinful. One couple who taught Sunday school resigned from a church I attended rather than sign an agreement stipulating what they could and could not do in their private lives. Others choose to follow without question, even if their church leaders or pastor have no formal Bible training and show it by mispronouncing words in the Bible or showing a consistent inability to understand Bible contexts.

Often I’d see things that, now, leave me speechless. Once during a revival, there was a minister who, as he warmed up early his sermon, took off his suit jacket, removed his tie and preached in his white, short-sleeved dress shirt. The sermon was about continuing in the faith, and somehow, the subject shifted to how women dress.

LADIES,” he thundered in a gravelly voice that reminded me of a used car salesman yelling out all his special deals during a 30-second television commercial, “Deuteronomy 22:5 still means the same thing today that it meant thousands of years ago!”

Any IFB woman knows what this verse says: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.” (King James Version)

The verse is interpreted to mean women should not wear pants; ostensibly, men should also not be cross-dressers or transvestites. The fact that Deuteronomy 22 has lots of other verses the same Baptists probably don’t heed, and that fact that many Christians and non-believers alike probably don’t realize that Mosaic Law consists of an intricate network of dietary, moral and ceremonial laws are blog postings for another time.

That being said, I recall a few years ago taking pictures of a church carnival. A woman wearing modest culottes rode down an inflatable slide. And, for about three seconds, her culottes rode up, showing off her thighs and underwear. I did not get a picture of that and if I had, I would have deleted it. I was too busy marveling that a woman riding down the slide in jeans or capris could have been more modest than the woman wearing “women’s attire”.

One very wonderful female Christian friend I know tells me she hates culottes.

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Keeping on, even when it hurts

November 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Back in 1989, we had a revival at church. It was considered a “mystery meeting” since the revival was designed more for the church members rather than as an evangelization tool for the public. Topics included “Church Attendance”, preached by one always-energetic evangelist who would end up making a statement my pastor didn’t quite agree with; “Bible Study” by another pastor…

…And to close out the week, “Keeping On” by one pastor from the Austin region. The pastor approached the pulpit in suit jacket and tie, but his Sunday-morning-appropriate attire didn’t last long. As he began preaching energetically in a medium, gravelly voice, he removed the coat and took off his tie. Soon, he thundered from the pulpit wearing an open-throated, short-sleeved dress shirt.

I suppose to a person who loves to think of Independent, Fundamental Baptists in caricatured concepts, it would’ve been an interesting spectacle. But to a Christian who has seen other believers get chewed up and spat out by Satan, it carried a very serious message: no matter what happens in your walk with God, you have to “keep on”.

Forget about trying. Instead, DO!

Hoo-boy.

This past week, I got some very sad news from my family. Add that onto living in an area of the country where, save for my sons, I have no blood relatives within about 1,000 miles; working to make ends meet; seeing the world get uglier and uglier; being alone in the emotional sense; seeing wonderful Christian friends drop from the faith over the years like flies.

What is the sense of keeping on? Why not just give up?

I’m 39 and will turn 40 in a little over two months. I’ve been a Christian for 31 years. There are many days where I feel I still have much to learn and much more maturing to do. Sometimes I find myself amazed at how I’ve changed in my walk over the years. Some for the good. Some…it’s hard to say if it’s realizing God’s not inside a box as I thought He was or if I am indeed floating too far off the path.

There are times when I wish the race were over. It’s like being on lap 5 of an eight-lap race and being encouraged by a coach to keep going. Before you know it, the race will be over. You try to convince your aching legs and burning lungs of that news.

In reality, what matters is not how far you run the race but how you run the race. Some do wonderful things for God and are dead by their 30th birthday. Some live to be 95 and do nothing for God. Nothing is worse as a Christian than running the race poorly and seeing all the missed opportunites to be a blessing.

Keep on. Please.

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Listening to your instincts

November 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Wouldn’t it be nice to sleep in today? I thought as I lay in bed, thinking of how nice it would be to get more sleep. I’d slept about eight hours and enjoyed catching up on sleep. Recently, I’d been working two jobs, taking care of my sons and rehearsing for a play. I averaged about five hours of sleep a day. I seldom took naps just because there was too much to do.

But then an instinct gently reminded me that I needed to take advantage of a Sunday morning off (I work today from 2:30-11 p.m. at the gas station) and that I’d regret not getting my boys into church. So, I got up and asked them how they were doing. Fine, they said.

We live only about a mile from church, so getting there isn’t the problem. If my car isn’t working, big deal: we can always walk.

So, we went and I heard great, encouraging messages in both Sunday School and in church. I wrote down Bible verses on encouragement, spiritual intimacy with God and comfort from God. I also signed my sons and I up for the church’s Thanksgiving dinner (we’re taking mashed potatoes and gravy). My sons had a good time.

None of that would’ve happened if I’d allowed the devil to have his way.

You know exactly what I’m talking about.

When the devil tickles our ears, it’s that warm instinct that encourages you to sleep more, or tells you that you’re too poor to tithe. For the lost, it’s that instinct that tells them the salvation message is a simple solution for a complex problem, that there are countless religions, how could Christianity be the true one, or that there’s always next Sunday to make a decision.

Next Sunday, of course, never comes as lifelong procrastination sets in.

Today I also reminded myself the importance of daily Bible reading and will work on reading the Minor Prophets until the end of the year and then take another try in 2013 at reading The Word chronologically.

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Marathon vs. Sprint

November 14, 2012 1 comment

Amazing how Christians can be. I can think of two Christians at college that seemed destined to go nowhere in life. One left after a semester because he didn’t like PCC’s rules and the other seemed to teeter on getting kicked out due to his attitude.

Both are serving the Lord now. One ministers through music and the other is a pastor who blogs.

Then there are the Christians I knew growing up and on-fire Christians I knew at college who are not only no longer serving God, they question their faith. One who studied for the ministry tells me he no longer thinks of the New Testament as God’s inspired word. In high school, I knew of a young man who was absolutely on fire for God. Today, his walk seems much less so.

If there is a way to describe it, I’d say it’s because Christianity should be lived as a marathon and not as a sprint.

As a sprint, it’s easy to burn white-hot bright for about five years…and then fade into cold darkness.

As a marathon, you pace yourself and purpose each day to do the basics: read the Word of God, spend time with God, talk to Him and let Him talk back to you. Sometimes it’s through the still, small voice, sometimes through something in the Bible that speaks to you in capital letters, and sometimes it’s through intuition.

I’ve been a Christian for 31 years; ever since the age of eight I’ve been on my way to heaven. Frankly, the finish line marking the entrance into heaven doesn’t seem any closer today than it did back in 1981. Ironic, since my death or the rapture could happen at any time. At times, it’s like I gasp for breath as I complete yet another lap and groan at how much further there is to go.

Please don’t give up. The worst thing is to look back upon your life and utter these two words: If only

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

When God tries to get your attention

A few Sundays ago, I was woken up at 8 a.m. by a text message. That morning, due to not having done laundry and being too tired from working a lot, I was planning to not take my sons to church. Again.

The text was from a Christian friend, a lady who’s in her mid-twenties but conducts herself like she’s in her mid-forties. Very precocious spiritually and socially. She told me she felt the Lord leading her to contact me to see how I was doing.

We texted back and forth and I told her about my frustration of being out of church due to being very tired all the time. She politely suggested to me that my responsibility was to raise my sons up to be in church.

Wow.

We did not make it to church that morning since the boys had no clean church clothes, but I sat there and thought about this friend. It really was if God was using her to talk to me. And to get my attention.

Last weekend, while work kept me from church, I arranged my sons to get a ride to church. Both said they had a good time.

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Reading the Bible, and a few thoughts on some friends

Didn’t go to church today, partly because I was a little tired and a little depressed from being back from my vacation.

Was that the right decision?

No.

I did read the Bible and knocked out chunks both Testaments. Am still behind schedule but I know that if I stick to the schedule I have, I will be caught up by August. It can be done: I just have to do it. Period.

Have spoken to God a lot and have received lots of great advice from different people. Soon I will blog about an approach to witnessing that my friend Lyndee suggested. Some won’t like it, I know, but people have to realize that when you talk at the lost instead of to them or with them, you really won’t get anywhere.

I was very encouraged recently to learn of a schoolmate, Dionicio, is now a practicing Christian and is active in his church. Back in Beeville, I and others knew him as Chico, but he told me he prefers DCO these days. As I read his testimony on his Facebook page, it really made me think that God the Great Fisherman uses countless baits, lures, hooks, to bring people to Him. Some through a church sermon, some through hitting rock bottom, some through years of a good friendship with a Christian and some through God allowing them to believe He has chosen them and that they must come to Him.

So now, one of my ventures is to encourage others. Two friends, both of whom have been divorced twice, come to mind.

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Interview with Christian blogger Nolan Bobbitt: Part 2 of 2

We continue with the rest of my interview with Nolan Bobbitt regarding blogs, the internet and Christianity:

Richard Zowie: How crucial, in 2011, is it for a church to have a website and blog?

Nolan Bobbitt: Having a website and blog is not crucial in 2011. Building relationships and creating compelling and interesting content is hugely crucial. If you are going to have a website or blog that makes a difference, it must be focused on helping people, growing people, and deepening relationships. Some ministries might actually be better suited to make use of social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter for interaction. Blogs or websites should be places we go to grow grow and be inspired. That only happens when we have great material to read!

RZ: Do you see your blog as more of an evangelization or edification tool?

NB: My personal blog is more focused on growing believers at this point. I am in the beginning stages of potentially launching two partner blogs (one with me as the primary writer, and the other will actually have a writing network), and at least one of those new sites will be almost exclusively rooted in evangelistic efforts.

RZ: What blog postings tend to get the most traffic for you?

NB: This may be a funny response, but those blog postings that have either unique titles, or feature the name of a high-profile “celebrity Christian.” Again, for me personally, I almost have to distance myself from thinking about blog traffic, so that writing well is my primary focus!

RZ: What advice do you have for people who want to blog or be more successful at it?

NB: Short posts are better than long posts, always! I shoot for 300 words an entry and make it a rule to not go over 500 words. Set aside a regular time to write your blog. I used to try to write 30 minutes a day, six days a week, but I am discovering that I am much better off to set aside a larger chunk of time (90 minutes) less often (twice a week). Do what works for you, but the only way to get better at writing is to write more often! Read blogs that you want to be like. Build relationships with those bloggers by referencing them, linking to their posts, and leaving comments. Don’t ask for anything from them, especially at the beginning. I have at least 2 high profile CEOs who read my blog at least sporadically and it’s because I became “friends” with them through consistent comments on their sites and through Twitter conversations. At the same time, be “you” on your blog. If you can’t be who God made you to be, you are wasting your time and everyone else’s. If growing a large following is your primary goal, don’t blog–twitter instead. Blogging should be reserved for those who love creating and sharing content!

Post comments here or e-mail richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

A Tale of Two Pastors

March 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Of all the churches I’ve attended, two pastors stand out in my discussion of today’s topic.

At one church, the pastor ran into a problem. Besides his duties as pastor (preaching, teaching, counseling, ministering), he also wanted to to be directly involved in virtually all of the church’s programs and advisory boards and have them answer directly to him. (I believe he even tried to have a seat on every single committee). To many, including myself, he wanted total control. When the church did not give that to him, he resigned and took up a pastorship elsewhere. He has since resigned from that church and is now at yet another church.

At another church, I felt led of the Lord to use my love for perusing used books to ask the pastor if the church library needed any books that I could donate–should I find them–while looking around at yard sales and Goodwill stores. The pastor told me to talk to the library committee since they handled that.

This second pastor had his priorities right.

Pastoring isn’t just a full-time job–it is 24/7. One college friend and Facebook friend named John told me his Dad made himself available to be reached at any time by his congregation.

I am reminded of the story of Moses and Jethro in the Old Testament. Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) in Exodus 18 told Moses he would burn himself out if he tried to handle all the matters before him regarding the Israelites. Put men in leadership to hear the cases and only hear the ones that they can’t solve, he told Moses.

Just as Moses did this and could focus on what needed to be done, I suspect a pastor needs to do that. Find godly, talented men and women in the church and place them in leadership over the church’s many ministries. If there is a problem, have them talk to you about it. If not, let them do their job so you can focus on–yep, you guessed it–preaching, teaching, counseling, ministering.

Richard Zowie wonders what real ministers think of this thought of his. Post comments here or e-mail them to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Are Christians oblivious towards Satan and what he wants to do?

August 21, 2010 3 comments

He hates Christians and wants to destroy their testimonies, their lives and their careers.

Yes, I know some will roll their eyes and think of this as John Madden-style analysis, but I often wonder if Christians are really aware of this as much as they should be.

At Pensacola Christian College, I remember once casually asking Mr. Bob Greiner (who has since gone home to be with the Lord) about the rumor that Daryl Hall of the pop music duo Hall and Oates had once attended Mr. Greiner’s alma mater, Bob Jones University.

Mr. Greiner thought a moment.

“I don’t know, but anything’s possible,” he said. “I knew one guy at BJU who was studying for the ministry but is now a member of the Hare Krishna movement.”

Today, I am reminded of some people I know that if you looked at them and read about them, you’d hardly believe they once attended a very conservative Christian college and seemed like people who really loved the Lord.

There have also been the countless stories I’ve heard of or even know of directly of pastors, evangelists and missionaries who left the ministry.

I wonder how many Christians truly grasp that a) Satan hates our guts with all his heart, soul, mind and might and b) He wants to destroy us so that c) He can take with him as many damned souls into the eternal lake of fire as possible.

I knew one guy at PCC who wanted nothing more than to be an evangelist. He is now divorced and while living for the Lord and still attending church, is out of the ministry. Every day I wonder if perhaps that might have changed had I made it a habit of praying for him and being a far better encourager towards him when I roomed with him.

Richard Zowie is a Michigan-based writer. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Great visit with a Vassar, Michigan pastor yesterday

August 6, 2010 Leave a comment

My wife Jennifer and I on Thursday visited with a local pastor along with his youth pastor. I had envisioned a 15-30 minute conversation, but it turned into an hour. It was a very fruitful conversation as we learned things about the church along with doctrinal positions.

As I left, I realized there were a few things I did not get around to asking, but that’s fine. The conversation seemed a little too unreal: opinions I’ve had lately about music, Bible versions, convictions, etc., seemed very close to what this pastor and his youth pastor had. He also encouraged us that as members, to get active in the church; in many churches today, the adage is 10 percent of the congregation does 90 percent of the work. The pastor was also a strong proponent of being in a church that was a good fit.

I noticed he frequently said the word encourage. Hitting someone over the head with a 52-pound King James Bible is terrible motivation–especially someone who hasn’t been in church in a while or someone who’s a new Christian not well-versed with church. This pastor really seemed to echo what I believe is the best approach: teach the Word and disciple and as they grow, continue encouraging them down the right paths. So many pastors (especially in IFB circles), have this terribly backwards: the message they send to new Christians is, “Adopt these strict standards–or else!”

The church seems like a very good fit, and we’ll be praying for it. I just wish I had the type of work schedule that would allow me into church regularly on Sundays along with Wednesdays.

Richard Zowie is a Michigan-based writer. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Still looking for a church to attend

One of the things I love about working 54 hours a week is that it makes paying bills on time much, much easier.

One of the things I loathe about those hours is it makes it extremely difficult to try out local churches.

Since May, I’ve been to one church service. Otherwise I’ve had to work on Sundays or have been so tired from marathons on Saturday night and having to work another marathon Sunday afternoon that church has been difficult to get to.

What are we looking for? A church that teaches the Bible, preaches the Gospel and does not confuse personal preferences with convictions. (Yes, I know what Deuteronomy 22:6 says about women’s attire, but expecting a woman to wear only a dress up here in Michigan when it drops to -10 degrees below zero is ridiculous).

I have visited Vassar, Mich.’s First Baptist Church and found it to be pretty good. Frankenmuth Bible Church, where I went on Easter, wasn’t bad but overall just wasn’t a good fit for my family. I’d love to go to a church in Vassar, but I’m also noting to myself that it would not hurt to look at churches in Birch Run or Bridgeport.

Lord willing, soon I’ll have better news to report.

Richard Zowie has been a Christian since 1981 but still feels he has a great deal to learn. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.