Monthly Archives: June 2020

What postponing General Assembly means (One guy’s initial two cents)

Postponing the 2021 General Assembly means that…

The Church of the Nazarene will save money. General Assemblies (GA) are not cheap. Bringing in delegates (not all international delegates pay their own way here— the World Evangelism Fund does) is an expensive endeavor. In the last several General Assemblies there have been resolutions (supported by most if not all of General Superintendents) to move GA to every five years– mostly as a cost saving measure. The pandemic has accomplished what a vote on the assembly floor could not.

More international delegates will be able to attend in 2023 than if the GA were next year. GAs are worthless if half the delegates or more cannot get VISA’s to travel into the US. (Which begs the question, “Can’t we find a more internationally welcoming place where all the delegates can attend?” If WEF dollars are picking up the tab on their travel and room and board anyway, isn’t there another venue that we could have greater participation from ALL of our delegates?)

Dr. Graves gets two less years to serve on the BGS. I love Dr. Graves. I will miss his leadership. We will be voting on two General Superintendents in 2023 (Dr. Duarte is also retiring, I’ll miss him too).

Having GA and NYC in the same year will create some cost and logistic issues for parents and churches. Will NYC be changed to a different year? If so, will some students miss out on attending an NYC? If so, that is really too bad. NYC has done more good in the CotN than we realize. We need to continue to prioritize our youth and families if we are going to be the church we need to be in the 21st century. The GA move to 2023 probably means M-23 (if there was going to be an M-23) is also DOA.

Nazarenes can’t drink for two more years. if you believe that the ban on social drinking will be lifted in 2023, you’ll need to wait. I know, I’m stirring the pot now… forgive me. (FYI… I will not be in favor of such a move—I’ve written on that subject in the past. You can read it

Our statement on racism can’t be strengthened for two more years too (yes, it needs to be strengthened!). There are other needed resolutions that will also have to wait. UGH!

And most of all, postponing our 2021 General Assembly means we won’t get to see so many of our friends from far and wide for two long years. We are a family and we need to be together.

Our leaders did the right thing in postponing the 2021 General Assembly, now let all of us who love the Church of the Nazarene do the right thing and pray for our leaders as they give prayerful guidance during these strange and curious days!

The Lack of Listening— One (of many) Tragedies of 2020

There is an old story (maybe it’s true, maybe not), that Franklin Roosevelt became tired of the insincere conversation that accompanied many of the White House receptions. One night he decided to see if anyone was paying any attention to what was being said. As he shook hands with guests filing through a receiving line, he smiled and said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” No one noticed. They just gave the usual protocol answers, “O how nice!” or “Keep up the good work,” and “Great!” Until finally, one foreign diplomat was listening. FDR said his usual, “I killed my grandmother this morning,” and the man leaned in and said, “She probably had it coming.” Whether that story is true or apocryphal, listening has become rarer in the last 85 years.

Listening seems to be a lost art. There is a lot of talking, a lot of noise, but not a lot of listening. James reminds us that we should be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:25). More times than not these days, people have flipped James words and are very quick to become angry, quick to let others know it, and very slow to listen. Wanting to be heard, but not hearing is one of the great tragic outcomes in our social media driven society.

But we need to listen.

Listening leads to understanding (“Wow, I see how your situation can be terrible”).
Understanding leads to empathy (“It makes me sick that you’ve had to endure this”).
Empathy leads to compassion (“We’ve got to do something about it”).
Compassion leads to action (“Let’s go!”).
Action leads to change (“The world is a better place.”)

All change begins with listening. Good doctors, counsellors, teachers, pastors, politicians, spouses and parents are good listeners. Hearing is the essential first step toward help and healing.

There once was a husband who was having trouble communicating with his wife. He thought for sure the old woman was losing her hearing. On a mission to prove his point, he conducted a personal hearing test. While she sat on the other side of the room with her back to him, he quietly asked, “Can you hear me?” There was no response. He then moved a little closer and asked the same question. “Can you hear me?” Again, no response. Closer. Same question. Still nothing. The guy got right next to her and asked the very same question, “Honey, can you hear me now?” He was shocked by her response, because with a twinge of irritation she screamed, “FOR THE FOURTH TIME YES, I HEAR YOU!!!”

The problem hearer was him. How many people in our social media driven times need to discover this same lesson? Could it be that some of the problems in our homes, churches and nation are the result of folks wanting to be heard but not listening? Someone very famous has said, “He who has ears let him hear.”

Pandemic + Social Unrest + Election Year Posturing = Too Much

Too much hurting, not enough helping.
Too much division, not enough devotion.
Too much corruption, not enough justice.
Too much murmuring, not enough mercy.
Too much hostility, not enough humility.
Too much excusing shortcomings, not enough confessing sins.
Too much blaming, not enough blooming.
Too much shaming, not enough sharing.
Too much judgement, not enough joy.
Too much discord, not enough discovery.
Too much lying, not enough learning.
Too much force, not enough forgiveness.
Too much anger, not enough peace.
Too much “me first” not enough the “first shall be last.”
Too much excusing the past, not enough empathizing with the present realities.
Too much arguing over fault, not enough admission of failures.
Too much “I’m right, you’re wrong,” not enough “I’m listening.”
Too much passive aggressiveness, not enough patient gentleness.
Too much Facebook, not enough face time with the Lord.
Too much running of mouths, not enough walking in the other’s shoes.
Too much looking out for number one, not enough looking up to the Holy One.
Too much Zoom, not enough face to face.
Too much tearing apart, not enough building up.
Too much favorite news channel, not enough favorite Bible verses.
Too much platform building, not enough bridge building.
Too much brokenness, not enough togetherness.
Too much loneliness, not enough large-heartedness.
Too much “you’re my enemy,” not enough “we are family.”
Too much racism, not enough recognizing the multicolored children of God.
Too much wasted time, not enough redeeming the moment.
Too much venom, not enough vision.
Too much fear, not enough faith.
Too much opinionating, not enough facts.
Too much pontificating, not enough prayer.
Too much choosing sides, not enough choosing the Savior.
Too much hate, not enough hope.

The last three months have been too much!

Re-Opening Reminders

This Sunday, June 21, is Central Church’s first public service since March 8. As a public service announcement I give you these re-opening reminders:

1. No PJs. You’ve gotten used to rolling out of bed, grabbing a pop tart and watching Karla recite the announcements. Sorry. There’s no dress code at Central Church, but a rule of thumb: if you slept in it the night before, you probably shouldn’t wear it to church (if only Wal-Mart had the same rule).

2. There’s no coffee. This is disappointing for you who come to Central Church only to drink our tasty Maxwell House Original Blend in your Sunday School class room. Sorry. It’s BYOBC (Bring your own Bad Coffee).

3. Social distancing means you have to disobey Paul’s admonition when he said to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” No holy kisses or holy hugs or holy handshakes. Holy elbow bumps, holy air high fives and the Holy Spirit are all welcome.

4. Our hand sanitizer machines are automatic. They are foamy. And to be honest, they are a bit stinky. Get too much on you and you won’t have to worry about social distancing— people will socially distance from you, but your hands will be clean.

5. No valet parking. You’ll have to park that sweet ride of yours on your own. Remember it’s like coloring, stay within the lines.

6. Cafe? Closed. Drinking fountains? Closed (bottle water available). Lobby? Closed (please catch up with friends outside). Altars? Open!

7. Masks are encouraged— not Robin, Green Hornet or Lone Ranger masks (that kinda defeats the purpose). If you forget yours, we’ve got you covered (literally). Everyone says masks are the best way to protect your neighbor, but if you’d just can’t cover up that pretty smile (for whatever reason) that’s fine. Please enter the East or South Doors (we are saving our West Doors, west restrooms and west side of the sanctuary for masks wearers only). Remember to be the safest— Go West, young man, go west!

8. The service times are 9AM and 11:15AM. These times allow us to clean, clean, clean between services. We want to have the cleanest church in America. It’s so clean you can eat the communion wafers off the floor (but we don’t recommend that).

9. Lastly, please pray. Pray for our services; for those folks who can’t get back together with us just yet; for those sick or grieving; for our country; for our leaders; that God would send a mighty revival to our land; for justice and mercy would be available to all people; and pray, pray, pray that God’s will would be done and His Kingdom come in Flint as it is in heaven!

See you Sunday! Did I say I am excited to see you? I am.

Hey Pastor… Conversations from the last few weeks

Hey pastor….

“Why haven’t you said more about racism?”
“You talk too much about racism.”
“Why didn’t you pray for George Floyd’s family?”
“Why don’t you say more about all the good cops out there?”
“You are opening the church too soon.”
“Are you fearful? Is that why you haven’t opened the church yet?”
“This quarantine is killing me; my depression is worse than ever.”
“I love the quarantine. I’m making more on unemployment than I was working,”
“If you make me wear a mask, I’m not coming to church.”
“If people aren’t wearing masks, I’m not coming to church.”
“I like watching the service in my PJ and sipping on my Folgers, I’m not coming back to church.”
“If you don’t have the nursery open, I’m not coming to church.”
“I won’t be back in church until my kids have been vaccinated for the virus.”
“Why doesn’t the denomination say more about racism? I’m considering leaving the church.”
“Too many in the denomination are supporting the ______ (fill in the political party—I’ve heard from both sides). I’m considering leaving the church.”
“You don’t preach enough about _______ (fill in the blank to whatever societal ill is out there). I’m leaving the church.”

But I’ve also had these conversations, which I like much, much better.
They have gone like this:

Hey pastor…

“Thanks for trying.”
“We appreciate the hard work of everyone at the church.”
“Let’s talk.”
“I’m with you!”

…and the words that I like to hear most of all,

“Hey, Pastor… I’m praying for you.”

I am weary

Jesus said, “Come to me all who are weary.” He didn’t say, “Come to me after you’ve figured everything out.” Or “Come to me when you are strong and able.” In fact, he said just the opposite. Weary ones come.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit weary. Jesus, I am coming to you.

I am weary from the coronavirus, I haven’t contracted it. I’m just sick of it. I am weary from the grief and pain that others have had to bear. Weary that so many are unemployed; weary that many will never re-open their businesses; weary that loneliness and heartache are rampant; weary that people like my mother-in-law have had to be quarantined in their senior living home unable to leave at all; weary from the effects of the stay-at-home order; weary from not gathering for worship with my brothers and sisters. I am weary.

I am weary from yet another example of how racism in America is alive and well. My heart aches for my black and brown brothers and sisters that have a daily reminder that all is not well in America and has never been well in America. I am weary.

I am weary from all the political rhetoric I hear (in and out of the church). Election years make such talk worse. Living in a political “swing state” makes it even worser (I know that’s not a word). The huge, seemingly insurmountable, divide in our country will make this election cycle the worsest (I know that’s not a word too). I am weary.

I am weary that folks think the best place to display their anger, frustration, political bent, agitation, and harshest criticism is on a social media platform like Facebook. There is no dialogue there. No place to show empathy. No listening, only posting. The Fruit of the Spirit (love joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) has been usurped by the Fruit of Facebook (hate, misery, agitation, intolerance, meanness, nastiness, faithlessness, harshness and a lack of self-control). I am weary.

I am weary that too many of my brothers and sisters in the church feed their souls not with the word of God, but with their favorite news channel. Talking heads rather than our Living Head seem to be their source of knowledge and understanding. I am weary.

My soul is tired. I need the arms of the Savior. I need the blessed comfort that only He can bring. I need the loving embrace of the One who takes my burdens and my weariness and gives me hope and strength. I need to hear His gentle whisper that on Him I can lay my worries. I am weak, but He is strong. In Him we will “find rest for our souls.”

Are you weary too? Run to Jesus.

The Thoughts of an Old White Preacher to the events since George Floyd’s death.

The events over the last eight days have brought our country to the brink of divisiveness that we have not seen in fifty years. Following the horrific death of George Floyd, people have taken to the streets to voice their displeasure with the injustices in our system. Some of the protests have turned violent. Those incidents have made the news. Many of the protests were peaceful. Those demonstrations (for the most part) did not make the news. (One notable exception was the response of our own Genesee county Sheriff, Chris Swanson).

Most everyone I know who has seen the George Floyd video were horrified. No one wants to see a man die before our eyes. No matter the circumstances.

I worry for our children. When I was a kid, I never saw anything like that video. When I was kid, no one had video cameras. When I was a teenager, a few people had big clunky VHS video recorders. Unless the person owned a TV station, the only people who watched their home videos were guests in their living room. Now everyone with a phone has a video recorder. It fits in their pocket. The video recorded then can be easily distributed to the world on various social media outlets. When injustices or crimes or problems happen now, the world gets to see it because we are a video taking generation. Children now see such horrific images far too often.

You’ve then heard that argument, “We didn’t see what happened before the video started.” What makes this horrible case, in front of us, all the more horrible is that it’s over nine minutes. Nine minutes. I don’t need to see what happened prior to those nine minutes. Even if Mr. Floyd was guilty of a crime, that crime wasn’t a capital offense.

I have friends who have concluded, “This is a bad cop issue. He was a bad apple. We need to get rid of the bad apples.” I understand that on a certain level. I know a lot of really good law enforcement personnel. They aren’t like that cop in Minneapolis. Still I am glad that Southwest Airlines doesn’t take the same approach to their pilots. A few “bad apple pilots” would lead to plane crashes every now and then and none of us would ever fly Southwest Airlines.

I have other friends who have sons just like me. They are good boys, just like mine. But they have had to have conversations that I never had to have with my boys. I never told my boys to be on their best behavior if pulled over by a police officer (of course, I would hope they were always be on their best behavior). I never had to tell them to be careful where they run, how they wear their clothes, or what they say. But my friends have had those conversations just because they have black skin and not white skin. It breaks my heart.

It used to be that the clergy were the moral leaders shouting against injustices in the world. This week, I’ve read statements denouncing racism and the events following George Floyd’s death from sporting figures, school districts, politicians, Hollywood—you name it. Too few are from the church. Where is the church? Where are the Christians who read “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8) and then act upon those words?

So what should this old (and getting older) white Nazarene preacher do?

Here’s what I have concluded: From time to time in funerals I will quote Solomon from Ecclesiastes 3, you know the passage, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal… (Ecclesiastes 3:1-3) Later in that same passage Solomon writes, “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7). It’s time to speak.

Racism is the elephant in living room. When we see it, we need to denounce it. It has no place in holiness. We need to work for justice. We need to have difficult conversations. We need to listen. We need to repent when we’ve been silent. We need to pray and keep praying that God’s will would be done and His kingdom come in Flint (on the earth). In case you have forgotten, John describes heaven this way: I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).

Let’s pray, fast and demonstrate for God’s kingdom to come to earth when God’s people (no matter their color, nationality, or language) will stand together as one body proclaiming the glory of the Lamb.

Lord, let that happen! Amen. Come Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20).

We are in the Valley of Death (pandemic, national unrest, injustice). What can a shepherd to do?

These are difficult days to be a pastor. As you know, pastoring is likened to shepherding in the Bible. I have a parishioner who sees me and says, “Hey, Shepherd.” I like that. But it’s tough to be a shepherd when one’s flock is locked in their homes or nursing facilities or hospitals. It’s tough to shepherd when the sheep are dying and you can’t be there. It’s hard to be a shepherd when so many of us are shaken by the needless death of George Floyd and the unrest in our country. It’s tough to be a shepherd in a valley full of wolves.

Shepherds are to be with his/her flock in dangerous territory, not absent for three months. My people haven’t seen me, but this is no sabbatical. Along with the rest of our pastors, I’ve tried to contact and connect as much as I can with as many of our people as possible. I’m still preparing and preaching sermons from an empty sanctuary (nearly empty—the tech guys are there). No question that I am working more now than I was before the pandemic. Then, of course, there is this horrific pandemic and all of the baggage associated with it: a mind-numbing-number of deaths, sickness, unemployment, mental health issues, fear, worry, loneliness, etc. The cherries on the top of this never-before-dealt-with-pressure-cooker environment is our nation reeks with racial unrest, injustice that has existed far too long and it’s an election year (never fun even in good years). If this isn’t a “valley of the shadow of death,” I don’t know what is.

I’m a pastor/shepherd with limited access to his people/flock; working more but with less feedback; anticipating more friction when we do gather again (see above statement on mental health or lack thereof in the body and the divisive times in which we live); and experiencing a not-so-healthy dose of some Monday-morning blues following yesterday’s less-than-spectacular sermon. I am left in a mixture of lament, angst and frustration. Is this the he “wall” that others ministers have reported hitting. I don’t think it is. I think it is irritation of our dire situation, knowing our people need spiritual guidance like never before and yet feeling like my hands are tied behind my back. I see the wolves; know their viciousness but this shepherd needs help.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. I know this. There are plenty of stories of God’s faithfulness through these strange and curious times. I know this too. But can I admit that these times are bigger than what this shepherd can accomplish with my measly rod and staff (not my pastoral staff… they are awesome)? We need a mighty movement of the Good Shepherd in this valley with us.

In my upcoming Sunday’s sermon (I’m preaching through Mark this summer), Jesus states that “the day will come when his followers will fast” (Mark 2:20). If these never-before-in-our-lifetime events don’t call us to fast, what will? If we can’t fast now, when will we? We are in the valley of wolves. They are attacking. Our sheep need us. Our churches, our cities, our country, our world needs Jesus. Our best weapon is prayer.

So in an effort to practice what I am about to preach, I’ve committed to doing what Jesus said we should do when he’s not around– Fast. Just a few meals maybe more. Can I encourage you to do the same? Let’s get very serious and desperate and faithful and cry out to God in our valley of wolves. If not now, when?