Monthly Archives: May 2021

A Summer Invitation at Central Church

It’s Invitation season. If you know a soon-to-be high school graduate then you’ve received one. There’s a happy smiling picture on the front (you’d be happy too if you didn’t have to carry a hall pass to use the restroom anymore) with details of the party on the back. You also know the routine. Show up at the open house (maybe there’s a tent, maybe not), there will be picture boards, trophies from the third-grade spelling bee, cake and a box for congratulatory cards. I eat more cake in the month of June than the other 11 months combined. Needless-to-say, I love the month of June! I love receiving the invitations!

Consider this your invitation for our summer sermon series based on the Book of Romans, The Gospel of God. There is no picture on the front (photos of the Apostle Paul are very difficult to come by these days). There will be no tent. No trophies. No cake. Technically there are boxes set up, but not for congratulatory cards, but for tithes and offerings (thank you for your giving, by the way!). Still, this invitation is for an exceptional summer journey.

The Gospel of God really means the Good News of God. That’s exactly what the Book of Romans is. It’s the good news story of God’s working in our lives. The Book of Romans is the most theological of the New Testament letters (bring your thinking caps and shovels, we will be digging in deep this summer). It is also the most inspiring, most promising and the most hope filled letter that Paul penned. 

Bring your Book of Romans Journals. Don’t have one? They are free. Get it Sunday in the church foyer, come by the church office or for you out-of-towners—contact Central church and we will mail you one. Bring a pen to write notes and circle important points. Be prepared for God to speak deep into your soul. 

Get your copy soon, before we run out!

This invitation is an expectation for what might happen. It’s an invitation for the summer of 2021 to be the summer that you will look back on and say, “I grew closer to Jesus than ever before in my life!” It’s an invitation to an everlasting, soul deepening journey. 

It’s also an invitation for you to be an inviter. Invite your spiritually curious friends to explore the Gospel of God with you this summer. Tell them that God is going to speak through this study. If they simply have an open heart and mind, they will hear from the Lord. Give them a money back guarantee. If your friends don’t hear from Jesus, you will give them back all the money they invested in the Book of Roman’s journal (they are free, remember). Tell them they will receive much more than a free journal, by the end of summer they just might receive a free gift from God Almighty. 

The series is called the Gospel (the Good News) of God! It’s an invitation to receive the best gift of all! For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). It’s going to be a great summer at Central Church!

The Pandemic’s Final Bell is about to Ring, Don’t Quit Now

School teachers will tell you that as the days get “summerier” (not a word, but you know it: warm weather, beautiful sunshine and day dreaming in full bloom) the kiddos get antsy. Students know summer vacation is soon here. No more math, science and hall passes to use the restroom. Hooray, the end is near, but keeping everyone (teachers included) focused until the final bell is teacher’s toughest challenge.

I’m discovering it’s true with pandemics too. The end is near. We all want the last 14 months to be over. We all want to “get back to normal.” (even those who didn’t enjoy the old pre-Covid “normal” want to get to a new post-Covid “normal.”). We are all a little antsy. It’s been hard on everyone. We are hitting “the wall.” A recent Washington Post article was titled For some pastors, the past year was a sign from God it was time to quit (read it: here). The article doesn’t quote any pastors from my “tribe” but I’ve heard from friends who have talked a similar talk. This year and a half has been brutal and we want it in our rear-view mirror. More than a few of us, clergy and non-clergy, are tired. Dog tired. Maybe even “throwing-in-the-towel” tired.

Take a page from Jesus’ lesson plan. When Jesus was tempted, it wasn’t at the beginning of His time in the wilderness that the Enemy came to Him. It was at the end.  “After fasting forty days and forty nights…” (Matthew 4:2). When Jesus was hungry, tired and worn out is when He was most vulnerable and when the old Snake took his best shot. Sound familiar? It should. We are nearing the end of our 14-month wilderness. We are weary, tired and like Jesus might be tempted to take a short cut to the finish line (or take an exit ramp) even though the end is almost in sight.

Can I be like a middle school teacher in the waning moments of the school year? I won’t threaten a visit to the principal’s office or detention. Instead, let me offer this encouragement: Keep going. Keep focused on finishing this Covid season well. It’s been a long 14 quarantine-y, pandemic-y, bundle of anxiety months. You’ve made it this far, don’t quit now! Take a deep, non-coronavirus-germ filled breath. Keep striving to be more and more like Jesus. Keep developing the fruit of the Spirit in your life (read especially: kindness, goodness and most importantly patience). Keep seeking the Lord. Keep falling back on scripture, prayer and Godly counsel of Christian friends. No short cuts. No sidetracks. No bursts of impatience or unkindness. Paul said it best: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9). The pandemic’s final bell is about to ring. You’ve almost made it through this storm. Give yourself an “A” (I’m an easy grader) and finish well!

When a “House Church” is a Brief Layover to “No Church”

Historically, house churches have bloomed when traditional churches couldn’t meet because of persecution or other extenuating circumstances. House churches in such times have been a beautiful expression of the Bride of Christ. The following is not an indictment on all house churches, rather it’s a simple recognition that not all house churches are created equal. If birthed under less than holy conditions than for all its promises of purity and righteousness, the “house church” can be a brief layover to “no church” for is members.

The following is the dangerous downward spiral of the toxic house church:

The Disgruntled House Church

When the establishment of a house church (with a few select friends) is because members have been hurt, ignored or simply disagreed with the majority of the church body over politics, social issues, or theological practices without attempts at reconciliation, the result may be less than ideal. It’s the same reason so many church splits end with one or both churches dying. Churches (house or traditional) started in division have short life spans. 

The Diversity-lacking House church

One of the beauties of the Church is that people DON’T have same backgrounds, educational equivalencies, and life experiences and yet find their oneness in Christ. Too often, the toxic house church (for their often-espoused liberties) are quite closed to disagreements from the dominant group think. Those with a different perspective than the prevailing view of the group need not attend. 

The Disrespectful House Church

If discontented and closed-off attitudes toward the larger church body exist a puffed-up, self-importance is sure to follow. This prideful, personal “deconstruction” of the church leads to disrespect for leaders, a disregard of church institutions and a cavalier approach to historical Biblical interpretations. The outlook often is: “My house church is doing it right. Everyone else is doing it wrong.”

The Disengaged House Church

A church disgruntled quickly becomes disengaged. The group may start with ideals of service, but disgruntled and dissatisfied people tend to be inward focused and service quickly wanes. 

The Defeated House church

The inevitable result of a few like-minded disgruntled and disengaged people meeting on an increasingly inconsistent basis is closure. Those folks who once were serving the Lord in the body fall back to the age-old line, “I can be a Christian without going to church.” While technically true (it’s the same argument that one doesn’t “need” to be baptized, because of the thief on the cross wasn’t baptized), the Church is still Jesus’ plan. Just as Jesus calls believers to be baptized, the New Testament expectation is that believers will meet together in a regular weekly gathering.

There is a downward spiral in faith when not connected (or loosely connected) to the greater body of Christ. People first drift away from the larger church body, then drift from their smaller faith body, then drift from faith altogether. Henri Nouwen was right when he wrote: “…the greatest danger for our times is separation of Jesus from the church…I’ve yet to meet anyone who has come closer to Jesus by forsaking the church.” 

Many house churches (maybe most) are wonderful expressions of the kingdom of God. Not all are toxic. But those house churches started by division will subtract from the Kingdom of God as members use the “house church” as the brief stopover before attending “no church.”

The Worse Shortage in the Land is NOT What You’d Think

Have you noticed there are a lot of shortages lately?

Gasoline shortages are in the south. There’s shortages of lumber, shingles and building supplies. (A truck drove by me with a load of wood and I thought I will never be that rich!). Even Chick-fil-a says they have a sauce shortage (now this has gone too far! Speaking of Chick-fil-a, there is a shortage of their restaurants in Flint! We need fresh squeezed lemonade and waffle fries!).

As bad as some of those shortages are, there is a worse absence. There is a massive deficiency of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The fruit of the spirit is missing. 

Even before we couldn’t get Polynesian Sauce for our nuggets at Chick-fil-A (to be sure, that is a very upsetting circumstance) people were angry. You’ve seen it. Furious parents yelling obscenities at their children (I’ve seen this more times at Walmart than I can count). Fuming drivers roaring into road rage (I had a guy wave at me yesterday using only one finger. I don’t think he was telling me I was #1 in his book). People are so quick to spout off their disgust on social media and no one is exempt from the vitriol postings. Never in my life have I seen such disrespect and low regard for nearly everyone. “Accuse. Bash. Condemn” are our new A-B-C’s.

We can blame bad politics, injustices, pandemics, and any other societal ills for the pervasive angst. But the real problem is a shortage of the Spirit of God living and working in the hearts of women and men. The old timers would say, “We need a Holy Ghost revival.” They aren’t wrong. We need a massive movement of the Spirit of God.  

But where do we begin? The anger and self-righteousness is so pervasive. Where does one start? How can a Holy Ghost movement sweep across the land? Should we pitch a tent on a vacant lot and start a revival meeting?  Do we buy billboards in every city posting the slogan, “Got Spirit?” Do we start a massive phone spam campaign like those who are wanting us to buy car warranties? (does anyone ever buy a car warranty from those people?). 

Let’s not do any of those things. Instead let’s pray this simple prayer: 

“Lord, start the revival in me. In me, Lord, in me. Amen.” 

That’s it. No tents, billboard or spam campaigns. Start the work in me. Make me into the vessel of your love. Fill me. Empower me. Use me.  Let us be the fruition of Paul’s prayer for the Romans: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13). 

How will the shortage of Fruit of the Spirit be remedied?  One Fruit-filled believer at a time. Start it in me, Lord, in me. 

The greatest force for good in the world is the local church

It’s not the government (no matter which country’s flag happens to fly over you)

It’s not a corporation.

It’s not a service organization or NGO

It’s not even a denomination.

The local church is greatest force for good in the world.

It’s the local foot soldiers in the Lord’s Army, who come together weekly for a sweet fellowship, anointed worship and spirit empowered rejuvenation. Once inspired these “boots-on-the-ground” march into our dark world wearing the full armor of God and sharing the light of Jesus. It’s the redeemed reaching the rebellious; the faithful seeking the faithless; and the liberated showing the road to freedom to the slaves of this world. It’s people filled with the love of Jesus caring for their neighbors. It’s pastors and others tending to the sick and lonely. It’s followers of Jesus sharing the love, justice and compassion that they have experienced to those who have yet to discover the transformative grace of the Lord. Then it’s coming back together in the local church as Sunday rolls into the next week to be invigorated and readied to get back into the fray once more.

Local churches are the ones following the command of Jesus to make disciples. It’s the local church that is baptizing these new followers. The local church that is teaching newbies in the ways of Christ. It’s local food pantries feeding the hungry. Local ministries that are making a difference. No other agency, program, government entity or denominational initiative is doing these things so well in so many places. The local church is the listening, learning, loving agent of Christ throughout the world. 

But local churches can be messy. Everyone doesn’t think alike, look alike, vote alike, like the same music or leisure activities. Members don’t even agree theologically always about the small stuff (the big stuff like “Jesus is Lord!” on that we completely agree!). But together, the local church says, “Let’s make our little corner of the world, a little bit more like heaven.” They pray that God’s Kingdom would come and His will done in their locality as it is in heaven. The forces of hell are putting up a fight, but the King of Heaven is greater. He empowers us collectively to break the gates of hell and rescue the perishing.  He calls us jointly to be his instrument in the world. (Notice the lack of pluralization of the word “instrument” was intentional). To be most effective, the local church must be one. One Lord. One baptism. One body. One task of winning our world for Jesus!

The local church enables us to do what we can’t do alone. We need Jesus and we need each other. When Jesus is holding one hand and our local church body holding the other, we will see the mountains of sin, injustice and corruption moved. We’ll see the evil forces flee. We’ll see God’s kingdom come.

The local church, at its best, is the greatest force for good in the world!

Famous Mother’s Quotes (If They Lived during the Covid Pandemic)

Colonel Sander’s mom: I’d don’t care, how good the chicken is—stop lickin’ your fingers.

Jesse James’ mom: Not just in the bank, wear your mask all over town, young man.

Charles Pfizer’s mom: The “P” is silent but you are not. Quiet down, I’m watching Wheel of Fortune (fyi… Charles Pfizer lived from 1824-1906. I’m not sure Wheel of Fortune had premiered yet.).

Macbeth’s Mom: Wash your hands (a little Shakespearian humor)

Neil Armstrong’s mom: What do I have to do to keep you from going into crowds? Send you to the moon?

Chuck Noland’s Mom (the guy Tom Hanks portrayed in Castaway): Quit complaining about being alone. At least Wilson didn’t talk back. Try quarantining with a fifth grader who has no interest in learning math and you have no idea how to teach it.

George Costanza’s mom: If you are going to be a hand model make sure you use hand sanitizer. Oven mitts and hand sanitizer. (Obscure Seinfeld referenced joke).

Mike Tyson’s mom: You think that heavyweight hits hard, wait until that lil’ nurse gives you two jabs in the arm.

Bill Gates’ mom: If you thought the Windows 97 virus was bad…

Luke Skywalker’s mom: The Pfizer is strong in this one.

Those are all dumb.  

This Sunday is my annual Tie Wearing Sunday, aka Mother’s Day. I preach in a tie to honor my mom (she liked it when I would wear a tie). Now that she’s in heaven, I doubt that she cares that I have a tie on or not. Still I wear one to remember her. Hope you can honor your mom or the special ladies in your life—one of the best ways is bring them (or join them) in church.  

Divorcing the Bride of Christ (the Church) and Why I can’t do it

Who’s NOT coming back to church? That’s the big question many churches are asking these days as life is slowing getting back to normal. Some of those who aren’t coming back have…

  • gotten used to watching on-line.
  • used the pandemic as opportunity to shop around for another church.
  • extreme health risks and are still uncertain of the safety of gathering in crowds.

But the majority of the non-returners (from my observation and conversations) are those who have concluded that the Church offers no reason for them to return. If the Church is the Bride of Christ (it is) then these folks are heading to divorce court. The reasons for this divorce (in their minds) are irreconcilable differences. The Church has (pick your poison) become too political (a valid complaint), not political enough (a valid complaint), full of hypocrites (true since the earliest church: see Ananias and Sapphira, in other words, a valid complaint), not relevant (often true), and an assortment of other reasons (my personal favorite: the preacher stinks). Many of those complaints are legitimate evaluations of the most recent Americanized version of the Church and its preachers. 

Still I can’t divorce her. Here’s why: If Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church is his Bride, and if Jesus is living in me, then how in names of all the fake and phony prophets (too numerous to count) can I divorce the Bride? I am called to love her (warts and all). Yes, she has problems. She’s not perfect. Far from it. The Church includes me and (this is not breaking news) I am far from perfect too. (I can show you emails and/or the social media posts from folks vouching for my imperfections). Still, if Jesus loves the less-than-spotless Church, then I had better love her too.

Like in a marriage, I am called to love the Bride and help her in any way that I can. Like a dress maker or beautician who readies a bride for her wedding, we are called to beautify the Bride through our loving actions.  The Bride of Christ is not looking like a beauty queen these days. As a result, it’s our job not to abandon her in her time of need but to seek her beauty once more. Make her better. Pray for her. Notice her shortcomings (not turning a blind eye) but determine to be a part of the solution in a godly, fruit-of-the-spirit kind of way (not in a pot-shots-on-social-media-while-slamming-the-door-behind-us sort of way). We must elevate and edify her, if we want her to bloom once more.

Divorce her?  It’s not an option, not as long as the Bridegroom is living in me.