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Does it really matter who is elected as General Superintendent?

Proviso #1: I love our current Church of the Nazarene (CotN) General Superintendents (GS). They are all are qualified and have had distinguished ministries prior to their election as GS. Their love for the Lord and for the CotN is undeniable. 

Proviso #2: The GS life is a difficult one. It’s not a cushy job. The schedules we ask them to keep are terrible. It’s not glamorous. Those that serve in this role sacrifice much. Too much? Maybe. Thank you Board of General Superintendents (BGS). We love and appreciate you!

Proviso #3: The title seems to indicate that the following article is a little like Ecclesiastes 1:2: Meaningless, Meaningless, everything is meaningless. That is not my intention. I have hope (even if it doesn’t sound like it). This hope springs from a belief that the message of holiness is still what our world desperately needs to hear.

Acknowledging those three provisos, here’s the point:

We have elected great people to be General Superintendent. Prior to their election all have been capable, wise and independent. All have a certain amount of entrepreneurial innovation. They’ve been visionary. They’ve been wonderful servants of the Lord. You don’t rise to be a Regional Director, great pastor and Sunday School ministries director or seminary president without many gifts and abilities. 

Here’s the problem: Something happens when these gifted leaders pass through the doors of the Global Ministry Center and take their place at the BGS table. They lose something. I’m not sure I can put my finger on it. I don’t think it is intentional. Maybe it’s inevitable. Whatever the reason, they lose something.

It’s hard to be innovated and creative when sitting on a committee of six people. Prior to their election, in their various positions often they had the final word in decision making. The buck stopped with them. Now there are six people with equal input. It’s hard to be a prophetic “voice crying out in the wilderness” when you need the approval of five other voices before one can speak. The necessity (either real or perceived) to be united in all things from the BGS board room reduces imagination and originality. 

Moreover, there is a certain amount of trepidation that comes with the job. No one wants to be the GS if/when the wheels come off the church and all is not well. No one wants to make a “big mistake” (whatever that might be). Leading from a worst-case scenario mindset is not freeing. Cultural, moral and denominational shifts and movements seems to be the enemy feared, not the challenge excepted.

The subtle change from innovative leader to disaster-avoidance-manager might occur from the weight of carrying the denomination on one’s shoulders. So, instead of innovation we get inertia. Instead of prophetic wisdom, too often profit and loss seem to be the concern. Instead of vision, a level of blindness (maybe that’s too harsh), a looking back to the old ways of dealing with today’s challenges seems to takes over. The desire to be globally minded (a worthy aspiration), fails to acknowledge (like it or not) the fate of the denomination rises and falls with the health (and wealth) of the USA/Canada Church (95% of WEF comes from USA/Canada). We place a lot on the shoulders of the BGS and the weight of the job changes them.

Who will get elected? Who knows? Will it even make a difference?  No doubt, a very capable set of leaders will be elected. I’m worried that no matter how innovative and creative they are in their current capacity, when elected they will walk through the sacred doors of the GMC and they will change. But maybe not… (you see, I do have hope).

Let’s pray for the two new GSs who will be elected in just four months. Let’s pray that these two individuals will have visionary and prophetic voices that the denomination and our world desperately needs.

Why We Should Be Worried about General Assembly 2023

In June Nazarenes from around the world will gather for the 30th General Assembly. The meetings should have taken place in 2021, but our microscopic “friend,” covid, delayed our gathering.  Because of this interruption, General Superintendent David Graves will need to retire because of his age. Had the assembly taken place as scheduled, he would not have been able to serve two additional years. Covid cheated us of Dr. David Graves, which is disappointing, because he has served the church so very well. But that’s not the biggest problem with the upcoming General Assembly.

Many of our elected delegates will not be able to obtain visas. This happens every year, but this year will be especially challenging. Less international delegates mean, a more USA/Canada influenced General Assembly. The numbers are usually skewed in favor of USA/Canada anyway (because of the preponderance of North American leadership that is included in the delegate count), but this year’s assembly will be even more laden with a USA/Canada tilt. As big of a problem as this is, it’s not my biggest worry.

I am apprehensive because it seems that the church is fracturing into various camps to express their perspective upon the Church of the Nazarene. There have always been factions (not a particularly healthy admission), but in our social media age splinter groups form quicker, gather supporters more rapidly, and take on a strength that was difficult to accomplish in the non-digital age. I’m worried that the 1908ers, Holiness Partnershippers, Progressives, fundamentalists disguised as Wesleyans, the “Signs and Wonders” charismatic-ish crowd and who knows who else will come with an agenda to “change” the Church of the Nazarene. 

Change isn’t bad. The Church of the Nazarene changes every four years. We don’t believe the Manual is divinely inspired and every General Assembly, corrections are made; new paragraphs added, wording is made more understandable. Agreement and unity is a beautiful thing as together we take steps forward.

The difference is that in years past, maybe a few delegates from a district or region would get together to discuss resolutions submitted or their preferred candidate for General Superintendent. Talk among friends always happens. But in a social media age, this chatter is raised exponentially. Splinter groups with their preferred agenda are more tempted to strategically plan to “purify” the church to their liking. In essence, it moves the Church of the Nazarene away from a “big tent” family to multiple “little tents” pushing various agendas. It hinders unity and augments division. We need only to look at the United Methodists to see the results of a church that lacks unity.

People are more and more influenced by the social media vacuum in which they live. This phenomenon is true as it relates to politics, sports loyalties, and even the church. Listening and reading only those who agree with one’s pre-determined ideas, hinders diversity and unity. In Post-Christian America and Europe, the church faces enough challenges without having splinter groups disrupting unity. The General Assembly emphasis on “Jesus is Lord” should be unifying as we “Go, Follow, Worship, Share and Love.” “Jesus is Lord” is a message that must be heard by all who gather no matter the faction of which they most closely align. 

Let’s return to P.F. Bresee’s charge (and several others before him): “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.”  A church that is not united will not survive. 

Don’t be like that Pennsylvania Groundhog.

Apparently, a rodent, whistle-pig, woodchuck or if you prefer, a ground hog will awaken this morning somewhere in Pennsylvania– without the aid of weather maps, Doppler radar, wind vanes, weather satellites or balloons, barometers, thermometers, and not even the Farmer’s Almanac–  and declare whether (no pun intended) we will experience six more weeks of winter or not. Evidently, this furry creature with no college degree or meteorological credentials of any kind is the great predictor of climate happenings across our varied states. What is the basis of his potentially horrid declaration?  His shadow. The varmint awakens; ventures outside his abode; and should he see his shadow then pull out the parkas and mittens because we’ve got more freezing wintery blasts on the way. That’s it. His fearful response to his own shadow dooms the rest of us to endure ice and cold for six more weeks. Ugh!  I hate that pretentious, overgrown rat!

Are we any different from Punxsutawney Phil? I’ve known plenty of people who base their decisions on fear. Their fear-based decisions and actions occur primarily because of being afraid of the potential outcome. There is the fear of not being liked (people pleasing); fear of conflict (don’t rock the boat even if the boat is being swamped by poor decisions); fear of someone different (can’t love your neighbors if you’re avoiding them); fear of being rejected (can’t delve into any evangelism– what if the person says, “no thanks”); fear of not enough (is the recipe for greed not generosity), fear of death (leads to a conflicted and worried heart) and so many, many more fears. 

Unlike the furry, fraidy-cat-like, Pennamite, Christians know that “perfect love drives out all fear” (1 John 4:18). Believers remember Jesus’ words, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled,” (John 14:1) and “Fear not, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The author of Hebrews wrote: “God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6). Moreover, Bible believing followers of Jesus have probably heard that the Scriptures say to “fear not” exactly 365 times (once for each day of the year). In other words, Christians are to be the most fearless people on the planet. 

Sorry, O Abysmal-prognosticator-of-the-Keystone-State, I choose to not make decisions like you—based on fear. Instead, I’ll follow the faithful Way of Jesus. What would Jesus say? Where would Jesus go? How would Jesus respond? Would Jesus be generous in this circumstance? Life is a giant game of follow the Leader (although it is no “game”). My Leader does not cower to fear but is the One who left the majesty of heaven to save us from our fears and to bring us into glorious hope. Don’t follow the way of a fearful groundhog on the 2nd of February. Follow the Way of Jesus all year long.

The Spoiled Fruits of the Wrong Spirit

Here is my list of the opposite of the Fruit of the Spirit that is evident in too many Christians and too many churches:

Fearful Indifference
The opposite of love isn’t hate but indifference, so wrote Nobel laureate, and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel. John seemed to indicate fear would be the opposite, since “perfect love casts our fear” (1 John 4:18). In combining Wiesel and John, we get the picture of love’s opposite. It’s an indifference fueled by fear. Instead of loving our neighbor, it’s fearing anyone different from ourselves. Instead of helping the outlier, it’s fearing they may harm us in some way. Jesus said to “love our neighbor,” we all know this. We would never “hate” them, but our fearful indifference has the same outcome.

Criticism
Too often in the church, the criticism is not “constructive.” It might be called “constructive criticism” by the criticizer, but generally it is the garden variety, old fashion criticism. Often followed by the words, “so what are you going to do about it, pastor…” Cue: Hands on hips and rapid foot tapping. One can’t be critical and have Joy too. It’s Impossible.

Pride 
Same with pride and peace. There is no peace when pride is present.

Impatience
Since patience reveals the Fruit of the Spirit, impatience is its spoiled opposite.

Complaining 
Can a person be kind and complain too? You know the answer to that.

Greed
As opposed to goodness. Goodness flows into generosity. Greed keeps anything good to themselves.

Grumbling 
I’ve yet to meet the person who is being faithful to God and grumbling too. Three words: Can. Not. Happen.

Cowardly Anonymous letter writing
 Cowardly anonymous letter writers are anything but gentle. They are BOOM! Here’s-what’s-wrong-you-or-wrong-with-the-church kind of letters. I’ve yet to read a cowardly anonymous letter that displays “gentleness.” (FYI: It’s one of my life rules– whenever I write the words, “Anonymous Letter,” I automatically must add the adverb “cowardly” before it. I once had a cowardly anonymous letter writer upset at my use of “cowardly” when referring to the cowardly anonymous letters. Suffice it to say, the coward was mad and not very gentle about it. True story).

No control 
The tell-tale sign of the spirit filled life: Is self-control present? Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed church leaders show a lack of self-control all the while claiming to be entirely sanctified. The outburst wasn’t like a Jesus-chasing-the-money-changers anger. It was more in the category of a toddler saying “I’m-throwing-a-temper-tantrum-and-there-is-not-a-single-thing-you-can-do-to-stop-me.” In other words, no control. The lack of self-control is why churches split, pastors walk away from assignments, and why little is accomplished in the Kingdom of God. 

As you know, spoiled fruit stinks. It attracts fruit flies and other pests. It’s no good. Same with these Spoiled Fruits of the Wrong Spirit. Don’t let them be a part of your day.

These Fruits are Not of the Spirit

Bad Apples. Every barrel (read: Church) may have one or two, don’t be that one.

Sour Grapes. Don’t let the rainy days of life ruin your outlook.

Thick melons. Think: Stubborness. Be open to fresh ideas.

Boo Berries. Be a cheerleader not a grump, grouch or grinch.

Bitter Herbs.  Are herbs fruit? I don’t know. It’s my list. Don’t be bitter.

Rotten Tomatoes. Tomato is a fruit and people with rotten attitudes are no fun.

Top Bananas. You need not be first, best or champ. Be faithful.

Cherry Picked. We are all special – not one over the other. All have been extended the invitation to follow Jesus.

Lemonhead. Don’t look and act like you are sucking the life out of room. Be a joy. 

Instead of those fruits, be a peach. Cool as a cucumber. OK, technically a cucumber is not a fruit. You probably are not a botanist so does it matter? You are the apple of God’s eye. Life might not always be a bowl of cherries, but give a fig and go bananas. You’ve got a plum assignment: Love God. Love people. 

P.S. Can you tell Fruit of the Spirit sermon series is coming? It is. Starting on January 29.

Is someone you love de-constructing or leaving/losing their faith? Try this

What do you do when someone you care for is going through a dark place spiritually? When they use words like “de-constructing” or “leaving/losing” their faith, what’s the answer?

Love them. Don’t stop loving. Whatever you do, keep on loving them.
Remind them of the Joy in the Lord they once knew. There was joy. They know it.
Pray that the Peace of God would flow in them.
Be Patient. Don’t rush things along.
Keep showing Kindness. Don’t give up on them.
And Goodness. Just flow with good news, good things. Be positive.
Keep being Faithful yourself. Don’t get down. Keep the faith. Hold on to Jesus.
No rushing, bullying (duh) or cajoling. Think Gentleness. 
And finally use self-control. When you want to speak. Think. When you want to argue. Think. When you are starting to get defensive. Stop. Breathe. Think. Pray. Then, respond.

What’s the answer to friends de-constructing their faith? Let the Fruit of the Spirit be evident in your life. It’s the “in-it-for-the-long-haul answer, it’s not a quick fix. The fruitfulness of the Spirit of God is compelling and true.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:25).

Wrong Church. Right Decision.

Last Sunday a lady came to Central Church for the first time. Some friends had invited her. Only two problems: she couldn’t find her friends and no one knows her friends. No one. She described them to me. The guy was tall with a long ponytail. Nope, doesn’t ring a bell. I know most folks here. Not everybody, but most everybody. We’ve got a few fellas with ponytails. But none of our ponytailed gentlemen would be described as particularly tall and none have a wife by the name she gave me. I think she came to the wrong church.

Or did she?

The lady stayed for the service. The music was great. The sermon spoke to her. At the end of the service, Pastor Tyler in his benediction asked for folks to come forward and talk to a pastor if they needed Jesus. The lady moved out of her pew and walked down the aisle. She talked and prayed with Pastor Tyler and invited Christ into her life. She was planning on coming to our lady’s Bible study last night to continue these first steps with Jesus. Praise the Lord!

So, the big question: Did she really end up in the wrong church? Or did she have a divine appointment with God Almighty at Central Church? Here’s what we know for sure: God loves this dear lady. God knows all about her hurts and hang-ups. Knows her past. Knows her present. Knows her future. God loves her and she ended up at Central Church on Sunday.  Subsequently, she made a life changing choice, because Jesus changes everything (See what I did there? It’s Central’s Core Commitment #1: Jesus Changes everything). She came to the wrong church, but made the right decision. She is now a brand-new follower of Jesus. It was no accident. 

I sure hope that this week another someone will come to Central Church on “accident.” Or better yet, you don’t have to grow a ponytail to invite a friend to Central Church. Ask and they shall come. Your friends will be glad you asked and if your spouse is like Karla, you will be glad you didn’t need to grow a ponytail (she’d not be a fan of a me ponytailed). 

The “I-never-Attend-Church” List is growing and what are we doing about it (or NOT doing about it).

Never. Not in a million years. Have you said those words? Sure, we all have.  My list of “I nevers” include the following:

I never eat liver. (Actually, there is a lot on my “I-will-never-eat” list. Karla says, “I’m finicky.” I say, “I’m choosy”).
I never run out of gas again (I learned my lesson over Christmas).
I never cheer for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Never. Never. Never.
(I used to say, I would never see the Lions win a Super Bowl, but the feisty Motor City Kitties have left me hopeful for 2023). 

There are a few politicians on my never-vote-for list. There are other “nevers” too. But one thing NOT on my list is “church.” Sadly, those that say they “Never” attend church is growing (see chart). 

The numbers show a rather dramatic increase caused by the pandemic. Will historians write the death of the American Church as we know it was caused by Covid? (Listen I do not believe anything can kill the Church. Not Jesus’ Church. Even the “gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” That being said, it could very well be that the church as we had known it prior to 2020 will not survive). 

The numbers are startling.  One in three people you see say they never go to church. 43% of people under 30 never go. That is a particularly scary number in that historically the great number of those accepting Christ were under 30. Now 43% say they never go to church. When/where will they find Jesus if they never go to church?

The numbers on the chart should cause us to re-think our approach, re-imagine our message and take a good long look at what we are saying and how we are saying it. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” clearly does not apply. Something is broken. The way we have done things in the past, will not work today. 

I wish I had the deepest answer to this dilemma, I don’t. But I do think, we need to get back to the message of Jesus. Not backbiting. Not moral failures among leaders. Not politics. Not all the things that distract us. Keep on the message of Loving God (always). Loving People (without exception).

It’s getting back to the basics: 
1) Jesus changes everything. 
2) We Grow Better when we are together. 
3) We must be the best neighbors. 

That’s it. It’s praying that God’s will would be done and His Kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven. It’s working like everything depends on us, and praying (knowing) that everything depends on God. 

Lord, teach us to pray like Dan Orlovsky

Have you seen the pictures of the football players on their knees on Monday night, heads bowed and praying for their teammate, Damar Hamlin, after he suffered a cardiac arrest on the football field? Maybe you saw a video clip of Dan Orlovsky, former NFL player and current commentator on ESPN, praying for Damar on national TV.  

Have you ever seen or heard a TV personality breaking into prayer on a live TV show? This wasn’t the 700 Club. It was ESPN.

I never have. 
Not on a sports show. 
Not from one of the regular commentators. 

What if we did what the Buffalo Bills team and Dan Orlovsky did?  
What if we prayed like Dan Orlovsky? 

His prayer wasn’t long. It was less than a minute. He prayed for strength, healing and comfort for Damar, and peace for his family. In his prayer, he admitted to being sad and angry, but also admitted that he believed in prayer. He said, “Amen,” and his co-hosts, Laura Rutledge and Marcus Spears, both also said “Amen,” and “Respect.” Wow! National TV. Double Wow!

Did his producers know he was going to bust out in prayer? I don’t know. Did the “higher-ups” at ESPN (or even “higher-ups” at Disney Corporation, the owner of ESPN) know he was going to take time to pray? I don’t know. All I know is that Dan Orlovsky was talking about how everyone was saying they were issuing “thoughts and prayers” for Damar, and he wanted to actually pray. And he did. Right on the set of ESPN’s “NFL Live” TV program. 

What if in our workplace or school, when a co-worker, fellow employee, customer or student express distress over a problem or situation—our go-to response is not “Hey, I’m praying for you,” but instead like Dan Orlovsky said, “Could we pray about that right now?” Maybe some folks would say, “Thanks but no thanks,” but I have a gut feeling that most people who are experiencing troubles would respond the way the players on the field responded on Monday. A quick “Yeah, let’s pray!”

Listen, I don’t pretend to know how prayer works. I don’t know why God answers affirmatively to some prayers and not to others. I tell folks, “I’m in sales, not management.” But what I do know about prayer is this: God calls us to pray. In fact, the Apostle Paul says to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). I also know the Bible tells us, Jesus prayed. A lot. (But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:16. Underlining mine). Jesus OFTEN…prayed. It makes sense that we should too.

Listen, I pray that the Bills, Dan Orlovsky’s and all of our prayers are answered. I sure hope Damar Hamlin gets better and walks out of that Cincinnati hospital. But I also hope, that you and I would boldly pray for those needs around us. 

Lord, teach us to pray like Dan Orlovsky. 

Christmas Shopping Procrastinators, You Have Good Company

Attention Christmas Shoppers the days to get your final Christmas presents have arrived. It’s the mad rush, the final push, the “buy-that-dearest-love-one-something-anything” time. We are closing in on the infamous gift-card-remedy-hour (that’s when the $20-$500 Visa gift card recipient gets to see just how much you really love them. “You love me only $20 worth?” Sigh).  

Before meeting Karla, I would have yawned at this date and said, “What are you talking about? I’ve got until Christmas Eve at 6PM—even later if I want to do a little shopping at Walgreens*?  

Walgreens last minute shopping isn’t so bad. I’m not throwing any stones. Great grandma gets a package of extra-large depends; Uncle George gets a bottle of Listerine (make that two bottles); Mom gets cologne; Dad gets aftershave (I hope he likes Brute); and all the kids get candy (although Walgreens does have a row of toys containing playthings the likes of which no child would ever touch). Shopping at Walgreens on Christmas Eve is not out-of-the-question for the Christmas Shopping Procrastinator.  

There is no shame from me towards the Christmas Eve Procrastinator. If anything, this person is a hero. Braving tough conditions (the pressure of finding the “perfect gift” as the clock is winding down); the ability to wrestle with a 83-year-old, arthritic fellow procrastinator in Walgreens over the last lawn gnome at Walgreens (Walgreens sells lawn gnomes?); and displaying the everlasting hope that Walgreens hasn’t run out of Christmas wrapping paper and tape. “Happy Birthday” gift-bags count, right? Technically, it is Jesus’ birthday. There is no humiliation coming from this direction, my friend (Karla might have a different opinion of the Walgreens last-minute shopper, but not me).

The Christmas Eve Shopping Procrastinator is in very good company. As you know the Bible’s main agenda is to get people to repent and believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the world; and in so doing, experience the Living Water that quenches one’s deepest desires as the new believer joins with Jesus in building his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. As the words of the Bible are coming to a close, God almighty is doing a last-ditch shopping effort to bring into the fold any procrastinator who has read the words but not yet believed. 

The Bible has a grand total of 783,137 words (depending on the version used, of course). If one were to begin reading at word number 783,016 through 783,039 (the closing comments, in other words—“in other words” ha ha, pun intended). This is what the Bible says:

“Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17)

God Almighty with the last few words in the last chapter of the last book is still aiming for that last second procrastinator. “Come,” He says, “Come.” Let the thirsty receive the free gift (see what happens there? Hey Shoppers, there’s a free gift. It’s a better offer than anything at Walgreens. It’s free. Totally free. The Living Water is free!). In the closing moments, as the clock is winding down on the Bible, with the final “Amen” in sight, God makes one last-ditch effort to save just one more. “Come all you who are thirsty. Come!”

Praise the Lord!