Category archives: money

Fancy Church Buildings

I’m preaching a message on Haggai 2:1-9 inspired by the phrase “Desire of Nations” found in the advent song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

The point of the passage is that the Second Temple that Ezra was building didn’t look very impressive to anybody who could remember the first one built by Solomon four centuries earlier.

Haggai was writing about 520 BC, so there’s nobody today who remember’s Solomon’s Temple. Apart from what the Bible says, we do know a little bit about the Second Temple from the Arch of Titus in Rome that celebrates its destruction in AD 70. Clearly, they used menorahs:

Arch of Titus

Arch of Titus



(Click on a picture to see it enlarged).

What might Solomon’s Temple have looked like? From the text of Haggai, it seems to have had a lot of silver and gold decoration. How much? We can look at some churches built in the past for a clue.

Here’s the altar of the St. Peter’s Cathedral in Worms, Germany:

Cathedral of St. Peter

Cathedral of St. Peter


Apart from its altar, St. Peter’s really a pretty austere place, as Gothic Cathedrals go. But it’s decorated with some seriously weird art. For example, what’s with this guy?

Death? or Resurrection?


Of course, Germany’s no patch on Italy. Here’s the church of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs in Rome, across the street from the train station:

Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs

Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs


(For some scale, the guy tying his shoe in the second picture is leaning on the wall located about 4 o’clock across the floor from those two people in the foreground of the first picture.)

But that’s just a church in Rome. What about the Vatican itself? Here are some pictures from the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica:

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica


There’s a statue on your right when you enter the building:

Michelangelo's Pieta


But even the Vatican isn’t fancy, compared to the Co-Cathedral of St. John in Valetta, Malta.

Co-Cathedral of St. John

Co-Cathedral of St. John


The only problem is it needs more gold leaf, don’t you think?

More gold leaf? Coming up:

Co-Cathedral of St. John

Co-Cathedral of St. John



“I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more gold leaf.”

Beside gold leaf, they also used a lot of Maltese Crosses in their decorating.

Maltese Cross

Maltese Cross


But it’s not just gold leaf and Maltese Crosses. There’s also a lot of marble. The only problem? They use it to make skulls and skeletons:

Skeleton in Marble

Skull-Themed Art

What’s the Church For?

If a curious stranger asked one of us what it was that Christians believed, some of us would stumble our way through the Apostles’ Creed (“I believe in one God, Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”). Others might think of John 3:16 (“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”). Those are great answers: the Creed lists the major points of belief Christians have affirmed down through the centuries. John 3:16 isn’t as detailed, but it captures the essence of our faith better than perhaps any other Scripture.

But suppose that instead of asking about Christianity, the stranger asked you about church. How would you answer that? John 3:16’s no help: it doesn’t even mention the church. The Apostles’ Creed affirms a belief in the “holy catholic church” it doesn’t explain what that is, or the role it plays in a believer’s life.

In the gospels, Jesus himself barely mentions the church, although the two places he does are pretty important. In Matthew 16:18 he says that not even the gates of Hell will prevail against the church. In Matthew 18:17 he explains how to handle conflict in the church. (According to his command, it’s the only way to deal with conflict, so you might want to check if you’ve been doing it right.)

Jesus says a lot more to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3, but the best place to get an understanding of the church is from the early church itself: from its history in Acts, and from the Epistles that Paul and other leaders wrote to the those early churches.

That’s still a lot of reading, though. Suppose your stranger was impatient, and you didn’t have a copy of the New Testament handy. What could you tell them?

When I think what Scripture might serve the same “quick explanation” function for the Church that John 3:16 does for Christianity, what comes to mind for me is this:

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.—Acts 2:44-47

That’s a wonderful picture of the church. Theologians sometimes call it “the provisional demonstration of the Kingdom of God.” In other words, it’s not exactly what things will be like in the Resurrection, but it’s as close as anybody will get until then.

Now, we may raise our eyebrows at “having things in common” and “selling possessions” and “distributing to all.” I think most of us tend to read it as “you have to give up your stuff.” But that’s not what it says. It says when there was a need, people were quick to help each other. Don’t confuse the church with redistributionist political schemes.

Have you ever had a “refrigerator friend?” That’s the name Craig Groeschel gives to the kind of friend who can get things out of your refrigerator without asking. You don’t want friends asking, “Is it okay with you if I get some cream to put in my coffee?” If they’re still asking permission, they aren’t refrigerator friends, just acquaintances.

The picture in Acts is a community of refrigerator friends. They worship together (“they spent much time together in the temple”) but they did other things together too (“they broke bread at home”).

Of course, not every church does things as well as they did in Acts 2. In fact, even the early church wasn’t always that kind of church: just a couple of chapters later, we find out the church had to deal with greedy people and squabbling. But the picture in Acts 2 is the ideal. It’s what God wants the church to be like.

How do we compare to that ideal? Has the church helped you find some “refrigerator friends?” What could we do to help people build those kind of relationships? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Various Changes in the NFOG

I thought I would note some of the changes I’ve run across as we begin operating under the NFOG. I may update this post as I find other items worth mentioning.

  • There’s no longer a requirement for deacons to meet annually with session. (The old G-6.0405.)
  • The category of “inactive member” has been eliminated: G-1.0401. (Amen.)
  • Congregations decide their own rules for the minimum notification time preceding a congregational meeting: G-1.0502.
  • Congregations also set their own quorum to conduct business: G-1.0501.
  • Robert’s Rules is no longer mandated (old G-7.0302c).
  • The composition of the nominating committee is defined by the congregation, except it has to have (in addition to the ex-officio pastor) three active members and at least one currently-serving ruling elder: G-2.0401.
  • After the election of new officers, session examines them, and, if they pass, session decides when they get ordained and/or installed: G-2.0402.
  • Sessions decide their own quorum: G-3.0203.

Stewardship Information

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.—1 Corinthians 12:4-7

Fall is the traditional time for churches to emphasize stewardship. And while that emphasis may not be limited to a discussion of the church’s finances, it is almost always a part of the discussion.

You may recall our annual congregational meeting back in January, where I laid out a rather sobering assessment of our finances. Since then, we have actually had some encouraging developments. So far this year, we have reduced our average monthly loss almost by half, from more than $2,000 to about $1,200. In fact, we actually made a modest “profit” during August.

I’m looking forward to some occasions where I can share this information with you in more detail, but the short version is this: We aren’t out of the woods yet, but we’re in much better shape than I expected us to be. Partly, this is because the leaders of the church are being very careful about every expenditure. But the main reason for our improving situation is your generosity and commitment to carrying out the mission of this church.

In our stewardship conversation, however, I don’t want to limit our discussion to the church’s finances, however, or even to money. Stewardship is about how we all use God’s gifts to accomplish the work God calls us to do. It’s about money, certainly. But it’s also about what we do with our property, our innate abilities, our likes and dislikes, the skills we’ve acquired—everything. It is about everything we have and everything we are, for it all belongs to God—every penny and every second. We are only its managers, or stewards. (Matthew 25:14-30)

For that reason, I hope that you will do some serious, prayerful consideration about how God might be calling you to use your gifts to support the church’s mission.

Maybe you should join the choir, or volunteer to work in the sound room on Sunday morning. Perhaps you should be doing cleanup after the fellowship time, or greeting people before worship. Possibly you should be serving as a Sunday school teacher, or their helper. You might be called to service in an ordained capacity as a deacon or elder. Or something completely different. I don’t know. Maybe you don’t know either. But God does know.

As we begin our stewardship emphasis this fall, I hope you’ll make a commitment to ask God’s guidance in this area. Don’t wait for the nominating committee to call, because if you do, you’ll probably say the first thing that comes to mind. (“No!”) Instead, put some effort into it. Talk with God about it. Remind God about all the other things you’re trying to get done, and ask God to guide you in setting your priorities.

My prayer for each of us is that God will reveal how he wants us to participate in what he is doing in, and through, Desert Hills church.

Financial Update

Income (YTD) $44,852
Expenses (YTD) $56,358
Bank and investment accounts (5/3) $64,663