Monthly Archives: July 2020

God  1 Pandemic 0

Everyone is sick of the coronavirus. We’re tired of quarantining, annoyed with social distancing and bothered by masks.  Many of us have missed family gatherings, vacations and are unable to attend church.

Listen, pandemics stink. Everyone knows this. They are deadly and disruptive. No one would vote for a pandemic. No one wants this to linger on. So we wait. Not so patiently, and sometimes agitated, still we wait. In so doing, what should our response be in this time before a herd immunity takes effect or a vaccine is introduced or Jesus returns (whichever comes first)?

I don’t know much about pandemics. I am not an immunologist. I’m a local theologian. As such I can write, with confidence: God Almighty did not send this awful mess. Not to teach us a lesson. Not to punish us for sinful behavior. Not to get us to look to Him. The Author of Life does not send instruments of death. The Enemy brings death. The Enemy lies about God Almighty’s involvement in evil, deadly schemes. The Enemy’s tactics are not that complicated — muddy the waters and get people to think a loving God would indiscriminately kill men, women and children via a virus. The Enemy invented Fake News, especially as it relates to God Almighty.

God didn’t send it, but God will use it. Redeeming horrible conditions are His specialty! This is not the first difficult situation people have faced when God intervened. For example:

Once there was a young man who had questionable taste in clothing and even worse luck in brothers (You can pick your nose, but not your family). Those rotten siblings tossed him in a pit; told his dad the kid was dead; and sold him into slavery. He runs into more trouble with the boss’s wife, lands in jail and it looks like the end of the story will be a bad one. But it’s not the end of his story. In a quick turn of events, the man not only gets out of the slammer but ends up as the world’s leading authority during a global famine. Dr. Fauci has nothing on this cat. The best line in the whole story is when those lousy brothers come to him begging for grain, and he testified: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20). Long story short: Joseph forgave his brothers, gave them grain and eventually the famine came to an end.

God Almighty is not a one-hit wonder. There are plenty of other examples throughout history of His undefeated performances in impossible situations. Here’s a look at the scoreboard in just a few instances of God’s involvement:

Kid with a Sling shot   1
Giant                   0

Young Hebrew men    3
Fiery furnace       0

Huge crowd          5,000
Empty bellies       0

And best of all (duh!)
Jesus      1
Grave      0

Given God’s remarkable history of tackling impossible, horrible situations and turning them into His glory– why would we ever think that God Almighty couldn’t do it again? Let’s not moan and groan about our minor inconveniences, while so many are struggling.  Let’s pray for wisdom and ask for some holy creativity. Maybe we should view our current circumstance as an opportunity to tell nervous people about the Prince of Peace. Maybe this can be the time to love our neighbors like never before. Instead of boo-hooing about what we can’t do in a pandemic, what if the Church of Jesus Christ looked our coronavirus enemy in the eye and said, “You intended to harm us, but God intended to use this situation for His glory, the saving of many lives.”

We all agree pandemics stink but never forget, God wins!  He is and forever will be the Undefeated, Undisputed Champion!


The Baseball Season and the Church are Facing Similar Foes

“Play Ball” rang out from Major League baseball stadiums around the country this weekend. But like the old philosophical question about a falling tree in the woods, if no fans are around to hear the umpire yell, “Play Ball,” did he really say it?

As you might have heard, I’m a bit of a baseball fan. Karla will freely tell you the best part of the pandemic has been no sports. (She is a communist and I apologize for my comrade). Today is the Tigers’ home opener, with no fans in the stands, I will miss it. It’s going to be a different season.

Opening day is in July, not April. There will be…
• No fans at the games
• No venders shouting, “Who wanna hot dog?” and, for the non-Nazarene’s in the non-existent crowd no, “Cold Beer.”
• No seventh inning stretch.
• No Friday night fireworks after games.

Teams are piping in crowd noise into the empty stadiums. Attempting to give that game time experience for those watching at home, but it’s not the same.

Seeing all of those empty seats. No one jostling for a home run ball. No one yelling from the stands that the umpire needs glasses. It’s not the same.

I’m glad that there will be highlights on Sports Center, articles on games won and lost and pennant races to follow. Let the record show, that my beloved Tigers are in first place with only 57 games left in the season! Even with that unforeseen turn of events, it’s not the same.

I feel the same way about the church I pastor. We are holding services. Livestreaming them. Maybe we should consider having piped in “Amens,” “Preach it, Brother!” and slight laughter at my corny jokes. But like in baseball, I don’t think it will be the same.

With only 40% of the crowd joining in-person on a Sunday morning. It’s not the same.
I’m not much of a hugger but I am a hand-shaker, pat-on-the-backer and walking-through-the-crowds-greeting-everybody-I-canner. It’s not the same.
With no Sunday School classes meeting, it’s not the same.
With no nurseries or children’s church operating, it’s not the same.
Wednesday Nights aren’t the same. Neither is Celebrate Recovery. It’s just not the same.

The game has changed. Period. It may never be the same. So what do we do?

Here is the Pandemic Good News of the Day– Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

The formula for success during a pandemic is the same as it is in all storms. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Trust God. Stay positive. Rejoice and worship wherever, however and whenever we can. The old philosophical question about a tree falling in the woods, doesn’t need pondering with prayer and faith.

Does a prayer uttered in a mostly empty sanctuary or in a lonely living room get heard by God Almighty? Yes! It does! Every time!!

Is God honored in our worship in a sparse crowd or at home? Yes. Yes. Yes!!! God is honored with our praise!

Keep looking to Jesus! Keep praising him in the storm. Join with the old hymn writer and sing (or say if you sing like me):

Praise Him! Praise Him! Jesus our blessed Redeemer
Sing, O earth, His wonderful, love proclaim
Hail Him! Hail Him! Highest archangels in glory
Strength and honor give to His holy name

It’s not the same, but Jesus is still on the throne. So “Play ball,” get back in the game and trust that Jesus will see us through! The Tigers might not win the pennant but the Church of Jesus Christ may look back on these strange and curious days and rejoice how God worked in the midst of these times if we keep our eyes on Jesus!

A Case Against Demonizing (Danger Alert: your toes may get stepped on)

Demonization: “The portrayal of something or someone as wicked or threatening.”

The big cheese religious officials from Jerusalem tried to demonize Jesus in Mark 3. They said Jesus was “possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” (Mark 3:22) He wasn’t the last to be demonized. In fact, the demonization of one’s opponents seems to be an ever-increasing phenomenon in 2020.

Maybe the lesson from Jesus interaction with the religious leaders is: “if you find yourself or your beliefs being demonized by someone, consider yourself in good company.” Maybe the more needed lesson is: “Don’t be like the messed up religious leaders from Jerusalem and demonize anyone who doesn’t fit into your mold.”

Everyone agrees that 2020 will go down as the “Year from H-E-Double hockey stick,” but that does not mean that everyone who doesn’t think like you is from the devil. Demonization happens from all sides of the current debates. You’ve seen it (or said it):

• All Biden supporters want to kill babies and get rid of religion.
• All Trump supporters are racists and are OK with having affairs and paying off porn stars.
• All BLM people are spewing hate.
• All anti-BLM organization are spewing hate.
• All police supporters are heavy handed militants
• All defund the police supporters are anarchists
• Sending our kids to school in a pandemic? Are you crazy?
• Keeping our kids at home with impossible learning environments, without the needed free meals and no social interaction? Are you crazy?
• All mask wearers are sheep being led astray by far-left extremists.
• All non-mask wearers don’t care about anyone but themselves.
• The media (pick the channel on the right or left that you don’t like) tells whatever lie necessary to produce more money from advertisers.

The demonization list could go on and on. The Chinese calendar doesn’t list 2020 as the “Year of the Demon,” but it sure feels that way. (FYI… It is the Year of the Rat… which does seem mildly fitting).

Demonization in the public arena affects all of our thought processes to some degree. One can’t escape the pull to take a side and sling mud (or worse) with whom one disagrees. Could it be that the real danger is when my demonization of the people around me is what most directly affects my life (personal pronouns intentionally emboldened). Like the religious leaders from Jerusalem, am I too quick to demonize those who I don’t understand or who disagree with me?

When scrolling Facebook or encountering an accuser in person, why is my first thought…

• The person who has a different political opinion than mine clearly does not read the Bible (and my preferred news website) enough
• The person who approaches societal ills from another perspective than mine simply can’t see what’s happening in the world.
• The person who whispers their perceived truths (read: rumors) is being used (either knowingly or unknowingly) by the devil.
• The person that supports various causes other than the ones I support doesn’t discern, understand or prioritize the right things.
• The person who has spoken ill of me is bitter (at best) and carnal and hell-bound (at worse).
• The person who has falsely accused me is a narcissist, self-absorbed and needs to take a good long look in the mirror.

Too often my default position is to want to receive the benefit of the doubt, but too infrequently do I give the benefit of the doubt to others? Automatically, my positions are right and the other must be wrong. In my mind, I’m much kinder and gentler than others. But am I?

The pandemic has led us to think the worst of some people. But I want to remember Paul’s instruction to Timothy and act accordingly, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.“ (1 Timothy 1:15). Notice the Apostle Paul, didn’t write “I was the worst.” Past tense. “When I was killing Christians, I was the worst.” No, he wrote, “I am the worst.” In other words, it’s praying: “It’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of your mercy and grace. Let me see people as You see them and to love people (all people) as You love!”

I don’t want my first thought to demonize and dismiss people as if they were no value to God or me. I don’t want to judge everyone who thinks different from me as evil. I want to pray for my “enemies.” I want my first thought to be one of hope and transformation, recognizing that in many cases the one who most often needs to be transformed is me.

Lord, hear my prayer

Is Discipleship During a Pandemic an Impossible Task?

We aren’t the first Christians who have missed gathering during difficult times, but we are the first Christians who have so many other options to occupy our “away-from-one-another” time (see Netflix, social media, 24/7 news coverage, summer outdoor activities and millions of other things). As such, maintaining spiritual growth during a pandemic takes more effort and discipline than in previous eras of separation from the body of believers.

Paul’s words from prison are as important now as they were to the original recipients, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13). Paul’s point: God will work in the life of an individual in prison stays, persecution, pandemics or anything else, but the responsibility for spiritual growth and development rests with the individual. Therein lies the problem.

The dilemma for many pastors throughout the pandemic is the truth of the old proverb: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” The proverb dates back to the 12th century, but maybe is more relevant today than ever. A modern pandemic discipleship revision would be: “You can tell church folks the importance of becoming better disciples in a pandemic through Bible reading, prayer and service, but you can’t make them better disciples.” (Other adaptations of the parable during a pandemic include: “You can show people all of the data on the importance of wearing a mask, but you can’t make them wear one” and “You can point out the dangers of too much social media, biased news and partisan politics, but you can’t make them turn it off and tune it out.”)

More than anything pastors want his/her parishioners to grow in the Lord. Pandemic or no pandemic. If there were a discipleship magic wand, they’d bop each church goer on the head and instantly turn them into little Mother Teresas and Jr. Billy Grahams. It doesn’t work that way. There is no magic wand. Becoming a better disciple is an individual’s responsibility. Pastors can lead folks to the living waters, but they must drink.

Discipleship takes work—with fear and trembling. Lazy discipleship has led many on-fire believers to fading away from their faith. It happens slowly over time. Church attendance drops. Participation in service opportunities become less and less. Giving falls off. It doesn’t happen like a light switch. One minute on, and the next minute off. It’s cooling off slowly. Other things besides Jesus start to take priority.

Our current pandemic with its stay-at-home orders and legitimate concerns over safety has exacerbated the conditions that contribute to a fading away of faith. Millions of church goers are at home on Sunday mornings. They aren’t gathering with fellow believers. There is little accountability. Maybe they watch an on-line service. Maybe they listen to Christian music, pray and read their Bible. Maybe they continue to give. Maybe they are growing deeper in their commitment and service to the Lord. Maybe the flame is burning bright. Maybe not.

The faithful at-home believer will need to be diligent to keep the Jesus flame burning. It’s more than simply tuning in for an on-line sermon. Efforts to connect with fellow believers and encouraging one another—even from home– are essential. Find opportunities to be socially distant but still serve. Prioritize prayer and Bible study. Believers have more tools than ever to facilitate a growing relationship with Jesus during a pandemic, but it’s up to the individual “in fear and trembling to work out their salvation.” In other words, pastors can and should provide spiritual growth opportunities (lead people to the everlasting waters), but the individual must decide whether he/she will drink from that well.

Discipleship in a pandemic is tough. Not impossible. It takes effort. It always has. With fear and trembling work out your salvation…

N.B.A. (Not Basketball Affiliated) Bible Verses and Church Lingo (Basketball style)

With the re-starting of professional sports in America, sports talk will be back in our conversations. Here are a few examples of Bible Verses that are NOT about the NBA and some church lingo from the basketball world tossed in—at no extra “charge.” (The puns don’t get any better. Read at your own risk).

There is no truth that the following Bible verses are basketball related.

Such were the exploits of the three mighty warriors. (1 Chronicles 11:9).
Not the headline in the San Francisco Chronicle following a great game by Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense (Acts 26:1)
Paul George, Chris Paul or (for you KU and Celtic fans) Paul Pierce is not the “Paul” referenced in this verse.

Calmness can lay great offenses to rest. (Ecclesiastes 10:4).
Former NBA Commissioner David Stern did not quote this verse when instituting the NBA shot clock.

He has blocked my way so I cannot pass (Job 19:8)
This is not about the defensive skills of Dennis Rodman or Michael Jordan.

Those were just plain dumb…
Sadly, the follow offering of Church Lingo (Basketball style) is not much better:

3-Pointer: The traditional sermon

Free throw: The no-cost blankets provided by the woman’s auxiliary to the local nursing home.

Dunk: What happens to the bread during communion by intinction

Riding the bench: When anticipating the band’s long praise and worship set, the worshipper chooses to sing sitting down

Fast Break: The quick exit from church when the sermon is too long and the local diner has a Fried Chicken special.

Redshirt: What the preacher wears on Pentecost

Power Forward: The opening comments of the sermon on Pentecost

Hack-a-Shaq: Deconstruction of the parsonage

Rebound: A preacher’s successful transition following a bad joke

Double dribble: When two babies spit up during Baby Dedication Day

Layup: The non-minister who’s preaching when the pastor is out sick

Sixth man: Following five unsuccessful and unqualified male pastoral candidates, instead of interviewing a qualified female candidate, the church board wants to interview this guy.

Pick and Roll: What a hungry worship-leading guitarist has with him when the service begins.

One-and-Done: The results of a bad youth pastor’s sermon in “big church.” (Not about Central’s youth pastors–they are awesome preachers, if you didn’t know).

Swish: The noise made when the reader quickly hits delete after realizing that these church and basketball lingo terms were just plain silly and it’s time to….

Enjoy your day.
Don’t worry about Covid-19.
Turn off your news channel.
Take a break from Social Media.
Love others.
Love Jesus.
Have Fun.

Ready to throw in the towel… read this.

From conversation in the past few weeks:

Health care workers: This is the scariest time in my career, I am thinking about doing something else.

Police: This is the most disheartening time in my career, I am thinking about doing something else.

Teachers: This is the most uncertain time in my career, I am thinking about doing something else.

Store Clerks, restaurant servers, trash collectors, postal workers: This is the most nervous time on my job, I am thinking about doing something else.

Pastors: This is the most discouraging time in my vocational life, I am praying that God leads me somewhere else.

Small business owners: This is the most difficult time for my business, I am thinking of closing (or not re-opening) the doors.

Churches: This is the most polarizing time since the protestant reformation, we are on the verge of a church split.

The list could go on and on in these uncertain times.

Erma Bombeck wrote a book years ago with the title: The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank. I think her point was simply just because the grass in the next place seems greener (or maybe the grass where you are standing looks brown), don’t be fooled. Not all green grass is the result of something good.

Paul’s advice to the troubled and on the verge of disintegrating church at Corinth are good words for us who are contemplating throwing in the towel and walking away:

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.  Do everything in love.
I Corinthians 16:13-14

In other words, you are not alone. Hang in there. Trust Jesus! Love everyone!

Culture vs. Jesus (in less than 200 words)

Culture says:

If you have said something wrong. I hate you.
If you have done something wrong. I hate you.
If you have voted wrong. I hate you.
If you are wearing a mask. I hate you.
If you are not wearing a mask. I hate you.
If you support BLM. I hate you.
If you support the police. I hate you.
Democrat? I hate you.
Republican? I hate you.
Fox News junkie? I hate you.
CNN? I hate you.
Millennial? I hate you.
Boomer? I hate you.
Support women’s rights? I hate you.
Don’t care about babies? I hate you.
Don’t care about LBGTQ+? I hate you.
Don’t know what the “+” stands for? I hate you.
Think marriage is exclusive between a man and a woman? I hate you.
Think the Bible is a fairy tale? I hate you.
Think the Bible is a guide for these troubling times? I hate you.
Have you sinned, made mistakes and got hang-ups? I hate you.
Can’t overlook my sins, mistakes and hang-ups? I hate you.

Jesus says:

Love one another (John 13:34)

That is all.

Can Holiness Cure Covid-19?

The short answer is “No.” The most holy person on the planet is just as vulnerable as the most unholy person on the planet if exposed to the coronavirus. Viruses (like all other diseases and ailments) are no respecter of persons. I heard that one preacher in an attempt to assure his flock of their well-being within the walls of his church said, “You’ll be safe from the coronavirus in church, the devil don’t come in here.” Trust me, I’ve pastored churches for 30 years, the devil has reeked plenty of havoc in churches long before anyone ever heard of Covid-19. Holiness does not prevent, slow or in any way effect the physical complications of coronavirus.

Sadly, physical symptoms and negative test results are not the only outcome of the disease. Like a magnifying glass, our global pandemic has exposed the ugliness and prevalence of sin too. The perfect storm of the disease, legitimate and illegitimate fears of sickness and uncertain futures, the negative effects of stay-at-home orders and isolation, the endless 24-hour lopsided news channels, a presidential election year coupled with the politicization of practically everything, the hatred and racist ugliness that is all too prevalent in our society, and the vileness of social media has led to a sinful angst that would rival any period in U.S. history. With the average shopper carrying not only a credit card but also a video camera in their phone, we are given an endless array of nutcases’ angry rants and vicious attacks in Costco, Target, Wal-Mart and Trader Joe’s. The anger is not limited to public places. Police, pastors, teachers and anyone in authority across the country are getting eaten up and spit out on-line by an angry, fearful populace. Spewing hate while hiding behind a computer or angry outbursts in public have sadly become the norm. We have a problem in America and its not simply the rising number of Covid-19 cases. We have a massive sin problem.

Holiness is what our world needs. “Be holy as I am holy” was God’s demand for the wilderness wandering children of Israel, and it is what is needed today. Paul’s urging to not be “conformed to the pattern of this world” in Romans 12 is more needed now than ever. Holiness as expressed in the Fruit of the Spirit must be our standard.

Every Christian should put their attitudes and actions through a “Fruit of the Spirit colander.” It’s asking oneself, “Are my actions, attitudes, words and on-line posts loving, joyful, peace producing, display patience, exhibit kindness and goodness, faithful, gentle, and do they show a whole lot of self-control (Oxymoron alert: Facebook and Self-Control can not be used in the same sentence)? If our words, actions, and on-line posts don’t display the Fruit of the Spirit then they are not of God. (Re-read that last sentence. Memorize it. It’s important and true).

Can holiness cure Covid-19? No. But if more Christians expressed and lived out a Christ-like, Fruit of the Spirit displaying brand of holiness, the world would see the attractiveness of Jesus. When Christians display the same anger, hatred and fears (when Christians are conformed to the pattern of this world, in other words), there is no reason for the unbelieving world to notice. My fellow believers, our world needs holiness more now than ever. It’s up to us to live holy lives. Paul’s words to the church at Colossae are still needed and true:  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12).

Five Dangers for Online Only Worshipers: How On-Line Only Church Can Destroy Faith

Disclaimer: This is not an “anti-on-line worship” article. The pandemic has caused plenty of extremely faithful people to stay home and participate in only on-line worship. Neither is this an anti-governmental control, “give me liberty or give me death” piece. The following is an attempt to present the dangers of an only on-line worship experience. Read on:

Five Dangers for Online Only Worshipers

1.Minimizing local church involvement damages one’s faith.
Yes, there are better on-line worship experiences than what your home church produces. Yes, there are better singers, better preachers (Obviously, this refers to those who do NOT attend Flint Central Church. Snicker. Snicker), and more tech savvy churches than the one you attend. Your church may be low tech (formerly no tech), your praise team may sing off key, your preacher rambles, and there’s many other reasons to not watch your church service (There are reports that 40% of stay-at-home church people are NOT viewing their local church’s livestream). Faith destruction begins by turning away from your local church.

What is missed in your local connection? Prayer requests regarding people you know. Your pastor bringing the Bible to life for your local context. Singers you know and regularly see praising Jesus. The local church is the body of Christ in your context. There is no substitute. Simply watching another service from somewhere else, will diminish the draw and participation in your local body. A lack of local connection damages your faith.

2 A lack of local church connection leads to a lack of interest in the local needs.
People need to associate with one another. The on-line worshipper must find ways to connect to their local body of believers before a disengagement and disinterest sets in. If one doesn’t know the needs and pray for the needs, the next step is “doesn’t care about the needs.” The cliché as it relates to in-person worship experience should be, “Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder, absence makes the only on-line-worshipper’s eyes, mind and life wander.”

Taking the initiative to stay connected to the local body means calling, texting or sending notes not simply one’s stay-at-home friends in the local body but to the tired, lonely and fall-through-the-cracks people as the Lord brings them to mind. It takes an effort to stay connected to the whole body, but it’s essential for one’s faith.

3. Overexposure to media (social and otherwise) damages one’s faith.
Look around. See those who were formerly zealous for the Lord, who are now inspired by their favorite on-line influencers. Now they are zealous for political parties, social movements and a brand of Christianity where Jesus is a condiment to one’s faith and not the center of one’s faith.

Turn off the TV and stay off your phone. Tithe (at a minimum) your media engagement with time in God’s word. For every hour spent viewing media, spend (at least 6 minutes) in the Bible. It’s not a lot, but it’s a start.

4. Speaking of tithing, continue to give to one’s local church.
A bank statement is a spiritual document. Where one invests their money that is where their heart is (didn’t someone famous in the Bible state this same concept?) The first sign of faithlessness is a lack of commitment financially to the local church.

5. On-line only worshippers miss the opportunity to serve.
Faithfulness and discipleship must involve active service. Stay-at-home orders and only on-line viewing leads to being a spectator rather than an active participant in faith. Spectators may cheer, but they are not where the action is or in the game. Spectator faith leads to no faith.

Don’t be a spectator only. Serve your neighborhood. Take cookies to a neighbor. Give a note to your local mail carrier. Pray for ways to serve in your context. Staying-at-home worship minus service is a sure way to fade from your faith.

On-line worship may be our current reality, but don’t allow it to diminish your faith.