Monthly Archives: September 2020

Will Bill and Gloria Gaither need to re-write the lyrics to “The Family of God” after 2020?

Do you remember the old Gaither song, “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God”? If so, are you?  Are you “so glad” you are a part of the family of God? Please know, I love Jesus and I love Jesus’ people. But there are some distant relatives in God’s family whose behavior, words and/or posts on social media make me less than “so glad”? If Bill and Gloria could rewrite the ditty in 2020, in lieu of those attitudes and actions I wonder if they would pen, “I’m so sad I’m a part of the family of God”? Am I permitted to tell you, “Sometimes, I’m deeply saddened by the attitudes and actions taken by my cousins in the family of God?

I’m not so glad when some fellow family of God members who ought to know better; have been in Sunday school their whole life; and sat through (and theoretically not snored through) their fair share of sermons, still don’t get it. They treat one another badly. Are mean, rude, angry or arrogant. Have a “me first” attitude. Get their cues from news channels and social media instead of the Bible.  Those things don’t make me “so glad.”

Pastoring has never been tougher in my 30 years in the ministry. Most church folks are great, but some in the family of God are like a weird second cousin twice removed. They think they can bully and threaten to “take their tithe” to the church down the street if the pastor doesn’t capitulate to their version of the way things ought to be (I didn’t realize bribing God was an option). Every pastor I know has had an “I quit” letter, phone call or conversation. One week, years ago, I had an “I quit” conversation with a family because the church was too liberal, and a different “I quit” conversation because that family thought the church was too conservative. Same week! It really upset me. Many pastors are having those conversations every week these days. When the family of God seems more like the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s, I’m not so glad to be a part of it.

I’m not sure if it’s the pandemic, isolation caused by the pandemic, parents stressed from their kid’s virtual learning during the pandemic, racial unrest, election year politics or if all of the above has created this mess. Maybe it’s just plain old fashioned, garden variety carnality. I just know the family of God is suffering. Sometimes I think we are heading for divorce court. Can you divorce your family?

Who’s kidding who?  I’m old. For me even if the family of God seems more like the Adam’s Family than Leave it to Beaver (proof of my “oldness” is in those two classic TV references), I’m not going anywhere. You’re my family, weird second cousins twice removed and all. It’s not me, I’m worried about. It’s our kiddos who are watching Christians behaving badly. It’s our grandkids who are hearing over the continuous drone of the news channel how terrible the pastor is or the music leader or youth worker. It’s the non-Christian co-workers who listen to the vile talk, gossip or justification of blatant sinfulness from people who claim Jesus on Sunday but apparently forget about Him the rest of the week. 

Dear brothers and sisters, joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod (Excuse me, Bill and Gloria, I know it rhymes with “God,” but… “travels this sod”? If you’re going to re-write the song, could you re-write that line too? Sorry, I digress). Let’s start acting like the family of God again. Love one another. Care for one another. Forgive one another. Bear each other’s burdens. Our kids, grandkids and the world is watching. Let’s not give the devil any help in leading our young adults to exits of the church. Let’s make the family of God something to be glad to be a part of once again!

Jesus wept… In a pandemic… In Flint… What are we doing about it?

There are only two places in the Bible where Jesus wept.  The first (as every Sunday School kid who was ever given a prize for memorizing a verse, any verse, knows) is “Jesus wept” in John 11:35. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible. Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, had died. Jesus goes to the cemetery with Lazarus’ sisters and before raising his friend back to life, Jesus wept. 

The only other place where Jesus weeps in in Luke 19.  It’s the day we call Palm Sunday. Jesus is riding into Jerusalem. People are shouting “Hosanna, Hosanna.” Everyone (sans Pharisees) is excited in this tickertape parade-like atmosphere and Jesus weeps. These are not tears of joy, because everyone is praising him. Far from it.  Luke describes the event this way:

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If youeven youhad only known on thisday what would bring you peacebut now it is hidden from your eyes.  The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” Luke 19:41-44

The people of Jerusalem don’t get it. Jesus sees Jerusalem’s future without Him. It’s not pretty. In fact, Jerusalem is facing utter destruction and, as these things usually happen, the children will suffer the most. It’s heartbreaking. In that moment, while everyone is happy, Jesus weeps.

Like Jesus we’ve all wept in a cemetery when a family member or friend has died, but when was the last time you looked over our city and wept? When have you imagined the future, and thought, “without God’s intervention, my city is in deep trouble?” 

The church I’m privileged to pastor is in Flint, Michigan. When people from Flint talk to folks not from Flint, invariably the first question asked is, “Can you drink the water?” Everyone knows, Flint has had its share of troubles. We also know our city’s kids have been the most negatively affected by these ills. When one lives, works or loves Flint, it’s easy to be like Jesus on that first Palm Sunday, and with deep anguish see our city’s enemies circling (poverty, drug abuse, unjust systems, crime, violence, lack of educational and employment opportunities) and weep. At times, it may feel like these negative forces have us hemmed in on all sides. The pandemic has only made the enemies stronger and more formidable. There are plenty of reasons to cry. 

But there are more reasons to hope! Jesus is at work in the Flint. 

Central church’s moto is “In Flint…” We have bumper stickers and T-Shirts with those simple words. We hope people ask us, “What does “In Flint…” mean?” So we can tell them that Jesus taught us to pray that his Kingdom would come and His will would be done in earth as it is in heaven. We can’t work in the entire planet, but we can in Flint.  Hence, we long to see God’s work and will accomplished in Flint as it is in Heaven.

Sometimes the Bible refers to heaven as a banquet.  I think that means that in heaven no one is hungry. We’ve done our best to end hunger here too. In fact, since our food distribution program began in July every Tuesday and Friday we’ve distributed tons of food. How much? Hold on to your hat this will blow you away, 120 tons (240,000 pounds) of food. Additionally, we partner with the food pantry next door (HIS Ministry) to end hunger in Genesee county. The Bible talks about mansions. I think that means, there won’t be homelessness or drug abuse in heaven. We partner with Carriage Town Ministries and the East Side Mission to stamp it out here too. A lack of education won’t be a problem in heaven, so we partner with Dillon Elementary School and the Boys and Girls Club of Flint. Racism won’t be allowed in heaven, so our mostly white church partners with our mostly black brothers and sisters at Joy Tabernacle for joint projects. In heaven, there will be convicted but restored-by-Jesus felons. We partner with Re-Connections that has a 90% success rate in keeping released felons in Genesee County from going back into prison. Since, there won’t be sickness or death in heaven, we figure there won’t be medical debt either.  We’ve partnered with RIP Medical Debt and have (hold on to your hat again) eliminated 10 million dollars in medical debt in seven counties (SEVEN!!!). Do you see what all of this means? It’s happening. In a pandemic, it’s happening! God’s Kingdom work is happening in Flint!

Our city still has problems. But God is at work and He is not done! We aren’t done either. I hope you are at Central church this Sunday (or on-line) as we celebrate what God is doing in our city. God’s Kingdom (slow but sure) is coming in Flint! Praise the Lord! Please consider partnering with us in prayer, in service and financially (fill out a pledge card in church or fill out an on line pledge card here ), so that we will continue to see God’s will done and His Kingdom Come in Flint (and other places like in Panama too) as it is in heaven!  

America’s New Favorite Pandemic Pastime (Hint: It’s not baseball) and How to Overcome It

People have always judged others. It’s as old as Cain and Abel. But like everything else in 2020, it seems worse now. People are so quick to judge and draw conclusions over just about everything. Who’s wearing masks? Who’s not? Why not? How could you ever vote for—fill in the blank? My pastor is too – fill in the blank. Forget baseball, judging is the new American pastime. 

Ironically, Americans do not want their individual behaviors and attitudes to be judged. Everyone (judgers included) loves to quote Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not judge or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). I’ve heard it from every side and every angle in these hyper sensitive times. “Don’t judge me!” Then their ironclad argument stopper is invoked, “Jesus said, ‘Don’t judge me.’”

Jesus did say that. Jesus also said, just a few verses later, the following: 

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Matthew 7:15-20

Evidently to “watch out” for ferocious wolves who are dressed as sheep; and to ascertain whether I’m picking grapes and figs and not thorns and thistles; and to determine if a tree is good for fruit or firewood– a certain amount of judging needs to take place. 

Apostles Paul and John (both weighed in on the topic of judging) wrote:

Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22)

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  (1 John 4:1)

There’s only one way to “test everything” and “test the spirits to see whether they are from God”—that’s to make a judgment call. Which is it? Judge or not judge? 

Here’s my simple answer: Yes. Here’s my more developed answer:

1) Judge the person in the mirror not the one in your bullseye

Jesus said, “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then (then, then, then) you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  (Matthew 7:5 the extra three “thens” are mine). Your brother has a speck in his eye. That’s no good. Have you ever had a speck in your eye? It’s irritating. Help your brother. But first take care of your own irritating habits. First, inspect your motives, motivations and habits.

2) Judge with an eye on mercy.

Jesus previously had said:  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:2). Jesus doesn’t mean that we are to ignore sin, but rather we are to judge with extreme caution. Judge as you would want to be judged. We all want mercy. Who among us hasn’t wanted the police office to ignore our slightly heavy foot on the gas pedal and give us a warning not a citation? Judge with mercy,

3) Judge but don’t be judgmental.  

We need to discern right from wrong (obviously) but we don’t need to be judgmental in doing so. It’s tough to do.  Here’s how Paul instructed young Timothy on such things:  

The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.  (2 Timothy 2:24-26)

Don’t be quarrelsome. 

Don’t belittle anyone’s opinions. 

Don’t become resentful. 

Don’t bestow a social media rant against anyone (seriously, no one). 

Instead, be kind. Gentle. Hope and pray for God’s grace and intervention in the life of everyone. We aren’t called to be judgmental, but we are called to judge right from wrong. We are called to love God—as holy and true as He is– and to love people—as unholy and untrue as they may be. 

Five Important Lessons that My Non-clergy Dad Preached

Today would have been my dad’s 93rd birthday. Coincidentally, over the weekend, someone tagged me into a thread on Facebook commenting on how my “dad” was an awesome pastor. The author of the post thought my brother, Fred, was my dad. I love letting Fred know these things. He is always so encouraged when people think that his seven-year-younger kid brother is his son. Ha!  

While the post was mistaken, I am thankful for a faithful dad who never pastored a church but trained two pastors (and my two sisters – both wonderful Christ followers). Likely none of us would be Christian if my dad hadn’t made the decision to follow Jesus (well, I would not have been born. My parents would have been divorced before that “glorious” day arrived). But Jesus found my dad and, as they say, the rest is history.

My dad worked for Ford for 42 years and never pastored a church, but I do remember on one occasion when he was drafted into preaching. The pastor was sick and someone had to do it. My dad was the choice—I don’t remember one word he said. It may have been his only “official” sermon, but he preached plenty to my siblings and me every day. It made all the difference. We were watching and listening.

So what are the main lessons that my dad “preached”?

1). Consistency. My dad was the exact same person at home, at church, anywhere.

2). No Job for the Lord was too small. When you attend a little church, there are few people to do all of the jobs. My dad did a little bit of everything. Served on the board. Taught Sunday School. Usher. Janitor. Lawn Mow-er. Maintenance man.  You name it. He did it.

3.) Don’t rob God. Tithing was important. Generous with our money—but also generous with our talents and time. 

4). No talking bad about church folks in general and pastors in particular.  I don’t think it’s a shock that Fred and I became pastors. We never heard a bad word about the pastor in our house. Looking back, not all of our pastors were gems. In fact, one embezzled money from the church and took off; another left the Church of the Nazarene on unfavorable terms, and still another one’s marriage fell apart while pastoring the church. I only had five pastors at that church. So (as the math whizzes among us can calculate) 60% of the pastors had issues and yet I don’t remember a bad word spoken about any of these men. Ever. Not in front of us kids anyway. 

5). Love God. Love your family. Love the country. Work hard at serving them all.  My dad’s generation could teach this current generation on how to be faithful. He lived faithfulness before us, and I am a far better person because of it.

Happy Birthday in heaven, dad!

Why I Can’t Blast Internet Idiots on Social Media

Jesus called his opponents hypocrites, why can’t I do the same?

The people who got under Jesus’ skin were not the out-in-out sinners, but the “holy” folks. It was the Pharisees. They drew Jesus ire as they adamantly defended their love for God, while spewing envy, pride, greed, and self-importance.

I get it, Jesus. That’s who gets under my skin too. 

My problem isn’t with sinners who know they are sinners. There was a kid in jail that I visited who had all sorts of problems. He was guilty of numerous crimes that would make your skin crawl, but I didn’t burn him with all of my memorized, “gotcha” Bible verses. We talked. He listened. I did too. He knew his crimes were bad. We prayed together. I’ve sat with addicts who have made a million promises to quit only to go back to their old ways. I have felt so bad for their situations. I didn’t rant about their terrible choices.  They knew it. Same with the married couple who came to me confessing sinfulness on both sides. I felt sorrow. Compassion. Not anger. Not blood boiling indignation. Prayers of sincere confession were made.

My problem is with the sinners who don’t think they are sinners. When modern day Pharisees have blasted the church with vicious lies, started rumors, led revolts, and then these purveyors of putridness put some Christian-eze gobbledygook on Facebook—I want to throw up. It literally makes my stomach flip. That’s when my normally subdued psyche goes into overdrive. I want to jump on their social media timeline with all sorts of grievances. Like Jesus to the Pharisees, I want to call them snakes and white washed tombs or worse.

But I can’t do it. 

I can’t because Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.” Jesus also said, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.” I’m not perfect. No stone throwing from me. I’ve been hypocritical. I’ve displayed too much passive aggression and unleased unholy arrogance. I’ve posted things out of hurt, envy and pride. I’ve got a list of sins, shortcomings and flat-out wrongs in my past. Most generally, I’ve tried to ask for forgiveness when I could. But there may be those I’ve offended (that I didn’t know I’ve offended) who see a social media post of mine and their stomach flips. I wonder if they feel about me, the way I feel about the people that have wronged me?

Jesus could call out the hypocrites because he was never hypocritical. Not even once. I don’t have that same record. Neither do you. 

My prayer is not “Lord blast my enemies,” but rather: “Lord, forgive me and help me to forgive others. Let my first response to an offending social media post not be figurative rock throwing toward the author but a heartfelt prayer on their behalf and confession of my own similar behavior. If there is any unfinished business with you or with anyone else, help me to quickly say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

Jesus called his opponents hypocrites, why can’t I do the same? I’m not Jesus but my desire is to be more and more like Him every day.

Why the Role of Regional Director in the Church of the Nazarene Should be Redefined (or maybe better stated “defined”)

The Church of the Nazarene has very detailed descriptions in the Nazarene Manual for the different roles in the church. Every job is spelled out using many explanatory words. The office of General Superintendent, General Treasurer, General Secretary, District Superintendent, Local pastor, Minister of Music (do we even call them “ministers of music” anymore?) and the Sunday School and Discipleship Ministries Superintendent (speaking of a long title that is not used in any of the Nazarene churches in the entire world), all have job descriptions consisting of many words, sometimes spanning several pages. But the second most influential position in the church has barely a blip in the Manual.  

Three out of the last five General Superintendents have been Regional Directors before being elected to the highest position in the church. Clearly this in the new feeder role to the office of General Superintendent, as opposed to being the pastor of a large USA Church (read: pastor of Olathe College Church). The majority of delegates to General Assemblies have viewed the Regional Director position to be a very important role in the church. This fact makes the comparatively little mention of the duties, responsibilities or function of the Regional Director’s position quite surprising 

The Church of the Nazarene Manual section concerning the Regional Director (346.4) consists of three paragraphs.  The second paragraph briefly concerns the election or removal of a Regional Director. The third paragraph (one sentence) states to whom the Regional Director is accountable. The first paragraph is the “job description.” It’s also one sentence. One long, clunky sentence (62 words. Yes, I counted them) that reads as follows:

A region may have a director elected by the Board of General Superintendents in consultation with the Global Mission director, and ratified by the General Board, to work in harmony with the policies and practices of the Church of the Nazarene giving leadership to districts, churches, and institutions of the region in fulfillment of the mission, strategies, and program of the church. 

That’s it. Not a lot of detail in the above paragraph. The Regional Director is to work in harmony blah, blah, blah and give leadership. We have two and a half pages describing the work and duties of associate pastors of a local church (see 159-159.8) and one sentence for the feeder position for the role of General Superintendent?  

Maybe the light-on-detail job description is the result of the great diversity of the regions. For example, the Regional Director in USA/Canada (Dr. Bob Broadbooks, who will be retiring soon and is a godly man) would have a far different role and function than the regional director of Eurasia (until very recently there was not a regional director for Eurasia, a region that spans 14 time zones, who knows how many languages and goes from Great Britain to Bangladesh. No joke. This region is a monster in size and scope. No wonder it took a while to decide upon a Regional Director). Still, it seems there could be a better, more detailed and accountable job description than one long, clunky sentence.

Moreover, since this role is such a vital position in the church and is the ticket for prime consideration for the General Superintendent’s chair, shouldn’t the regional delegates have a role in the selection of their leader? Instead of being elected by the six General Superintendents, who consulted the Global Ministries Director and had their choice ratified (rubber stamped?) by the General Board,  should we not consider voting for this role in the regional caucuses at General Assembly?  This would allow the people of the region to have a voice in selecting their leader who could speak into the unique concerns and issues of their region. As the General Superintendents have been reluctant to address what they consider to be nationalized issues, an engaged Regional Director could be that voice the Church of the Nazarene needs in such times. 

The Regional Director’s role has grown as the church has grown beyond the USA/Canada borders in its committed to being an international church. It’s too important of a responsibility to relegate its place to a long one-sentenced job description. Given these facts, it makes sense that a resolution should be developed for the 2023 General Assembly to provide a more complete job description with new methods and procedures of accountability for the Regional Director’s position. Moreover, the position should not be decided upon by a six-person committee (BGS), but elected by the people of the region.  Thereby this strong regional leader, chosen by the regional delegates, can offer an authoritative voice to localized situations as they arise.

To be strong for the rest of the 21st century, the Church of the Nazarene needs strong, accountable, well defined, elected-by-the-people regional leadership.

Handy (questionable) reminders for Central Outdoors this Sunday

Sunday Service at Central Church is going to be outdoors.  We have cleverly named the event “Central Outdoors.”  The service (only one service) will take place in the Peak Parking Lot at 10:30AM. Come in your car, stay in your car or bring a chair and sit closer to the platform (and by “platform,” I mean flatbed truck).  The service will be livestreamed if you are unable to join us. Since we haven’t had an outdoor service lately (Read: Never in my seven years as pastor), here are some handy and helpful reminders:

1) Please enter on the entrance off Bristol Road on the eastside of the Peak Building. Do not enter the parking lot via a helicopter, hot air balloon, catapult or any of the entrances off of Bristolwood Drive.

2). There is no truth to the rumor that the youth group will be holding an Automobile Baptism (aka Car Wash) following the service.

3). If listening from inside your car in the parking lot, the service will be broadcast on 90.9FM. Should a Wizard-of-OZ-like tornado sweep through during the service, a portion of the service will be broadcast on all of the evening news channels.

4) If staying in your car for worship, when Pastor Enosh tells us to “stand on your feet and sing the next song” please ignore this instruction. We don’t want you bashing your head on the roof of your Rolls Royce (I don’t think anyone in our church drives a Rolls Royce, but if they did, we wouldn’t want them bashing their head and getting blood on the interior of their Rolls Royce).

5) If you are driving a Rolls Royce to the service don’t forget your offering. (If you can afford a Rolls Royce you can certainly afford to give an offering to the Lord!)

6). The Food Trucks following the service are BYOMTBYF– Bring You Own Money To Buy Yummy Food.  If you don’t have any money, see the guy driving the Rolls Royce.

7). Please, please, please read 1 Corinthians 5:12a* for a reminder about looking down upon those driving into the parking lot in a Ford, Chrysler and especially a Rolls Royce and not a quality GM made vehicle.

8). I will be wrapping up the Gospel of Mark, but there will be no drinking of poison or handling of snakes (read the end of Mark for this reference to make sense). Our tech guys might be handling a mouse (computer), a Dodge Viper might be the parking lot, but the food trucks have been instructed to not serve poison. With only slight hesitation, they have agreed to this request.

9). In the event of rain, build an ark. Oh wait, that was the instructions for another follower of God. In the event of rain, we will be socially distancing in the comfy confines of our sanctuary.

10). In the event of rain, I might be more like Judas than I will care to admit. (See Luke 22:62**)

11). One last thing, If you are looking for me on Sunday, I will be by the gatepost (See Ezekiel 46:2***).

All kidding aside, if in the Flint area, I hope you and your family can join us this Sunday for Central Outdoors. We are going to have a great morning.

*1 Corinthians 5:12a: What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?

**Luke 22:62: And he went outside and wept bitterly.

***Ezekiel 46:2: The prince is to enter from the outside through the portico of the gateway and stand by the gatepost. 

If 2020 were…

If 2020 were…

a car… it would be a Ford Pinto (runners up are an AMC Gremlin and Chevy Vega).

a vegetable… it would be cauliflower (duh!).

a drink it would be Clenpiq (a colonoscopy prep drink).

a bug…it would be a mosquito (stink bug and dung beetle come in at #2 and #3).

a TV show…. It would be Naked and Afraid (don’t @ me).

a movie… it would be any Rocky movie after Rocky II.

a Pro Football team… (sorry my fellow diehards) … it would be the Detroit Lions.

a kid’s show… it would be Teletubbies (It’s really Barney. I caved under the pressure from the lovers of the purple dinosaur who have been known to be very vengeful).

candy… it would be Raisinets (Raisinets because Circus Peanuts or Dots do not include raisins in their list of ingredients).

a holiday… it would be Arbor Day. (Everyone likes trees…but have you ever attended an Arbor Day Party? Received an Arbor Day present or card? Probably not… since you have to kill a tree to make a party invitation, a wrapping paper or a greeting card. It’s too complicated for a holiday.).

a superhero… it would be Howard the Duck (Interestingly, Howard the Duck also in the running for “if 2020 was a movie”)

a cereal… it would be Kellogg’s All-Bran (For the same reason Clenpiq is listed above)

a state… it would be Ohio (sorry, my Buckeye friends. OK, not sorry)

 a song… it would be anything sung by Vanilla Ice

 a physical ailment… it would be a hemorrhoid (can a Nazarene pastor make a butt joke and keep his/her credentials?  If I’m not in the pulpit on Sunday, you’ll have your answer).


But (FYI: This usage of the word “but” is approved by the Nazarene manual) 2020 is a year and like all years (unless Jesus returns) it will pass and a new year will come. Hang in there, friends! Phineas F. Bresee (or maybe it was Thomas Edison just before creating the light bulb) said, “It’s always darkest before dawn.” In the meantime, relax, be kind, be patient and keep living the Philippians 3:14 life:

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.