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.

Amen

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.

Church Complainers and Grumbler’s Beware!

The minster of the Gospel has many titles: pastor, preacher, shepherd, and clergyperson. The label not listed in your thesaurus under synonyms, is the one I like least: “church complaint department.” If something is happening in the church (be it good, bad, or indifferent), someone will complain. I would not be surprised that if some of my former parishioners (and maybe one or two current ones) had been in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, one of them would have complained that the noise of the rushing wind was too loud. Someone else would have complained that the tongues of fire made the room temperature rise to a very uncomfortable level. Maybe another grumbler would have even said, “Can you please speak English? All these different languages are very confusing.” Grumble. Grumble. Grumble.

James is pretty straight forward when he wrote: Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:9). James is serious. He sounds like when my dad told us for the fifth time to do something. If we didn’t jump to it, fed up with our laziness, he’d start to stand up from his Lazy-boy. I learned quick: dad’s getting up from his chair following a demand for a chore to be done (that wasn’t done in a timely manner), could end with a motivating swat to one’s backside. He was a “spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child” sort of guy. Dear Grumblers and Complainers take it from me, “The Judge is at the door” is code for: BEWARE! Stop doing what you are doing or else… 

Please note: I’m not talking about honest, kind, constructive criticism. Constructive criticism implies that one is working for a positive solution. When you are “constructing” a house, you are building something better on the property. “Constructive” is the key word in that phrase. Constructive criticism says, “Let’s look at our current reality and build something better.” That should happen in every church. Just like people, there are no perfect churches. Every church could improve and constructive criticism is the way to get there. It’s saying, “Here’s our reality, together, let’s make it better.” That’s a good thing.

Complaining and grumbling, on the other hand, simply says, “I don’t like it and let me tell you why… grumble, grumble, grumble.” There is no contribution for solving the (perceived?) problem. There’s no offers of help or the desire to have a meaningful discussion. Instead it’s more of a “We’ve-never-done-it-that-way” mindset, and “we-won’t-be-starting-now” bull-headedness. Grumble, grumble, grumble.

Complainers and grumblers inside the church do more damage to the church’s witness than those outside the church. Every time a church insider grumbles on social media, the Enemy wins a battle. When church outsiders see church insiders complaining and grumbling, they conclude, “Why go there? Whatever they are preaching/teaching must not help. The church goers are mean, complainers. I get enough of that nastiness at work and home. No thank you.”

Beware, church complainers, the Judge is standing at the door.

Pastors’ Post Traumatic Pandemic Stress Disorder (PPTPSD) is Real

Pastors’ Post Traumatic Pandemic Stress Disorder (PPTPSD) is real.  Pastors are battle weary. Disappointed and saddened by the extremists on both sides of the common issues have sucked the life out of the most devout clergyperson. Angry church folks seem eager to lob their hot potatoes in the pastor’s direction.  They come flying from the left and right. It seems that every day is a new fight. There’s always a new hill on which he/she is to die upon. It’s exhausting. Pastors’ Post Traumatic Pandemic Stress Disorder (PPTPSD) is no joke.

The PPTPSD pastor looks at the once occupied pews, and realizes that those who used to sit there have been tricked into making church attendance one of many options for a Sunday morning. If they are coming at all. Staring down empty seats, makes one question whether any difference was made prior to the pandemic. “Did I teach them anything? Was it in one ear and out the other? Was church attendance simply a showoff, look-at-me performance or sacred endeavor to meet regularly with God? What am I doing here?” 

The pastor suffering from PPTPSD looks at those same former occupiers of the pews and sees pictures on social media of them sipping coffee from a Bible verse inscribed mugs, spewing platitudes of godliness and telling their followers what’s wrong with the church. It creates more deep-in-your-gut-stress. 

Those fighting for their very survival see friends and colleagues who likewise suffered from PPTPSD, and threw up their hands and said, “it ain’t worth it.” They are now selling insurance, working at non-profits or Chick-Fil-A. Can anyone blame them? The corporate world offers non-believers who want to hear that Jesus is making all things new. Too often, the church world is filled with cynics who have been discipled by a news channel. How many times can pastors bang their heads up against that wall and not be affected?

Exhausted and beaten the PPTPSD pastor looks at the toll the past couple of years have taken on his/her family. They don’t like what they see. Their family is weary too. Is PPTPSD contagious? Apparently. The family’s question is: “Couldn’t you sell insurance too?  It has to be better than this.” It’s hard to argue to the contrary.

The PPTPSD pastor looked to denominational leadership for help. Too often those with the big desks are so intent to not rock anyone’s boat that they are eerily silent when needed most. Sitting in an ivory tour is safe when the world is crashing. But it’s not helpful to the struggling, in the trenches, clinging for their ecclesiastical life and sanity while trying to minister clergyperson. They plea, “Help us, help us.” Crickets. Silence.

What’s the answer to the PPTPSD pastor’s most honest and deepest question: How can I make it another day? Surprisingly, it is the same answer if asked on their most successful and wonderful day (it’s sounds Sunday-Schoolish): It’s Jesus. It’s still Jesus. Jesus must be the supreme focus. Nothing to the Right. Nothing to left. Just Jesus. Stay focused on Jesus.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28) The Pastors’ Post Traumatic Pandemic Syndrome Disorder sufferer needs to hear those words now again and again. Rest. Let Jesus give you rest. Rest might include a professional counselor. Rest might mean pausing ministry to focus on you and your family’s well-being. Rest might mean a lot of things. But it’s mostly a settled spirit from Jesus himself.

And maybe, who knows, while Jesus is comforting you, he just might make it uncomfortable for your absent or cynical or cable-news-immersed critics. Jesus has been known to flip some tables at the sight of posers. He’s done it before, He can do it again. Let Jesus take care of those folks and their hot-potato-lobbing ways. It’s not your job, Pastors’ Post Traumatic Pandemic Syndrome Disorder survivor. Jesus is near. Jesus hears. Hang in there. You’ll make it if you keep your eyes on Him.