Monthly Archives: August 2020

Quit Gnashing Your Teeth– Here’s why the Church Will Survive 2020

The news for churches coming out of 2020 is not particularly rosy. Consider exhibits A and B:

  • The Barna Group predicts that one in five churches will not survive the next 18 months. Read about it here
  • The National Association of Evangelicals’ survey of churches found that 34% of churches reported a decline in giving by 10-20% or more; 22% reported a decline of 30-50% or more; and 9% reported a drop in 75% or more. Read about it Here.

Less people. Less Money.  Such news has caused much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Will the church survive? What will we do?  Is all of heaven in a panic?

Hardly! Let me remind you of Jesus’ words to Peter concerning the church:  I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18)

Those words typically produce this conclusion: Hell won’t overcome the church. Hell can throw at us the vile and terrible things in its arsenal, but it won’t work. The 2020 list of taxing arrows include: pandemic, partisan politics, racism, sexual misconduct by Christian leaders, societal unrest, and carnality among other things. But as the thinking goes, we might get beaten up and smacked around but by the skin of our teeth, we’ll make it because we are protected by the super shield of Jesus and Hell won’t overcome us. Whew!

Is that what Jesus meant? We are in a war. The enemy is strong and on the attack. We might get beaten up, but we win in the end.

Confession: My knowledge of military strategy can fit in a thimble. It comes mostly via TV or movies. But here’s what I recollect or maybe, better stated, what I don’t recollect from my limited history channel and war movie experiences: Never have I heard a general (neither real nor fictional) when facing an enemy say, “Bring out the gates, men! We are going on the attack. Roll in the gates.”

 When facing a menacing foe, military strategists call for tanks, bombers, and missiles– offensive weapons. Gates are defensive barriers. According to Jesus, Hell has gates not the church.

Jesus is not saying the church is playing DEFENSE against the onslaught of the Devil.  In fact, it is just the opposite. Hell is on the defense. Hell’s gates are to be stormed by the church! The gates of hell can’t hold off the onslaught of the church of Jesus Christ! We are to reclaim those who are on the highway to hell (pardon the AC/DC reference). At our best, we are rescuing the perishing and caring for the dying.

WE ARE THE CHURCH built not by human hands lest anyone should boast, but by Jesus Christ!  Before, during and after the pandemic—we are still the Church of Jesus Christ and we are here for the world. My fellow believers—no need to gnash teeth or shed tears of worries. Instead, let’s storm the gates. Take on the injustices, sin and the troubles of this old world. WE ARE THE CHURCH!  What can stop the might of Jesus and His bride?  Certainly, not the rusty gates of hell! WE ARE THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST! Let’s be about the Savior’s business!

How is a Christian to Respond to all the Bad News in the World?

Bad News. It seems like that’s all we hear these days. It might be a devastating category 4 hurricane ripping through the southland. Another shooting of an unarmed black man by a police officer (not again! Help us, Lord!). Differing stories and confusing perspectives on the best way forward in a pandemic. Political mudslinging coming from all sides. Christian leaders caught in sex scandals. It’s enough to throw your hands in the air and scream or to wistfully dream like the old bubble bath commercial, “Calgon, take me away.”  Maybe for we believers it’s, “Jesus take me away.” But should that be our response?

Should we be surprised that our society is being shaken to the core?  Should we shocked that the prince of this world is doing everything he can to thwart the work of God Almighty? Should we be caught off guard that a pandemic is exposing posers from true believers?

Paul told the Corinthians, “For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11). Don’t be unaware!  The Enemy is prowling like a roaring lion. His modus operandi is to wreak havoc and cause trouble. He wants all of us to be hopeless, helpless and terrorized on all sides. He loves it when Christians fight against one another. Backbiting, gossip, taking sides and stirring mistrust are his specialties. Don’t. Be. Unaware.

If Jesus were sitting across from you in Starbucks (I’m writing this little ditty in Starbucks sipping on my tall pike place), what would he tell you?  He would say (Before you scream, “How do you know what Jesus would say to this mess?” I know because Jesus said it before to another group of troubled and shaken followers):

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. John 14:1

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Believer, take heart!  Jesus overcomes the world. Look to Him. Don’t look too much at a news channel—look to Jesus. Don’t look too much to Facebook, Tik Tok, Twitter or Instagram—look to Jesus. The world looks plenty dark these days, but Jesus said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

In one of the last recorded prayers of Jesus, he prayed for you and me. Jesus knew there would be troubling times in this old world so he prayed: They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world (John 17:16-18).

Jesus’ prayer means we don’t stick our heads in the sand to the trouble. We don’t ignore it or wish it to simply go away. Instead, we are in the world. Sanctified. Holy. Shining the Light of Jesus. We look to Jesus to gain our vision, to keep our focus, and to know our Source of strength. But we don’t stop at the looking. We are to then act like Jesus. Love like Jesus. Care like Jesus. Jesus is the Good News! Believer, like Jesus, be the good news bearers in our world full of bad news. Jesus is the Light of the World! Shine that Light!

Pastor, Need Help Leading in a Pandemic? Re-read Paul’s greeting to Pastor Timothy

Paul begins his pastoral letter to Timothy with a greeting. It seems simple enough. He wrote:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:1-2)

Paul the apostle is writing to Timothy his protégé. Everyone knows this. Usually this passage is quickly read to get to the “meat” of the letter. Like my eighth-grade track coach said about me, “Not so fast.”

Paul’s simple greeting is what Timothy needed to hear. For those of us living through and leading in a pandemic, it’s what we need too: the grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.

I need the Grace of God, the unmerited love of the Father.
I need the Mercy of God, the undeserved forgiveness of Jesus.
I need the Peace of God, the unmistakable presence of the Holy Spirit.

If we are going to thrive in trying circumstances, then we need the working of the Triune God daily in our lives. That’s why Paul is writing to Timothy. There were difficulties in ministering to the people of Ephesus and Paul is writing to encourage and offer help. Like Timothy, our strength, wisdom and ingenuity will not sustain us during these strange times. We can’t make it on our own.

When people come at me with an unholy anger, unChristlike attitudes, fear driven ultimatums, and/or a theology based on their favorite news channel rather than the Bible—I need the grace of God. When I respond hastily, sarcastically, angrily, self-centeredly, smugly, I need the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus. When I put my head on my pillow after a long and trying day, I need the peace of the Spirit to flood my soul.

Too many pastors (and fellow believers) have fallen by the wayside when difficulties arrive. Why is that? Sin. Yes. Taking their eyes off Jesus? Eventually, yes. But before sin and clouded vision happens, there most always is a reliance on one’s own power to get them through their present difficulty. “I can do this,” they think. No, they can’t. No, I can’t. Listen, I’m not strong enough to make it on my own. Neither are you. We desperately need the grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. It’s living into the simple words of the old, old song:

I need thee
O I need thee
Every hour I need thee
O bless me now, My Savior
I come to thee!

It is at the foot of the cross that we receive the grace, mercy and peace that we so desperately need during all times, and especially during these times.

You might be a pastor in 2020, if you have…

• Preached a sermon series in January on having 20/20 vision this year only to look back and realize you had everything wrong.

• A little pride that your church softball team outdrew every major-league baseball team this season.

• A now former parishioner leave your church because you opened in person worship too soon.

• A now former parishioner leave your church because you didn’t open in person worship soon enough.

• Someone from the church inform you how they LOVE, REALLY LOVE another church’s livestream broadcast.

• Members have posted exciting pictures on social media of expeditions near and far, surrounded by friends, but have yet to join an in-person service and you have wondered if they have joined an on-line service for more than a “click” on and off.

• A certain level of excitement over attendance figures that would have caused you to turn in your letter of resignation six months ago (or at least cause serious sulking).

• Been told that if you don’t endorse Donald Trump your armpits should be infested by the fleas of 500 elephants.

• Been told that since you endorsed Donald Trump your armpits should be infested with the fleas of 1000 donkeys (Donkey lovers aren’t less compassionate; it’s just that a donkey is smaller than an elephant, hence less fleas).

• Preached a great sermon on Jesus’ words that we must be a servant of all, then before making it to the parking lot following that homiletical masterpiece, a parishioner complains about how they have a right to have this or that (usually the “this” and the “that” are not big deals, by the way).

• Considered a better career choice might have been sewer cleaner.

• Prayed through an open window with a parishioner in an assisted living facility.

• Officiated at a funeral with less than ten mourners present.

• Started missing church pot lucks and all-church picnics.

• Felt that God was telling you (more than once), “Quit crying, you big baby! Do you think you are the first servant of Mine who has gone through tough times? Ask Jeremiah, Daniel or Paul to name a few.”

• Prayed, “You are right, Lord. I’m in it for the long haul! I will praise you in the storm and thank you for the opportunity to be Your ambassador in a pandemic.”

The Mostly Out-Of-Context Biblical Guide for Teaching your Kids at Home

With so many parents and grandparents forced to be part-time educators as virtual learning has been thrust upon them (thank you Covid-19), here are a few Bible verses that may give aid, insight and/or direction to your days ahead.

First Day of Virtual Learning Memory Verse:
Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Proverbs 1:8 (see also Proverbs 6:20)

When your student gets a little mouthy about not wanting to study anymore:
I give you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching. Proverbs 4:2

For those struggling to teach New Math:
“Look,” says the Teacher, “this is what I have discovered: “Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things.” Ecclesiastes 7:27

When having to teach a lesson on something you were never taught
Let us learn together what is good. Job 34:4

When the school day is done, and your child/student asks a very basic question from the beginning lesson:
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Everything is meaningless!” Ecclesiastes 12:1

When calling the school principal to offer your resignation as an at home teacher:
Are all teachers? 1 Corinthians 12:29

If that doesn’t work, try this one:
Not many of you should become teachers. James 3:1

If that doesn’t work and you are forced to continue to teach your 3rd grade class clown, please, please, please remember this one:
“Thou shall not kill” Exodus 20:13

All kidding aside, God will help parents turned teachers. You can make it!

Let’s all pray for our school administrators who have been making tough decisions; our school teachers who are trying very hard to teach in this very different environment; our parents and grandparents turned teachers and home school aids; and of course, all the children who are learning new ways to learn! God will help us through these days!

Isaiah 41:10 is for all of us– during a pandemic or not:
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Hang in there! Your child might not, but this season will pass (I’m kidding, we want all our kids to pass!)

When “Always Right” People Fill the Pews…

Maybe you’ve heard a version of the sad one-liner from a beleaguered spouse, “I always wanted to marry Mr. Right, I just didn’t know his first name was going to be ‘Always.’” A few pastor friends have prayed for the “right” church, only to discover their pews are lined with Always Right members. In some churches, it might not be an “Always Right” husband, it can be the whole clan. “Always Right” husbands, wives, aunts, uncles and cousins twice removed fill their church. Thankfully in my current assignment, the Always Rights mostly left (Directional humor).

Here’s what I’ve discovered about the Always Rights (Mr., Mrs. and their distant relatives included.):

1) Always Right attitudes are not made in heaven. While history is littered with Always Rights’ ancestors (never made in heaven), the 2020 versions have been mostly made from an unhealthy mix of social media, news outlets, pandemic anxieties, social unrest and election year politics.

2) A medical degree is not necessary for the Always Rights to make medical or scientific analysis. The same holds true for theological positions. The Always Rights are quick to let it be known of the incompetence of the medical or scientific community or pastor because of their vast knowledge (Read: having consumed a steady diet conspiracy theories on Facebook or other “reliable” sources). A “Facebook PH.D.” coupled with extensive indoctrination from their version of the news holds full sway over a medical degree from Harvard, Yale or any seminary in the land.

3) Who’s hurt is of no consequence when their rightness is being expressed. Hurt feelings? Who cares. Causing divisions in the church? It’s not their problem. The only thing that matters is that their opinion is heard.

4). Offering counter (correct) facts is of no use. From the Always Rights’ perspective: Your facts are false. Your perspective is invalid. Your opinion is wrong. Your theology is bad. Your political leanings are skewed. Your intelligence is scattered (at best) or imbecilic (at worst). In other words: YOU. ARE. WRONG. PERIOD.

5). Don’t expect Mr. or Mrs. Right to offer an apology if/when proven wrong. I’ve encountered a spattering of the Always Rights’ distant relatives through the years, and few have spoken anything resembling even a half-hearted apology. If one can never admit to being wrong, there is no need to apologize.

6). In the mind of the Always Right clan, 1 Corinthians 10:23 (“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.“I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive”) applies to someone else. Looking out for the good of the community or the church is not within their purview. When one’s vision is clouded by self-centeredness, it is impossible to see anyone or anything else.

If you’ve encountered some of the Always Right kinfolk, here are three quick points to consider (you might not like it, but read on):

1) The “Always Right” crowd are still loved by God (John 3:16):
2) The “Always Right” people are still your neighbor (Luke 10: 25-37); and
3) The “Always Right” folks still deserve your love (Matthew 25:39).

Just as we can’t always choose who we meet on the road of life; likewise, we can’t choose if we are going to love people or not. Jesus is clear. His followers are to love everyone– even the ones who are hard to love, annoying, aggravating and “always” right.

What I Learned about Returning Quarantined Worshippers at Starbucks

Yesterday I started my day at Starbucks. I am cursed (or blessed depending on your perspective) as an early riser. So, I “started” my day (although I had already been up for over an hour) at 5:45AM. I don’t think my bride realized there were two 5:45s in a day until we were married. From Karla’s perspective, my early rising is a curse, but I digress. Starbucks opens at 5:30 and I was there fifteen minutes later.

It was my first time back in the early morning since the pandemic shut down the world. With the store closed, I became comfortable in starting my day at home with a cheaper albeit less tasty coffee and cinnamon toast. I hadn’t been in Starbucks in over 5 months.

I approached the counter fully masked, of course. The manager, Felice, saw me and in spite of my face being half covered, said, “Hi Rob!” She couldn’t remember if my usual order was a Grande or a tall pike place coffee. It’s a tall. But she remembered that I worked until my coffee was gone then got a refill before leaving. She said, “I was just telling someone the other day, the only “regular” who hadn’t returned from the quarantine was you, Rob. I’m glad you are here.”

I felt so welcome. Like I was a long-lost friend who returned. Now maybe she says something like that to every customer. And maybe I’m not all that special (there are a few folks who have no doubt on my lack of specialness), but she made me feel special. I thought to myself, “I hope that’s how our quarantined worshippers feel when they return to church. I hope they realize how I long to greet them and hear how they’ve been doing. Like Felice, I might not get everything straight (was it a tall or a Grande quarantine?), but I hope that the church family knows that we aren’t complete without them.”

Many on-line worshippers have no choice. The health risks of being around people during a pandemic are too high. Some on-line worshippers are too far away (We have a satellite on-line campus developing in South Carolina. One lady who I’ve never met somehow joined on-line. She loved it and told a friend, who told a friend, who told a friend… well, you know how it works. Boom! There’s a group of South Carolinians calling our church their home). It’s a bummer when worshipping live and in person is impossible. That’s just another rotten outcome from living through a pandemic.

But let me offer this advice: Don’t get too use to the convenience of on-line only worship. I know you can watch in your jammies. You can roll out of bed a minute before the live-stream starts and still be “early” for church. But here’s the deal: We need you. We really need you. We aren’t the same without you. And quite honestly, you need us too. You need the fellowship, accountability and the growth that only happens in the gathering together with fellow believers. So when you are ready and able, please return. Like Paul to Timothy, I must say: I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. (2 Timothy 1:4).

Does “Loving my neighbor as myself” apply to Facebook?

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6

People don’t necessarily have to know how smart you are; how cleaver your point; or what a great grasp on the politics, theology or life you might have. But they do need to know that you love them. If they leave thinking anything other than that, the conversation was not in keeping with the second greatest commandment that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

In Colossians 4, Paul makes an interesting comment. He says our conversations should be “full of grace and seasoned with salt.” The full of grace part, we get. Full of unmerited love— no problem in understanding Paul’s instruction. We need to love people (Again it’s fulfilling the second half of the greatest commandment discussion from Jesus— we are to love God and love people.). But what does “seasoned with salt” mean? In our vernacular, “salty” language is coarse, aggressive, sometimes even vulgar speech. “He/She cursed like a “salty” sailor.” Clearly, that is not Paul’s point.

Salt in the first century was valuable. It was so valuable that salt was used as a form of currency at times. Why so valuable? It was a food preservative. Salt kept meat from spoiling. Safe meat was an important necessity, in an age without refrigeration. For Paul, to have a conversation “seasoned with salt” meant that our words should preserve the message of Christ (What’s the message? We are to love God and love our neighbors). Our words should not spoil the gospel. Our words should bring out the flavor of grace.

This is such an important message for our current divisive times. Too often conversations turn “salty,” in the modern sense, and not “seasoned with salt” in the Pauline sense. Let that not be true of us. When in discussions (in person or on social media), what is said or what we post should be edifying, full of grace and always pointing to Jesus. For our conversations to be “seasoned with salt,” our words must be valuable. What we say matters, but how we say it and how the other person hears it also matters. If they don’t hear “Love,” then our communication does not line up with the second greatest commandment.

To love our neighbors as ourselves in 2020 means to speak or post on social media in such a manner that when you leave or log off, the other person need not know how smart, cleaver or even how spiritual you are; but they must know (second greatest commandment) that you love them. The final word, “seasoned with salt,” must always be love.