Monthly Archives: December 2018

Not-So-Theologically-Deep Christmas Ponderings:

  1. If one knows more details about Han Gruber’s fall from the Nakatomi Plaza than Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden Eden is remedial Sunday School attendance required for that person? (This question is for those readers who are convinced that Die Hard is a Christmas movie).
  2. Do Pentecostal snowmen ever pray for fiery Holy Ghost revival
  3. Is Home Alone a sequel to the Left Behind book series?
  4. Was the Apostle Paul thinking of mistletoe close encounters in the church vestibule, when he called people to greet one another with a ‘holy kiss”? (Central Church won’t have mistletoe in the foyer, but there will be a photo booth area for Christmas portraits starting this Sunday).
  5. If a certain pastor’s wife loves Christmas trees so much that she has placed twelve fake firs in the house; can that house be declared a National Forest by the Department of Natural Resources? (Asking for a “friend”?)
  6. Was “wee little man” Zaccheaus ever mistaken for an elf?
  7. Can Santa tell which stockings hung on the fireplace belong to Christians? Sure, they are the holy (holey) ones.
  8. Can a five point Calvinist “re-gift” an unwanted Christmas present or is their motto: “Once your gift… always your gift”?
  9. If shepherds can find a baby in a manger in crowded Bethlehem and Wisemen can travel from “afar” to find Jesus without the assistance of a GPS, why do so many folks have trouble locating a church on a day other than Christmas Eve?
  10. If wax is spilled on the pew cushion during the Christmas Eve Candlelight service by a careless worshipper, is that person automatically placed on Santa’s “Naughty list”?(Answer: No, but missing the Christmas Eve service places one dangerously close to making the list)
  11. Would old time Nazarenes have allowed Dancer and Prancer to become members?

On a much more serious note, in your theological musing moments this Christmas season I hope you reflect on the glorious words of John 1, when the apostle wrote: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)!

Best. News. Ever!  No joke!

How much does it cost the Church of the Nazarene to Baptize a Person?

The Jesus Film ministry would (maybe they still do) market their efforts by stating that for every dollar given, “X” amount of people would hear the gospel and “X” amount of people would accept Christ through the showing of the Jesus film. I think it was a highly effective fund raising method. Many folks heard those stats and said, “if I give $100, “X” amount of people would come to know Jesus? Where’s my checkbook?” In a moment of complete honesty, it always made me feel a little uneasy to place a dollar value on conversions.  But I understand what they were trying to communicate and I certainly appreciated the evangelistic efforts of the Jesus Film/Harvest Partners.

So, in spite my admission of uneasiness of putting a monetary value on the Lord’s work, I am about to do the same.  We can all agree that Jesus called us to make disciples and baptize folks.  Most Christians can quote some (if not all) of the Great Commission. It is job #1. We must baptize people.

According to the latest numbers put out by the General Secretary, the Church of the Nazarene in 2018 baptized 97,566 people.  Not bad you say. In one year, nearly 100,000 converts were baptized. We are accomplishing the Great Commission. But at what cost?

Those same General Secretary stats show that the Church of the Nazarene raised for all purposes $935,131,440. That’s a lot of money. The following is the statistical break down for the cost of our effectiveness in carrying out the great commission of baptizing people according to region:


Region                         Baptisms         Money Raised             Cost per baptism

Africa                           33,065               $8,556,239                      $258.77

Asia/Pacific                    3,477             $34,234,857                  $9,846.09

Eurasia                       17,220             $11,697,241                       $679.28

MesoAmerica             14,273             $19,936,915                    $1,396.83

South America            12,235            $43,452,457                    $3,551.48

USA/Canada                17,296           $737,997,223                 $42,668.66

I’m not a mathematician nor the son of a mathematician, but when we spend over $42,500 per baptism in USA/Canada can we admit we are doing something wrong?  Probably we don’t want our USA/Canada Regional director to stand before our District Assemblies like the Jesus film people and implore our folks “Please give only $42,668.66 and we will baptize one person next year!  Give $85,337.32 and we can baptize two people! Get out your check books!” I’m not sure that approach will be quite as effective as the Jesus film plea.

Listen, we need to emphasize baptisms!  All 4,602 churches in USA/Canada need to be baptizing people.  Every one. If our pastors aren’t baptizing folks, what are we doing?  Just two paragraphs up, we stated that the Great Commission is our #1 priority. If it is costing us in excess of $42,000 per baptism it doesn’t seem that we are taking a very cost efficient approach in the USA/Canada region.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous work is the Cost of Discipleship.  He wasn’t referring to the actual dollar amount but rather our commitment and denial of self to be and make disciples. Well, the dollar amount of our discipleship seems to show that in the USA/Canada region we have given up our commitment to making disciples or we are doing it very poorly. It’s my prayer that we renew our efforts and recognize the cost of not doing discipleship and the cost of not baptizing people will be the death of the church.

There are plenty of good things that our churches are doing in USA/Canada. Even some of our smallest churches are shining lights in their communities (I would never suggest otherwise), but if we aren’t baptizing people, we are doing it wrong. We must get back to first things first—and renew our zeal to prioritize baptisms and making disciples.

Edited to add:  For full disclosure… in my current assignment, if we baptized folks at the cost of those baptized in Africa, we would have needed to baptize about 10,000 people. In case you are wondering, we did not baptize 10,000 people in 2018. Not even close.  In other words, I need to be more serious about the Great Commission too.



Five Life Lessons from a Christmas Tree Farm

Karla’s dad for several years owned and operated a Christmas Tree farm. Arling (that was his name, not the noise a Salvation Army Bell ringer makes) would take the customers to get the trees on a wagon hooked up to his tractor.  Once a family found the “perfect” tree he would either let them cut it down or he would do the timbering himself. Then he’d cart the happy and festive tree hunters and their Tannenbaum back to their car. He had a shaker that would shake the dead needles out of the tree and a bailer that would tie the tree up for easy handling.  Mary (my mother-in-law) would make wreathes from the misshaped or broken trees. There was usually hot chocolate and treats while the customer waited for their tree. It was a sweet operation.

They didn’t make much money on the Christmas tree farm. After paying for the land, taxes, spraying for diseases and all of his equipment, there wasn’t much cash leftover.  If he ever added up the hours spent mowing, trimming and getting the area ready, he probably made about fourteen cents an hour. Besides my father-in-law was a softy. If someone told him a sad story of not being able to afford a Christmas tree or if he learned of someone who didn’t have a Christmas tree, usually they got a freebie. It’s not a great way to run a business, but it was a great way to run a life.

This is our first Christmas without Arling (he was promoted to heaven on January 4, 2018) and the tree farm has been sold. Arling’s life and farm provided me with good memories and important life lessons. Such as:

  1. Like a Christmas tree farm, we should be mindful of Christmas all year long. There was always work to do on the farm, not just at Christmas time. Likewise, we should not think of the Christmas message, “Emmanuel, God with us” as only a Christmas truth. It is Good News of Great Joy for all seasons.
  2. There is no such thing as a “perfect” tree (hence the quotation marks) and there is also no such thing as a “perfect” person (unless your name is Jesus of Nazareth).
  3. Like the wreathes made from the broken and misshaped trees, everyone (no matter how broken) can be made into something beautiful if given the right opportunity.
  4. Like Arling’s bottom line, money isn’t the most important thing. Be generous. Not everyone has been blessed with a good job, health or life skills. It’s always important to remember, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

And finally,

  1. A little hot chocolate on a bitterly cold day makes most things better. This world has its share of bitterness and sweetness. Enjoy the sweet things, but leave the bitterness behind.


I’m Going to the Nazarene Prom Tonight

Tonight is our district gathering that I have often referred to as the Nazarene Prom (aka the District Annual Ministers and Mates Christmas Dinner).  The over/under for Christmas ties worn is 14 (I’m taking the over) and Christmas socks is 24 (I’m taking the over on that too). The percentage of ladies wearing a red dress is approximately 94.3%.

Now that good Nazarene teens can go to the actual prom without causing a major breech in the manual, maybe future Ministers’ Christmas gatherings won’t seem prom-like.  But for those who grew up in the Nazarenes-don’t-go-to-movies-or-dances era like me, the Christmas gathering is as close to a prom as some of us have ever been. Of course, I have no idea what the real prom is like since in my day Nazarene churches offered a prom alternative called “A Night to remember.” Our fake prom was held on Mackinac Island. I don’t remember “A Night to Remember” because I never went to it either. Like a real prom, our fake prom’s attendance was expensive (not the reason I didn’t attend) and required the asking of a girl to attend too (that might have played a role in my lack of attendance). In any event, I stayed home from both the real prom and the Nazarene fake prom.

But tonight I’m going. I won’t buy my wife a corsage like for a prom. She won’t be wearing a formal gown (although I have seen some who have). I won’t break curfew in getting home (I don’t have a curfew anymore). But I will eat chicken. I will laugh at the DS’s corny jokes. I will sing Joy to the World slightly off key while forgetting a few of the words.  I will see my pastor colleagues that I haven’t seen since District Assembly in April. I will look around the room and wonder how everyone else is looking older. And I will be thankful for such a fine group of people who are serving Jesus just like me in places great and small.

One of the best things about the Church of the Nazarene (and I think why going to an every five year General Assembly is consistently voted down) is that we are family.  Some of us wear Christmas ties, some in the family tell corny jokes, some of us can’t sing a lick, but we are family nonetheless. When we get together it’s like a reunion. Tonight’s Christmas gathering will include the things we Nazarenes like best: Eating and talking. It won’t be a Silent Night at Zehnder’s restaurant in Frankenmuth, but some Good Christian Men (and women) will rejoice