Independence Day is just around the corner. Maybe you’ll be celebrating the day in the backyard with friends or in a cabin in the woods or on a golf course. You might even take time to be thankful for the freedom to do such things. I hope you do much more.
Usually this time of the year, some preacher type will quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 (if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray… you know the verse). The minister will then call on the people to pray. Recognizing the importance of prayer (or at least not wanting to appear to be a person contrary to prayer), the congregants will agree that prayer is an important faith practice for the betterment of our country. “Amen. Amen. Amen,” 100% of the group will chime. That’s the good news.
Here’s the bad news: Most people aren’t praying for our country. The Barna group in 2017 reported (see the stats here) that 79% of Americans prayed at least once in the last three months. I’m not sure if the pandemic would have increased or decreased those numbers, but in any event, that’s not a particularly high standard– one prayer every ninety days. Of those who were praying once in three months, only 26% with a high school or less education reported to have prayed for our nation (only 17% of the college graduates did). I wasn’t a math major, but I don’t think that is very good either. The only ones praying for our country are 22% (give or take) of the pray-ers, who might only be being praying very occasionally. No wonder we are a mess.
Barna didn’t ask the other important question: Did you DO something other than pray? Did you participate with God in the answer to those prayers? I don’t think we’d like the answer to that question. James wrote a five-word indictment of too many pew sitters: faith without deeds is dead (James 2:26). In other words, “thought and prayers” alone doesn’t cut it. You gotta do something. Sadly, when people aren’t praying and they aren’t doing anything, this is the formula:
Little faith + Little action = a county in trouble.
Our country is divided. We need prayer (of course). We need action too. There is a long list of things you can do this Independence Day to make our country a better place: include a lonely neighbor in your cookout; clean up a vacant lot in the city; sign up to volunteer at a hospital, local school, soup kitchen or nursing home; write a letter to an incarcerated person; take a plate of cookies to the local fire or police station; have your kids color a picture and send it to a soldier overseas; volunteer to watch the kids of a single mom; take a roll of quarters to a laundromat and give strangers a free load of clean clothes; or surprise a teenager with an unexpected gift.
After you do any of these things (or something completely different. Use your imagination there are hundreds of possibilities), then pray. Pray for the people who were touched by your actions. Pray that they would be blessed by the Lord. Pray that, in turn, our country would start being a better place.
President John F. Kennedy in a famous speech said: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” The answer: It’s not sending “thoughts and prayers” (and then not even praying). It’s actions and prayer (real prayer) that our country needs. You want a better country? Stop complaining and partner with the Almighty to make our country a better place. Actions and faith (quoting the great theologian, Larry the Cable Guy) will “get ‘er done.” Maybe James could have written:
Faith + Deeds = a Better Country.
Why did we only hear crickets coming from the GMC following last week’s Roe vs Wade controversial decision from the United States Supreme Court? Other leaders of denominations issued statements. World Leaders chimed in (most in outrage of the decision). So why was there nothing from our leaders? I shared on Facebook the statement from the Florida District Superintendent, Rev. Dale Shaeffer. It was very good. Why didn’t the Board of General Superintendents (BGS) issue something similar?
The standard line (or so I’ve been told) is that we are an international church and the General Superintendents do not speak into national matters. That’s why no statement was given condemning racism following George Floyd’s death or why there hasn’t been statements valuing life following any of the recent tragic school or church shootings.
They have spoken up before. After the Orlando Pulse night club shooting in June of 2016, the BGS issued a statement. You can read it here . That was 6 years ago, there have been numerous incidents since then in USA/Canada that warranted a similar statement, but we haven’t heard from the BGS. One time is not enough.
The General Superintendents are good people. I trust them. They are our friends. I know they hate racism, love life and are want the best for our church. We need to hear from them.
I don’t know the ins and outs of running a denomination. They are busy and it’s a difficult task. I’m just a pastor in Flint, Michigan. I only know pastoring churches. So, I will approach these matters as if the United States were a member of my church.
Let’s say I have 160 members of my church (The Church of the Nazarene is in 160 countries give or take a few). Suppose one of those members contributed somewhere around 94-96% of the income to my church. I would hope that I would treat the fat cat (no offense USA/Canada) the same as those 159 other members who gave little or were unable to give. I would hope that I would overlook their monetary contributions and the church’s near total dependence upon them. But I know, in reality, I wouldn’t be able to do it.
If there was a tragedy to that member, I would be the first person there. If they were experiencing joy, I would be joyous with them. I would want to know their concerns and if they got off track, I would hope as their pastor, I would lovingly steer them back. I would be keenly aware of the health and well-being of that member. That one member’s health would be essential for the health and well-being of everyone in the church. If that member died, the whole church would be in trouble.
I wish the Board of General Superintendents took a similar approach to USA/Canada. The six members of the BGS are all elders in the Church of the Nazarene. Treat USA/Canada like you would a member of a local church who is in trouble. The USA/Canada church might not be dying, but it’s hurting. We need the good words from our General Superintendents. We need them speaking into our situations and national events. We need them to model leadership and wisdom for the rest of us. We need to be able quote them and their strong words in our churches when crucial events take place. Yes, we have the manual, but we need the voices of our General Superintendents to help us.
Please no crickets. We need our Generals Superintendents to speak because we love and value their words. Like Paul in Acts 18, I pray our BGS has a vision from the Lord that says, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you.” (Acts 18:9-10)
Summers in Michigan are the best. It’s rarely super-hot for long stretches of time. Daylight is longer. We have lakes. Lots of lakes. A few are even Great Lakes. There are plenty of good ice cream joints. There’s golf courses galore. Summers in Michigan are great (did I already write that?). It’s true.
But (there’s always a big but)… Michigan summers do not bode well for church attendance. People are on a lake or in their campers or up north or a golf course or watching their future major leaguer play right field in a little league tournament in Battle Creek or out looking for a new ice cream joint. I’ve had people in June tell me, “See you in September, pastor.” They weren’t joking.
I’d like to point out that commandment #4 (Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy) does not offer a Michigan exception clause. But I won’t point that out because I will sound too much like an old curmudgeon who in the next breath would yell, “Get off my lawn you rotten kids.” I’d like to point out that God still intends for us to prioritize a time of worship—every single week even in the summer. I’d like to write, “Don’t forget the Sabbath, even if you live in the Great Lake State.” But…
Ok, you’ve talked me into it (or I’ve talked me into it or maybe, just maybe, the Lord has talked me into it). I will write it. Please note: I’m not the first to do so. Moses wrote on stone tablets. My tablet is an Apple. The fourth item on both lists is: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
Jesus “broke” this commandment a few times (usually to heal someone) and his actions sent the “best” Sabbath keepers of them all, the Pharisees, into a tizzy. (Quotation marks are around the word “broke” because when Jesus was “braking” the Law, in the Pharisees view, he was actually fulfilling the law by loving God and loving people. Quotation marks are around “best” in reference to the Pharisees because they forgot the reason for which the Sabbath was created thereby making them not the “best” at all). Still Jesus knew the importance of the Sabbath, but he also knew the importance of love and compassion. Jesus said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus was keeping the Sabbath’s priorities straight, even as the Pharisees viewed him as breaking it.
Sabbath keeping is more than church attendance. I get it. Missing a church service isn’t sending anyone to the “Bad Place.” I get that too. One can be in church on a Sunday and still break the Sabbath. One can be in nature and have a wonderful time of worship. I get all of that. Still too many of us, in our “freedom,” we have become lackadaisical in our remembrance of a Sabbath day. Maybe in our Michigan summers, commandment #4 is the most broken commandment of them all. (Next might be “Do not covet” as your neighbor pulls in his new boat into the driveway). My point: Don’t break any of the commandments in a Michigan summer or anytime. All ten are important. Let’s just keep the Lord first in all we do!
Now get off my lawn!
One year from now, the 2023 General Assembly (GA) of the Church of the Nazarene will be in the books and we will be in our churches discussing the events of the past week. Clearly writing from a North American perspective, the church I currently see is divided like never before. Will a GA expose these divides and bring healing or gloss over them as they continue to fester?
The Board of General Superintendents (BGS) had a difficult decision on even convening the 30th General Assembly. Covid is still a real thing (take it from me, I had Covid last week). Delegates from some world areas will have great difficulty in obtaining a visa. As such, in many world areas, districts will be voting not for the most qualified from their district to be a delegate but from those who are available (with visa in hand). The result will be less world representation, possibly a less qualified and a more-North American-centric assembly.
In spite of these problems, the BGS made the right decision. In each of the last several assemblies, a resolution has been submitted to move GA from four years to five, and every time it’s been rejected. GAs are expensive and a logistical monstrosity is the argument, but the delegates have repeatedly said that moving to every five years will lessen our relationships and widen any divides that might exist. Thanks to Covid, the validity of the anti-five-year-assembly argument will be shown as it will have been six years since the last GA. The BGS has seen that our church family (like all families in the pandemic) has been shaken. We need to gather.
The theme chosen, “Jesus is Lord,” seems to indicate that the BGS recognizes the divides and hope to bring unity by getting the church back to the basics. It’s like the old football story of how legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, after a loss held up a football and said “This, boys, is a football.” The General Superintendents appear to be doing the same for the church as they hold up a banner that says: Jesus is Lord.
I hope it works. Our family is teetering. Factions are gathering. Newsletters are sent. Blogs (ahem) are written. Social media is not anyone’s friend. The pandemic and our six-year gap have hurt us. Unity is essential to our church. As we watch the United Methodist church implode, one needs no prophetic anointing to see the same thing happening in the Church of the Nazarene if we do not gather and come together in unity. Nothing is more uniting than “Jesus is Lord.” It is the most basic of the essentials.
What will we be saying about the 30th General Assembly in one year? That depends entirely on the amount of prayers lifted this year. Pray cursory prayers and we will further divide. Pray fervent and intentional prayers and the Holy Spirit just might bring revival to our old church and rekindle the flame of Christ. The world still needs a strong, biblical, holiness message and a united church delivering it. If we can’t do it, God will raise up someone who can. Pray that we might unite around the ancient truth that Jesus is Lord and set about making Christ-like disciples in the nations.
With the end of the basketball season in sight (maybe next year Pistons), here are a few terms in basketball world and their usage in the church world too:
Alley-oop: Teens caught behind the church skipping the worship service.
Center: Only allowable placement of the communion table in the front of the sanctuary. Don’t even think of moving those plastic flowers given in memory of Grandma Smith in 1994. They are Center too.
Dribble: Communion cup failure.
Double dribble: When a worshipper’s spouse likewise spills his/her communion juice.
Double Double: How many scoops of ice cream is permitted at the church social.
Dunk (Baptist version): The only baptism method allowed.
Dunk (Episcopal version): Communion by intinction, please.
Fast Break: Cheating during Lent.
Fouled Out: Potluck disaster when the chicken is gone. (Fowl? Foul? You know what I mean.)
Free Throw: A complimentary lap blanket made the by the senior ladies’ missionary society
Full court: A bride with six bridesmaids.
Half court: When three bridesmaids get sick from the shrimp cocktail at the Bachelorette Party.
Hoops: What the youth pastor has to jump though to get an increased ministry budget for “coffee with the kids.”
Lay Up: Clergy is down sick, who’s going to preach?
Opening tip: At the beginning of the sermon when the preacher indicates it’s going to be a long-winded affair.
Over and Back: The church hopper returns.
Pick and Roll: Grabbing a worship folder and promptly making a telescope out of it.
Point guard: The person who tallies the boys vs. girls’ competition in Vacation Bible School
Power forward: The preacher is sick, but preaches a fiery message anyway
Rebound: After telling a groaner joke, the preacher tells a funny one.
Shirts vs. Skins: The potluck dilemma between eating more fried chicken skins or popping the buttons off your garments.
3 Pointer: The preacher’s sermon.
Travelling: What evangelists used to do.
(Rob’s Basketball Memory Lane: 14 years ago today, June 16, 2008, I was in the Boston Garden with my friends Dr. Larry and Lynn Bollinger and Rev. Rod Green watching the Boston Celtics defeat the Los Angeles Lakers to win the NBA championship. I have never had more drunk Bostonians—not the Bollingers—hugging me following that game on the way out of the arena).
When a Christian succumbs to temptation, it’s not like stepping off a cliff. It’s more like what happens at the Cooper Hill’s Cheese Rolling Competition. It’s running down the slippery slope after a meaningless prize that doesn’t end well.
Last week thousands of spectators and daring competitors descended upon Gloucestershire, England’s Cooper’s Hill for the traditional Cheese Rolling event that has occurred since the 1800s. The slope of Cooper’s Hill is so steep that very few contestants manage to stay on their feet, instead tumbling head-over-heels down the 200-yard-slope in a desperate effort to catch the coveted dairy prize – a weighty 8lb Double Gloucester. While the cheese can never actually be caught – with a brief head start, it soon reaches breakneck speeds – the Cheese Rolling winner is the first person to roll, run, or fall across the line at the bottom of the hill. Most of the people don’t make it down Cooper’s Hill unscathed. One year 33 competitors were treated for everything from splinters to broken bones!
How is this craziness like a Christian’s fall into sin?
A Christian doesn’t sign-up for sinful behavior like a competitor registering in the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll. There may be some thought of the consequences, but often not a lot. But neither does one fall into sin with an unknown or unlucky leap off a cliff. More often, sin begins as a simple meander down a destructive trail that the Christian knows is not good (the Holy Spirit is CERTAIN to issue a warning). They wander off anyway. Like at Cooper’s Hill, those falling into the Enemy’s trap start down the hill picking up speed as they chase after the meaningless temptation (usually not much more valuable than an 8lb. chunk of cheese). Very quickly, the misdirected Christian’s pace turns into a tumbling, bumbling, breakneck-impossible dive. Like what is known by the waiting ambulances at the bottom of Cooper’s Hill, a crash is inevitable.
When gazing onto temptation’s slippery slope and dreaming of obtaining some not-much-better-than-cheese prize, the Enemy fails to tell that the “prize” stinks and the dangers are certain. They Enemy doesn’t tell of the heartaches and pain. Even if never found out, even if the Christian’s secret foray down this slippery slope stays secret, is the “prize” worth it? Instead of pleasure, riches or fame only guilt and hidden shame are the result. Living a lie is no “prize.”
I was not injured at the Cheese Roll Competition on Cooper’s Hill. Of course not, I was thousands of miles and an ocean away, sitting in my living room. I cannot fall down Cooper’s Hill if I am nowhere near it. It’s the same with sin’s slippery slopes. If you never enter the temptation’s downward grade, you can never be its prey. Don’t even start down the trial. Don’t look at the slope. Don’t rationalize the thrills. Don’t scheme on how it might be done. Listen to the Spirit and stay away. Stay far way. Stay an ocean away if possible.
Of course, you know all of this. You already know about the “slippery slopes” of sin, don’t you? You’ve heard plenty of sermons on the topic. Me too. So why tell you again? Because a friend of mine found out the hard way this week. He knew all about temptations, slippery slopes and falling into sin. He knew it all and went down the trail anyway. Some people are forever wounded. His life is wrecked. His family destroyed. The Enemy left that part of the story out too.
Our garage sale last Thursday and Friday was a success. Not moneywise. We won’t be heading off to Tahiti from the proceeds. I did get rid of a few things that have been cluttering up our house. Two old couches? Gone (sold one and gave the other one away to a good home). Two sets of box springs and mattresses? Gone. (not sold, gobbled up by the sanitation workers’ truck). Bongos? Gone. A walker that my mother-in-law no longer needs (given away to a husband for his needy wife). A few other things. Gone. It makes me want to sing this little ditty to the tune by Helen Griggs:
Gone. Gone. Gone. Gone,
Yes, my junk is gone.
Now my clutter is set free
And in my heart’s a song
Buried in somebodies’ home,
Not in my basement all alone.
I shall live with less to own.
My junk is G-O-N-E gone!
My junk being gone, gone, gone is not the best news from the garage sale. I got to talk to my neighbors. A lot of them. I asked one lady if we planned a “cul-de-sac barbeque” this summer, would she and her husband come? She said, “Sure, we’d love it!”
I got to talk to the guy at the end of the cul-de-sac. Our next-door neighbor’s daughter bought one of the couches. I learned that a lady from Central church has children and grandchildren on the next street over.
“Do they go to church?”
“Have you invited them to Central church?”
“Well, tell them their pastor is on the next street over.”
Now, Karla and I have somebody else to pray for as we go on our nightly walks. I hope they are outside soon so I can say “Hi,” and invite them to a BBQ too. There are a few others in our neighborhood that attend Central church. Some regularly. Some not so much. But now I know folks a little bit better. I know how to pray a little bit more. Karla and I will need to plan a “Central Church in neighborhood cookout” too. A “cul-de-sac cook out” and a “Central-in-my-neighborhood” cookout? Why not. I like Koegels’ hot dogs on the grill.
We don’t need to go to Africa, Panama or across the world. I’ve got a mission field across the street. You do too. What are you doing to reach your neighbors for Jesus? Jesus said, “Love your neighbor.” What if we took those words literally and started to be pro-active in loving our neighbors? Don’t talk religion if you plan a party. Don’t talk politics either. Just make it fun. Get to know your neighbors. As the Lord (not you) opens the doors, you might have a chance to talk about faith. It might not happen during the first or second event. But keep being kind. Keep loving. Keep showing the grace and truth of Jesus. It takes time.
But It’s worth it! Wouldn’t it be great if that once cranky neighbor, finds Jesus, does a 180 and becomes so loving and kind that you ask St. Peter (or whoever handles the housing accommodations in the sweet-by-and-by) if you could be neighbors in your heavenly mansions too?
“He must become greater, I must become less” (John 3:30).
John the Baptist at the height of his popularity defers to Jesus and basically says, “It’s not about me, it’s about Jesus. I don’t need the spot light, Jesus does.” It’s a humility that, quite frankly, is missing too often in many of us who claim Christ.
We don’t have to be first.
We don’t have to be best.
We don’t have to have our way.
We don’t have to have the last word.
We do have to be humbly faithful. (Key word: Humbly)
Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). That’s humility. Humility is thinking of yourself in the same manner that you would think of anyone else. No more. No less. Humility isn’t listed in the Fruit of the Spirit. A Christ-like humility is the cumulative expression of the Fruit of the Spirit. In other words, the result of our displaying love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23) is a holy humility. Jesus said, “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Mathew 11;29). It’s being like Jesus.
The Fruit of the Spirit = Holy Humility = Christ-likeness. They are all the same.
Note: One can be humble without holiness, but one cannot be holy without humility.
Humility without holiness is a welcomed surprise.
Holiness without humility is impossible.
We’ve lost humility in our culture. This lack of humility is pushing many to the edges. Those edges used to be called the “fanatical fringe.” No longer “fanatical,” this “I’m-right-you’re-wrong” arrogance and lack of humility is now mainstream and happening in all arenas of life (including the church). If the culmination of the Fruit of the Spirit is a holy humility; then the culmination of the acts of the flesh (also mentioned in Galatians 5—includes, but is not limited to, “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy”) is a fanatical, self-centered, anti-Christ-likeness and is all too common.
One might expect those who have no allegiance to Jesus to think and behave in an arrogant manner, but not Christians, right? “Holiness” people invalidate their descriptor when they show the same lack of humility as those who make no claims about Christ. Peter wrote to first century church leaders: “Be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8). Paul told the people in Ephesus, “Be completely humble” (Ephesians 4:2). He could have said, “Be completely holy.” The best leaders are humble leaders. The best Christians are humble, holy Christians. It’s anti-cultural. It’s not the norm anymore. Humility is missing in our society and too often it’s missing in our churches too.
A holy humility is the way of Jesus. Walk in the Way!
Easter is a big deal. It should be. Jesus rose from the dead. Can’t get bigger than that. So we celebrate this universe-altering event by a bunny giving out colored eggs, baskets filled with goodies and eating Peeps. Of course, it all makes perfect sense to me.
Christmas is an even bigger deal (in many people’s minds). Think of it as the baby shower of the Christian faith, only everyone gets presents. Hooray. Christmas has even more traditions than Easter that have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus’ coming into the world. (Sorry Rudolph).
Pentecost seems like it is no deal at all. No baskets. No Presents. No special dinners. No parties. No time off from work. Nothing. For the average American church goer the following holidays are all bigger deals than Pentecost:
- Thanksgiving (except for Detroit Lions’ fans);
- Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day (Yahoo! Three day weekends are great!);
- Super Bowl Sunday (Gotta love football);
- Any Sunday with an NFL game (Gotta love even more football);
- Halloween (Forget tricks, gimme treats.),
- New Year’s Eve (Whew, we made one more trip around the sun),
- Mother’s Day (Don’t forget to call mama);
- St. Patrick’s Day (Green is keen);
- St. Valentine’s Day (Honey, will you marry me? Not original, but effective);
- Arbor Day (Trees, tress and more trees);
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President’s Day (We still love three day weekends!),
- the birthday of your second cousin twice removed (What’s his name? Who cares? Pass the cake),
- practically any of the other 365 days on your calendar.
Pentecost gets the short end of the calendar stick. But Pentecost is a really big deal. It’s the day the Holy Spirit came supernaturally upon the 120 believers and transformed the rag tag bunch (most of whom had failed Jesus miserably less than a couple of months earlier) into the turn-the-world-upside-down Jesus champions, more commonly known as “The Church.” What happened on the original Pentecost is a bigger deal than most everything on the list above. Of course, Christmas and Easter are big deals (don’t @ me), but so is Pentecost. It’s a much bigger deal than any “holiday” in the third paragraph list (sorry mom, it’s true).
Why don’t we celebrate Pentecost more? We will have a red cloth draping the cross, candles reminding us of the tongues of fire, and the reading of scripture in different languages. That’s it. That’s what will happen in the church building on Sunday to recognize that it’s Pentecost Sunday. But maybe the true Pentecost celebration is when the Church starts behaving in a manner that would make the first Pentecost celebrators proud. It’s when we help a neighbor, feed the hungry, and care for the needy. Pentecost is best celebrated when, like in Peter’s bold sermon, we proclaim the Savior and see a life (or 3,000 lives as in ol’ Pete’s case) transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. The Bible says all of heaven rejoices at this good news (See Luke 15). Heavenly Parties > Earthly holiday parties. Much greater!
You can have your blowing out of birthday candles (and spitting all over the cake that I’m about to eat); your Christmas fruit cake and Easter’s deviled eggs—I hope to celebrate Pentecost by telling someone about Jesus—the one who died and rose again!