Make Christianity Christian Again

This really isn’t a political post, so please don’t read it that way. It’s written to my follow believers no matter how they voted and which party (if any) they support.

Like you, I have seen over the course of the last several months Christians behaving badly. This was most recently demonstrated over and over again in the news clips of people storming the Capitol Building some carrying Jesus banners, crosses and wearing Christianese paraphernalia. I have seen videos of pastors praying for curses to be brought upon those who disagreed with their political view. Some Christians, even well-known Christian leaders, have been guilty of spreading false rumors. Others have called for insurrection and extoled the use of violence in the name of Jesus. I’ve seen white supremacists and those blatantly exposing racist attitudes declaring a devotion to Jesus (sometimes in the same sound bite). If Jesus were still in the grave, he’d be rolling over. Instead, surely Jesus is disgusted by what has been done in his name by a few nut cases and a few whose eyes are no longer fixed on Him. 

Here’s the problem, like you and me, my non-Christian friends and acquaintances have seen this unsurely business too. They have seen the minority of Christians behaving badly, thinking this is all of Christianity and have said a big “Thanks but no thanks” to anything related to Christians. If we define “Christian” as being a follower of Christ, then we need to start acting like Jesus. We need to modify the campaign slogan of four years ago. Let’s “Make Christianity Christian Again.”

Let’s preach, teach and live out the lessons of Jesus. Let’s pray for those who disagree with us (our enemies). Let’s refuse to curse those who curse us. Let’s be peacemakers. Let’s love people—all people. Let’s not be afraid to eat with the “tax collectors and other sinners” of our day. Let’s be a good neighbor. Let’s not cast the first stone, and yet still be bold and loving enough to say, “Go and sin no more.” Let’s bring healing and help. Let’s be quick to forgive and quicker to seek forgiveness. Let’s be slow to speak, slower to anger and slowest at being first. Let’s pick up the basin and towel and serve. Let’s remember to also pick up our cross daily. Let’s be like Jesus. Let’s Make Christianity Christian Again. 

A Response to the Violence at the Capitol Building

Usually I take this space to offer an encouraging word; maybe a light-hearted little piece; or a commentary on the church. Following yesterday’s images from Washington D.C that were broadcast across the country, as a pastor (not as a politician), I am compelled to offer this:

America is divided. Like never before in my lifetime, we are not a “united” state. My heart is heavy and sad. In the midst of such chaos and turmoil, there can be a few things on which followers of Jesus agree. Such as:

  • What happened at the Capitol Building yesterday was a disgrace. 
  • Yesterday’s events have once again exposed that we have problems in our country. Lots of problems. Problems that will not go away overnight.
  • Violence is not the answer to our many problems.
  • Jesus is correct when he said in Mark 3:25, If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Houses, churches and/or countries in this context are all the same. Division leads to destruction.
  • The answer to our world’s greatest problems is Jesus. We have just celebrated the season when we had the audacity to believe prophet Isaiah’s words considering the Babe of Bethlehem:  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Given the above facts, can we, followers of Prince of Peace, join together in praying for our country? Jesus called us to love and pray for even our enemies. Such a call includes praying for the following people…

  • Those with whom we disagree
  • Those who voted differently than us
  • Politicians and leaders on both sides (all sides) of the aisle 
  • Those who were hiding in offices as rioters stormed the Capital Building 
  • Those who were doing the storming 
  • The police officers who were trying hard to protect and serve
  • Our children who watched yesterday’s unfolding drama and today are wondering about the country we will one day hand over to them 

My heart breaks for our nation. Our greatest weapon is prayer (Ephesians 6:18). So let’s pray. Our greatest attribute is love. So let’s love one another (John 13:34). Our great temptation will be to take our eyes off Jesus and onto something or someone else. So let’s keep our “eyes fixed on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). 

Will America recover from this divisiveness? I do not know. Will Jesus be Lord when all is said and done? Yes, He will! 

This Pastor’s Truer-than-ever Bible verses as we enter 2021

These passages have always been true, but they hit closer to home to this preacher and maybe you too: 

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.” (James 4:13-14). For the first time ever, we can truly say: Hindsight is 2020. In looking back on 2020, what priorities have been revealed? What we thought was important may not be that important.

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Timothy 4:2). Preaching in 2020 qualifies as “out of season” preaching. Two thirds of the crowd are sitting on a couch watching the sermon. Have seeds been planted? Are they growing? The preacher doesn’t know. It’s out of season. Great patience and careful instruction are needed more than ever.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”  (Genesis 2:18). Which is worse: dying from a virus or dying from a lonely heart? Loneliness is real and heartbreaking. Too many have died alone or mostly alone. We need each other more than ever.

Mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15). The preacher says, “Amen.” The funeral is over. Now what? There’s nothing magical in the sliced ham and cheesy potatoes served at a funeral dinner. The unspoken message in our eating with relatives and lifelong friends is closure can happen, life moves forward and Jesus is with us. 

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. (2 Corinthians 8:2). The pandemic has revealed both sides of this literal coin. Givers give and greedy don’t. Money has little to do with this equation. Jesus was right (duh). You can judge a person by their fruit. 

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25). Please note this observation has been confirmed repeatedly by on-line worshippers. They sense it. They know it’s happening. Their hearts are growing colder. They don’t like it or want it, but a fade is occurring. How can it not? We need each other to avoid critical attitudes, vacuumed opinions and self-focused agendas that grow when we are absent. We need each other to spur one another on to love and good deeds. Our gathering is indispensable but must be safe.

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Matthew 24:44). The cliché is wrong. Death and taxes are not the only certainties in life, Jesus’ return is certain. Jesus is coming again. The Day is approaching. Am I ready? Are you?

This list could be longer, but I pray 2021 will call me to:

  1. Prioritize Jesus (pandemic or no)
  2. Be Faithful in preaching no matter the season.
  3. Come alongside the lonely or mourning.
  4. Be Generous no matter the bottom line.
  5. Have an unswervingly commitment to our indispensable gathering
  6. Be ready to see Jesus whatever may occur in 2021

Whatever happens in 2021, I want to be faithful, generous, and ready.

The Needed Reminder for Christmas Eve 2020

One of the necessary ingredients of a good Christmas Eve service, in my opinion, is when a powerful soloist sings, “O Holy Night.” It’s not Christmas Eve until I hear, “O Holy Night.” The song contains these words:   

A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

This year has produced more than a few weary souls. I’m one of them. You probably are too. We are all weary. But the good news as we celebrate Christmas Eve 2020 is that “yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

We have hope!  Jesus has come! Rejoice! Fall on your knees and hear the angel voices!!

O Holy Night was originally written in French. An American abolitionist and Unitarian minister, John Sullivan Dwight, brought it to America in the 1850’s. The song became very popular in the north prior to the Civil War where the third verse rang very, very true. 

Read the lyrics from the last verse. Take them all in. Let these words swirl in your mind and heart. Imagine living in pre-civil war America and singing out these words: 

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name 

The powerful message of the third verse was a needed reminder to the abolitionists in the 1800’s and it’s a needed reminder to our 2020, covid-weary, grief-stricken, election-depleted, social-unrest-burdened souls.  Jesus still calls us to love one another. His law is still love and His Gospel is still peace. Jesus still breaks the chains of oppression for everyone is still our brother and sister!  Yes, in 2020 and in every other year, let all within us praise His Holy Name!

More than ever I need the powerful message of Christmas!  My weary soul needs to hear the Good News!  Rejoice this Christmas Eve, my brothers and sisters, rejoice! For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

What the Latest Nazarene Year-End-Numbers tell us about the USA/Canada Clergy (Hint: It’s not good news)

According to the latest General Secretary report, there are 4,544 Churches of the Nazarene in USA/Canada and 23,508 Churches of the Nazarene in the world. There are 2,313,216 members in the Church of the Nazarene worldwide (615,610 USA/Canada). You can see the full report here

USA/Canada saw a 1.58% decline in membership in the last year (7.83% decline in the last decade). Every other region has seen double digit growth in the last decade:

Africa                          +56.07%

Eurasia                        +64.48%

Asia Pacific                 +19.27%

MesoAmerica            +31.13%

South America          +37.94%

USA/Canada has more money, more resources, more clergy, and yet we are sliding down the wrong side of a slippery slope. In fact, USA/Canada has 58.6% of the ordained elders in the world (10,927 out of 18,641)—but accounts for only 18% of the conversions (40,696 of the 225,324 conversions) in the last year.  If you are keeping score at home, the conversions to elder ratio in USA/Canada vs. Africa is not even in the same ballpark. In USA/Canada there are 3.72 conversions for every elder, and in Africa there are 39.8 conversions per elder. USA/Canada received 20,401 new Nazarenes last year or less than 2 per elderEurasia received 23,161 new Nazarenes with only 905 elders (25.59 new Nazarenes per elder). I could go on and on but you get the picture.

It’s not all on the ordained elders. We are Protestants after all, and we firmly believe in the “priesthood of all believers.” Our culture is changing. All denominations are down. There probably isn’t a simple answer to fixing this dilemma. Still the stats don’t lie. Moreover, if the experts are even half correct, the pandemic has made things worse, not better for our pastors. If USA/Canada clergy were having trouble reaching the culture pre-Covid, what will happen post-covid? If USA/Canada clergy had a burnout problem pre-2020, what will happen in 2021?  The outlook might seem as dire as those aboard Apollo 13, and my fellow Nazarenes might want to say, “Lenexa, we have a problem.”

But Instead of crying out to Lenexa, maybe we should cry out to the Lord. Jesus tells us to pray for the workers in the harvest field (see Matthew 9). Usually, we assume that’s solely a call for more workers, but we already have plenty of workers. Instead of more, could we pray for renewed passion, wisdom and strength for the workers we already have? We need encouraged pastors. Could we pray for an army of encouragers to come alongside our weary pastors? 

To see a turnaround in the USA/Canada numbers we will need a renewed spirit, a fresh fire among our pastors and laity alike. We need men and women captured and inspired to live out and share the good news. The harvest is still plentiful, but our workers are weary. Pray that the Lord of the harvest might revive us once more.

My 2020 Definitions are Far Different from What They Would Have been in 2019

Prior to 2020, I would have given the following definitions to these words and phrases:

Covid-19: Code name for the attempt to obtain a conspiracy video after the first 18 spies failed

Quarantines: When Quaran-children get a little older

Lock down: The deadbolt is at the bottom of the door

Sorry, no toilet paper: Why the mischievous youth group members didn’t go to the youth pastor’s house on the night before he/she returned from vacation

Superspreader: Someone really good at making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

Socially distant: Staying away from Facebook or Twitter

Sports bubble: The new Bazooka gum flavor

PPE: What the mean consonants called the non-potty trained vowel

ZOOM: The sound I formerly made when running (now it’s more like “putt putt putt”)

You’re on Mute!:  What the sound guy said when I accidentally stepped on his pet ferret

Flatten the curve: A new workout regimen designed to get rid of my extra ten pounds

Phone…  Keys… Wallet…  Mask: A new Hokey Pokey type of dance move

Pfizer: My brother Pfred’s name Pfor his Pfamous Pflaming Pfajitas

Curbside pickup: A project to “Keep America Clean”

Distant Learning: Back row students

Asymptomatic: If I would have known, that it was a thing to not look sick, act sick or in any way seem sick, but still be sick, I would have claimed being asymptomatic for every disease known to man in high school.

Elbow Bump: What happens when you are too wide for a narrow passageway

Contactless Delivery: When a new mom loses her vision aids before the baby arrives

Amazon: Of course, I knew what Amazon was before 2020.  But we didn’t know that Jeff Bezos would personally thank Karla for being an overly frequent customer. (That did not happen).

I’m writing these witty little musings (well, ahem…”witty” in one writer’s opinion), while sitting in the back of the sanctuary listening to our bands, orchestra and singers practice. This Sunday we are singing “Joy to World” and a few other carols. I also was able to hear the soloist for our Christmas Eve services singing “O Holy Night.”  Two words: Wow Weeeeeeeee!

Hearing the carols being sung has reminded me how much I need carols this year. Maybe more than ever, I need them! I want to “go tell it on the mountain” to our pandemic-y world that in spite of all that we have endured in 2020, we can still be faithful, joyful and, yes, triumphant!

Share it religiously!

I’m not creative enough to be on Tik Tok.
I’m not cool enough to be on Snapchat.
I don’t take enough selfies to be on Instagram (much).
I’m not political enough to be on Parler.
I’m not crafty enough to be on Pinterest.
I never find what I’m looking for on YouTube.
I’m not thick-skinned enough to spend (too much) time on Facebook.
I’ve heard too many scary stories about Tumblr.
I’m not looking for a job, no need for Linkedin.
As for Twitter– I’m mostly there to get my breaking sports news.
Is My Space still a thing? Never mind, I was never musical enough for My Space.

Social media may or may not be your thing (IRONY ALERT: You may be reading this via Facebook or Twitter). If you’ve spent time on any of the listed sites you’ve probably been offended, harassed, disappointed, frustrated or even tempted to lose your salvation once or twice. I’ve known “Christian” people who have started affairs on social media, ended friendships over on-line posts, and have willingly participated in gossip, rumor mongering and angry rants. The Ten Commandments have been broken millions of times thanks to social media.

Still there are some redeeming qualities in the social media world. I like wishing people happy birthday and seeing prayer requests from friends. I like looking at pretty decorations, funny videos, photo accomplishments and seeing how children are growing or succeeding in life. It’s not all bad.

This week, I asked a few “Facebook people” from the church to “share” the worship service onto their timeline. My current sermon series is taken from The Message version of John 1:14. It’s called “…and Moved into the Neighborhood.” Like nosyA5214073-BB21-4AD9-9CAA-98DE5227062D
neighbors, the sermon series is trying to decipher who exactly is the flesh and blood Word who’s moving into the neighborhood. Last Sunday’s message was “the Savior moved into the neighborhood.” The sermon was going to end with a call to salvation, so I asked people to share it. A few did.

This week, I received a text from a person who shared the service. They wrote about a relative from across the country, who hasn’t been in church in years, who watched and then started asking spiritual questions. Sharing the service got the come-to-Jesus ball rolling. Others have told similar stories when they have “shared” services on line.

Awesome, right? So what if we all shared the services more? It’s an easy thing to do.

During this time of quarantine and social distancing, what if God used social media to draw people to himself. As our stuck-at-home friends and family are glued to their phones and computers these days, what if God took this time of isolation to touch people who might otherwise not be reached. I’m not suggesting anyone become some kind of on-line Bible bully and use social media to beat people over the head with their big King James. Simply post: “I love my church! You might too! Check out this week’s service” then “share” the worship experience onto your timeline. Who knows? Like the guy who texted me this week following his relative’s first steps toward Jesus, maybe you’ll be saying, “I’ll be sharing the service “religiously” from now on.”

How Advent in a Pandemic is bringing us closer to the ideals of the season of Advent?

Advent is the time of waiting and expecting the arrival of the new born King. December 2020 is the time of waiting and expecting the arrival of the coronavirus vaccine. This is not to say a Pfizer vaccine is on par with our Savior, instead it’s asking the questions: Could the collective feelings of the first century be similar to those we are experiencing in the 21st century? Could Advent 2020 bring us closer to the ideals of an Advent season? Advent is characterized by words like patience, longing, hoping and yearning— words that most Americans don’t like to experience and try to avoid– and yet all these attributes have been thrust upon us as we wait for an effective vaccine in the pandemic.

Like before Jesus was born, the world is in crisis. Darkness seemingly has gained the upper hand in many corners. Grief and fear abound. Paul reminded us that in the first century, “in the fullness of time,” Jesus came. God’s timing was perfect then. God’s timing is still perfect. What’s the difference between then and now? God is with us. Jesus has come. The Holy Spirit can empower us. We are not alone in the pandemic as we wait!

In the season of Advent, we not only remember Jesus’ first coming to Bethlehem, but we look forward to His second coming. We are in an “already but not yet” time. Jesus has already come. His Kingdom has already been established, but it has not yet been fulfilled in His second coming. In these waning days of 2020, likewise we are in an already, but not yet time as it relates to the vaccine. The vaccine has already been made and delivered, but people have yet to be vaccinated. Like in the season of Advent, we need patience. Like in Advent, we are hopeful.

If the experts are correct, and if the next six weeks are the most challenging days of the pandemic (the darkness before the dawn), let’s determine to keep our eyes on Jesus. Let’s resolve to trust more, love more, and serve more. Let’s pray more and check in on each other more. Let’s be hopeful and patient as we minister and carry on the work of Christ! Let’s put into practice the attributes of Advent more than ever.

Our ultimate hope is not in a vaccine (even one with a 94% efficacy); our hope is in the Lord. As we wait, in an Advent season or not, in a pandemic or not, with John the Revelator let our prayer constantly be, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!” (Revelation 22:20)

What’s Worse than a Pandemic? A Pandemic while Being a Fan of Detroit Sports Teams!

Thanks to Covid, 2020 will go down in history as one of the worst years in a century. For Detroit Sports’ fans, that would be true even without the pandemic. Look at these sad facts:

The Red Wings had their third worst record in their history. Their HISTORY!!! This past season they were the worst team in the National Hockey League by far. I need a bumper sticker that says, “Go Red Wings… and take the Pistons with you!”

The Pistons were so bad that the new General Manager got rid of all but four players from last year’s team. Only Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, Sekou Doumbouya and Svi Mykhailiuk are holdovers from last year. The GM probably would have gotten rid Blake Griffin if not for his ginormous salary and probably would have traded Sekou Doumbouya and Svi Mykhailiuk if anyone could have pronounced their names.

The Tigers had the third worst record in the Major League Baseball. Their pitching was atrocious. I expected a call from Al Avila (the Tigers’ General Manager) asking me to suit up and join the team. I’m 57, haven’t pitched since little league and still have a better arm than some Tigers.

The Lions? The Lions always stink. They have won exactly one playoff football game in my lifetime. One! Did I mention that I’m 57? They haven’t won a championship since the Eisenhower administration. Now they have fired their coach and general manager. Next year begins yet another “rebuilding year.”

I can’t discuss the Michigan Wolverines without sobbing uncontrollably. This week Kirk Herbstreit, a former Buckeye quarterback and ESPN sports announcer, suggested that the Michigan Wolverines will fake having a Covid outbreak to not play Ohio State. The “fake sick trick” got me out of a 10th grade chemistry exam, but is Coach Harbaugh using it for the Michigan vs Ohio State game? That loud noise you just heard was Bo Schembechler rolling over in his grave. Aaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!

2020 has been bad for all of us, but for the Detroit sports’ fan, our favorite teams have made this bad year even worse.

Why tell you my woes? Listen, I’m as big of a sports fan as they come. Glance in my office. I have an Al Kaline signed jersey and all sorts of sports memorabilia. If Karla would have allowed it, our boys would be named “Isaiah” and “Thomas” after the Pistons’ Hall of Famer. I proudly wear my teams’ gear—even when they stink. Once when living in Kansas City, I was wearing a Lions t-shirt at the supermarket and the snot-nosed sophomore bagging my groceries said, “You’re probably the only guy in Kansas City wearing that t-shirt.”  I said, “Listen, kid, I’d be the only one wearing a Lions t-shirt in Detroit too.” I’m a die-hard!

But sports are sports. They are just games. It gives us something to talk about other than politics and the weather around the water cooler. There’s always next year. New players. More games. Life is much more important than sports. Paul (using a sports analogy) sums up my point. He wrote:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  1 Corinthians 9:24-25

Let’s keep life in perspective. In a rough, pandemic filled year—keep striving after Jesus. Determine that 2021, in all the ways in which you can help it, will be better. Don’t sweat the crowns of this earth that don’t last, compete to get the prize that will last forever. How do we do that? Love God. Love People! If you consistently are loving God and people, it won’t help your favorite teams to win any more games, but you’ll be the winner.

How to Wrap Your Mind around Advent in a Pandemic

When all is not well
When all is not right
When life is tiring, exhausting, frustrating
When avoiding people is easier than interacting with them
When staying in bed all day seems like a reasonable desire
When lonely
When surrounded by grief
When prone to wander
When feeling insecure, increasingly irritated and overwhelmed
When people are hidden behind their masks— Who are they? What are they thinking?
When people are suspicious, a coughing shopper is like starters pistol
When people disappoint with gossip or smugness or pettiness or meanness
When I am smug or petty or mean or any of those things I despise
When life seems like it will never be the same
When life is not fun… not fine… not fair.

Jesus came.
Jesus experienced all of our emotions.

Jesus knows…
Our sorrow
Our sickness
Our suffering
Our grief
Our frustration
Our loneliness
Our wounds
Our fears, doubts, depression, worries, and pain.

He came; He lived; He died; He rose and He calls us.
In spite of our all our unwanted baggage
…and having nothing to offer.
He calls us to join Him.
It’s not an escape
It’s not a free pass to miss the sufferings around us
It’s an invitation to join in the sufferings around us.

But not as before.
Not trapped. Free
Not afraid. Hopeful
Not weak. Strong
Not forgotten.
Loved.
Embraced.
Empowered.

Here I am Lord, send me!
Send me to those who are just like me– people in need of you
Send me into the messy world for whom you came
Send me to sow your hope, peace, joy and love.
This Advent season, Lord, send me.