Thursday, July 29, 2021

Why I Got the Vaccine (and I Think You Probably Should Too)

 I read this week about Stephen Harmon, who was a brother in Christ from Corona, California. I hope and expect that I might run into him in the New Jerusalem someday. Sadly, I won’t get to meet him here.

     Stephen died last week from COVID-19, like 4 million other human beings in the world over the last year and a half. Stephen, of course, died in a place and time in which he could have been vaccinated against the disease. It was his choice — and of course never should have been anyone else’s — to not be vaccinated.

     Stephen’s death attracted some media attention, I think, because of his faith and his outspokenness against being vaccinated. Seems like there was no small amount of schadenfreude in the coverage, to be honest. I don’t wish to pile on, or to reduce him to a caricature. To the extent that this might do so, I apologize. I can’t imagine the pain his family and friends and church are feeling. I didn’t know Stephen, and have no right to sit in judgement on him, nor any interest in doing so. 

     But I think I should say something about this.

     In the hospital, three days before his death, Stephen tweeted, “If you don’t have faith that God can heal me over your stupid ventilator then keep the Hell out of my ICU room, there’s no room in here for fear or lack of faith!” He seemed to equate treatment for COVID with fear and/or lack of faith. Six weeks earlier he had tweeted adapted Jay-Z lyrics: “I got 99 problems, but a vax ain’t one.” Before he got sick, he shared memes that he trusted the Bible over Dr. Anthony Fauci; the fact that he seemed to think that a person couldn’t do both is troubling and discouraging. He tweeted earlier this month, “Biden’s door to door vaccine ‘surveyors’ really should be called JaCovid Witnesses. #keepmovingdork.” 

     Listen, I believe as strongly as anyone that God can heal COVID, or cancer, or high blood pressure, or presbyopia. Still, I wear reading glasses.

     And I take medication for high blood pressure.

     And I got the COVID-19 vaccine as early as I possibly could. 

     I got vaccinated in February. I don’t believe I’ve told even one person since then that they should definitely get the vaccine. That’s a choice you should make in consultation with your doctor. But that’s just the thing — I also read this post last week by an Alabama doctor. In it, she writes about the things her patients who are dying of COVID say; that they read a post or a meme or heard something from someone they trusted that kept them from getting the vaccine. This doctor asks them, “Did you ever talk to your personal physician about whether or not to get it?” 

    She says that not one of them has told her that they did.

     So it’s your choice, but get the right advice. Not just partisan political statements or conspiracy theories or your second cousin’s pastor at The Church of Our Lady of the Aluminum Foil Hat. The right advice will come from someone who knows you and has a medical degree. The right advice will come from someone who ideally has treated you before and will know your medical history and will be able to advise you well. You won’t find it in some long-discredited social media post. It won’t be cute, it won’t be funny, and it won’t have a political agenda behind it. But it will be good advice from a doctor sworn to take care of your health and educated for that purpose.

     And, now, please hear me when I say this —

     Maybe you have good reasons for not getting vaccinated (though according to the medical community good reasons are few and far between). If your only reason for not getting the vaccine is that you think it means that you don’t have faith in God, then you do not have a good reason for not getting the vaccine. 

    I didn’t stop praying after I got the vaccine. I didn’t get the vaccine because I had a sudden crisis of faith that God could protect me from the virus. It seems that, most of the time, God works with our efforts. He usually doesn’t just miraculously feed the hungry. He doesn’t generally just implant the gospel in the minds and hearts of people. He doesn’t normally just instantaneously heal people with cancer. He could do those things. Apparently he does, from time to time. But mostly he works through people. 

     Caleb asked God to give him some hill country in Canaan — then he went out and took the hill country. David declined Saul’s armor before his fight with Goliath — but he did stop to pick up some rocks for his sling (and not just one rock). When Cornelius needed to hear about Jesus, God sent Peter to him. When Jesus wanted to feed the hungry, he asked the Twelve (and a boy with a boxed lunch) to take care of it. 

     James tells the elders of his community to “pray over” a sick person “and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.” He says, “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.” Anointing with oil was a standard treatment for many illnesses in James’ time. (Think of the way the Good Samaritan treated the man’s injuries on the road to Jericho.) Prayer, of course, asks God to heal. Does God heal through the prayer, or through the treatment? Isn’t the answer to that question, “Yes”?

     So why should it be tough to imagine that he might work through researchers and doctors and nurses and the vaccine they created (in a miraculous time frame) and administer to protect us from COVID?

     When that nurse stuck that first needle in my arm, I said “thank you” to God for the researchers who had worked so long and hard to develop it, for the government that paid for it and rolled it out, and for the medical people who until then had been treating so many people for so long without a vaccine. But I thanked God because I believe he was behind it all.

     And I want you to know why I got that vaccine. I got it because I wanted to be able to help take care of my community. I wanted to be able to minister to my church and not put them in danger. I wanted to be a responsible member of my community and contribute to its recovery. I wanted to be less likely to pass the virus on to someone whose health was already compromised. I wanted to give that virus one less host in whom it could mutate and become even more deadly. 

     None of this makes me a hero. It’s what’s expected when you're a part of a society. It’s part of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. 

     I can imagine someone who reads this getting mad at me right about here. Please just ask yourself: “What has he said that I disagree with?”

     Talk to your doctor. Discuss it with people whose spiritual judgment you trust. Pray. Then do what God leads you to do. And if you live close to us, you can register here to get your vaccine this Saturday.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Why Baptism Matters

     We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

    For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been set free from sin….

     In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign  in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires..

-Romans 6:2-7, 11-12 (NIV)

Please forgive me for saying so, but baptism is kind of embarrassing, isn’t it?

     Oh, I still believe more or less what I was taught since I was a child: that baptism is important, that it “washes away sins” and connects us with Jesus and that it’s the place where the Holy Spirit descends on us like that dove did Jesus in the Jordan River. I’m definitely on board with the concept.

     It’s the execution of it that can be a little embarrassing.

     First of all, baptism usually necessitates a clothing change. Awkward. Then there’s the whole thing of dunking someone in a tank of water. (No one ever looks photo-ready when they first come up.) Not to mention that it has always seemed to me to be a little…anticlimactic. It’s a big moment, the culmination of maybe years of faith development and then, on the chosen Sunday — splash — it’s over in just a few minutes, counting the wardrobe change.

    In my last post, I mentioned an editorial by former Christianity Today managing editor Mark Galli, in which he suggests that baptism and communion — two things that Jesus explicitly tells us to do — have lost their importance in many segments of Christianity. He suggests that part of the reason for that is the discomfort I refer to above: outsiders, and, increasingly, even Christians, see baptism as too weird. We don’t see that it has much meaning to visitors. We even wonder what such a strange tradition should mean to us

     Galli goes on to suggest that baptism and communion are important precisely because they make us turn from contemplating our own feelings. He writes: 

“Rather than encouraging us to ponder the feelings that are going on inside us, the sacraments require us, however briefly, to focus on God and what he has done for us in Jesus Christ.”

     I think that this might actually be the heart of the matter.  It seems to me that Christians today tend to think that what happens in a worship service is only significant and meaningful if it excites us, fires us up, fills us with joy and determination and peace. But is it really true that nothing of significance has happened when we’re together as the church unless we’re all feeling something?

    Look at Romans 6:1-12, for example. Paul has been wrestling with a conundrum, or at least what some people might perceive as a conundrum: if we’re saved by God’s love and grace, not by things we do to put ourselves in his favor, then where’s the incentive to live a godly life? He’s just written, “where sin increased, grace increased all the more”; so why not “remain in sin so that grace may increase?” There was probably no one who’d actually say that out loud, but some of Paul’s stricter critics were likely suggesting that as the logical outcome of his theology. If God really does save us by pouring out as much grace as necessary to forgive our sins, then what motivates us to change our lives?

     In answer, Paul points to our baptism.

     Baptism reminds us of some things we should know. Baptism is sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection: just like him, our old selves — the selves “ruled by sin” — have been done away with so that we can live a new life, a resurrected life in which we’re “set free from sin” and live to God as well. So you don’t offer yourself to sin; instead, you offer yourself to God as an “instrument of righteousness.”

     These are all things you should know, Paul says, from your baptism. You may feel at a given moment as though sin has control of you; your baptism should assure you that it does not. You may feel sometime as though you can’t be an instrument of righteousness; your baptism should tell you that you can. It may feel like you’re the same old person; baptism speaks a louder word that you are not. Baptism makes you turn from your subjective feelings of the moment to an assurance that is beyond you and outside you.

     But it’s not just about what you know, is it? Go back through those first verses of Romans 6 and notice that some things happened at baptism — not things you did, but things God did. The verbs tell the story: we were united with Christ. We were raised with Christ. We were set free from sin. We died to sin. Baptism reminds us of some things that we should know, but it also assures us of some things that have been done to us and for us. This is why baptism is a sacrament, not just an ordinance: it assures us of what God has done for us in Christ.

     We ask the wrong question, I think, when we ask if a person can be saved without baptism. What we ought to be asking is, “Do you ever need assurance of your salvation?” If the answer to that question is Yes — and I think every believer who’s honest would have to admit that at times they’ve needed assurance — then why would you not be baptized? 

     There will be times when your feelings will not line up with what’s true. That’s not a knock on feelings; God has made us feeling as well as thinking creatures, and feelings are an essential part of being human. But try to operate off feelings alone and you’ll find yourself grasping in the dark for anything that will make you feel the way you think you should.   

     When you’re in doubt about God’s love for you, let your baptism remind you that you’re united with Jesus. When you’re afraid of death, let it comfort you with the certainty that you’ll live with Christ. When the easy shortcut beckons, remember from your baptism that God has made you in Jesus an instrument of righteousness. When you’ve sinned, find hope in your baptism that you’ve died with Jesus to sin’s power and that you’re not its slave anymore.

     Baptism reminds us of who we are and what God has done for us. As strange as it might seem, it matters.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Why Baptism and Communion Matter (and Why We Seem to Think They Don't)

      Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…

-Matthew 28:19 (NIV)

     This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me… This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.

-1 Corinthians 11:24-25 (NIV)

As I write this, I’m reminded of an old joke.

     There was a preacher who, every Sunday, preached on baptism. The correct theology of it, the correct practice of it, encouraging his hearers to be baptized: Every Sunday this guy was hammering baptism.

     The elders of the church had spoken to him about it a couple of times. They told him that they also appreciated the importance of baptism, but that there were also other issues and struggles that the church needed to hear him speak about. They couldn’t seem to get through to him; every Sunday the subject of his sermon continued to be baptism.

     Finally, they came up with an idea. They told him that, going forward, they’d be assigning his lesson text each week. He was free to handle it as God led him, but he must base his sermons on the text they’d assign him. The following week’s lesson, they told him, would be on the Creation story.

     So Sunday morning came, and the preacher stepped into the pulpit. “I’ll be preaching this morning from the Creation story. The text is Genesis 1:1-2: 

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty,  darkness was over the surface of the deep,  and the Spirit of God  was hovering  over the waters.

     Then, giving the congregation a long look, and especially the elders, he hammered a fist on the pulpit and said, “Which brings me to my subject this morning…”

     OK, yes, that’s kind of a long way to go for a joke that’s not that funny. But, coming as I do from a church tradition that can find baptism in most any biblical text, it always kind of makes me chuckle. 

     A couple of years ago, while he was still Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today, and as dialed in to trends in the evangelical Christian world as anyone, Mark Galli wrote an editorial called Whatever Happened to Communion and Baptism? He included some anecdotal evidence that “[baptism and communion] are in a profoundly low state in many areas of evangelical church life.”

     He cited large megachurches in which communion “is something that is presented during the offering, at a small table holding crackers and juice on the side aisles for those who feel so led to partake. Sometimes this is accompanied by the words of institution, but sometimes it is not.”

     He mentioned his experience at his own church, which attracts many students from a prominent evangelical university nearby. He talked about how so many of these students — “no doubt some of the most earnest, devout, and intelligent young believers in the evangelical world” have not been baptized. “One would have thought that their churches would have attended to this matter long before they left home for college,” he says.

     Again, anecdotal evidence, to be sure. But I suspect he’s not far off in his assessment that the sacraments (or ordinances, if you prefer) of baptism and communion are seriously neglected in some parts of the Christian world. I think there are numerous reasons for this. One is that both rites would be perceived as a turnoff to unbelievers, that non-Christians who might be in the service would feel disconnected and out of the loop if they had to sit through them. That takes for granted, of course, that a church’s worship assembly should be treated primarily as an entry point for non-Christians. I’m not convinced, myself.

     But, I suspect, that another large problem with the observance of communion and baptism is that they’re considered by many Christians to be meaningless. And apparently to many Christian leaders, else they might say more about their significance. I think the struggle here is that so many Christians think that what happens in a worship service is only significant and meaningful if it makes us “feel all the feels.” If it doesn’t make me teary or fluttery or give me goosebumps or a shot of adrenaline, then nothing real happened.

     Galli makes the point, and I think it’s a great one, that baptism and communion are important precisely because they make us turn from contemplating our own feelings. He writes:  

“We are required to look outside ourselves, to the physical means by which Christ blesses his people. Rather than encouraging us to ponder the feelings that are going on inside us, the sacraments require us, however briefly, to focus on God and what he has done for us in Jesus Christ.”

     We spend lots of time every week thinking about how we feel. When we participate in the Lord’s Supper or share in a person’s baptismal moment, we remember Christ’s death and his resurrection as the means of our own salvation.

     Now, I’m part of a church that continues to emphasize baptism; in fact, we see in Scripture that the moment of conversion to Christ and the moment of baptism are usually (though not always) entangled. We’ve even been accused of believing that baptism itself saves us; we don’t, but it illustrates how closely we hold baptism and salvation together. 

     We also continue to share in communion every week. We see in our Bibles — a little too woodenly, perhaps — a reason to believe that the early church considered weekly communion important. 

     Still, the fact that we practice both baptism and communion doesn’t guarantee that we don’t fall victim to the same sorts of problems as churches that disregard them entirely. Starting next week, I’ll make some suggestions about first baptism and then communion: How can we continue to observe both of these theologically and historically important acts in ways that cause us to “look outside ourselves” and fix our eyes on Jesus?

     May the acts of baptism and communion — acts that have blessed our spiritual ancestors for two thousand years — continue to be seen as a blessing by us as well.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Life is What Happens to Us

 A person plans his course,

but the LORD directs his steps. 

-Proverbs 16:9 (NET)

This year, I’ve gotten interested in a British TV show called Car SOS. Each week the show’s hosts, Fuzz Townshend and Tim Shaw, restore a broken-down, rusting-away classic car to factory condition for unknowing owners. The cars are chosen when friends or family of the owner contact the show. The stories are unique, but there’s a theme that runs through every episode: owner loves the car, has always intended to restore it, but circumstances have prevented it. Those circumstances are almost always a medical problem, the medical problem of a spouse or family member that has made the car owner primary caregiver, financial problems, grief and trauma, or some combination. Tim and Fuzz, with family’s or friends’ help, take the car away to their shop, spend a few weeks getting parts, repairing it, and restoring it to like-new condition, and then return it to the owner in a dramatic moment. 

     I really like seeing the cars, many of them not very common at all or never sold in the US. I’ve learned a little bit about how a car works. But the main thing I’ve taken away is best summed up by a quote I’ve heard all my life: “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

     Haven’t you found that to be the case? How many people do you know who are working in a field far-removed from what they studied in college? How many do you know who have changed careers, gone back for another degree, or started their own business? 

     Do you live where you thought you’d be living when you were a kid and pictured the future? 

     Know anyone who swore they’d never get married or have kids, and they’re now taking care of bustling families? Or how about the reverse: Do you know anyone who always intended to get married and have a family, but never found that one they thought they were meant to be with? 

     I’ve done a lot of weddings and counseled a lot of couples; no one gets married intending to get divorced in a few years. No one thinks that they’ll be dealing with financial issues, or a child with a medical problem or substance abuse problem. No one plans to be financially unable to retire. 

     No one plans to contract cancer or some chronic medical problem. And no one planned to spend 2020 basically in their houses.  

     I’ve lived in my neighborhood for over 27 years. As long as I’ve been here, at least once a week I guess I’ve seen a woman and her son. Years ago, they walked together down the sidewalk, her holding his arm to help guide and steady him. In more recent years I’ve seen him on a three-wheeled bike, pedaling while she walks beside him and keeps a hand on the handlebars, helping him steer. The son’s obviously disabled in a profound way, growing physically but, it seems, not much mentally. She’s starting to get older now. He’s in his 30s. She clearly loves her son and is determined to care for him, and I admire her for it. But, I guarantee you, as a young woman looking ahead and imagining what her life would be, she never pictured this.

     An old Yiddish proverb comes to mind: a good English translation would be “People make plans, and God laughs.” Sometimes it seems so, but I don’t think I see God that way. That saying suggests that God frustrates human plans intentionally, in a capricious way, just to sort of entertain himself. Maybe that’s reading more into it than is intended, but it’s hard for me to imagine the God who sent Jesus, the God of the Bible, laughing as he maliciously frustrates the plans of that mother in my neighborhood faithfully loving her son just to prove a point.

     I think maybe the biblical Proverb above is better: “A person plans his course, but the LORD directs his steps.”

     The Proverb doesn’t suggest that it’s wrong or arrogant or pointless to plan your course. I mean, one way to react to the tendency of life to take us in unexpected directions is to expect nothing, plan nothing. That strikes me as careless, directionless, and just not very smart. “People make plans,” the Proverb says. That’s what we do. It’s spoken of like that because it’s a characteristic of human beings that we can all relate to. We keep calendars and save money and plan for college and retirement. We plot out the path we intend to take through life. That self-awareness and intentionality about our lives is part of what makes us human. 

     But. It’s not wise to see those plans as final. James takes issue with people who make plans without recognizing that those plans depend on “the Lord’s will.” “You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow,” he says. “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” So when we make our plans, we should understand — and maybe even say out loud sometimes — that our plans are only provisional. The final right of approval or disapproval is the Lord’s, and we must bow to his will.

     We have to admit, don’t we, that it isn’t always a bad thing when our plans don’t come to fruition. Can’t we all think of intentions that we’ve had that were, at best, ill-advised? Plans that might have been disastrous? God doesn’t frustrate our plans just because he can. When he does, it’s because he has something better in mind for us. Or it’s because he sees something that we don’t. Or it’s because he has need of us to go somewhere or do something that our plans weren’t taking into account.

     The LORD directs our steps. When you see “LORD” written like that in the Bible, it’s because the word used there is the name God revealed to Israel when he made a covenant with him. Through faith in Jesus, we are included in that covenant. So let that word remind you that God is faithful, that he can be trusted with the most sacred plans you make for your life. That he loves you. That he’s with you in whatever direction your life takes. That however your plans may change, he never will.   

      If life is what happens to us when we’re busy making other plans, then maybe life’s greatest blessings are to be found, not in everything working out just like we intended it, but rather in seeing how God has been faithful to us through the unexpected twists, turns, and blind alleys.  

     The Psalmist reminds us that “[God’s] word is a lamp  for my feet, a light  on my path.” (Psalm 119:105) God can be trusted. He leads us and directs us through the gospel of Jesus, through revelation, through the presence of the Holy Spirit. He’ll shine light on your way, no matter how twisty the road gets.

     So plan your course, by all means. But don’t forget to let him direct your steps.

Friday, July 2, 2021


 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching  and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread  and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread  in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.  And the Lord added to their number  daily those who were being saved.

-Acts 2:42-47 (NIV)

I was just taking a look at some recent survey results by the Barna Research Group. It made me think of my tenth wedding anniversary.

     Back then I wasn’t nearly as smart as I am now, and I made the mistake of asking Laura, “So what’s one way I can be a better husband?” I know. I already admitted I wasn’t so smart back then.

     What I was hoping, of course, is that Laura would smile and tell me how lucky she was to be married to me, thus confirming what I kind of already thought: that I was a pretty good husband.

     I also recognized the possibility that she might have some sort of sweetly-worded constructive criticism that would push me over the top from “pretty good” to “the best husband any woman ever married.”

     Have I mentioned that I wasn’t so smart back then?

     The answer I got was neither of those. Laura rolled her eyes, sighed deeply, and said, “I wish you’d just take the garbage out without my having to ask.”

     To which I almost replied, “Maybe you shouldn’t ask so often.” At least I was smart enough not to say that.

     Now, that may not seem like such a stinging criticism, and it isn’t. She wasn’t wrong, either. But it hurt a little because I really thought I was far beyond such petty oversights. That so basic a change was the very first thing she thought of challenged the basic assumptions I had about my husband-ing skills.

     Self-awareness is an important thing.

     The research I saw highlights what might be a pretty serious self-awareness gap on the church’s part.  What it demonstrates is that there’s a wide gap between how non-Christian people see the church versus how people who attend church see it. The numbers say that the more unchurched you are and the younger you are, the less favorably you see the church. 

     Imagine for a moment that you’re a partner in a business that sells athletic shoes. Market research indicates that 80% of the people who buy your shoes have positive things to say about your company. But that same research indicates that only 21% of the people who don’t buy your shoes have positive things to say about you. Forty-six percent have a negative view of your company, and 33% are indifferent. You’d think maybe you had a problem, right? You’d be concerned about getting a new message out to those who aren’t already your customers.

     Well, those are exactly the numbers the church is looking at according to this survey. It’s great that 80% of our members speak highly of us. But it’s a big problem that only 21% of those we’re trying to reach have positive thoughts about us.

     Some other statistics from the survey:

48% of unchurched adults in the US don’t trust Christian pastors and church leaders.

53% say pastors have been strong community leaders during the COVID pandemic and in regard to racial justice.

35% of unchurched adults say that churches are irrelevant to them.

27% say we’re hypocritical.

38% say we’re detached from real issues their community is facing.

40% say we’re judgmental.

50% say they know us more for what we’re against than for what we’re for.

     It’s true, of course, that Jesus told his disciples that if the world hated him, then they’d hate them too. But this survey doesn’t suggest to me that unchurched people who dislike us do so because they dislike Jesus. It suggests to me that they dislike us in large part because we haven’t, in fact, been much like Jesus.

     Acts 2:47 says that the early church “enjoyed the favor of all the people.” A few chapters later, though the text says that folks were a little skittish about associating with them (given what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, I suppose), “they were highly regarded by the people.” Luke seems to make the point that it was the church together in their functions of teaching, fellowship, sharing hospitality, prayer, and generosity — and that they did these things with “glad and sincere hearts” — that created this positive opinion.

     We can’t ignore those numbers, but they don’t tell the whole story. There are many churches in many places doing faithful work in their communities. What we can do is be self-aware enough to recognize that just because we think of ourselves as loving doesn’t meant that our communities do. Maybe we should be asking folks more regularly, “What do you think of us?” And listening to their answers with humility.

     Surely, we can be faithful to our work of teaching, fellowship, sharing hospitality, prayer, and generosity. When we do these things, we’re most faithful to our calling and most like Jesus. It’s when we do other things that we contribute most to divisiveness. Not everyone will like everything we say and do. But teaching, fellowship, sharing hospitality, prayer and giving keep us centered on gospel things. If people object, let it be to the gospel.

     And let’s do these things with hearts as glad and as sincere as our spiritual forefathers way back then. Let joy and a sincere humility be what we’re best known for in the future. Let people be drawn to Jesus because they see in us a deeply-rooted joy that circumstances around us can’t choke out. Let them see his genuineness and integrity in our lives. May they detect in us no hypocrisy or ulterior motives.

     Maybe, if we’ll make it our business do these things in these ways, people who see numbers like these in the future will say, “That's not the church I know.”

     And maybe God will add to our number daily too.