But What if I’m Wrong…

Was the Apostle Paul ever wrong? Well, he was human, so I am certain he made mistakes. Who was right and who was wrong in Paul’s disagreement with Barnabas in Acts 15?  Then there is the curious passage in Acts 16 which suggests Paul got his wires crossed.

Luke wrote, “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. (Acts 16:6-8)

What does it mean “having been kept by the Holy Spirit” in verse 6 and “they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to” in verse 7? Sounds like Paul and friends mistakenly went one direction, then the Lord prompted them to go another way. They listened to the Spirit and were successful because they did. This is the “Macedonia call” passage, which prompts Paul to begin the evangelization of Europe. Good thing Paul listen to the Spirit!

My point is sometimes leaders can be wrong (even Paul). Sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes they think they should go one way and (if they are listening) the Lord prompts them to go in a completely different direction. Good leaders listen. Learn. Change direction if necessary. Then move forward.

I’ve been wrong plenty of times. I’ve made my share of mistakes in pastoring. I’ve spoken when I should have been silent. I’ve been silent when I should have spoken. I’ve written blogs (ahem) that I regret writing. I’ve been wrong before and I’m pretty sure I will make mistakes in the future. I wish that were not the case, but it is. This is not news to anyone who knows me, I am not perfect (ahem again… neither are you). 

What does one do after making a mistake? It begins with listening to the prompting of the Spirit. What follows is the “Triple A Challenge,”

Admit any wrong doing (either sins of commission or omission).
Accept responsibility for any hurt that may have occurred.
Apologize (if needed) in word and deed.

Assuming we are not talking about a sinfulness that disqualifies a person from Christian service, mistakes in judgment, direction and focus occur in the church. Following the mistaken person’s “Triple A,” all involved need to forgive, accept forgiveness and move forward. 

Let’s acknowledge following the “Triple A Challenge” is not easy. It usually involves swallowing pride. Being humble. And most importantly, not repeating those mistakes again. In other words, it involves learning. Let’s also acknowledge it’s not always easy to forgive either. The steps following sins/mistakes/errors are tough all the way around—but necessary.

Last time I checked, we are all human (leaders included). Humans make mistakes (leaders too). Humans don’t always think through all the consequences of their words and actions (yup, including those in authority). Humans act like humans. Ugh. Sometimes it’s such a hassle to be a human. But we are what we are—this side of heaven. As such, when a person (leader or otherwise) takes the difficult, necessary Triple A Challenge, then let’s then cut each other some slack. 

The golden rule has not changed in the social media world (maybe it’s more needed than ever). “Do unto others, as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). Let’s follow that when people (including leaders) make and admit mistakes; and let’s follow that even when they don’t.

What will Destroy the Church of the Nazarene? 

Politics (church variety)? There’s always been church politics, just ask Mathias in Acts 1. Make no mistake, church politics will be alive and well at the upcoming Nazarene General Assembly, but that was probably the case at Pilot Point too.

Politics (national interest’s variety)? There has always been that too—maybe it’s not been as divisive as it is today, but national politics have seeped its way into the church from the beginning. Often to its detriment, but not to its demise.

Sanctification? The adherence to our “cardinal doctrine” has changed. Entire sanctification is not preached as much. It’s not talked about as much. A case could be made, because of that, the Church of the Nazarene is weakened, but that’s not what will kill the church.

Alcohol? Is asking in some Macbeth-ian sort of way “To drink or not to drink?” going to kill the church? No, that ship has sailed and the church still stands.

LBGTQ+ issues? In spite of the 97% approval at the 2017 General Assembly, the discussions surrounding the Nazarene stance regarding paragraph 31 (Human sexuality) are real, but they are symptoms of the issue but not the real issue. 

Fundamentalism? That’s the opposite side of the same LBGTQ+ symptomatic coin. Discussions surrounding “anti-wokism” in the church, Christian nationalism and the rest are symptoms not the issue.

Social Media? Social Media is a tool. It may speed the demise along with its far-reaching dissemination of information (false and true). Social media is the lighter fluid, not the fire.

Heavy handed leadership? Power grabs are nearly as common as air. Why are there are more than 45,000 denominations in the world?  Someone else wanted to be in charge.

What is the real tripping point for the Church of the Nazarene?

It’s the via media, middle-of-the-road stance of Article Four regarding the Holy Scriptures. The Church of the Nazarene stands or falls on its view of scripture. Hear me, I’m not advocating a change in Article Four, but rather simply stating the tension regarding scripture leads to, well, tension. There are plenty of people who can’t exist in this middle path. 

Article Four states that Nazarenes believe the Bible is “inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation.” Here’s the issue: Who decides what is “necessary to our salvation.” The individual? The denomination? Your “all things necessary” and my “all things necessary” might lead to two very different conclusions. That’s exactly what has the United Methodists to become the Divided Methodists. Their statement of scripture, similar to the Church of the Nazarene’s, has led to irreconcilable differences with in their ranks. Will we be next?

A denominational divorce does not have be the future. From an outsider, overly-simplistic view, what has led to the Methodists demise is a that the bishops stopped adhering to the church’s stated beliefs regarding “all things necessary.”  Once that happened, the end was near. Was the purpose of the recent BGS infamous memo an attempt to shore up the “all things necessary” question concerning the church’s doctrine? Who knows?

For the Church of the Nazarene to survive, it will fall on the senior leadership (read: General Superintendents and Regional Directors) and middle managers (read: Field Strategy Coordinators and District Superintendents) to know what we believe, why we believe it and be united as we live within the confines of the tension (emphasis on: “live within the confines of the tension”). Falling into one side ditch or the other (a Progressive-type of Christianity or Fundamentalism) will be the demise of the church. We need leaders who understand the tension of “all things necessary” and can navigate the future sticking points down the middle road without veering into the left or right ditches. 

This week’s BGS dust up over a memo is ultimately an “all thing things necessary” question. Will we land in the via media? Only time will tell.

Is the Church of the Nazarene an “Old Wineskin”?

“No one pours new wine into old wineskins,” Jesus taught some 2,000 years ago. “Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins” (Mark 2:22).

New wine was from freshly squeezed grapes. Since new wine continues to ferment once placed in a container, Jesus is using a very well understood practice of the time to remind his listeners of the foolishness of placing the fermenting wine into a container that is old and rigid. The wine will continue to ferment and expand whether in new or old wineskins. As such, as the formation process happens, the old wineskins will crack or burst, the wine leak out and all would be ruined.

This short statement has since become one of the more famous sayings of our Christ. What’s the significance of new wine in old or new wineskins for us? There is debate over what exactly is the “new wine” that’s being placed in the “old wineskins.” Maybe that’s a discussion for another day. I’d rather focus on the old wineskin.

Central church is over 100 years old (established in 1920); as is the Church of the Nazarene (established in 1908).  We’ve been around awhile. That could qualify as an old wineskin material. As such, it would be easy to hold tightly to our old wineskin ways, to reminisce of the good old days and all the good old wine (in a Nazarene sort of way) and become rigid, ineffective and useless.

NOTE: The new wine being placed in the old wineskins in Jesus story, wasn’t different from the new wine that had been placed in the wineskins in year’s past (that is the content hadn’t changed). What changed was the old, rigid wineskin. 

As a church, to be effective, we need to be flexible (again not regarding our content), but in our delivery.  Our adaptability to changing times is critical to our usefulness. In other words, the things that worked in 1920 or 1908, aren’t going to work today. My goodness, the things that worked 10 years ago, aren’t going to work today. In the whirlwind world in which we live, everything is changing every couple of years. As a church, we must be supple. Open to new ways of delivering the Gospel message. Let’s not rigidly hold onto the ways of the past. Let’s not hold so tightly to the old wineskin that the message can no longer be delivered.  

The implied message of Jesus that pertains to a 100+ old church is simply this: If the old wineskins don’t work anymore, God Almighty will find new wineskins to deliver the same content. It’s true. Look around. There are empty or repurposed churches everywhere (the church I grew up in is now a doctor’s office). If the wineskins grow old, God will fill up new wineskins. Moreover, what is true for individual congregations is true for denominations too. We are watching in real time the death of denominations. Let that not be us.

Let’s pray that in spite of our age we don’t become an old wineskin. Let’s not hold so tightly to the past, that we have no future.

When Mass Shootings and a Pro Life Position Collide

Fact 1: A “mass shooting” is defined as an incident where there are several victims of gun violence.
Fact 2: In the United States, there have been 146 mass shootings in 2023 (not in the last 23 years or 23 months, in the first 100 days of this year). Last year there were 647 mass shootings in the United States. 
Fact 3: These 2023 mass shootings have occurred in a bank, a Christian school, a University campus (where I know the interim president and students who were on campus), a dance hall, farms, homes, you name it.
Fact 4: In the United States, the number one killer of those under 18 is gun violence.

Those aforementioned facts, make all Americans sick. It is a national disgrace. Here’s the problem: Often after a mass shooting, there is a pattern that we’ve followed. It goes like this: 

1. People die at the hands of a mad person. 
2. Thoughts and prayers.
3. People protest guns, gun laws and what we are doing to prevent such evil from happening.
4. One side says: Eliminate guns. 
5. The other side says: Have more police and better mental health awareness. 
6. There is an uproar on both sides on social media. 
7. The news cycle dies down.
8. Nothing happens.
9. Another shooting occurs and more people die. 
10. Repeat steps 2 through 10

I am Pro-life which means from the womb to the tomb. I am pro-life. Every single life should have a chance to live. 

Born into good situations.
Tragically born into not-so-good situations.
Good People. 
Bad People. 
Old People.
All People.
Kids in school.
Workers in a bank.
People within their homes, churches, stores and workplaces.

In other words, it’s not up to me who lives and who dies. Live and let live is my motto and, I’m pretty sure, it’s God’s motto too (see Deuteronomy 30:19). This means that violence, all violence, is abhorrent to God Almighty. Naturally, being Pro-life through and through, informs my view on assault rifles too.

Moreover, changing gears slightly, in the Church of the Nazarene where I pastor, we’ve decided the best way help those who struggle with alcohol is to advocate for abstinence. We don’t think having a glass of wine sends a person to hell (FYI…Jesus turned six jugs of water into wine). But in our world, where alcohol has had such devastating effects on individuals, families and society, we’ve chosen to side with those who struggle. If drinking alcohol causes someone who struggles to fail, then we say, “we willing give up alcohol.” In other words, if our “sacrificing” alcohol helps someone in harm’s way and helps society, it’s a no-brainer. We will sacrifice alcohol.

Why bring up alcohol when talking about guns and being pro-life?

The same reasoning should apply to assault rifles. Like our stance on alcohol, if we err, we should err on the side of helping those who struggle. Being pro-life and pro-active means if we err, let us err on the side with those with mental health issues who need love and care so they don’t pick up an assault weapon (or any weapon). Let us also err on the side of those on the other side of those assault weapons, the victims of violent crime.  Can’t we say like in the case of alcoholism, our society is drunk on weapons. Owning an assault rifle doesn’t send anyone to hell, but we willing “sacrifice” those weapons for the good of victims and society.  

Pro-life in a violent society, means for the good of society we act. We love. We sacrifice. We do whatever it takes to curb the death and destruction. Pro-life people need to rise up and are advocates for life in all circumstances – especially as it relates to violence in any of its forms. Pro-life means just that… all people should have the freedom to live.  

Sizing up the Easter Crowd with an Important Message.

There were a lot of people in church on Sunday morning—the post-Covid crowd is not quite at pre-Covid numbers, but it was bigger than it has been the last few years.  Here’s the list of who was in church and my message for each group.

Out-of-towners (Visiting relatives, college students returning): Hey, glad you were with us and when you are in town: Keep Coming! 

Faithful-Every-Single-Sunday-ers: We couldn’t get things done without you. Until Jesus returns: Keep Coming!

Regularl-Attenders-First-Class (most always in church): We are blessed by you and all the things you do. Keep Coming!

Regular-Attenders-Second-Class (in church, if nothing better is going on):  Church is high on your list just maybe not at the top of the list, I hope you will see there is nothing better than praising Jesus: Keep Coming! 

Regular-Attenders-Third-Class (A stranger came up to me one January telling me she “regularly” attends church– I had never seen her before– she concluded, “Yeah, I attend Christmas Eve Service “regularly.” She wasn’t joking): Keep Coming— maybe even more “regularly.”

First-Time-Back-From-Covid-ers: Yup, these folks are still trickling in. “Welcome! You’ve been missed. Keep coming!

Been-Watching-Online-ers: Hey, glad you stepped in the building!  Keep Coming!

Still-Watching-Online-ers: Glad you are joining us, when ready: Start Coming!

Kickers-and-Screamers: I get it. You were dragged or “guilted” to church by a parent or spouse on Easter, but worship wasn’t so bad, was it? Keep Coming!

Used-to-Attenders: Don’t you miss it? Keep Coming!

Came-to-the-wrong-church-ers: Your friends invited you to their church; you got your directions messed up; and ended up in ours. It was not accident. Keep Coming!

Checking-you-out-ers: Hope you liked the service! If not try us again, you’ll like us next time (I hope). In other words: Keep coming!

Far-Far- Far-From-Jesus-ers: You sensed Jesus in the service, didn’t you? He is faithful and He was with us.  You might not even want to admit it, or maybe rationalize it away, but deep down, you saw something that was real, so: Keep Coming! 

To all who gathered on Easter Sunday my message is the same: Keep Coming!

When Holy Week and Opening Day Baseball Collide

Today is Opening Day of Tiger baseball at CoMerica Park in Detroit at 1:10PM. It is also Maundy Thursday and Central Church’s Service at 6:30PM. I plan on being at both. 

I don’t know why the powers-that-be put Opening Day on Maundy Thursday. Doesn’t Chris Ilitch (the owner of the Detroit Tigers) know I need to be at church for the 6:30 service? He didn’t call to ask (he doesn’t call me on other baseball matters either, believe me, I could tell him a thing or two). How rude!

It’s happened before—Holy Week and Opening Day baseball. 2018. Opening Day. Tie game. Tigers might win. Might lose. Ninth inning and…. fiddle-sticks (does anyone under 70 besides me say, “fiddle-sticks”?), we have to leave the game to get back to the church (that was a Good Friday Opening Day because the scheduled Maundy Thursday game had been rained out). We left the game, but followed on the radio on the drive back to the church. The Tigers should have won in the tenth inning. Everyone thought they won. The team came on to the field to celebrate, but upon further review the umpires robbed the victory. The game went into the 13th inning, when a Pittsburgh batter hit a homer and the Tigers lost. Yes, I’m still bitter.). All that to say, Opening Day and Holy Week have collided once again, and for this baseball-fan-preacher, it’s a scheduling quagmire.

There’s quite a contrast between Maundy Thursday and Opening Day.

Opening Day at CoMerica has hope and anticipation. The Tigers might stink in the end, but on Opening Day there is hope. Maybe the team will shock the world. Maybe their young players will figure out how to hit and pitch. Maybe, just maybe, in my wildest dreams, there will be a parade in Detroit in October celebrating an unbelievable Tigers’ World Series win.

Maundy Thursday commemorates that night that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, instituted the Lord’s supper, told us to love one another, was betrayed and then arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. The night ends with hopelessness in many ways. The disciples scattered. Jesus alone facing the crucifixion.

Comparing a baseball game with Holy Week happenings is pure foolishness. Of course, baseball really means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Jesus means everything. What happens on a ballfield in Detroit in 2023 will not matter at the end of time. What happened on Golgotha outside of Jerusalem means everything. The baseball championship celebration parade on Woodward Avenue in October would not come close to the celebration of an empty tomb on that first Easter morning. That’s a celebration which has happened every Sunday since the resurrection and even more so on Easter Sundays like this week. 

You might miss the Opening Day gala at CoMerica Park today, but don’t miss Holy Week’s services. Starting with tonight’s remembrance and communion service, tomorrow’s Good Friday Tenebrae Service and, of course, Easter Sunday’s powerful celebration service. All are meaningful. All are good.

Say “Go Tigers” this afternoon if you want, but more importantly, say, “Go Jesus!” and invite your friends to join you in great remembrances and celebrations this week!

Nine Must Read Tips for an Effective Easter Sermon (Non-preacher-types please read too)

An Effective Easter sermon DOES NOT have to be…

1.) Flashy. It’s not about you. It’s about Jesus. Make Jesus known, not you. Elevate Jesus, not you. Have the people leave thinking Jesus is great… you got it… not you.

2). Funny. You are not Jim Gaffigan. Don’t try to be. 

3). Fiery. The “turn-or-you’re-gonna-burn,” “comply-or-you’re-gonna-fry,” “shake-or-you’re-gonna-bake” lessons are appropriate for a food network special not an Easter sermon.

4). Fluffy. Preach the Word. Folks didn’t come to hear Oprah. They came to hear about how the One crucified, now alive, can change their life.

5). Flamboyant. It’s not about you. (Hey, Isn’t that the point in Easter Sermon Tip #1? Yes, it is, but another reminder might be needed. It really is not about you!).

6). Filibuster-like. Let them drink from a fountain of living water, not douse them with an over-wordy fire hose. Long sermons are the remedy to insomnia. Be No-doze, not melatonin.

6). Forget-me-not-able. Let’s not kid ourselves, people will probably forget what’s said before the last devilled egg is eaten. It’s OK. God will bring what the congregant must remember exactly when the lesson is most needed.

7). Faultless. You’ll probably make a mistake. Say the wrong word. Forget a point. Hey, you’re human. Don’t sweat it. The congregation is made up of humans too. The only One in the room not human, the Holy Spirit, can use or correct any of your blunders. Relax!

8). Fabulous or fantastic. Do your best. Study. Pray. Study some more. Pray even more than study. “Fabulous or fantastic” is not the goal, instead…

The Effective Easter sermon DOES have to be…

1). Faithful.  That’s all. Just faithful. Be faithful. The Lord will use your faithful sermon offering for His glory. That’s the point anyway, isn’t it? It’s praying, “Not my words, but Your words be heard, O Lord!”

P.S. No need for alliteration in your sermon as this article so cleverly (ahem) has been arranged around the letter “F.” Just organize, plan and preach in a manner comfortable to you and the folks who are in the room.

P.S.S. Hey, non-preachers-types who have been eavesdropping on this lil’ article. Encourage your Easter preacher. Before the sermon pray for the preacher. During the sermon say things like, “Amen,” “preach it” or “that’s right.” After the sermon, pray that God would continue to use the message for His glory; and before walking out the church door look at the preacher and give a “thumbs up.” 

Relevant Churches in 2043 Will be Different from Today (and that’s not all bad)

There are many indicators that the church in America is teetering on the precipice of uncertain and unsteady future. Attendance is down. Those having no religious preference is up. Resources are down. The clergy is aging. Fewer men and women are seemingly called into vocational ministry. Will governmental restrictions and church taxation impact the church’s mission? The fear and trembling are asking what the church will look like in twenty years? Will there even be a church? 

Short answer: The Church (capital “C”) will survive, but many churches (small “c”) will not. 
Longer answer: Relevant churches in 2043 will…

1).  Preach Jesus. It’s the same message preached since the Resurrection and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against her. 

2).  Provide community. Social media has brought us knowledge, but we are less connected to one another. The relevant churches of tomorrow will fill this ever-widening void. 

3). Be good neighbors. Being “in the world” means finding and ministering to those the society and culture have forgotten or left behind. The Church has always flourished when it cared for the people on the margins. 

4). Emphasize holiness. Being “not of the world” means not being seduced by the cultural downward pull, instead it’s creating a new place of hope in our unholy world.

5). Be intergenerational. The church of tomorrow will honor the voices of the elderly and the young alike.

6).  Be less political. In a divided country, to reach 100% (not 50%) of the people we must not cater to any particular political party.

7). Have less resources. The tithe-first generation is dying off. Less in the offering plates and more in taxation equates to smaller buildings and budgets, more bi-vocational pastors and more lay driven ministries. 

8). Prioritize prayer. Above all, the church of tomorrow will need to be a praying people. Lose sight of prayer and all the above points will be moot. The complexities of tomorrow’s world will need the creativity of the Holy Spirit.

The mid-21st century Church will look different than today. There will be less clergy, smaller buildings, smaller crowds, smaller budgets, more lay-driven, (hopefully) more holy and will probably look more like the first century church. The Church will survive. Today’s version won’t endure and maybe that’s not all bad. 

Beat the rush. Start building a relevant 2043 model of ministry today.
Be alive once more.

How to Make Holy Week Holy

Next week is Holy Week. It is so called because we remember Jesus’ Triumphant Entry on Palm Sunday; receive communion on Maundy Thursday; look at the Cross on Good Friday; and celebrate the Resurrection on Easter morning. All of those are wonderful things in which to participate. But what if “Holy Week” meant we did holy things. What type of things? Holy week activities could include:

  • Sharing a meal with a lonely senior citizen.
  • Including a single person in a gathering.
  • Crying with a teenage girl whose heart is broken.
  • Playing catch with a boy or girl whose dad is out of the picture.
  • Praying with a teenage boy who is struggling with pornography.
  • Calling on a neighbor.
  • Loving a difficult person.
  • Sitting in silence (because no words are adequate) with the family of a suicide victim.
  • Empathizing with parents of wayward children.
  • Educating oneself on the immigration crisis on the border.
  • Reassuring someone with drug or alcohol issues that there is a better way.
  • Cleaning the restrooms at the church.
  • Writing a member of congress about gun violence.
  • Listening to a person who is struggling with their sexual identity.
  • Distributing Bibles in a VA hospital.
  • Grieving with those who grieve.
  • Learning about life from a member of a different race.
  • Volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center.
  • Encouraging a worn-out pastor.
  • Coloring eggs with the children of a single mom so she can get out of the house.
  • Sending in monies to help the Mississippi tornado victims.
  • Doing yard work for a disabled person.
  • Cheering for a teenager (who’s not a family member) in their school sporting activity
  • Leading your family in devotions.
  • Delivering care packages to the homeless.
  • Visiting a prisoner.
  • Inviting a friend to Easter Sunday services.

… and a million other things.

Let’s make Holy Week holy not simply because we attended a few extra services, but because we were also about the holy work of the Master.

Bad T-Shirt Theology 101

I saw a picture of a guy with a t-shirt that read: Love over Verses.

Makes sense Love over everything. It sounds right. God is love (1 John 4:8). Jesus calls us to love one another (John 13:34). Jesus told us that the greatest commandment is: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ’This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-38). Jesus also said we are to “Love our enemies” (Luke 6:27). It seems wherever one turns in scripture we are told to love. Love. Love. Love. Love over everything!

But wait a minute. I just gave verses to “prove” that “Love over verses” is valid. Umm… I think that disproves my point. The t-shirt is advertising a false dichotomy. I don’t have to choose love over verses. “Love” and “verses” are not mutually exclusive. 

We need to love. Of course. we need to love everybody. Without exception, we need to love. Anyone who has read the verses knows our mandate is to love. But let’s not discount that it is “the verses” which informs us of God’s love. It’s the verses that proclaim God’s love, mercy and grace. Let’s not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. 

We believe that the Bible is God’s word. The Inspired Word of God. It contains everything we need for salvation. One need not toss it aside in an effort to be more loving. Let’s allow the verses to inform our loving. Without the verses, how would we know how to love or who is deserving of our love (everybody)? 

Maybe his t-shirt should have read “Love over “cherry-picked” verses.”  One can prove or disprove just about anything in the Bible if one cherry picks verses here and there. When reading the whole of scripture, all the verses, it calls for us to love. We need not set up an artificial (and possibly damaging) argument that somehow the “verses” are against love. They are not. Love is what the verses proclaim. Let’s read the verses and then do what those verses say, that is, love everyone.