Category Archives: Uncategorized

When a “House Church” is a Brief Layover to “No Church”

Historically, house churches have bloomed when traditional churches couldn’t meet because of persecution or other extenuating circumstances. House churches in such times have been a beautiful expression of the Bride of Christ. The following is not an indictment on all house churches, rather it’s a simple recognition that not all house churches are created equal. If birthed under less than holy conditions than for all its promises of purity and righteousness, the “house church” can be a brief layover to “no church” for is members.

The following is the dangerous downward spiral of the toxic house church:

The Disgruntled House Church

When the establishment of a house church (with a few select friends) is because members have been hurt, ignored or simply disagreed with the majority of the church body over politics, social issues, or theological practices without attempts at reconciliation, the result may be less than ideal. It’s the same reason so many church splits end with one or both churches dying. Churches (house or traditional) started in division have short life spans. 

The Diversity-lacking House church

One of the beauties of the Church is that people DON’T have same backgrounds, educational equivalencies, and life experiences and yet find their oneness in Christ. Too often, the toxic house church (for their often-espoused liberties) are quite closed to disagreements from the dominant group think. Those with a different perspective than the prevailing view of the group need not attend. 

The Disrespectful House Church

If discontented and closed-off attitudes toward the larger church body exist a puffed-up, self-importance is sure to follow. This prideful, personal “deconstruction” of the church leads to disrespect for leaders, a disregard of church institutions and a cavalier approach to historical Biblical interpretations. The outlook often is: “My house church is doing it right. Everyone else is doing it wrong.”

The Disengaged House Church

A church disgruntled quickly becomes disengaged. The group may start with ideals of service, but disgruntled and dissatisfied people tend to be inward focused and service quickly wanes. 

The Defeated House church

The inevitable result of a few like-minded disgruntled and disengaged people meeting on an increasingly inconsistent basis is closure. Those folks who once were serving the Lord in the body fall back to the age-old line, “I can be a Christian without going to church.” While technically true (it’s the same argument that one doesn’t “need” to be baptized, because of the thief on the cross wasn’t baptized), the Church is still Jesus’ plan. Just as Jesus calls believers to be baptized, the New Testament expectation is that believers will meet together in a regular weekly gathering.

There is a downward spiral in faith when not connected (or loosely connected) to the greater body of Christ. People first drift away from the larger church body, then drift from their smaller faith body, then drift from faith altogether. Henri Nouwen was right when he wrote: “…the greatest danger for our times is separation of Jesus from the church…I’ve yet to meet anyone who has come closer to Jesus by forsaking the church.” 

Many house churches (maybe most) are wonderful expressions of the kingdom of God. Not all are toxic. But those house churches started by division will subtract from the Kingdom of God as members use the “house church” as the brief stopover before attending “no church.”

The Worse Shortage in the Land is NOT What You’d Think

Have you noticed there are a lot of shortages lately?

Gasoline shortages are in the south. There’s shortages of lumber, shingles and building supplies. (A truck drove by me with a load of wood and I thought I will never be that rich!). Even Chick-fil-a says they have a sauce shortage (now this has gone too far! Speaking of Chick-fil-a, there is a shortage of their restaurants in Flint! We need fresh squeezed lemonade and waffle fries!).

As bad as some of those shortages are, there is a worse absence. There is a massive deficiency of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The fruit of the spirit is missing. 

Even before we couldn’t get Polynesian Sauce for our nuggets at Chick-fil-A (to be sure, that is a very upsetting circumstance) people were angry. You’ve seen it. Furious parents yelling obscenities at their children (I’ve seen this more times at Walmart than I can count). Fuming drivers roaring into road rage (I had a guy wave at me yesterday using only one finger. I don’t think he was telling me I was #1 in his book). People are so quick to spout off their disgust on social media and no one is exempt from the vitriol postings. Never in my life have I seen such disrespect and low regard for nearly everyone. “Accuse. Bash. Condemn” are our new A-B-C’s.

We can blame bad politics, injustices, pandemics, and any other societal ills for the pervasive angst. But the real problem is a shortage of the Spirit of God living and working in the hearts of women and men. The old timers would say, “We need a Holy Ghost revival.” They aren’t wrong. We need a massive movement of the Spirit of God.  

But where do we begin? The anger and self-righteousness is so pervasive. Where does one start? How can a Holy Ghost movement sweep across the land? Should we pitch a tent on a vacant lot and start a revival meeting?  Do we buy billboards in every city posting the slogan, “Got Spirit?” Do we start a massive phone spam campaign like those who are wanting us to buy car warranties? (does anyone ever buy a car warranty from those people?). 

Let’s not do any of those things. Instead let’s pray this simple prayer: 

“Lord, start the revival in me. In me, Lord, in me. Amen.” 

That’s it. No tents, billboard or spam campaigns. Start the work in me. Make me into the vessel of your love. Fill me. Empower me. Use me.  Let us be the fruition of Paul’s prayer for the Romans: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13). 

How will the shortage of Fruit of the Spirit be remedied?  One Fruit-filled believer at a time. Start it in me, Lord, in me. 

The greatest force for good in the world is the local church

It’s not the government (no matter which country’s flag happens to fly over you)

It’s not a corporation.

It’s not a service organization or NGO

It’s not even a denomination.

The local church is greatest force for good in the world.

It’s the local foot soldiers in the Lord’s Army, who come together weekly for a sweet fellowship, anointed worship and spirit empowered rejuvenation. Once inspired these “boots-on-the-ground” march into our dark world wearing the full armor of God and sharing the light of Jesus. It’s the redeemed reaching the rebellious; the faithful seeking the faithless; and the liberated showing the road to freedom to the slaves of this world. It’s people filled with the love of Jesus caring for their neighbors. It’s pastors and others tending to the sick and lonely. It’s followers of Jesus sharing the love, justice and compassion that they have experienced to those who have yet to discover the transformative grace of the Lord. Then it’s coming back together in the local church as Sunday rolls into the next week to be invigorated and readied to get back into the fray once more.

Local churches are the ones following the command of Jesus to make disciples. It’s the local church that is baptizing these new followers. The local church that is teaching newbies in the ways of Christ. It’s local food pantries feeding the hungry. Local ministries that are making a difference. No other agency, program, government entity or denominational initiative is doing these things so well in so many places. The local church is the listening, learning, loving agent of Christ throughout the world. 

But local churches can be messy. Everyone doesn’t think alike, look alike, vote alike, like the same music or leisure activities. Members don’t even agree theologically always about the small stuff (the big stuff like “Jesus is Lord!” on that we completely agree!). But together, the local church says, “Let’s make our little corner of the world, a little bit more like heaven.” They pray that God’s Kingdom would come and His will done in their locality as it is in heaven. The forces of hell are putting up a fight, but the King of Heaven is greater. He empowers us collectively to break the gates of hell and rescue the perishing.  He calls us jointly to be his instrument in the world. (Notice the lack of pluralization of the word “instrument” was intentional). To be most effective, the local church must be one. One Lord. One baptism. One body. One task of winning our world for Jesus!

The local church enables us to do what we can’t do alone. We need Jesus and we need each other. When Jesus is holding one hand and our local church body holding the other, we will see the mountains of sin, injustice and corruption moved. We’ll see the evil forces flee. We’ll see God’s kingdom come.

The local church, at its best, is the greatest force for good in the world!

Famous Mother’s Quotes (If They Lived during the Covid Pandemic)

Colonel Sander’s mom: I’d don’t care, how good the chicken is—stop lickin’ your fingers.

Jesse James’ mom: Not just in the bank, wear your mask all over town, young man.

Charles Pfizer’s mom: The “P” is silent but you are not. Quiet down, I’m watching Wheel of Fortune (fyi… Charles Pfizer lived from 1824-1906. I’m not sure Wheel of Fortune had premiered yet.).

Macbeth’s Mom: Wash your hands (a little Shakespearian humor)

Neil Armstrong’s mom: What do I have to do to keep you from going into crowds? Send you to the moon?

Chuck Noland’s Mom (the guy Tom Hanks portrayed in Castaway): Quit complaining about being alone. At least Wilson didn’t talk back. Try quarantining with a fifth grader who has no interest in learning math and you have no idea how to teach it.

George Costanza’s mom: If you are going to be a hand model make sure you use hand sanitizer. Oven mitts and hand sanitizer. (Obscure Seinfeld referenced joke).

Mike Tyson’s mom: You think that heavyweight hits hard, wait until that lil’ nurse gives you two jabs in the arm.

Bill Gates’ mom: If you thought the Windows 97 virus was bad…

Luke Skywalker’s mom: The Pfizer is strong in this one.

Those are all dumb.  

This Sunday is my annual Tie Wearing Sunday, aka Mother’s Day. I preach in a tie to honor my mom (she liked it when I would wear a tie). Now that she’s in heaven, I doubt that she cares that I have a tie on or not. Still I wear one to remember her. Hope you can honor your mom or the special ladies in your life—one of the best ways is bring them (or join them) in church.  

Divorcing the Bride of Christ (the Church) and Why I can’t do it

Who’s NOT coming back to church? That’s the big question many churches are asking these days as life is slowing getting back to normal. Some of those who aren’t coming back have…

  • gotten used to watching on-line.
  • used the pandemic as opportunity to shop around for another church.
  • extreme health risks and are still uncertain of the safety of gathering in crowds.

But the majority of the non-returners (from my observation and conversations) are those who have concluded that the Church offers no reason for them to return. If the Church is the Bride of Christ (it is) then these folks are heading to divorce court. The reasons for this divorce (in their minds) are irreconcilable differences. The Church has (pick your poison) become too political (a valid complaint), not political enough (a valid complaint), full of hypocrites (true since the earliest church: see Ananias and Sapphira, in other words, a valid complaint), not relevant (often true), and an assortment of other reasons (my personal favorite: the preacher stinks). Many of those complaints are legitimate evaluations of the most recent Americanized version of the Church and its preachers. 

Still I can’t divorce her. Here’s why: If Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church is his Bride, and if Jesus is living in me, then how in names of all the fake and phony prophets (too numerous to count) can I divorce the Bride? I am called to love her (warts and all). Yes, she has problems. She’s not perfect. Far from it. The Church includes me and (this is not breaking news) I am far from perfect too. (I can show you emails and/or the social media posts from folks vouching for my imperfections). Still, if Jesus loves the less-than-spotless Church, then I had better love her too.

Like in a marriage, I am called to love the Bride and help her in any way that I can. Like a dress maker or beautician who readies a bride for her wedding, we are called to beautify the Bride through our loving actions.  The Bride of Christ is not looking like a beauty queen these days. As a result, it’s our job not to abandon her in her time of need but to seek her beauty once more. Make her better. Pray for her. Notice her shortcomings (not turning a blind eye) but determine to be a part of the solution in a godly, fruit-of-the-spirit kind of way (not in a pot-shots-on-social-media-while-slamming-the-door-behind-us sort of way). We must elevate and edify her, if we want her to bloom once more.

Divorce her?  It’s not an option, not as long as the Bridegroom is living in me.

The Tale of Two Clinics

My neurologist’s office is a stone’s throw away from the Planned Parenthood clinic in Ann Arbor. I arrived early for my appointment yesterday, so I drove by the clinic. It hadn’t opened yet. There was an unmanned mini van parked on the road covered with messages about abortion not being the answer. A small yard sign in the bushes out front urged people to not talk with the protesters. It was too early for protesters. Too early for ladies making that difficult decision that led them to this building. I was saddened as I drove through the circle drive outside of the clinic.

I tried to imagine all the women who have entered scared, worried, regretful, heartbroken, and hurting. Some probably thought that abortion was their only option. Many come alone. I don’t know anyone who looks forward to entering this place. I tried to imagine all the little lives, precious and loved by God, fearfully and wonderfully made that will never breathe, smile and experience life on earth. 

The parking area was empty. It was just me and Jesus. I prayed that God would comfort the ladies who were grieving and overwhelmed by their decisions. I prayed that a loving follower of Jesus would come along side these women and shower them with love of a forgiving Savior. I prayed that abortion would end in our land. There are so many factors that contribute to women entering this place, I prayed that God would help us and forgive our sins. I prayed and prayed and prayed.

Sometimes that’s the best thing we can do.

After my appointment, I drove back to Central church. The Peak (our gym facility) parking lot was filled. On Wednesdays, Central church hosts the Genesee County Health Department as a vaccination clinic. 1200 people (or so) entered our building, greeted by the prettiest greeter (it was Karla), passing a sign inviting them to Central church, and ready to get vaccinated. 

Most people coming to this clinic are happy to be there. Maybe nervous about needles (no one likes to get a shot); maybe concerned about the possible side effects; still they are glad to be there. They would exit our building with a Band-Aid on their shoulder and hope that the pandemic is one more shot closer to being over. 

Again, I prayed.

I prayed for all who entered that they would be well. I prayed for the volunteers inside. I prayed that the vaccines would work. I prayed that the pandemic would end. I prayed for those who have decided that vaccines are not best option for them at this time. I prayed for comfort for those families who have been so terribly affected by Covid—either through loss, loneliness, depression or some other hardship. I prayed and prayed and prayed.

Sometimes that’s the best thing we can do. 

Yesterday I drove by two clinics. I’m no doctor. As such, I can’t give medical advice (should you get a vaccine? Ask your doctor), but spiritual advice. If given the chance, I would tell the ladies exiting the first clinic, “God loves you.” And I’d tell those exiting the second clinic, “God loves our world.” And I can pray. That’s what I did. I prayed for both clinics and the people entering and exiting. That’s the best thing I can do.

Get Rid of Your Mask (this article isn’t what you think it is)

Upon entering Karla’s car this week, I counted that she has eleven face masks in her vehicle (not counting the package of disposable facemasks). Eleven. The number of disciples after the demise of Judas and before the addition of Matthias. E-Leven?!

I can assure you she is not Hyrdra (this is a reference to the Greek mythological creature that had nine heads). Even if she was some sort of socially distancing Hyrdra, she’d still have two masks to spare. I asked the logical question: Why does anyone need eleven facemasks in their motor vehicle?

Karla’s excuses (I mean explanation) included: some masks are her mom’s (legitimate excuse), some masks are for friends (the disposable ones) and the majority are waiting to be worn based on the outfit she is wearing. Apparently, the facemask is a fashion statement. Who knew? I grab a facemask based on which one looks the cleanest. Color, fancy designs and/or gospel messaging are not a deciding factor. My thinking in picking a face mask is: “This one doesn’t look like I used it as a Kleenex, in a war zone while cleaning my vacuum cleaner. I’ll take it.” 

File the previous few paragraphs under the heading: The Difference Between Men and Women in a Pandemic.

Why write about my wife’s eleven facemasks? No matter which hill you stand upon in the Great Pandemic Facemask Debate, we are all getting tired of wearing masks (I heard that “Amen.”). But here’s my desire and prayer: Long after the pandemic is in our rear-view mirror and masks are no longer required, may we also leave behind some of our other mask-wearing ways. I’m not talking about the cloth that covers our nose and mouth, but the masks we wear when we are not being our true selves. The masks we put on when we say, “We’re fine,” when we are hurting and need a friend. The mask we wear when we try to fit in with the crowd, and the other mask we put on when around our Christian friends. The mask that tries to communicate, “I’ve got everything together,” instead of the reality that is “I need Jesus.”

People have been wearing masks to cover up their true self long before Covid. Let’s remove those masks and be like Jesus. Paul’s instructions to the Galatians: All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-27). Moreover, when life gets back to normal (and it will one day) instead of masks, let’s wear the attributes that Paul gave to the Colossians: As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12). 

Putting on Christ and wearing the attributes of Christ-likeness is what our world needs most—pandemic or no pandemic.

Baptism Sunday: If you’ve had a change of heart; Bring a change of clothes

Death is our greatest foe. We don’t like it. We don’t even like saying the word. Instead, we will use a variety of terms to describe death without saying the “D” word. 

Passed on, 

croaked, 

kicked the bucket, 

passed to his eternal reward, 

met his maker, 

checked out, 

pushing up daisies, 

called home, 

was a goner, 

bit the dust, 

gave up the ghost, 

left this world, 

no longer with us, 

bought the farm, 

with the angels, 

time was up, 

cashed in, 

crossed over Jordan,

withered away, 

gave it up, 

that’s all she wrote,

went to be with Jesus,

it was curtains, and 

promoted to Glory. 

I’m sure there are more ways to say it. We know it our head the cliché about death and taxes. We all have an expiration date. We can know it intellectually. Still, we humans try to avoid it. 

Maybe that’s why I love Easter (He is risen!) and why I love the meaning and symbolism of baptism so much. Easter tells the world that Jesus has defeated death (He is risen, indeed). Baptism tells the world that death has been defeated in us. Baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace. We were dead. Now, thanks to the Resurrected Lord, we are alive! Paul said it this way in Romans 6: We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4). 

We enter the waters of baptism as people sinking deep in sin. Death’s reality is only a matter of time. We are doomed, drowning in the all of life’s turmoils. In baptism, as the water is applied, it symbolizes that in Jesus we have new life! Jesus has washed our sins away! Death and sin have lost their power over us. We have a new community in the church and a new reality of life everlasting. I just love baptisms!

It’s news so good that we need to share it. That’s why we have public baptisms. We want the world to know, we have decided to follow Jesus. I’m a new person. The old is gone the new has come. Shout it from the mountain topes: Jesus has made me new!

It’s not too late for you to be baptized this Sunday at Central Church. If you have had a change of heart, bring a change of clothes with you on Sunday. Call the church and speak to a pastor today. We’d love for you to share what Jesus has done in your life in getting baptized this week!

Does the Church of the Nazarene need to be in Hospice? A Conversation Between her Family and her Doctor

Family: Is she dead?

Doctor: I’m not a medical examiner. She’s not dead, but she doesn’t look good.

Family: Are you telling us, she needs to be on hospice care? Keep her comfortable until she dies? Is that it, doc?

Doctor: I’m not a palliative care specialist either. I’m saying there’s a chance for her to survive but it won’t be quick or easy.  Radical surgeries and treatments will need to take place, and even then, there is no guarantee she will make it.

Family: What kind of surgeries are we talking about?

Doctor: Well for one there is a heart problem. It’s divided. It’s divided on so many levels. For her to get well, unity must happen. Someone Great once said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”

Family: Can’t you just fix it, Doc? Open heart surgery. Sew it up and make it better?

Doctor: It’s a big procedure. This heart condition didn’t happen overnight, and won’t be cured with a snap of the fingers. 

Family: What’s the remedy?  

Doctor: She needs to change her intake and training. A steady diet of the Fruit of the Spirit is the best medicine. The fruit of the Spirit each day keeps the carnality away. Instead of attacking her own, she needs to exercise patience, practice understanding and have a daily workout of prayer. 

Family: She’s lethargic, empty or maybe “stale” is the word.

Doctor: Not surprising. Does she talk about the “good old days”?

Family: All the time. She’s not the fireball she was in her youth. She tells when she would be showered with blessings. That doesn’t happen anymore. 

Doctor: A fresh anointing of the Spirit is the best medicine. But that takes confession of one’s failures and admitting short comings, that’s a remedy that is hard to swallow for many.

Family: That will cure what ails her?

Doctor: That’s a start. The daily infusion of the Holy Spirit and the cleansing power brought is the answer to many of these issues. She will also need a Ponce de Leon treatment administered as soon as possible

Family: Ponce de Leon? 

Doctor: Surely, you’ve noticed, she’s not getting younger. Like all things, there is a life cycle in churches and if a youth movement doesn’t happen soon she will die. It’s only a matter of time.

Family: We have noticed, how do we say this?  She’s not cool. At least not as cool as other places and that’s probably why her youth is fleeting.

Doctor: Pardon me for saying, but your attitude is part of the problem. Who needs cool? She doesn’t. Skinny jeans and smoke machines aren’t the answer. Instead of cool, she needs to get warm. Friendly. It takes empathizing with today’s youth, and recognizing the complexities of living in today’s world. It’s welcoming all saints and sinners. It’s being a family again. Not a perfect family, whose family is? But a satisfying, loving, serving, forgiving family. 

Family: Are you saying, she needs a makeover?

Doctor: There’s no question she needs to be made new. But I know a Specialist, we call Him “the Great Physician,” He specializes in revitalizing dry bones and springing life from barren ground. 

Family: Will she make it, doc?

Doctor: I guess that’s up to you. The Great Physician can make it happen. Will you allow the healing and help to begin?

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

In Bible times, discerning God’s will was easier than today. I’ve never… 

  • heard God’s audible voice like James, Peter and John (see Matthew 17:5)
  • seen God write on the walls. (See Daniel 5). 
  • received an angelic message like so many people in the Bible.
  • had a donkey talk to me. Not an actual donkey, anyway. I’ve had a few people that one could argue had donkey-like attributes, but never had an encounter like Balaam in Numbers 22.
  • experienced a vision or dream where I could outright proclaim was a message from on high and not the pepperoni pizza from the previous night.
  • walked with Jesus. Literally. In Galilee. I was born approximately 1950 years and half a world away to hear with my own two ears the words written in red in my Bible. I haven’t been able to ask Jesus a direct question– like the Pharisees, the disciples, Pilate and even the devil—and receive a direct answer.

Some people have had those things happen. Not me. I do believe God wants what’s best for me (insert quote from Romans 8:28 here). God has a plan and a future for me (insert Jeremiah 29:11 here.). Clinging to those verses while realizing that God hasn’t directly voiced his plans to me through any of the above methods, allows me to conclude that God is not like an architect. He’s more like a football coach.

Architects draw up blueprints (FYI… I thought if we wanted one of our boys to be an architect, then we would have to name him “Blue.” Blue Prince –blueprints… get it?  Karla didn’t think it was funny either. Our sons’ names are Alex and Ben and neither one of them is an architect. I rest my case.). Architects draw up blueprints and builders follow them to the letter. Blueprints (for the most part) are inflexible. If the builder doesn’t follow it exactly there could be big trouble. The goal is to build a strong, beautiful building. If the architect is competent, following the blueprints precisely is the way to achieve that goal.

Football coaches draw up game plans. The good coaches know that a game plan must be flexible. If the defense lines up all of their players to stop the run, let the quarterback throw the ball. If the defense is expecting a pass, let the QB run it. The game plan might change as the circumstances of the game changes. Game plans change in mid-game, if needed, in order to win the game.

God is more like a football coach than an architect. God leaves room for wrestling over a decision, reading Scripture, talking with trusted Christian friends, using our brains, and seeking His peace in prayer. The plan for your life might not include a hard and fast decree (like in an architect’s drawings), instead it might be more flexible with two equally good options. God promises to help you discern the game plan and move confidently forward in either endeavor. 

When making big decisions you might not have an angel telling you to high tail it to Egypt because a crazy king wants to kill your baby (like what happened to a young couple from Nazareth years ago), but as you earnestly seek the Lord’s direction, God’s peace will come. Paul knew this to be true when he wrote to the church at Philippi these words: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

There is a word for experiencing a “peace that passes all understanding” and enjoying the adventure (sometimes unknown) along the way. It’s “faith.” Faith that Jesus will get you across the goal line as you hear those glorious words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”  With that game plan, you cannot lose.