Monthly Archives: January 2022

My Pre-Sabbatical Message to our Church Leaders

As I am about to embark on a seven week sabbatical, I give you some of Paul’s final words to Timothy as my final words.

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me….the Lord rescued me from all of them…

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:10-11;14-17.

Like Timothy to Paul, by now after 8+ years, you know me. Warts and all. I have tried to be as open and as honest with you as I can possibly be. Hopefully through personal observation in meetings, my preaching and in casual settings you know me. You should also know that like the Apostle Paul, the Lord has rescued me from all of my trials—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. As I leave on this sabbatical, please also know that I am not leaving “burnt out” or “exploring my options.” I am committed to returning for what I hope and expect to be the most exciting years of ministry any of us have ever experienced.  

To quote the Apostle Paul from the above passage, “As for you continue in what you have learned…” Moving forward, we must keep our eyes on Jesus. A biblical and holy, Jesus-focused, mission-engaged church is what our world desperately needs. The enemy will attack (has been attacking) and it is Jesus-mission critical that our leaders and people stay focused. That is true whether I am on sabbatical or not. We need you equipped for every good work” as we move into our God-ordained future. 

You are in good hands (I’m not talking about Pastor Tyler and Pastor Jon, although they will lead well I have no doubt). God Almighty has been leading this place for 101 years—long before any of us were here, and God Almighty will be leading long after we are gone. It’s God’s church not ours. I’m convinced that God has brought us all here for such a time as this to see His Kingdom come and His will done in Flint as it is in heaven.

The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all. 2 Timothy 4:22

Pastor Rob

Leave our Garbage with Jesus. Just leave it.

Why don’t I put my garbage can out night before pick up? Good question. The sanitation workers, “the earth beautification engineers,” come early to pick up my trash. We must be the first street of their route because they are up and at it before the roosters (I’m not a farmer. I don’t know when roosters awaken, but I’ve heard it’s after the sanitation workers arrive. Maybe the beep, beep, beep of the garbage truck in reverse wakes the roosters. It does me). So today, just like last week and the week before that, long before the sun shines and before the roosters’ cock-a-doodle-do, I was in my jammies, running my can (literally and figuratively) out to the side of the road. 

We keep our trash can next to the house door in the garage. In order to move my can (literally and figuratively), I first open the garage door; start the car; back the car out of the garage; get the can; walk it to the end of my driveway; get the recycling too; get back in the car; pull it into the garage; and close the door. Ugh. It would have been a whole lot easier if I would have set the garbage can out last night when I returned home from the church. 

Why share my trash pick-up woes with you?

I know plenty of people who have trouble ridding the garbage in their lives too. In fact, I hear it over and over. “Pastor, I don’t want to do _______ (fill in the blank with any number of bad or sinful behaviors), but I find myself doing it.” Generally, we pray about the circumstance and temptation. They make promises to God and then in a month (maybe two) let me know that they are still struggling, still trapped and not very victorious. What’s the problem?

Does God not answer our prayers? Can God not empower us to leave our garbage behind? Silly questions. Of course, God answers prayers and gives strength to overcome any foe. So why aren’t more people victorious?  

Let’s go back to my trash can analogy. People understand they have trash in their lives which they need to lose (Duh? Don’t we all?). They take their can to the road (to the altar), leave it there (for a while) and then (what happens all too often) wheel their trash can back into the garage before the sanitation workers arrive. The garbage has been to the road and back, but it’s still there.

We need to leave our garbage with God. That’s my point. Take it to the road and leave it. Don’t go near it. Don’t go back to it. Don’t peek inside the lid. Leave it. Take it to Jesus and leave it. Paul writes in a familiar passage in Philippians,“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,I press on toward the goal…” (Philippians 3:13b-14a). Leave your junk behind. Forget about it.

Instead of returning to those things we have left beside the road, let’s listen to the One who comes and gives us the power to say “no.” The prophet Isaiah put it this way: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21).

Like my continuing to forget to take the trash out to the road, it’s easier “said than done” to “leave our trash with Jesus.” I get it. But keep trying. When the urge to return to your past burdens, worries and trash comes, listen to the still but certain voice behind you, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Is the Church of the Nazarene truly an International Church? The Holiness Today’s graphs suggest “no”

The most recent issue of Holiness Today has two interesting graphs. One is a map of the world regions in the Church of the Nazarene with church attendance numbers. The other, on the next page, has a graph with the representation of the different regions in the two governing bodies for the Church of the Nazarene—the General Board and the data from the 2017 General Assembly.

The interesting point of the second graph is how the delegations to our most important bodies does not equally represent the membership. The General Board has 41.5% of its membership from USA/Canada. General Assembly has 40% of the delegates from USA/Canada with another 3% from the “General Superintendents, Directors, etc” category (not all in this category are USA/Canada members, but most are). The problem? USA/Canada represents just 23.2% of the total membership in the Church of the Nazarene. In contrast, Africa which has 30% of the Nazarene membership is only represented with 11% of the General Board and 14% of General Assembly delegates.  In other words, USA/Canada is over represented, while Africa is under represented in both the General Board and General Assembly.

This point leads to the curiosity of the picture of the world regions. We are given not just the visual representation of the regions, but also the average worship attendance of each region. Those are the only numbers given on the map. Membership is not reported—just average worship attendance. The problem? Average worship attendance is a flimsy number (at least at my church). It’s based on who is doing the counting. Did the people counters catch every one? Did they miss some folks? Membership is based on hard numbers. It’s real names of real people on a real list (or it should be). Average worship attendance is not used in choosing delegates to District Assemblies or the General Assembly. Church membership is the key statistic. So why have the average worship attendance numbers on the chart and not church membership? 

USA/Canada looks a whole lot better when the number reported is average worship attendance over membership. USA/Canada has the highest worship attendance of the regions (423,529 vs. Africa’s 367,490), but in membership Africa (798,111) is larger than USA/Canada (611,457). Could it be that since the USA/Canada has better numbers regarding average worship attendance (instead of membership) than the other world regions, that’s why those numbers were used?  If so, the over/under representation discrepancy of representation on the General Board and General Assembly (on the other graph) is not as evident?  

I am not suggesting that anyone intentionally skewed the numbers to make for a more favorable outlook on USA/Canada, but the truth is: USA/Canada is over represented on both the General Board and at the General Assembly no matter what numbers are used. This truth effects the decision making in these bodies and clouds the portrayal of the Church of the Nazarene as being a truly international church. 

Delegates from world regions may find it even more difficult to attend the 2023 General Assembly should the pandemic continue to rage. If gathering all delegates in one location cannot be accomplished physically because of the pandemic or visa issues, then providing an on-line delegate option for General Assembly should be considered if we want all regions of the church to be proportionately represented. If the Church of the Nazarene is truly an international church, let all regions be represented equally in our governing bodies.

To My friends who are Struggling with Life…

I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. Psalm 6:6

Can you relate to the Psalmist?  Have you been crying more lately? Maybe your tears flow as a result of a diagnosis. Maybe a wayward child or aging parent is causing distress. Maybe it’s a rocky marriage or recent loss. Maybe anxiety about life and the state of the world has led you to a place of broken-heartedness. Maybe like Jeremiah (known as the “weeping prophet,” by the way) you look around at our sin-stained, covid-raged world filled with angst and confusion and say: “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people (Jeremiah 9:1) or “Streams of tears flow from my eyes because my people are destroyed” (Lamentations 3:48). 

In your weeping, maybe you’ve been wrestling. Like the Psalmist, in your quiet moments you might be saying: My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:3). Don’t you see these tears, God? Don’t you know my broken heart? Where are you?

The Bible verse we all know is the shortest verse in the Bible. Jesus standing outside Lazarus’ tomb, the familiar verse reads, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Moreover, Jesus looked over sin stained and about-to-crucify-him Jerusalem and the Bible reads: “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:4). These passages affirm that tears are not a sin. It’s ok to cry. Jesus was grieving and brokenhearted over death and sin. Tears are the words of grief and sorrow that we cannot verbalize (tears can also be the words of joy and peace we cannot verbalize).  Paul wrote: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). Exactly. There are times, maybe you are you there now, when all we can do is groan and cry.  We don’t know what to say or how to pray. Instead of formulating deep theological answers to our dilemma only tears come. In those moments know this: God hears. God knows. God joins us in our brokenness. He understands. Death and sin still bring Him to tears.

The hope of the day is found in the words of the Psalmist: “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:5). It may be dark and gloomy today but as Phineas Bresee was credited as saying, “Joy comes in the morning.” The faithful rely on Jesus and in a Habakkuk-like manner declare, “Nothing seems to be happening. Everything seems bad, ‘yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights’” (Habakkuk 3:18-19). 

In your darkest moments trust the Rescuer, Redeemer and Author of our Faith.

Outreach vs Indrag at Central Church

Alan Hirsch, author and church missiologist, has said what most churches call “outreach” really means bringing folks to an event at your church. Instead of calling it “outreach” he called such efforts “indrag.” Members “drag” their friends and family “in.” Once “in” these folks can hear about Jesus and might become followers too.

“Indrag” has worked. I am the chief among “indragsters” pastors. In the name of Jesus, after hitting certain Vacation Bible School goals, I have been dunked in a tank; splashed from a Kerplunk toilet-like apparatus; and eaten my lunch on the church roof (thankfully the rooftop of Bad Axe was not the same pitch or distance to the ground as Central Church’s rooftop). I’ve received denominational awards for hitting certain “indrag” attendance goals. For all of its sketchy motivational tactics (are we building the Kingdom of God or the pastor’s ego by handing pastors “gold” attendance trophies?), the “indrag” method was effective in getting people “in.” 

But was the “indrag” method Jesus’ approach? Yes, He drew crowds, but those crowds seemed to happen organically or spontaneously more than disciples handing on flyers to come to an event. In Mark’s gospel especially, Jesus always seemed to be hushing his miracle recipients and telling them not to tell anyone of the healing (hardily a great tool for building a crowd). Jesus went to where the people were, not for the purpose of collecting a trophy, building a church (he never built one) or intentionally organizing a crowd. Instead he went to where the people were (be prepared for the least earthshattering news of all time) because that’s where the people were. He loved them, not for what they could do for Him but for what He could do for them. People weren’t a means to an end, people were the end. It was all about people. What if we took the same approach?

Most times when churches raise money, it’s for “indrag” purposes. It’s the “Field of Dreams” philosophy coming into church evangelism: Build a sanctuary or gym “and they will come.” But Central Church’s IMAGINE initiative hasn’t been about “indrag.” It’s “outreach.”  To be sure, there are some aspects of the initiative that will make the “in church” experience better. Better signage, nurseries and an up-to-date community center lobby is meant to welcome our guests and neighbors better. Still the main purpose of Central Church’s IMAGINE initiative is about “outreach.” 

Paying off the debt will free up more dollars to reach out in our community missionally. Jesus could turn five loafs and two fish into a feast for the hungry, we will need former mortgage and interest payment dollars to feed the poor. Imagine going to a laundromat in Flint and having a “free laundry day.” It’s handing out quarters, not to gather a crowd, but to meet a need. Jesus went to the well to meet a lonely Samaritan outcast woman. Who might we meet as our kids (or grandkids) are playing on the Central Park playground alongside a neighborhood child and parent? Jesus healed the sick with a touch, we will need to send doctors and folks to Panama (and elsewhere) to minister to the hurting. IMAGINE has been about “outreach” not “indrag.”

This Sunday we are celebrating how God is using your faithful IMAGINE initiative participation and looking ahead to see how Central Church is becoming more and more an “outreach” church (more and more a “Jesus church”). I hope you can join us!  It’s going to be a party! You will hear testimonies from Central Church people who believe in how God is working. You’ll hear an update of where we are at financially and the changes you’ll see in the coming months. You’ll be amazed by the number of fellow participants in these efforts. You’ll be able to rejoice that the kingdom of God is being built “in Flint as it is in heaven.” These are great days to be calling Central Church home. It’s not about “indrag,” it’s all about “outreach.”

What’s your number?

21,284. That’s the number of days I have been on planet earth. 21,284. 

There have been some great days in that 21,284. A wedding day. Birth of boys’ days. Special trips. Of course, the day I invited Jesus into my heart at the altar of the old Elmwood Church of the Nazarene. There have been some lousy days in that 21,284. Parents’ death days. Brain hemorrhage day. Car accidents. Some difficult ministry days. There are good days and bad days in all of our lives. We all know this to be true.

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

The Psalmist is saying be aware of each day. Number them. We aren’t promised tomorrow. Be aware of those around you. Be aware of God’s holiness, power, might and majesty. Be aware and thankful for what God is doing. Accordingly, number your days and gain wisdom in moving forward. 

Our house guest, Lisa, is discovering today more of her cancer prognosis and the journey for her days ahead. She is keenly aware that her days are numbered. Her number might (and I say “might.” It might not. God knows.) be smaller than the rest of us. I would hope that with a faith like Lisa we would conclude, “God’s got this.” (I’ve heard her say that 21,284 times… ok… maybe not that many times, but a lot). It’s knowing that in light of eternity, we are going to spend a whole lot more time there than here, so we need to behave, plan and live with a recognition that our days on planet earth are numbered. Maybe you have another 21,284 days ahead of you. Maybe you have just one. What are you doing with your day(s)?

P.S. Please keep my friend Lisa and all those dealing with cancer, covid or other life threatening realities in your prayers. If you have such a friend, reach out and encourage them today. If you are dealing with such a reality in your own life, please know “God does have this” and you can trust Him!