Monthly Archives: July 2021

Where Have All the Saints Gone?

See if you find a common theme in these greetings and words from St. Paul: 

To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 1:7

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; Romans 15:25

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints. 1 Corinthians 1:2

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia 2 Corinthians 1:1

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus Ephesians 1:1

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi. Philippians 1:1

To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae Colossians 1:2

Did you see it? There were saints in Rome, Jerusalem, Corinth, Achaia, Ephesus, Philippi and Colossae. The big question for today is where have all the saints gone? Where are the saints in Flint, Grand Blanc, Fenton, Davison, Swartz Creek, Clio and Flushing? Where are the saints in your home town?

We need more saints.

Saints aren’t white haired pew dwellers who had served Jesus in the sweet by and by and now are waiting to be taken to Glory. Saints are committed to holiness. Saints love Jesus and His church through thick and thin. Saints are generous. Saints refuse to gossip. Saints don’t give up when things get tough. Saints defend the weak. Saints have their pastor’s back. Saints are loyal. Saints endure, press on, and are committed to the very end. Yes, we need more saints.

There are a lot of saint wannabes. They post Bible verses on social media a lot. They blabber holy platitudes. They stick with a church for a little while, and then move on when someone offends them (and someone is always offending them). The pastor isn’t perfect and they will tell you why. They love mentioning “prayer requests” (read: un-sanctified gossip). They give subtle hints of their generosity (the church treasurer and Jesus know the stingy truth). They like to toot their own horn. We don’t need more saint wannabes, we need the real deal.

At every graveside service, the preacher reads from Revelation 14: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” But just before mentioning dead folks, John the Revelator issues an appeal for strength and perseverance to the living. He wrote: Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus. (Revelation 14:2). That’s what we need. Not wannabes, but those saints who are keeping the commandments of God and holding fast to Jesus. 

I met with some saints this week. The love Jesus and His bride, the church. They have all the good qualities listed above (and then some) and none of the bad. They have endured and kept the faith. It was a blessing to be with them. We rejoiced with how God is working in our church. We ended our time in prayer. It was a joy. But as I left our meeting, I thought, “They aren’t building them like that anymore. Where have all the saints gone?”

Has the Pandemic Made Churches and Pastors Soft?

Are we soft?

I hesitate to write this. I can envision the “you, insensitive goober” emails heading my way. So it is with fear and trembling, I simply ask the question: “Has the pandemic made the church and pastors soft?”

The pandemic has made a mess of everything. We will probably talk about “pre-pandemic” life and “post pandemic” life for the rest of our lives. It has caused interruptions to our once “normal” lifestyle. With the variants continuing on, it may continue to disrupt our lives. We’ve lost loved ones (and in no way, am I downplaying the life devastation caused to those who are grieving). We’ve been isolated. School and learning has been delayed. Church life derailed. Life unsettled. Add to the pandemic woes are divisive politics, social media, and other disrupting factors in the last year and a half to which we can only conclude, it’s been tough.

But compared to what other Christians have had to endure (or are enduring in other parts of the world), I am wondering if we are too soft in the USA. Are we crybabies?

This week I learned of two successful pastors who are leaving the ministry to enter secular employment. They’ve cited the rigors of the last year as one of the reasons for the vocational shift. I know others who have come to the same conclusion, and I want to ask these pastors: Has your call changed? Did Jesus call you to preach or not? (I know I’m treading on thin ice right now. I know you don’t have to be in a pulpit to preach.). Yes, it’s been a rough year. But has it been rougher than Paul sitting in the Roman prison? More difficult than Jeremiah tossed in a cistern? More challenging than countless millions martyred for their faith. Those people carried on and continued the fight. They battled even when the end was not pleasant and the rescue didn’t come. Why aren’t we?

Jesus didn’t say life would be easy. He said the harvest was ready and he was sending us out. Matthew in chapter 9 leaves it there, but Luke offers this warning with the challenge: Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. (Luke 10:3). In case you are unfamiliar with the workings of the animal world, being a lamb in the midst of wolves, is not particularly safe or healthy. My point: Jesus doesn’t promise safe and easy. He promised “harvest.” He promised victory. 

My conclusion: Maybe we aren’t seeing “harvest,” because we want “easy.” General Superintendent Dr. David Busic was speaking recently and (I’m paraphrasing) he said the difference between the USA/Canada church and the rest of the world is “desperation.” We aren’t desperate for God enough. Well, my contention (get the tomatoes ready to toss in my general direction) is that the pandemic has caused “desperation,” but through it, we haven’t desired God as much as we’ve desired ease. The resulting response has been “It’s hard. I quit.” (This is an over-simplification of what is happening in the hearts and minds of those leaving the ministry. Of course, there are many and in some cases necessary factors involved in making the painful decision to walk away from vocational ministry).

Still it’s harvest time! People need Jesus. But in order to reap the harvest, we must pray on, press on, carry on. Harvest is not easy. But if we aren’t in the fields (even with the lurking, social-media savvy wolves), it’s impossible to reap. Harvest happens when we are so desperate for God, so dependent upon his power at work in us, that all our efforts will fail without him. When harvest comes (and it will come) our efforts or work won’t be what provides it, it happens through God’s grace, mercy and power that is at work in us as we carry on and don’t quit. These times have been tough, but, we must not quit. If we want the harvest. We. Must. Not. Quit.

Commence tossing your rotten tomatoes.

Why Churches are looking more and more like Blockbuster and Radio Shack

Here’s Paul’s description of the last days (see if it sounds familiar). 

People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. 2 Timothy 4:2-5 

That’s quite a list. Bring any names to mind?

People will be lovers of themselves. Are these folks in our churches or better stated drifting out of our churches? You decide. 

Lovers of money. Do members who don’t tithe fit into this category?

Boastful. What about folks who (haven’t given a dime to the church, by the way) drive by the church to show off their new $100,000+ car? Do they count in this category or the one above or maybe the one below? I’m not quite sure. 

Proud. Blessed are the meek? Who said that? Must be someone who doesn’t know how the world works. (More correctly: spoken by Someone who knows exactly how the world works).  

Abusive. Why are so many clergy walking away from their calling?  Why are so few young people willing to become pastors? They’ve seen it: the trashing of pastors. Ministers’ backs full of knives. The pastoral family pulled through the mud. Conclusion: It’s not worth it.

Disobedient to their parents. Have you walked through a high school lately?

Ungrateful. People need not grovel, but an occasional “thank you” is nice.

Unholy. Does anyone strive after holiness anymore? Where have all the saints gone?  

Without love. A lot of people should be apologizing to the priest and the Levite in the Good Samaritan story or at least say, “Hey, I get it. I’ve done the same thing. Repeatedly.”

Unforgiving. One of the sweetest ladies I know said these exact words to me: “I will NEVER forgive my son-in-law.” Gulp.

Slanderous. I’ve been called every name in the book. Every single name. If it has four letters, I’ve been called it. By church folks. Who have claimed to be sanctified. 

Without self-control. Read: Splurge. Go for it. You deserve it.

Brutal. There is more anger spewed today than ever. People are angry. Really angry.

Not lovers of the good. The more vulgar, the more grotesque, the higher the ratings. Hollywood knows: Bad behavior sells.

Treacherous. It doesn’t matter who gets hurt or how you get it– just get yours!

Rash. Guilty until proven innocent is often the modus operandi.

Conceited. Me. Myself and I are the three most important people in many minds.

Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. Check out any of the following on a Sunday morning: Soccer fields, amusement parks, football stadiums, coffee shops, campgrounds, lakes and hiking trails and any number of alternative to church locations.

Having a form of godliness but denying its power. See the numerous scripture verses posted on social media by people who’ve come to mind on the above list and you’ll know the truth of this last characteristic.

Paul concludes his all-inclusive, must-have-seen-the-21st-century, list with these startling words: 

Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Timothy 4:5)

Yikes! Would there be anyone left to talk to in our churches?  Could I talk to myself? Not always. No wonder churches are looking more and more like Blockbuster and Radio Shack these days. Paul nailed us. Now the question: What are we going to do about it.

Confessions from an Obsess-er (“Obsessing” is a pastoral occupational hazard, here’s my list)

1) I worry too much about what other people say and post on social media

Like everyone, I fret too much about idiotic comments on social media from people I generally like and think are “good people” but have crazy takes on politics, religion and life. But my bigger beef is when people who have lunged a knife deep into my back later post holy platitudes on social media. Their posts don’t even have to be all that holy. They could be about butterflies and it sends a cold chill up my spine. I want to post on their timeline: “Liar. Liar. Pants on fire.” I want God to do something. He hasn’t yet. I want God to silence them. They are still posting, speaking, writing. I don’t want God to “lightning bolt” them, but infesting their trees with cicadas would be nice. I need to get over it. 

2) I worrying too much about what other people do (or are not doing)

Another big beef (especially true during the pandemic) is when people post photos of activities after saying that they can’t be involved in church or can’t be generous or make excuses of why they can’t serve (This happens all the time. All. The. Time.). People will do what they want to do. I can’t control their behavior, only mine. I need to get over that too. 

3) I get too upset over questionable denominational decisions

Denominations are made up of people. People are imperfect. The more people in the organization the more imperfect it becomes. Decisions are made. Sometimes I am aware of the reasoning, most times not. Does it affect me? It can, but usually not. Church politics (like Jumbo Shrimp) is an oxymoron. It happens. You name it. It happens. Ignoring sin. Tolerating ineptitude. Perceived deception. Questionable financial practices. Accepting (promoting?) bad theology. Nepotism. Cronyism. Glossing over injustice. Silence when they should speak. Speaking when silence is preferred. I don’t want to excuse such things, but I can’t obsess over it either. I need to get over all of that too.

4) I obsess over good things not the main thing

Speaking of obsessing, there are plenty of good causes. Lots of them. Injustices that need to be righted. Wrongs that should be overturned. Good that needs to be done. All true. But my main calling is to make disciples. Proclaim Jesus. If I get so obsessed with good things that I forget the main thing, then the main thing isn’t the main thing anymore. I can’t let that happen.

5) I am good at noticing slivers, not so good at noticing logs.

I’m good at seeing slivers in the eyes of other people. I can spot the tiniest speck. I should have been an optometrist. I’m not so good at noticing the log in my own eye. I could never have been a lumberjack. I need a little more confession, a little less judgement. A little more grace and a lot little less fault finding. A little more looking in the mirror and a lot less looking through a magnifying glass at others. I’ve got a long way to go. A. Long. Way.

What I Learned When the Power Went Out…

Tuesday’s storm knocked out the power to our house. The electric company said the power would be back on in 3 hours. No biggie. Three hours came and went. They said it would be another three hours before the electricity was restored. Still no worries? Well, maybe a little. As the clocked ticked on, it was increasingly apparent that repair time might be extended again. Condensation under our freezer in the garage was appearing. We could lose all our frozen meat and (more importantly) all our ice cream. Ugh! 

We have a problem.

Wait a minute! We also have a generator. Purchased probably six years ago, Karla’s cousin started it when we took it out of the box. We’ve not started it since. 

Here are four facts you should know: 

1) It was getting dark (A case could be made that I had too much faith in the electric company’s repair time estimates. This point was made by the key witness for the prosecution, Karla M. Prince); 

2) When it comes to generators and electricity, I’m not the brightest bulb in the chandelier (Did I mention it was Karla’s cousin, not me, that started the generator six years ago?); 

3) The generator’s instructions call for testing the start capabilities of the generator every three months (Did I mention Karla’s cousin, not me, started it once, six years ago); and 

4) Karla was wishing it was her cousin (not me) at our house on Tuesday night.

I did my best to try and start the generator. No luck. My precious chocolate chip mint ice cream was hanging (melting) in the balance. Something had to be done. Karla’s cousin lives too far away. I called my friend Jim. 

Jim was gracious and did not ask why I had procrastinated in starting the generator until 9:30PM. He did not say, “Rob, it’s dark and there is no power in your house. Now is not the time you should be learning how to use a generator that’s been sitting in your garage for six years.” He might have thought those things, but he didn’t say it. Jim is kind. 

Jim read the instructions on how to start the generator. Why didn’t I think of doing that?  He turned on the do-hicky that allowed fuel to flow. Hmm… I didn’t know you needed to do that. He flipped off the two thing-a-ma-bobs that need to be off. I had switched them on. He figured out that the whatcha-ma-call-it was supposed to be in the left position, I had it in the right (wrong) position. Who knew? Then Jim pushed the “on” button. My generator that had not been tested every three months per the instructions still sprang to life. Hooray!  Jim saved the day. Well, more accurately, Jim saved the ice cream. Double scoop Hooray!

Reading the instructions really helped. 

You know where I am heading with this, don’t you? God has left us with instructions too. We have everything we need for power in our lives (I’m not talking generators anymore) but too often we leave our Bible unopened and the Spirit ignored. Don’t be like the Bridesmaids with empty oil lamps in Jesus’ story in Matthew 25. They knew the bridegroom was coming but were unprepared when he came. Jesus left us with everything we need (His Word and His Spirit) to guide and help us until His return. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Be prepared for the Bridegroom. Read the instructions. Be empowered with the Holy Spirit. Be ready and hear Jesus’ words concerning His return: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:14)

P.S. Our power came on 24 hours after it had gone out. I wrote this ditty to celebrate (Sung to the tune of “There’s Power in the Blood”)

Would you be free from the darkness within?
There’s pow’r in the house, pow’r in the house;
E-lec-tric pow’r flowing once again!
There’s wonderful pow’r in the house.

There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r
In the House of the Rob;
There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r
In the precious house of the Rob