Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Appeal of the Small Country Church

Many people love to go to big churches. That's why they are big. They usually feature the best of everything - top notch musicians and preaching, programs for everyone, and the excitement of being part of a big crowd.

But that can sometimes be a problem. Not everyone likes being in a big crowd. Alan Patterson and his wife Wyona attend the Orrington Center Church (located in the center of Orrington) because it isn't big. When they moved to Orrington from Stockton Springs, they tried out a couple of the bigger churches. "We tried out a number of churches, but people would look right at you and never say, 'Hi.'" said Paterson, "They were too impersonal. You go and you say you've been, then you leave and nobody knows. Sometimes you might not show up for a month and nobody knows."

But when they came to Orrington Center Church, things were different. According to Patterson, "People met us at the door and welcomed us. They made us feel right at home. Why would you want to go to a great big church where you are a nobody?" His wife Wyona added, "When they don't even know your name."

This is why there will always be a place for the small country church. It seems like family. It seems like you belong. When you miss a Sunday, people call to see what's wrong, or they send you a note telling you that you were missed. "If I miss church," added Patterson, "the Pastor always sends me a note and tells me I've been missed."

When the Davis family moved into the area from Deer Isle, they missed their old church. Sherry Davis explained, "Although we were loath to give up our old church, we wanted to join a fellowship where we could fit in as part of a new family and be part of a local body of believers. Orrington Center Church gave us such a warm welcome that we have been blessed."

Carolyn Howard agrees that the church has a family atmosphere. She is 93 years old and has attended the church since she was six. She raised her children and watched her grandchildren be raised in the church. In reflecting over her lifetime in the church, she says, "I've seen a lot of changes. We didn't even meet here in the winter when I was a child because we didn't have heat. Then we got a wood furnace, and the janitor came and stayed all night to tend the fire so we could have heat on Sunday."

Small country churches develop this kind of loyalty in their members. "Everybody supported the church in the area," Mrs. Howard said. "It was their church. They didn't always come, but it was their church." The small country church becomes a place of belonging.

It is also a place you can feel ownership and take responsibility. In the 1980s, when the church was loosely affiliated with the United Methodist denomination, there was an attempt by the denomination to consolidate the churches in Orrington. The Orrington Center Church was marked for shut-down and demolition. Eunice Baldwin, whose husband was one of the trustees who placed his own personal assets at risk by entering into a lawsuit to keep the building from being torn down, remembers. "It was awful," said Mrs. Baldwin. "I can't imagine they were going to tear this beautiful building down." Having gone through the battles together gives the congregation a sense of solidarity - a feeling that "this is my church" - a sense of ownership.

Being in a small church also gives you a place to minister. You don't have to have near professional quality talent to sing in the choir or play an instrument, and you don't have to have a seminary degree to teach Sunday School. According to Deacon Mark Chellis, "In a small country church, we all know each other and minister to one another. Everybody has an important ministry to fulfill, and no one has to feel left out or unused by the Lord."

Jody Lowery agrees. "Our small church encourages everyone, members or not, to use their gifts to minister to our church family and to those in the community," she said. "We are a family. If one is happy, we all rejoice. If one is down, we encourage each other."

Debbie Lockman concurs. "It's true," she said. "You feel like family. You can count on these people like family." Those who are ill or who have been shut-in have meals brought to them; or if they have home projects they can't complete, people come by to help.

Hebrews 10:25 says, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another." At a small church with a family atmosphere, it is easy to do that. Most people come, not for what they can get, but for what they can give. You see the same people week after week and get to know them. You know them well enough to know their needs. You know when they are hurting or depressed. You know when they are struggling with sin. You can offer the words of encouragement or correction, just like they were family.

These are the reasons there will always be a place for the small country church. It is the kind of place people crave to be a part of. The Orrington Center Church is still small enough to seem like family.

The Orrington Center Church at 468 Dow Road in Orrington is an Independent Bible Church that has sered the community for 175 years. They worship every Sunday at 9:00 A.M. For more information on the church, check out their web site at

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Contest of Values

My father is a World War II vet and a patriot who complains about high taxes and government waste. He thinks abortion is murder and can't imagine two men getting married. He lived through the Great Depression, so he always pays his bills on time and doesn't go into debt. He stands proudly at Fourth of July parades, and he always sings the National Anthem. My dad is also a lifelong Democrat.

There are a lot of other older Americans I know who are just like my dad, and they are also lifelong Democrats. Except now, the Democratic Party no longer reflects their core values. As a matter of fact, their political party is diametrically opposed to their core values. It's a far cry from the party they remember. Many remain in it only out of loyalty or inertia.

But this is why so many people holding beliefs like my dad have joined the Tea Party movement. It is a small government, patriotic movement that believes what they believe. It is, indeed, what Mark Potok, Huffington Post columnist and spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, sneeringly refers to as the "Patriot Movement." Yes, they are patriots and proud of it. They love their country.

Which is why it didn't surprise me very much to read the results of a Harvard University study recently showing that those who attend fourth of July parades are more likely to become "right wingers." The actual title of the research paper is, Shaping the Nation: Estimating the Impact of Fourth of July Using Natural Experiment. Imagine, for a moment, someone actually doing such a study.

The research paper concludes,
"There is a political congruence between the patriotism promoted on the Fourth of July and the values associated with the Republican Party."
The paper further stated,
"Fourth of July celebrations in the United States shape the nation's political landscape by forming beliefs and increasing participation primarily in favor of the Republican Party."
Really? The Republicans own love of country? What do the Democrats own?

In commenting on the study, Matt Barber wrote,
"This, of course, begs the question: If Fourth of July parades churn out little GOPers and embody the values of conservatism, what type of parade might spawn young Democrats? What event best represents liberalism? If Old Glory is the banner behind which conservatives do battle,what pennon do you suppose guides the proud left into combat? Rainbow flag, anyone?"

Barber goes on to explain,
"Indeed the 'gay pride' parade perhaps more than any other best encapsulates the values embraced by today's secular-progressive left. Think about it. It's got it all."

Then Barber lists the following:gay pride parades are obscenely expensive; they celebrate a caution-to-the-wind, enjoy-now-pay-later lifestyle; they have men who act like women and women men; they have flamboyant narcissism, moral relativism, and plenty of gyrating nude bodies; they have colorful public sex displays to confuse, desensitize, and sexualize the kiddos; they have lots of anti-Americanism; and they are devoid of God. I think he's on to something. And our President is leading the charge.

President Obama is the one who spearheaded the the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He is the one who refuses to do his job as chief law enforcement officer and defend the Defense of Marriage Act. He is the Commander in Chief that allows military chaplains to marry same-sex couples on military bases, and gives them benefits reserved for married couples. Our President seems embarrassed, and feels the need to continually apologize, for the nation we once were. The list goes on and on.

When speaking at a fundraiser for the homosexual activist group Human Rights Campaign recently, President Obama said of the 2012 election,
"This is a contest of Values. That's what is at stake here. this is a fundamental debate about who we are as a nation."

He is absolutely right - I couldn't agree more. This is a contest of values. This is a moral issue. Are we going to be the land that celebrates God and patriotism, or are we going to be the land that celebrates tolerance and diversity of everything except God and morality?

My dad continues to be a democrat, along with many other good men and women that I admire; and they continue to vote democrat. But they either have to ignore the direction of their party, or they have to hold their nose while voting. Perhaps it is time for the Democrats who love truth, morality, and America to take back their party from the radicals.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Chasing the Wrong Europe

I've been preaching through the book of Habakkuk in my church, and the plight of this Old Testament prophet has a lot of parallels with our nation. The prophet looked around his nation of ancient Israel, and what he saw sickened him. There was sin and idolatry all around - yes, in this nation that had once been built on the law of God. The prophet asked God why he put up with it, and God responded that He already had it all under control. God had prepared the mighty Babylonian army to sweep down from the north and take them captive. We too, as a nation established on godly principles, have fled far from our origins.

As we looked at that scenario, we talked about the steps leading up to the death of a nation. There are always three: The first is religious apostasy. The second is moral awfulness. And the third is political anarchy.

Are we at stage three? Who knows? Some point to gridlock in congress as proof. Others point to the protests on Wall Street, similar to the protests in Greece and other European countries, which are decidedly anti-capitalist and anarchist. Now protests have spread across the country and have even come to Portland, and other cities of Maine. According to Ann Coulter, the anti-capitalist rhetoric comig from the participants of Occupy Wall Street mirrors the beginning of "totalitarianism." Coulter writes,
"All those quotes could have been said in 1789 in France before the French Revolution, or with only slight modification when the Nazis were coming to power, in Cuba under Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. . . . This is always the beginning of totalitarianism."
More and more, people are fleeing personal responsibility and demanding to be taken care of by the government.

We may debate whether our economic crisis and Occupy Wall Street are the beginning of anarchy, but there is little doubt about the first two stages. How can we deny moral awfulness when our country allows the killing of our babies in the womb, makes pornography available on the internet, and promotes same-sex marriage? But none of this would happen if we had not first abandoned our faith in a good and just God. We are even now actively rewriting our history to repudiate the Christian heritage of our nation. We are definitely in the midst of religious apostasy.

Once, the United States was a beacon of freedom and goodness for the world to emulate. Unfortunately, that is no longer true. Donald Wildman, founder of the American Family Association, wrote,
"A dark cloud has ascended on America. Once the land of freedom and responsibility, once a culture guided by a Judeo-Christian heritage, once a land where responsibilities were exalted, America has been shrouded by a dark cloud. This cloud has left us unable to tell right from wrong. Indeed, it has caused us to call wrong, right."

Much of our problem is our mad pursuit of the failed policies of Western Europe. Western Europe is a land of social (socialist) democracies that run huge government debts (like Greece). It is a land of sexual promiscuity, and they have paved the way for same-sex marriage. But most telling, Western Europe is a land where Christianity has all but died. Their great cathedrals are now mostly empty, or they have been turned into boutiques or Muslim mosques.

Rather than chase after the Western Europe, which has paved the way for failure, we should emulate an Eastern European country - Hungary. Coming out from under the iron heel of communism, they are turning back to their Christian roots. Recently, they passed a new constitution that has some fascinating articles. Let me quote some passages from it:

The first paragraph applauds their Christian past. It is entitled, The National Avowal of Faith. It states,
"At the dawn of a new millennium, we members of the Hungarian nation declare the following, with a bond of duty to all Hungarians: We are proud that one thousand years ago our king, Saint Stephen, based the Hungarian State on solid foundations and made our country a part of Christian Europe."
We have been running from our Christian past and libeling the faith of our Founding Fathers, denying that their Christian faith guided their pursuit of building a nation based on the laws of God. We are traveling in the opposite direction of Hungary.

The same section of their constitution also says,
"We acknowledge the role Christianity has played in preserving our nation. We respect all our countries religious traditions. We solemnly promise to preserve the intellectual and spiritual unity of our nation, torn apart by the storms of the past century."
Those storms came in the form of subjugation to the atheistic, communist Soviet Union. We are now trying to do what the communists did in banning Christianity from public life.

But, because of their Christian roots, they also uphold marriage. Their constitution also adds these lines in Article K, a section called, Fundamentals:
"Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage, understood to be the conjugal union of a man and a woman based on their voluntary decision. Hungary shall also protect the institution of the family, which it recognizes as the basis for the survival of the nation. Hungary shall promote the commitment to have and raise children."
We once upheld the family unit as the basis of society. We need to again.

One more noteworthy section is entitled, Freedom and Responsibility. It contains the line,
"Human dignity shall be inviolable. Everyone shall have the right to life and human dignity: the life of the fetus shall be protected from the moment of conception."
That once was universally understood. here too; the right to life even being included in our Declaration of Independence and and Bill of Rights as a core value. But as I said earlier, we are now trying to be more like Western Europe than Hungary.

I applaud the stand taken by Hungary on these fundamental issues. I can't help but believe that God will bless them for this. When will we, as a nation, return to the original experiment of our Founding Fathers, which worked gloriously, and discard the new experiments of the social engineers, which have failed Western Europe? We are following the path to destruction as a nation. The way is all too clear. But the path back from the brink is just as clear. We must return to our roots - our Christian roots. Then the rest will fall into place.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Christians Have Nothing to Lose

The world is a dangerous place for Christians. When Jesus sent out His disciples in Matthew 10:16, He warned them, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves." Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani would agree. The wolves are circling around him waiting for the kill.

This past week, this Iranian pastor faced execution rather than recant his Christian faith. Pastor Nadarkhani, who claims he was never a Muslim, was found guilty of converting to Christianity by the 11th Branch of the Gilan Provincial Court because he has an Islamic ancestry.

When asked to repent, Nadarkhani stated, "Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?"

"To the religion of your ancestors, Islam." the judge replied.

"I cannot." Nadarkhani answered.

Thus the verdict - the sheep was found guilty. Since the public outcry, the Iranian officials, after the fact, claim his case is about rape and extortion. How convenient. The truth is he gained notice of the Iranian officials because his house church had grown to 400 people, and he questioned the indoctrination of his children by Iranian schools.

Nadarkhani isn't alone. Elam Ministries of England reports that during the six months from June 2010 until January 2011, a total of 202 such arrests occurred in Iran. The sheep were rounded up. But even though stories like this aren't reported often, stories like this are extremely common. As a matter of fact, each year about 100,000 Christians are martyred world wide. Romans 8:36 says, "We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter;" and world wide, the slaughter of Christians takes place.

The number of "silent killings" of Christians in Nigeria over the past few months failed to make the news. International Christian Concern reports that radical Muslim leader, Boko Haran, has killed at least ten Christians in Maiduguri, Nigeria, for violations of Sharia Law.

In 2009 in Pakistan, Asa Bibi, a mother of five, working with other women in a field picking berries, went to the well for a bucket of drinking water. When she returned, the other women refused to drink from it saying it was contaminated having been touched by a Christian. There was an altercation, and the Muslim women went to a cleric to accuse Bibi of blasphemy.

Bibi was tried for violating Pakistani Penal Code, section 295c, which says, "Whoever . . . defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable for fine." According to the London Telegraph, she was "convicted on the evidence of two witnesses who were not present in the fields where the exchange is supposed to have taken place." Bibi still remains in prison, and her family hides in fear for their lives.

Why would these Christians refuse to recant in the face of this intense persecution? Reading the Scriptures makes it clear. In Luke 12:4-5. Jesus told us,
"My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell: yes, I say to you, fear Him."
The answer is simple. All men can do is kill you. But, God holds your eternal soul in His hands. Fear God more.

But the next verses show how much God cares. In Luke 12:6-7, Jesus says,
"Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are numbered. Do not fear, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows."

The good news for believers is that God has already taken the eternal risk out of death. In John 11:25, Jesus assures us, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, yet shall he live." In Romans 8:35, Paul asks a rhetorical question, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" Then he lists as many things that he can think of that might. But none of them can. Paul's conclusion, in Romans 8:38-39 states,
"For I am persuaded that neither life nor death . . . nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

We all die. Why shouldn't we die for something worthwhile? And what is more worthwhile than serving the King of kings and Lord of lords who loves us and rewards us? God is great at rewarding us. Jesus assured us, in Matthew 5:11-12,
"Blessed are you when the revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven."
We have nothing to lose by serving God and everything to gain.

In his History of Christian Missions, Stephen Neil wrote that every early Christian "knew that sooner or later he might have to testify to his faith at the cost of his life." More and more, that is becoming true again today. We, as Christians, must be prepared for it.

Even here in America, we see the bubble of protection afforded to us by our First Amendment being eroded. Whether it's the firing of Frank Turek by Cisco for comments in favor of traditional marriage, the intimidation against those in California who favored Proposition 8, or the resignation of Laura L. Fortusky, town clerk in Barker, New York, rather than be forced to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the threat is real. Even the Bangotr Daily News reported death threats against Marc Mutty and Michael Heath for their work turning back same-sex marriages in Maine in 2009.

Quoting Alan Sears,
"From high school and college textbooks that ridicule or try to expunge our historical Judeo-Christian roots, to shameless lawsuits against the public display of symbols identifiable with Christianity, to the hampering of the religious speech of public officials, and of course, the ongoing governmental limitations on the First Amendment protected rights of pastors in the pulpits, Christians (and Christianity) are forced to fight for the freedom so many others readily enjoy."

In the words of John Piper, "In America and around the world, the price of being a real Christian is rising. Things are getting back to normal."