Monthly Archives: March 2021

Does the Church of the Nazarene need to be in Hospice? A Conversation Between her Family and her Doctor

Family: Is she dead?

Doctor: I’m not a medical examiner. She’s not dead, but she doesn’t look good.

Family: Are you telling us, she needs to be on hospice care? Keep her comfortable until she dies? Is that it, doc?

Doctor: I’m not a palliative care specialist either. I’m saying there’s a chance for her to survive but it won’t be quick or easy.  Radical surgeries and treatments will need to take place, and even then, there is no guarantee she will make it.

Family: What kind of surgeries are we talking about?

Doctor: Well for one there is a heart problem. It’s divided. It’s divided on so many levels. For her to get well, unity must happen. Someone Great once said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”

Family: Can’t you just fix it, Doc? Open heart surgery. Sew it up and make it better?

Doctor: It’s a big procedure. This heart condition didn’t happen overnight, and won’t be cured with a snap of the fingers. 

Family: What’s the remedy?  

Doctor: She needs to change her intake and training. A steady diet of the Fruit of the Spirit is the best medicine. The fruit of the Spirit each day keeps the carnality away. Instead of attacking her own, she needs to exercise patience, practice understanding and have a daily workout of prayer. 

Family: She’s lethargic, empty or maybe “stale” is the word.

Doctor: Not surprising. Does she talk about the “good old days”?

Family: All the time. She’s not the fireball she was in her youth. She tells when she would be showered with blessings. That doesn’t happen anymore. 

Doctor: A fresh anointing of the Spirit is the best medicine. But that takes confession of one’s failures and admitting short comings, that’s a remedy that is hard to swallow for many.

Family: That will cure what ails her?

Doctor: That’s a start. The daily infusion of the Holy Spirit and the cleansing power brought is the answer to many of these issues. She will also need a Ponce de Leon treatment administered as soon as possible

Family: Ponce de Leon? 

Doctor: Surely, you’ve noticed, she’s not getting younger. Like all things, there is a life cycle in churches and if a youth movement doesn’t happen soon she will die. It’s only a matter of time.

Family: We have noticed, how do we say this?  She’s not cool. At least not as cool as other places and that’s probably why her youth is fleeting.

Doctor: Pardon me for saying, but your attitude is part of the problem. Who needs cool? She doesn’t. Skinny jeans and smoke machines aren’t the answer. Instead of cool, she needs to get warm. Friendly. It takes empathizing with today’s youth, and recognizing the complexities of living in today’s world. It’s welcoming all saints and sinners. It’s being a family again. Not a perfect family, whose family is? But a satisfying, loving, serving, forgiving family. 

Family: Are you saying, she needs a makeover?

Doctor: There’s no question she needs to be made new. But I know a Specialist, we call Him “the Great Physician,” He specializes in revitalizing dry bones and springing life from barren ground. 

Family: Will she make it, doc?

Doctor: I guess that’s up to you. The Great Physician can make it happen. Will you allow the healing and help to begin?

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

In Bible times, discerning God’s will was easier than today. I’ve never… 

  • heard God’s audible voice like James, Peter and John (see Matthew 17:5)
  • seen God write on the walls. (See Daniel 5). 
  • received an angelic message like so many people in the Bible.
  • had a donkey talk to me. Not an actual donkey, anyway. I’ve had a few people that one could argue had donkey-like attributes, but never had an encounter like Balaam in Numbers 22.
  • experienced a vision or dream where I could outright proclaim was a message from on high and not the pepperoni pizza from the previous night.
  • walked with Jesus. Literally. In Galilee. I was born approximately 1950 years and half a world away to hear with my own two ears the words written in red in my Bible. I haven’t been able to ask Jesus a direct question– like the Pharisees, the disciples, Pilate and even the devil—and receive a direct answer.

Some people have had those things happen. Not me. I do believe God wants what’s best for me (insert quote from Romans 8:28 here). God has a plan and a future for me (insert Jeremiah 29:11 here.). Clinging to those verses while realizing that God hasn’t directly voiced his plans to me through any of the above methods, allows me to conclude that God is not like an architect. He’s more like a football coach.

Architects draw up blueprints (FYI… I thought if we wanted one of our boys to be an architect, then we would have to name him “Blue.” Blue Prince –blueprints… get it?  Karla didn’t think it was funny either. Our sons’ names are Alex and Ben and neither one of them is an architect. I rest my case.). Architects draw up blueprints and builders follow them to the letter. Blueprints (for the most part) are inflexible. If the builder doesn’t follow it exactly there could be big trouble. The goal is to build a strong, beautiful building. If the architect is competent, following the blueprints precisely is the way to achieve that goal.

Football coaches draw up game plans. The good coaches know that a game plan must be flexible. If the defense lines up all of their players to stop the run, let the quarterback throw the ball. If the defense is expecting a pass, let the QB run it. The game plan might change as the circumstances of the game changes. Game plans change in mid-game, if needed, in order to win the game.

God is more like a football coach than an architect. God leaves room for wrestling over a decision, reading Scripture, talking with trusted Christian friends, using our brains, and seeking His peace in prayer. The plan for your life might not include a hard and fast decree (like in an architect’s drawings), instead it might be more flexible with two equally good options. God promises to help you discern the game plan and move confidently forward in either endeavor. 

When making big decisions you might not have an angel telling you to high tail it to Egypt because a crazy king wants to kill your baby (like what happened to a young couple from Nazareth years ago), but as you earnestly seek the Lord’s direction, God’s peace will come. Paul knew this to be true when he wrote to the church at Philippi these words: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

There is a word for experiencing a “peace that passes all understanding” and enjoying the adventure (sometimes unknown) along the way. It’s “faith.” Faith that Jesus will get you across the goal line as you hear those glorious words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”  With that game plan, you cannot lose. 

Who is My Enemy?

Jesus said, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:43). 

No Joke. Love your enemies. Before voting on the appropriateness of Jesus command to “love our enemies” (FYI…there is no vote. Jesus said it. Period.) can we answer the big question: Who is our enemy?

Internationally, our enemies have been Russia (we’ve never trusted those guys); China (not sure we can trust those guys either); and Iran (terrorism’s #1 sponsor for years). There’s probably a couple of other countries in the mix, but for simplicity sake, let’s stick with Russia, China and Iran. Jesus says, “Love them.” No problem, Jesus! It’s easy to do. I love Russian, Chinese and Iranian people. They aren’t their government. They are people. Let’s not blame innocent people for the bone-headed decisions of their governments. Loving them is relatively easy. “I love my enemies,” I say, as I firmly pat myself on the back.

But what about the “enemies” that we don’t label as “enemies”? These folks go by different labels, such as: liberals, conservatives, progressives, fundamentalists, Vaxxers, Anti-Vaxxers, BLM protestors, MAGA supporters, Republicans, Democrats, Mask-wearing sheep, Covid-Super-spreaders, LBGTQ+ supporters, LBGTQ+ “what-do-all-those-letters-even-mean?” wonderers, etc. Pick your hated label bearer and sneer.

We don’t like what they are supporting or doing. We think that they are wrong. Biblically wrong. We think we are right. Biblically right. We hate everything about them. We hate how they think. We hate how they behave. We hate the positions that they hold. We don’t trust them. They have secret meetings. Hidden agendas. We think they are hurting our country, church or future existence. If they get their way, we are all in trouble. We might not publically state that we hate them, but we hate them all right. Maybe we wouldn’t kill them, but we hate them. We don’t want them showing up at our parties wearing T-shirts or hats supporting their views. We don’t want them living on our block putting up yard signs and flags. We don’t want them in our church touting their false perspective? Why would they be in our church? They clearly can’t love Jesus.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” He wasn’t simply talking about international politics and people we would never meet. He was talking about that guy down the street with the sign in his lawn supporting the groups we don’t like. He was talking about the lady singing in the choir on Sunday and attending opposing political rallies on Monday. He was talking about that (you choose): Double-mask-wearing-full-of-fear-Dr-Fauci fan or Only-wearing-a-mask-if-skiing-or-robbing-a-bank extremist. Jesus point: Love all of them. Every single one of them.

Loving people that hold a different view than me is hard. Loving people in the church who say, do or believe things different from me is downright awkward. Loving people, who might not be labeled as “enemies” but I treated them as such, is much harder than loving our stated (but never seen) international enemies like Russia, China and Iran.

Wouldn’t it have been better if Jesus would have said, “Be sarcastic, mean, and rude toward the people you don’t like, just don’t say you ‘hate’ them.” Or “Don’t call the people you hate “enemies.” Give them a different label, but keep on hating.” Or how about, “Love your enemies if there’s an ocean that separates you both.” At the very least, Jesus could have said, “Try to stomach your enemies and avoid them whenever possible.” We could probably abide by those rules. But love them? Really love them? Love them like I love my kids or grandkids? Love them like I love a long-lost friend? Who can do that? Not me. I hate those guys. Only Jesus can love like that.

Jesus, help me to love my enemies (no matter how I label them).

Hey Oprah, call this Prince

Oprah interviewed Prince Harry and Meghan on Sunday and 17 million people in the USA watched. Ever since, Karla has been anxiously waiting for Oprah’s interview request since she is also married to a Prince. Our wedding (33 years ago tomorrow) was a slightly less formal affair than Harry and Meghan’s nuptials. Oprah hasn’t called, but if she does this is what I will tell her:

1) Our Prince story did not begin with kissing a frog. I was a summer intern at a church in Alanson, Michigan. She was the summer Pellston Airport station manager for Simmons Air. No frog smootches were involved, but I did ask for the pastor’s permission to ask her out (thanks for saying yes, Rev. John Carr). 

2)  Our Prince marriage did not include castles. We’ve lived in an apartment, three parsonages, three homes owned by us (well, owned by the banks) and one borrowed condo for six months (thanks Jeff and Paula). Houses don’t matter. A home matters. I’m thankful that we’ve tried to make our house a home where Jesus’ love reigns. 

3)  This Prince has never garnished the reference of “your Highness.” Karla has called me many things in our marriage, but “Your highness” isn’t one of them. My memory isn’t always great (she may say, “Hey, you big dummy, don’t you remember when…”), but I don’t ever recall a time when she has called me an untoward name, nor I to her. (The “big dummy” reference was a joke). 

4)This Prince isn’t a great rescuer of damsels in distress. Once Karla had a flat tire at VG’s Supermarket. She should have called AAA. Instead, she called her Prince, who promptly put the spare tire on incorrectly. Before arriving at the tire shop, the spare tire flew off the chariot (a 1997 Mercury Villager) and landed in the tire shop lawn. Our mini van laid stranded on Center Road, a hundred yards away. Please refer to the above statement on “no untoward names” and be more impressed by Karla’s great restraint. 

5) Our Prince marriage did involve slaying the three-headed-dragon. Every healthy marriage must slay the three-headed-monster “me, myself and I,” so that “we, us and ours” remain.

5)  Our Prince marriage isn’t a fairy tale. No matter what you may have thought about Oprah’s interview with the Royals, one thing became clear: Married to a Prince is no fairy tale. Karla would agree. Our marriage didn’t begin with “Once upon a time” and it hasn’t been “happily ever after.” There have been joys and sorrows (more “joys” for sure). There have been ups and downs (more “ups” for sure). Life hasn’t always been a picnic, but neither has it always been a famine. It’s been life. In our lives together, we’ve determined to face each challenge hand-in-hand, trusting Jesus all the way!  

Every marriage (Prince Harry and Meghan’s, Karla and me and everyone else) would do well to live by this verse pulled out of the middle of the love chapter: Love does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  1 Corinthians 13:5

Hey Oprah, we are available!

What Good Doctors, Football Coaches and Followers of Jesus have in Common

The new Detroit Lion’s football coach (you get 10 extra credit points if you know his name) said something often said about doctors and pastors, but he was talking about football coaches. He said, “You’ve gotta be able to listen to other people’s opinions and you gotta take it for what it is. And you know what? You may not agree with it and it may not be the right answer, but you take it in anyway and you listen to it.” (Detroit News, March 3, 2021). He’s right. To be a good coach, doctor, pastor or follower of Jesus in any way, we’ve got to be a good listener.

Listening is a skill not everyone has acquired. I’ve heard it said, “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. We need to listen twice as much as we talk.” That’s probably not the reason our anatomy’s configuration, but we do need to listen more.  It’s hearing the other’s story; putting ourselves in their shoes; and imagining life as they have experienced it. When we do that, our perspective may change. Like the coach said, in the end we still might not agree, but as we listen to the stories of others, we non-verbally communicate that we care. People may not need our opinion, but they do need for us to hear them.

God is a good listener. Over and over again in Scripture, we are told that God hears us and hears our prayers. God hears all prayers– even the dumb or lazy or contrary prayers. Still God listens. Listening is a part of loving. When Jesus was standing in the cemetery as Lazarus laid dead in the grave, he began his prayer this way: “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.”(John 11:41). We should be continually grateful that God hears us when we pray. Moreover, in our desire to be more like Jesus, in light of this reminder of a God who hears, we must hear and see the needs around us too. God listens. We should listen too. 

The 2020s may go down in history as the decade of noise. Everyone is talking. Few are listening. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone knows what’s best in just about any given situation (no expertise required). And most everyone loves to share their “expertise” and opinions. The volume rises (both in noise level and social media posts), as people perceive that they are not being heard. Let’s not add to the overwhelming volume of chatter. Instead let’s listen to those with whom we agree and disagree and go first (not to social media) but to the One who hears all our prayers. The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. Psalm 34:17

By the way, listen up (pun intended)! The Detroit Lions Head Football coach is Dan Campbell. 

In Trying Times… Try, Try, Try again!

Important information before reading below: English 101. The word “Try” can be a verb as in: “I know I can jump over this puddle if I try.” “Try” can also be a noun. “I made the jump on the seventeenth try.” “Trying” is an adjective too: “My failed attempts and wet pants from jumping the puddle was trying my patience.”

Try, Tried, Trying 

At one church I pastored, we tried to have a “Single Mom’s Day.” The day was designed to help alleviate all of the troubles a single mom might have. We advertised all over town that we had free oil changes for her car; laundry facilities; free haircuts for moms and kids; free counselling; play activities; a prayer room; and plenty of free food. He had lots of volunteers to make it happen. The whole shebang. We had everything we needed for a great day… except single moms. One lady showed up. One. We tried.

Those same volunteers, came back with a new idea. “We want to try a Biker Sunday.” They rallied the troops (mostly the same people from our failed Single Mom’s Day). We got the word out to the Biker bars: Games. Prizes and of course plenty of free food. The whole shebang. The day for the Biker Sunday arrived and it rained cats and dogs. Only a small handful of Bikers showed up. We tried.

Those volunteers were relentless. They wanted to do another Biker Sunday the next year. “It rained last year, pastor, let’s try again.” “Biker Sunday 2.0” was on. Those same volunteers and the same massive organizational effort was given to get the word out and have a great day. The big Sunday came and, believe it or not, it rained harder than the previous year (what’s harder than cats and dogs”? It rained “elephants and rhinos.” Even fewer bikers showed up. We tried.

Did I say those volunteers were relentless? “Let’s give it one more try,” they said. “Surely it won’t rain us out three years in a row.” Biker Sunday 3.0 was a perfect day. Hundreds of bikers showed up. There was plenty of food, games and prizes. Best of all, dozens of people accepted Christ. The first three failed tries were worth it. I’m glad the volunteers kept trying.

We would all agree this year has been trying. It has tried our patience. Tried our endurance. Even tried our faith at times. Trying times call for the followers of Jesus to keep trying and giving the “ol’ college try.”

Are you dealing with trying people? Irrational people? Keep trying to be kind. Have you tried to love an unlovable person? Keep tryingTried to forgive? Keep trying. Is hybrid school trying your fortitude? Keep trying to be focused. Are you wanting to throw up your hands and quit? Keep trying. Don’t stop trying. The verse that kept those volunteers going when Single Mom’s Day and Biker Sundays failed is a good verse for us. Galatians 6:9: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

In these trying days, try, try, try again. Keep on trying! Don’t ever stop trying to live into God’s glorious future. Who knows the harvest may soon come if you give it one more try. Keep on jumping the puddle—you’ll make it to the other side!