May 19. 2024

“First, I’m curious as to what kind of church you are running up there?” asked a caller to my church office.

His was the kind of question I get lately since returning to the pastor role.

Most often, callers are like the young mother of three who told me, “I have three churches I’m considering attending, but first I’m asking the pastors to answer some questions.”

She squashed that ordinal number “FIRST,” as if drawing a line in the theological sand.

“FIRST, does your church teach tithing?”

I assumed she knew most churches encourage donations, but not wanting to scare her off, I was slow to answer. Was she looking for a discount? Or was she searching for a rich church?

Some people call the church directly and others find me through my local column. Readers usually leave a voicemail, graciously giving me time to formulate an answer.

I played back a message from a man last week wanting to know how he could donate to Chispa Project. I returned the call, excited to tell him about my upcoming trip to Honduras, but he too began with a question.

FIRST, “I want to know if angels are able to speak to us.”

His challenging question made me want to ask, “Can I call a friend? Or ask the audience?”  Maybe I should have said, “Yes. The angels are telling you to donate to Chispa Project at”

Another man saw that I had a woman scheduled to preach while I was away.

“FIRST of all, should women really be allowed to preach in church?”

I knew he was referring to 1 Timothy 2:12: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet” (NIV).

Since I assumed he knew I invited the guest pastor, his question seemed more challenging than inquisitory, intoned much like the political questions I get.

“You must FIRST believe that abortion is wrong,” suggested a Pro-life advocate.

“Isn’t God against homosexuality?” was the message left in a weathered tone. “God FIRST made man and then made woman.”

“We need to FIRST return prayer to the schools,” said one visitor who dared attend without first checking my political pedigree.

“God is on the side of Israel!, Shouldn’t we all be calling for the destruction of Hamas?” asked one local pastor.

I know that many books have been written about all of these issues by good Christians on both sides. I know sincere believers can disagree about things.

But I try to discourage those seeking a binary faith of yes-and-no answers by sharing first, the words from The Message in Matthew 22:36-40.

“When asked what was the FIRST and most important of all of God’s laws,

Jesus said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list.

“But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

I know I didn’t answer most of my callers as they would have hoped. But perhaps once I’ve mastered Jesus’ list, I’ll have better responses to their questions.

Finally, my best call began last week, with “FIRST, I think your new picture makes you look like Jean-Luc Picard.”

Of course, as a Trek fan, I knew he was referring to Patrick Stewart, the fictional captain of the USS Enterprise-D in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I felt a bit affronted as Stewart is totally bald. I’m not – yet.

Should I allow this caller to make the final cut for our church membership? Stay tuned.


Readers: I return to Honduras next month to help establish the 86th library for Chispa Project. Honestly, we’ll need some big last-minute donations to fully fund this library.

Give online today at or make check to “Chispa Project.” Send to 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602. Email or message at (843) 608-9715.