Monthly Archives: August 2022

When “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner” Doesn’t Work

Christians have long voiced the opinion to, “Hate the sin. Love the sinner.” But is this realistic? In case you are wondering, “Hate the sin but Love the sinner” is not Biblical. In fact, you would probably have an easier time finding Old Testament support for the saying “hate the sin and hate the sinner even more.” (See any number of psalms of David when he was running for his life and asking God to strike down his pursuers). “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is an attempt to keep our judgment from getting too personal. But is it possible? Can Christians separate sin from sinner?

Here’s the problem: 

If the “sinner” doesn’t: 
a) believe what he/she is doing is “sin”, and
b) don’t feel loved in what he/she is doing; 
won’t even the use of the terminology of “sinner” and “sin” lead non-believers to conclude that the “Hate the sin, love the sinner” mantra-following-Christians are hateful? If the “sinner” doesn’t believe he/she is a “sinner” and doesn’t “feel loved” or “accepted” because of their behavior– are they truly loved? 

It has been often said that Jesus was a “friend to sinners.” Apparently, he figured this dilemma out. The Apostle Paul might suggest putting all interactions between the followers of Jesus and “sinners” through a “fruit test.” Are our posts, speech and thoughts full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (the fruit of the spirit)?  Wouldn’t we say exhibiting the Fruit of the Spirit is having the mind of Christ? So do our words, actions, posting on social media reflect those characteristics? I’m convinced as we live into the Fruit of the Spirit and in so doing have the mind of Jesus, those who are far from God will still know they are loved (and in turn give God Almighty the opportunity to work on their hearts) even as we disapprove their behavior.

Notice what’s not on the Fruit of the Spirit list. The characteristic may be important (some are, some aren’t), but it’s not on the list.

  • Truth-telling? Important, but not a Fruit of the Spirit. 
  • Criticizing? Not important and not one of the fruits (although I’ve had church members who were convinced criticizing was their spiritual gift).
  • Being right? Not on the list.
  • Holier-than-thou attitudes? Are you kidding me? Not on the list.
  • Corrector-of-all-things-on-social-media? Not on the list. 
  • Defending the Almighty? Not on the list. 
  • Being popular? Not on the list. 
  • Passive aggressive? Really, really not on the list. 

Listen, don’t buy into the extremes in this debate. It’s not:
1) To Love me, you must affirm my behaviors; or 
2) If we love them, then we affirm behaviors that we don’t want to affirm.

Here comes the deep theological rebuttal to both extremes: Baloney.

It’s complicated. It’s messy. I still can’t get away from Jesus call to “Love our enemies,” which, in effect, means love everybody. Since we are already loving our friends and family. Hence our job is to love; run our actions through the Fruit of the Spirit; and God’s job (as I understand it) is to convict wrong behavior. Let’s do our job and let the Almighty do his job. It’s hate the “sin” (even if we have a different definition of “sin”), but love the “sinner” (even if the one in question doesn’t believe they are a “sinner.”). Or to make even simpler: Just love people and let God take care of the rest. 

Animal Idioms and God’s Kingdom

To all the eager beaver followers of Jesus who want to be the top doghold your horses and let’s talk. The straw that will break the camel’s back is trying to be a road hog on the highway to heaven. I’ve watched like a hawk this old world, so take it straight from the horse’s mouth, don’t be a copycat or a monkey see, monkey do sort of person. Also, don’t be cutting kitty corners and taking cat naps. Be fully aware, fully awake and fully aligned with the Spirit. If it sounds fishy or smells like a rat it probably is. Don’t go rushing in like a bull in a china shop. More than likely you’ll be opening up a can of worms as you go off on a wild goose chase. Folks like that drop like flies as the dog days drag on. It’s a rat race out there. A real dog eat dog world, where ungodliness is raining like cats and dogsTake a gander, our Enemy is like a fox in the hen house these days. But his swan song is coming, He’s about to eat crow and a whole lot worse.

But I’m putting the cart before the horse. If you work until the cows come home, you might think you are casting pearls before swine or beating a dead horse. You may be poor as a church mouse with no nest egg for the future. Following Jesus is no cash cow. You probably won’t be a fat cat, but don’t let it bug you, just be faithful. Here’s something to crow about, Jesus loves you. You’re not in the dog house or a black sheep

Be busy as a bee, until He returns. You might have butterflies in your stomach or ants in your pants, but no need to go cold turkey. There are plenty of fish in the sea. It might not be like shooting fish in a barrel these days, but you’ll get the lions’ share, if you don’t clam upchicken out or let the cat get your tongue. Just take the bull by the horns, and share who Jesus is. Holy cow, people are still hungry as a bear to see faith in action.

Of course, the elephant in the room is: can you be faithful to the end without looking like what the cat dragged in? Yes, you can kill two birds with one stone—loving God and loving people! Listen don’t be a fish out of water or have a bee in your bonnet, get in church. The Church is not a “birds of a feather flock together” kind of place; think of it more like Noah’s Ark– where the lion and the lamb are in the same boat. 

Allow me to let the cat out of the bag, it will be no kangaroo court, when the Great Shepherd separates the goats and sheep. The sheep will be in hog heavenpigging out at Banquet of the Lamb. The goats will be sitting ducks. And our Enemy? Will he go free? When pig’s fly! The worm has turned. He’s a lame duck. His chickens have come home to roost and his goose is cooked.

Maybe I’m a one trick pony, but Jesus is more than enough for me. 

FYI… If you think this article was for the birds, just know that there are 67 animal idioms in it. Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks? Make that 68.

General Superintendent Powerball

Has the Church of the Nazarene (CotN) been choosing General Superintendents (GS) all wrong? The current way makes perfect sense. Duly elected General Assembly delegates vote (if they get a visa and are in Indianapolis for the election) for any ordained elder between the ages of 35 and 68. It seems downright democratic the way GSs are chosen. But is it the best way to govern a church? Is it truly democratic? Is it Biblical?

Questions rise each presidential election cycle as people wonder if the nation’s best and brightest two people out of the 330 million citizens are on the ballot?  Could Nazarenes wonder if our democratic system produces the best and brightest too?

This new method of selecting a GS is fundamentally biblical, albeit uses a biblical model that has been rejected probably since Luke put it to writing. My reference is the selection of Mathias as the apostle to replace Judas. If you will recall, in Acts 1, the disciples gathered, prayed, narrowed their choices to two individuals and then in a purely undemocratic way, cast lots to see who should be apostle #12. Mathias was the lucky winner. There is no evidence that the early church used this method for choosing leaders again (there is also no Biblical evidence of elections either). Before scoffing, at the foolishness of the method, maybe we should rethink it.

General Superintendent Powerball is putting all qualified candidates in a hat (granted it would need to be a really, really big hat) and drawing out six random names. The GS candidates would be any elder within the age requirements who is willing to serve the church. Any elder? That’s right. Surely there are plenty of Holy Spirit-filled men and women worthy to fill such a role. This random selection method would not be limited to regional directors, college presidents or prominent pastors who are favored in the current system, but every eligible elder could put their name in the hat. Picking six random names would eliminate the “popularity contest” feel of the election of a GS. Small church pastors, minority pastors, those ordained elders serving in remote locations, and all elders who don’t have a chance in our current system would be given an equal opportunity. No more ballot after time-consuming-ballot at General Assembly. Put the elders’ names in a hat, have the General Assembly pray and then pick out six names. The whole process would take ten minutes. It’s General Superintendent Powerball.

Much more than a time saver, General Superintendent Powerball would bring a new, diverse committee every four years. It would essentially limit the term of a General Superintendent to one four-year appointment (the odds that the same person being chosen in consecutive General Assemblies would be very slim). General Superintendent Powerball could bring a new perspective to the church. No politics in the process. No popularity contests. No gossip and whispers of who might be elected. No feelings of entitlement would exist since the selection is for only one term. Moreover, once randomly selected, our current system of the necessity of a unanimous agreement of the BGS for major decisions would neutralize a possible rogue or completely unqualified person serving in this role. (finally, a good reason for the current committee leadership structure). The General Board and General Assembly would still set policy and give direction. 

Besides it’s biblical roots, it isn’t a totally novel idea. Malcolm Gladwell, in his Revisionist History Podcast (Season 5, episode 3. Hear it here) interviewed Adam Cronkite who is a co-founder of a non-profit organization called Democracy in Practice. The organization believes lotteries are the most democratic method of choosing leaders. Lotteries give an equal opportunity for everyone to participate; empowers those who under normal circumstances would not have a meaningful voice; and rotates leadership. Those three qualities would be worthy goals for the BGS.

“A General Superintendent Powerball would not bring the most qualified leaders to this role,” someone from 17001 Prairie Star Parkway (home of the Global Ministry Center of the CotN) might grumble. 

To that worry, I ask two questions:

1) How do you know those chosen would not be qualified? 
There are plenty of good, holy-spirit filled, well-qualified leaders in anonymous places who would prayerfully and wonderfully serve. 

2) Is a strong “leader” needed? 
Strong leaders have been elected. The current BGS are all leaders who have risen in the church ranks and have been in positions where the “buck stopped with them.” But that’s not conducive to the BGS system of a ruling-by-a-committee-of-six. Can a “the-buck-stops-here” leader thrive in a collaborative environment like the BGS?  Or should the CotN choose individuals who work well in groups and who best understand collaboration? Truth be told, the CotN needs both leaders and collaborators. Again, who is to say that such a leader/collaborator would not be chosen in a random selection process? 

Someone else might descent to the General Superintendent Powerball notion by saying, “We could get six GSs who don’t speak English and would need a translator wherever they went.”  

To that objection I say, “Yup. It would complicate things, no doubt.” Then, I would ask, “Are we truly committed to being an international church or not? I’ve read and re-read the manual and the ability to speak English does not seem to be a requirement. Maybe a rural pastor faithfully serving in remote Bangladesh could bring a perspective to the BGS than has never been brought forth. Maybe a modern urban pastor in post-Christian Denmark could likewise bring an assessment not often seen in the hallowed halls of the GMC.”

Do I seriously think General Superintendent Powerball system will happen anytime soon?  No. 
Do I think we need to rethink who and how we pick leaders? Yes. 
Do I think we need to redefine the role of General Superintendent? Yes.
Do I think term limits should be in place for General Superintendent? Yes. 
Do I think we need to rethink the value of a singular one-term General Superintendent? Most definitely, yes.

Think about it. If nothing else, General Superintendent Powerball would shake things up (literally) in our 114 year old denomination. 

My Prayer for the Upcoming School Year

Dear Lord,
I pray that this school year, we will see ….

Prayer not pressure.
Someone once said, “as long as there are ‘pop quizzes,’ there will be prayer in school.” It’s true. The state might dictate what can be done “in public” but it cannot eliminate a faithful student praying for his/her day, fellow students, bus drivers, teachers, administrators and everyone else. For many students, school is a stressful environment. Prayer is the remedy for undo life pressures in school or otherwise. Prayer. Not peer pressure. Not societal pressures. Prayer.

Victories not Violence.
Can you believe we need to pray for an absence of violence in our schools? Sadly, we all know violence is part of our new American reality. Let’s pray that not one school in the country is the victim of the insanity that has gripped our places of learning in recent years. Instead, of violence, let’s vow to see victories in academics, in mental health, and in personal development. 

Courage not cursing.
Facing academic challenges can bring courage to face those tests or bring curses of impending doom. Facing trying circumstances with courage and confidence is the road to success. Cursing today’s difficulties only leads to more troubles tomorrow. 

Bridge-building not Bullying.
Differences among people are a part of life. Race, religion, and socio-economics create differences. Some kids are into sports, others are in band or robotics, the list could go on and on. Being different isn’t the enemy. Our differences can bring a fullness of the American experience to those who determine to build bridges. Bullying, on the other hand, denies opportunities to learn and appreciate those who have faced life from a different point of view. The bully might win the moment, but the bridge builder wins in lifetime achievements.

Cooperation not competition.
 Competition has its place—in sporting events, in talent contests, in spelling bees. But cooperation should be a worthy goal in our educational pursuits. Working together. Seeing the contributions that others bring to the group is what is needed in our increasingly divided society. Let’s pray for more cooperation. 

Parental Involvement not indifference.
Good students need parents involved, interested and inspired to help their children reach their God-given potential.

Role models not rude modes of expression.
Teachers and coaches are no more or less perfect than you and me. They make mistakes. Say dumb things. Make bad decisions They are human in other words. But as we pray for the year, let’s pray that the adults in the classroom room, playing field or school bus display examples that the children in their care might want to emulate. Respect. Kindness. Empathy. Let’s pray that the adults display all the things that made them desire to be a teacher or coach in the first place.

…A school year where all God’s children will flourish and grow to new heights.


Is the Church of the Nazarene the Next Radio Shack?

Fact #1: Waldenbooks. Montgomery Wards. Sears. Kmart. Borders. Howard Johnson’s. CompUSA. Blockbuster. Dress Barn. Circuit City. Toys R Us. Frank’s Nursery and Crafts. Payless Shoes. Bill Knapp’s. Chi-Chi’s. Sports Authority. Woolworths. Thom McAn. All defunct. All done. Nowhere to be found. Dead. Dead. Dead. 

Fact #2: Every poll shows that people are heading for the exits in churches too. Church attendance is at an all-time low in the United States. 

In light of the above facts, here are two questions for the church: 
1) Will the Church of Jesus Christ be added to the first list? and, 
2) More specific to my tribe, will the Church of the Nazarene be added to that list?

Short answer to question #1: No.
 The Church of Jesus Christ will prevail. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).

Short answer to question #2: Maybe.
Jesus told one church: “You have forsaken the love you had at first.Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Revelation 2:4-5).

Jesus told another church: “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” (Revelation 3:2-4)  

Jesus told still another church: “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:16-17).

The failures of the churches in Ephesus, Sardis and Laodicea makes one wonder if the Church of the Nazarene could be the next Radio Shack? Have we forsaken our first love? Do we need to be awakened? Are we lukewarm in a world that desperately needs white hot? 

The Church of Jesus Christ will prevail, but some variations will fall away. See the Mars Hill Church of a few years ago. See many of the churches listed in Elmer Town’s 1969 Classic, The Ten Largest Sunday Schools and What Makes Them GrowMost of those churches are either gone or are a shell of their former self. Maybe I should write a book titled: The Ten Largest Churches and What Made Them Die. I really don’t like that title. Instead here is my outline on my (probably never-to-be-written) book: The Ecclesiastical Fork: Which Road will the Church Take?

Part I: The Road to the Church Graveyard: 
Pretend nothing is wrong. Lose relevancy in a changing culture. Reminisce of the glory old days. Allow factions to grow. Be satisfied with the status quo. Be silent on issues of justice and mercy. Seek money and power instead of righteousness and holiness. Make decisions based on fear. Chase young people out. Have no one casting vision. 

Part II: The Road to Stayin’ Alive (cue the Bee Gees): 
Dream. Try new methods. Talk about Jesus constantly. Be united. Prioritize reaching/keeping young families. Be good neighbors. Pray. 

Churches committed to these seven values will not die in any cultural environment.

When Free Hot Dog Night Wasn’t a Prize

The Tigers played the Guardians (don’t you dare call them the Indians) on Tuesday night and I was there. Our friend Lisa Marie (don’t you dare think she’s related to Elvis) had never been to a night game at Comerica Park. So off we went with Lisa, her nephews (Dillon and Davis) and my “I-hate-baseball but I love my husband” wife, Karla

I sat in section 114. Row 30. Seat 23. Those seats were close enough to the action that you could see the players without binoculars; but far enough away that should a foul ball clunk you in the bean, you deserved it. You could read War and Peace (at least the Cliff Notes) by the time the ball would actually hit you (a slight exaggeration). Lisa and her nephews sat in Row 29. We sat behind them. Why is this important? Read on.

In the third inning, a camera man came and sat in the aisle by us. I thought someone was about to propose to a soon-to-be fiancé (or about to be broken hearted with a big fat “thanks but no thanks” rejection). No proposal was made. Instead as the cameraman zoomed in on our row, row 30, and it was announced, yes, our row 30, was the Ball Park Dog Row Giveaway Winner. Hip Hip Hooray! I know, I know, my dear Flintstones, it wasn’t Koegels. But free is free and I was happy. (see picture)

My dilemma: No one was hungry. Karla had already eaten a mountain of nachos, the boys and Lisa had nachos, pizza, brats and a partridge in a pear tree (they’re growing boys what do you expect). Me? I hadn’t eaten anything. My tummy was a little rumbly from my lunch at a Middle Eastern restaurant. Final Score: Shawarma 1. Rob 0. 

But the dogs were free… 

I have been to 100s of ballgames down through the years and never, not even once, have I won anything. The closest I ever came to a win was when an ex-boyfriend of Karla was a contestant in an in-between innings, time-filler games on the big screen. Let’s just say, the game ended without a prize winner. I looked at Karla with a silly grin as if to say, “You got a winner in me, baby.” I’m not sure Karla was convinced. All this to say, we had two free hot dogs that no one wanted. What would you do?

I got the hot dogs. I ate one. I’ll show that stinking Shawarma who’s boss. Karla gave her hot dog to the five-year old sitting over a few seats. Nothing tastes better than a free hotdog at a baseball game. My joy quickly gave way to the losing effort by the Motor City Meow Meow’s. They lost 5-2. It wasn’t that close. 

My losing ways weren’t over. Let’s just call the rest of the night, “Shawarma’s Revenge” (the title I wanted was “Night of the Living Dead,” but that was taken). Ugh!  To be fair, maybe it was the non-Koegel hot dog at the game or my gall stones (yup, I got em and a kidney stone too) or who knows what. It wasn’t a fun evening. 

My Point: Sometimes you can be in a wonderful place (read: Comerica), surrounded by friends and still feel lousy. Sometimes everyone can be cheering (read: not at Comerica) and you don’t feel like cheering. Sometimes you can win a prize (free dog night), and later discover it was no prize (burb). Sometimes life isn’t a home run (unless you are the away team at Comerica) and it seems like you are striking out (Now, I’m talking the Tiger’s language). Just remember this: God is still with you!  Even when you don’t feel it. Jesus promised, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). Feelings pass. The sun will shine. You will smile again. 

Given the Choices, I’d Rather be an Optimist

Pessimists’ cup is always half full (at best).
Optimists say “my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5

Pessimists wake up say, “Ugh! Another miserable Monday, I can’t wait for the weekend.”
Optimists wake up and say, “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

Pessimists pray: “Take me to heaven, dear Jesus, and get me off this forsaken planet!”
Optimists pray: “May your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10

Pessimists are full of fear. 
Optimists love to quote John: “Perfect love chases away all fear” 1 John 4:18

Pessimists say, “Why pray? The situation is hopeless.”
Optimists believe James words are true: The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16

Pessimists make things about themselves which leads to division and strife.
Optimists “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:3

Pessimists know that in times of trouble, “it’s every man (or woman) for themselves.”
Optimists know “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” Hebrews 13:6

Pessimists tend to look at the people different from themselves as enemies. 
Optimists remember that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” Matthew 5:45

Pessimists think everyone is against them.
Optimists repeat daily “If God is for us who can be against us.” Romans 8:31

Pessimists are restless and troubled.
Optimists eagerly quote Paul, “Be anxious about nothing.” Philippians 4:6

Pessimists concur with conspiracy theories on social media predicting doom and gloom and say, “Woe is me.”
Optimists continually live out Paul’s word: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

Pessimists say, “I can’t do anything about the plight of this world.”
Optimists say, “I can do all things through Christ” Philippians 4:13  

Pessimists see the troubles in the world and say: “The world is bad and getting worse”
Optimists see the troubles and remember Jesus words: “Take Heart, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Pessimists say: “As things have always been. so shall they always be.”
Optimists point to Jesus who said, “I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5

Like John Wesley before me, and Jesus, John and Paul before him, I want to be a radical optimist. I believe in miracles. God can transform the worst of the worst. Lamentations 3 is my heart and song: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Given my choices, I’d rather be an optimist.

A Place for Old People (Hint: I’m not talking about the “Next Stop is Heaven” Rest Home)

According to McDonald’s, I am a senior citizen (yes, I recently purchased a senior coffee). According to my AARP junk mail, I am eligible for exciting benefits. According to my wife, who says I don’t hear her half of what she says, I say, “Huh?” According to my Wheel of Fortune watching ways, I am in an age demographic that Medicare supplement marketing firms love. According to my very-stylish-in-the-90’s-but-not-so-much-now clothing, I am as fashionable as Fred Sanford (if you have to ask “who?” consider yourself a “whipper-snapper”). According to my aforementioned use of “whipper-snapper,” I am outta touch with today’s lingo.  My music tastes are groovy. Six year olds are more tech savvy than me. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  Our senior adult pastor, Dr. Steve Anthony says, “If you think you are a senior, you are.” It’s me, O Lord, it’s me.

But that doesn’t mean I am ready for the Next Stop is Heaven Rest Home (or similar facility). God has a place for those of us with “snow on the roof.” Not surprising, Solomon wrote, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31). Abraham was pushing a baby buggy at 100. Simeon, Anna and Elizabeth were up in years when they played a role in the birth narratives of Jesus. There is no expiration date on serving the Lord.

Clearly, I am nothing like Moses, who upon his death the Bible says: “Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone” (Deuteronomy 34:7). Forget 120, my eyes are already bi-focaled and no one has mistaken me for Jack LaLanne (“who” again? See above comment regarding Fred Sanford). Moreover, I’m not saying I doubt 85+ Caleb’s personal assessment of his abilities (“I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.” Joshua 14:11), but c’mon Caleb? Seriously, dude you’re 85? Apparently, I’m no Caleb. Like the old gray mare, “I ain’t what I used to be.” 

But I can still do something for the Lord. You can too. Even if that something is prayer– notice I didn’t use descriptors like “just prayer” or “only prayer.” Prayer is the most power weapon in our arsenal. As such, there is not retirement plan in the Lord’s Army, instead He calls us to re-enlist.

Many of us, old-timers, can do much more that pray. We can be kind to a neighbor. Help another senior. Go on mission trips. Mentor a young person. Share joy and love with the youngest ones. We can all work for a better tomorrow and be a blessing in many ways. Our strength may wane (we aren’t Moses); we might not be as vigorous for battle like Caleb (cough, cough), but the Lord is not finished with us. So, get off your Davenport; turn off Jeopardy; grab your shawl and pocketbook; order a senior mcCoffee and let’s go and make a difference for Jesus. He’s not done with you or me.