Monthly Archives: February 2019

Read This Before Lent

Christians have always fasted during the season of Lent. The season that begins Ash Wednesday lasts forty days, not counting Sundays, and ends on the day before Easter. These forty days represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, when he was tempted by Satan before beginning his earthly ministry. It’s a season of self-examination when we assess our life and priorities. In this season, we repent where needed and we fast. We repent to get right with Jesus. We fast to get to know Jesus more and more. In fasting we temporarily remind ourselves that in giving up something good, like food, we see our need for something greater — namely, Jesus and his power and love in our lives.  I love this season.

As you probably know, Christians aren’t the only ones who fast. In fact, in Acts 23, Paul is testifying before the Sanhedrin and a brouhaha breaks out among the Sadducees and the Pharisees over what Paul is saying.  Then verses 12-13, tell this bizarre account:  The next morning the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot.”

What’s crazy in Acts 23 is not that forty people agree to murder Paul (remember these same guys were instrumental in Jesus’ crucifixion). It’s crazy that these men decided to fast food and drink until they were able to commit their evil deed. They were fasting to do something very, very wrong. What’s sad about this messy affair is that these conspirators had a greater level of commitment to do something wrong, than a lot of Christians have for doing something holy and right.

Maybe it shouldn’t shock us. You know cowardly people who expend more energy to gossip, spread lies and tear people down in person or on the internet, than true believers spend in lifting others up. I know people who give generously to causes like Planned Parenthood and animal rights, when Christians struggle to obey God in tithing. I have a writer friend who writes and re-writes his prose wanting each word to be perfect, while some pastor friends throw a few words together with little thought and call it a sermon (I assume they hope that God will somehow transform their lack of preparation into something worth hearing. Rarely does God, to the sorrow of their yawning congregations, work such a miracle). To the shame of all believers, too often non-believers are more committed to their ungodly causes than followers of Jesus are to the Gospel.

Here’s my big question as we embark on another Lenten season: Could you be inspired by the commitment level of would be murderers in Acts 23 to motivate you to raise your commitment level to Jesus today? Consider how you might draw closer to Jesus in this upcoming season of Lent. Is there anything between you and Jesus? Confess it and move on. What might you fast as you earnestly seek the Lord with all your heart? Lent is almost here. Let’s get ready!


What Flint will look like when God’s will is “done in Flint as it is in Heaven”?

I’m not a heaven expert. I won’t be able to sell a million books because of an out-of-body experience in Glory. I really can’t describe the place to you. That’s OK, because the Bible says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). That pretty much rules out any accurate descriptions of Paradise while we remain on this side of it.  The Bible tries. You’ve heard that there will be streets of gold, pearly gates and mansions. Now all of that may be exactly the way it sounds (did I mention I’ve never been there?) but it might also be the Bible writer’s attempt to describe the indescribable. For a guy (all the Bible writers were male) who walked on streets of mud, lived in shacks and entered cities through rickety gates, those other descriptors of heaven sounded pretty good. Being safe and secure, living well with no mud on one’s feet was maybe the best thing imaginable (in their minds), and concluded that must be what heaven will be like.

Around our church, we have been known to pray a version of the Lord’s Prayer that goes like this: “May your kingdom come and your will be done IN FLINT as it is in heaven.”  We pray that prayer all the time.  What would happen if God answered that prayer? Would Flint’s “Back to the Bricks” event be changed to “Back to the Golden Bricks”?  Would everyone’s house look like the Mott’s Applewood Estate? Would our Vehicle City signs on Saginaw street be made out of pearls instead of steel?

Here’s my two cents. I honestly don’t care much about mansions and golden streets. If heaven has all that then great, but I’ll be ok with a one room cottage as long as Jesus is there too. Given the life and teachings of Jesus described in the Gospels, Jesus cared for the poor, the needy, the sick and the troubled. With that in mind, here are a few things that we can agree on about heaven:

1) Everyone will love Jesus.

2) No one will be hungry.

3) No one will be sick.

4) No poverty.

5) No drugs.

6) No human trafficking.

7) No liars, braggarts, and bullies (I think that means No Facebook)

I could go on, but you get the idea. Heaven’s going to be awesome! And if we really want God’s will to be done in Flint as it is in heaven, then it makes sense that we will work to see Flint become a little more heavenly. To that end, we must get as many people as possible to love Jesus too. It means fighting with all our might to put an end to hunger, sickness, disease, poverty, racism, and all the other bad “isms.” It means loving God and loving others. It’s showing kindness to all (even our enemies). It’s bringing hope to the hopeless and being present for the lonely.

Heaven will be awesome with or without mansions. But in the meantime, let’s make Flint more awesome too as we act, love, speak and serve in a heavenly manner!

A Friendly Reminder about Pastors

Last week Karla and I were with a group of pastors that we meet with every year for encouragement and discussions.  This week, I’ve been in Kansas City for an every-four-year evangelism conference attended mostly by pastors. In other words, I’ve been with a lot of pastors lately.

I like pastors. They are usually nice people. For the most part, they have committed themselves to work of the Lord.  They love Jesus and people and that is always a good combo. Having said that, here are a few other things about pastors that you should know:

1) Pastors aren’t perfect. I know you know this (theoretically) but you may need to know it practically too.  For example, since pastors aren’t perfect they will make mistakes (just like you). They may have good motives and still make a decision they later regret. This doesn’t make them evil or horrible, it makes them human. Just like you.

2) Pastors aren’t robots. They have feelings. Pastors take it personally when folks leave their church. Rejection is never easy and when people leave, it hurts. When church people gossip or worse, it’s upsetting. One pastor friend described how he received death threats over a decision he made (I’m serious). He turned a stack of threatening anonymous letters into the police. They never determined who was sending the letters. He left the church. The letters kept coming. Weird. Another pastor (and church) hired a body guard because of threats from a church attender. Crazy. Frightening. The Bible says to trust in the Lord in the face of such circumstances, but that’s easier said than done. Pastors are human too.

3) Pastors aren’t islands. They have family issues too.  One pastor friend returned from our meetings to a death in the family; another one’s father wandered off this week and tough decisions need to be made about his dad’s care; some pastors admitted to marriage troubles; others have prodigal kids who are making horrible decisions; and still others have major health issues going on that will affect their ministry going forward. They are worried. They probably shouldn’t worry but pastors (there is a common thread working here) are human too.

When everything is humming along nicely: The Spirit is moving; congregants are loving Jesus and loving others; life is good and everything is going great, then pastoring is a great gig. But when the Enemy attacks, when life happens, when people aren’t kind, then pastoring can be tough and lonely.

I write this not to make you feel sorry for me or any other pastor you know, but to remind you to pray for your pastors. Encourage them. Be part of the solution not a problem. In my son’s house, there is a message board on the wall that applies here. It says: Be a fountain, not a drain.  It’s the same message of Hebrews 13:12 that says: Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority… so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

The best pastors benefit everyone. The best pastors are the ones who joyfully know that his/her congregation is seeking Jesus, that they are lifting him/her up to the Lord on a regular basis, and their church is becoming more and more the holy people of God.