Where have all the prophet’s gone? Has modern preaching failed us?

Few would argue that we are living in a post-Christian America. There is anger, envy, lust, pride, and greed on all sides. Like most previous generations, we look around at the dismal state of affairs in and out of the church and say, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.” Unlike most previous generations, very few prophets are emerging calling out our sin, directing us back to Jesus and toward the way of holiness.

Where are all the prophets?

My cynical view:
Truth telling is costly. Prophets and their families like to eat. Isaiah may have been an aristocrat. Amos wasn’t a prophet or the son of a prophet, his income probably came from sheep and figs. The Apostle Paul was a tent maker. Are modern would-be prophets silenced because they know where their paychecks are coming from and speaking out could jeopardize their livelihood? Have prophets been influenced by profits and loss?

Churches have enough trouble these days keeping members even without the preacher/prophet upsetting half the crowd. With less people attending, pastors feel pressured to keep all the folks they can. Has fear of emptying pews toned down the prophetic or controversial (yet Biblical) topics? There is no need for the devil’s temptations to be silent in the face of blatant sin when the prophetic voices are silenced by fear.

Do our preachers/prophets lack backbone?

It seems the few modern-day prophets (who are not afraid to speak truth) fall into one of these categories:

1) Retired Leaders. New-found boldness comes in direct proportion to their retirement from Big Wig status. With a secure retirement and no longer the subject of church votes, the formerly silent leaders can now utter all sorts of platitudes. Maybe the point is: Better late than never.

2) Pastors who are no longer pastoring. Disillusioned by the state of the politicized church, they have left the pulpit for another gig or have a spouse that makes a living wage. This newly voiced prophet (again unhindered by salary) will occasionally tweet or blog prophetic-like truths, but they have lost their pulpit, platform and much of their voice.

3) Pastors (usually from smaller churches) whose congregants have determined no matter what is said or written by the pulpit resident– they aren’t going anywhere. It was their church before the pot stirring pastor arrived and it will be their church after the pot stirring pastor leaves. Agree or disagree, they will wait him/her out. They’ll keep coming to church when the doors are open because that’s what they do. Of course, these small church truth tellers have a limited crowd.

That’s your list of modern day prophets. Prophets who need no money or prophets who have no audience.

Your cynical view:
“I don’t see you speaking up. I don’t see you calling out hypocrisy in the church, in politics and in our lives. I don’t hear your prophetic utterances that shake the rafters and cause a stir. You, sir, are the proverbial pot calling the kettle black.”

 My Confession:
I know. God help me, I know. I want to think that I am not afraid of half the congregation walking out following a biblical but unpopular message, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a concern. Pastors and would-be prophets (myself included) remember the words from Joshua: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

My Hope:
My fellow boomer and X-gen pastors, let’s not wait for someone else to pick up the prophetic torch in the days ahead (I’m looking at you, millennial pastors, and I believe in you!). Today. all pastors/prophets must follow Jesus’ example and boldly speak full of grace and truth (see John 1:14)! Pray for wisdom, strength and courage and go forth proclaiming the Gospel! This generation desperately needs us to regain our prophetic voice and proclaim the powerful message of Jesus. Don’t be quiet. Be brave! Be bold… and God will be with you wherever you go!

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How to Disarm Enemies and Disperse Haters in One Easy Step

We all know Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” but did he mean it? That’s the big question. If you say, “Yes, of course, Jesus meant it,” then it makes sense that the followers of Jesus would (I’m stepping out on a limb here) love our enemies.  Moreover, if followers of Jesus loved their enemies then those enemies wouldn’t be enemies, at least not for long. Love disarms hate. If I love them; work for their good; pray for their well-being, then I’m not behaving like an enemy but a friend.

I’m not totally naïve (just in case you are about to make such an accusation). Our former enemies might still consider us enemies. In fact, they might hate us; say and post hurtful things; and be divisive. But Jesus didn’t say, “Love your enemies as long as they reciprocate.” If our haters see us continue to love while they are still hating, then eventually they might conclude that we aren’t their enemy. Or maybe they will still hate. I can’t control them, only me.  But as I refuse to hate (you can’t spew hate and love someone too); stop lobbing mud (you can’t throw mud at someone you love); and am kind (love is kind, 1 Corinthians 13:4); then something changes. That something is me. I can’t view them as the enemy any longer.

In case you are wondering, “loving” does not equal “agreeing with.” I can love someone and not agree with their life choices. But in our disagreement, we don’t have to be disagreeable. Disagreeing does not mean disrespecting. Love does not dishonor others (1 Corinthians 13:5).

How this plays out in the real world goes against the mistaken notion that everything in life has to be “Us vs. Them.”  When social media blows up between Christians and others engaging in back and forth yapping, then the hate continues and enemies are still enemies.  Following the “Love your enemy” command means you can’t participate in a conversation like this:

“I hate you.”
“No, I hate you.”
“You are bad.”
“You are worse.”
“Blah, blah, blah…”

If you don’t think such banter exists (on a much more complicated and wordy level) then you haven’t spent much time on social media lately (congratulations for that, by the way). Malicious speech among all sides happens all the time. ALL. THE. TIME.

If love disarms hate, and If I am loving then…

LBGTQ people aren’t my enemy.
Immigrants aren’t my enemy.
Liberals aren’t my enemy.
Conservatives aren’t my enemy.
Other religion adherents aren’t my enemies.
Atheists aren’t my enemies.
Abortion rights advocates are not my enemy.
Pro-Life picket sign holders are not my enemy.
Democrats are not my enemy.
Republicans are not my enemy.

But Ohio State Buckeyes are still my enemy! Just kidding, even Buckeyes are not my enemy. Our Enemy is the Evil one. That’s it. When we engage in hate toward our enemies, he wins.  When we love our enemies, he loses. Simple. Let’s not let our true Enemy win. Instead, let’s do what Jesus said to do: In both our actions and attitudes, love our enemies (He really said it and he really means it).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are We More United Than You Are Led to Believe?

July 4th is the day we celebrate the United States of America. At times, you might get the impression that our nation’s name is the Divided States of America. I’m not naive. We aren’t perfect. We have our differences in the land that we love. What country doesn’t have problems? Our streets aren’t paved with gold and our gates aren’t made of pearls. As much as we pray that God’s kingdom would come and his will done on earth as it is in heaven, we aren’t there yet. But I’m an optimist. The squeaky wheels seem to get the media’s grease—but I like to think that most people aren’t like those squeaky wheels. Most people are good, honest and hard working. Most people have common sense. I want to side with most folks.

Most Americans like our diversity. Most folks know that God uniquely created us and gave us different gifts, ideas, abilities, talents, desires, and aptitudes. We don’t all look alike, think alike, dress alike, or like the same music or sports teams. That helps make life full and exciting instead of boring and stale.

Most churches are trying their best to serve God. Are there mean spirited churches or churches that have gotten off mission? Ugh…yes. But most love Jesus and love their neighbors.

Most folks understand that the content of one’s character not the color of one’s skin is what matters. Are there racists out there? Unfortunately. But let’s keep educating, working and singing until everyone believes: Red and Yellow, Black and White they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the children of the world.

Most police are doing a great job. Are there some bad apples?  Sure. There are bad preachers too and bad teachers and bad burger flippers and bad you name it.

Most people on-line like to share their joys, delights and maybe prayer requests. Are there cyber bullies? Not only cyber bullies, there are cyber goofballs, cyber knuckleheads and cyber what-were-you-thinking-for-posting-that. But most folks use social media to share victories not dance on other’s defeats.

Most people recognize that politics is necessary in a democracy (refer to the above statement on how we don’t all have the same ideas). For Christians, we put our hope in the Lamb, not the elephants or donkeys, but we also understand that those on the other side of the aisle don’t hate you or hate America. We just see things differently. If we look for it, we will see we have more in common than not.

Most people want everyone to be healthy. Do we all agree on how this can happen? Nope. But if we don’t dream of a better healthier tomorrow, we won’t get a better healthier tomorrow.

Most folks recognize that’s what is happening at the southern border is terribly sad and disturbing. Do we all agree on how to move forward? No, but most people agree with Jesus who said we need to love our neighbor and to care for the least of these.

Most Americans love our veterans and want them to have the absolute best care— for their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Most people are rightly shaken that 23 vets take their own life every single day and we must end to this disturbing trend.

There’s more circumstances that seem divisive but don’t necessarily have to be, but you get the idea.

Most folks can’t quote Mark 8:25, but we all know its truth that says: If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. Most individuals want our country to stand strong and united for generations to come.

The divisive words and actions of others might make the news, but let us work with most Americans who long for us to be the United States of America. That is all.

Don’t know what to do regarding some of our real-world problems? Let’s start by doing what Jesus said to do.

There are a lot of topics that Jesus either didn’t address of wasn’t able to speak to because the situations were not present in the first century of Palestine. We can’t expect Jesus to talk about the proliferation of nuclear weapons when the capability of destroying the whole earth with a push of a button wouldn’t exist for 1900 years. Global warming wasn’t one of Jesus’ talking points. So I get it that there may be room for interpretation, when it comes to things that Jesus didn’t directly address.  We can assume and imagine, but we can’t know exactly what Jesus would have said about such eventualities. But there are plenty of others things to which Jesus spoke directly and clearly. For instance,

I don’t know all the intricacies of the crisis along the southern border of the United States, but I know Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

I don’t know all of the heartache that goes along with being incarcerated or having a family member incarcerated, but I know Jesus said, “I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:36).

I don’t know how to answer folks who ask about the Flint Water Crisis but I know that Jesus said, “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink” (Matthew 25:35).

I don’t always know how to proceed with conversations within the LBGTQ community, but I know that Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matthew 5:46-47).

I don’t always know the best approach regarding the benefits afforded to me by living in a terribly blessed country, but I know Jesus said, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36) and “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).

I don’t know all the geo-political aspects of war and rumors of war, but I know Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9) and he also said, “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).

I don’t know why denominations are pitted against each other (as if they were the Enemy), but I know that Jesus said, “I pray also for those who will believe… that all of them may be one” (John 17:20-21).

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Maybe instead of guessing or pontificating about what Jesus might have said in some hypothetical world, we should start to listen, obey and do what Jesus DID SAY regarding many of our real-life dilemmas. It seems that if we just do what Jesus directly said to do we (and our world) would be much better off.

Has the death of Sunday Night Services led to Sunday Morning Worship decline?

Fact #1: Sunday Night services in the Church of the Nazarene have gone (or have mostly gone) the way of the dodo bird.

Fact 2: Sunday Morning church attendance in the Church of the Nazarene (USA) is in decline. In some places, it is gradual; in others, it’s a free fall. In very few pockets is there growth.

Fact #1 (the non-existence of Sunday Night services) is NOT the cause for Fact #2 (Sunday morning decline), but it’s a symptom that has led to overall demise of the church.

Not trying to sound like a church curmudgeon (I remember the good old days…), Sunday nights were preceded in my early years with a NYPS (current NYI or a youth service) and then the Sunday Night service ensued. On Sunday Nights, we had youth bands playing, young people singing “specials” (sometimes they were not very “special”) and frequently those called into ministry would preach. Always there were testimonies of how God had worked in the individual’s life that week (in one church, a lady with dementia would recount that week’s soap opera details as if they were in her own family; in another, a man would tell wild tales of life with his drug addicted son and conclude by saying “where He leads me I will follow.” I am not sure it was God leading to the crack houses, but I digress). Often following the service a big group would end up at a local restaurant and tell the same funny stories over and over again.

If the above description sounds too idyllic, in a moment of full disclosure, please note:  It wasn’t uncommon for Sunday night services to feel like a train wreck or the ugly step sister of Sunday morning. There are reasons why gathering back at the church for an evening service has died.

The problem is that the essential aspects of the Sunday night service aren’t happening in our Sunday morning gatherings.

Again, I am not saying we need to revive Sunday Night services (for the record, in my current assignment we still have Sunday Night services. Last night we had a youth service going on, a VBS meeting for volunteers and a Pentecost prayer service in an upper room in the church). But we need to regain what was lost in our Sunday night services. A place where our youth can learn and use their gifts. A place to hear the stories of victories of God in individual lives. A place that makes fellowship with one another easier. In other words, a place that makes the church family seems like family.  In some churches this takes place in small groups, but in many churches these aspects of Christian fellowship have been lost.

Maybe one of the causations for our Sunday morning decline is that the church no longer feels like family. The Sunday Morning service is more like a show, a place to be entertained. There’s little connection or interaction with others. Little investment is made by the attender. They come. They listen (maybe sing). Then they leave. With little “skin in the game,” there is also little commitment and little reason to keep coming. When a better Sunday morning “show” comes to town, it’s easy to jump ship for the newer, hipper, better “worship-tainment.”

Without the communal aspects of Sunday night services, churches must be diligent to create a warm family-like experience that will keep both old and young tied to one another.  Intergenerational empathy for each other is crucial for the long-term health of the church. A commitment to making Sunday mornings less showy (not necessarily a lesser quality) and more communal, more familial is what is needed.

Can we reverse the downward trajectory in the USA Sunday morning attendance? Making the church a family again will be a good first step in that direction.

Is your church like a Country Club or a City Park? Here’s how to tell the difference

Not everyone likes being a part of a church that deeply cares about its community (They’d never say it that way. It’s kind of like saying, “I don’t care about people.” That sounds bad. So they’d never say it, but if the Gucci loafer fits…). There are plenty of church goers who’d rather their house of worship was more like a country club than a city park. There are big differences between a church that’s like a country club and a church that’s like a city park.

A country club-like church is exclusive—only a select few are welcome. It’s for “us.”
A city park-like church is open for all. It’s for “us,” “them” and “them” too. Everyone’s welcome.

A county club church keeps “those people” out.
A city park church is full of “those people” (whoever “those people” happen to be).

A country club church’s members like being with people just like themselves. Diversity is bad.
A city park church’s attenders love that everyone is not alike. Different is good.

A country club church’s members show up to be seen.
A city park church show up to celebrate life.

A country club church only values those who contribute.
A city park church values everyone.

A country club church proudly boasts of their once-in-a-blue-moon pittance for the needy.
A city park church regularly cries with those who have been beaten down by life.

A country club church is nice and neat.
A city park church is sometimes messy. The playground equipment isn’t the best or newest… and that’s ok.

A country club church would rather have kids seen than heard. The quieter the better.
A city park church loves it when kids are squealing and having fun. The louder the better.

A country club church is best summarized by the words, “Hey you kids! Get off my lawn.”
A city park church is best summarized by the words, “Have fun kids! You are loved!”

A country club church exudes snootiness (snotty-ness?).
A city park church exudes Jesus (just Jesus!).

But most of all…

A country club-like church teaches you’re better than your neighbor.
A city park-like church teaches one to love their neighbor.

Would Jesus be at the city park or the country club? We all know the answer to that question.

A Pastoral Perspective on the Abortion Discussion: Pro-Women, Pro-Baby, Pro-Both.

A week or so ago, a Nebraska farmer, Kurt Kaser, amputated his own leg with a pocketknife after his leg was caught in some farm machinery. With his leg stuck in an auger, he was being drawn into the apparatus which would mean certain death. No one was around. His cell phone was out of reach. Mr. Kaser realized his only hope for survival was to cut off his leg. (You can read his story here.)

No one in their right mind, under normal circumstances, would cut off a limb with a pocket knife. One would only resort to such measures if it was life or death. Extreme circumstances caused him to do the unthinkable.

As the abortion debate has heated up in recent days, Mr. Kaser’s dilemma seems eerily similar to what many women face with an unwanted pregnancy. The notion of ending a pregnancy goes against every maternal instinct we humans have.  Yet extreme circumstances cause many women to do the unthinkable.  (Tara Beth Leech’s article from a few years ago helped me understand this issue better).

I don’t believe that most women (at least not the ones I’ve talked to) choose to have an abortion like one chooses hair color or an item from the menu at Applebee’s. The decision is more like Mr. Kaser’s: amputate or die. When faced with an unwanted pregnancy, often women, like Mr. Kaser, feel trapped, alone and afraid. It might seem at that moment to bring a child into her dysfunctional world would only cause more grief, hopelessness and despair. Extreme circumstances lead to the unthinkable.

As a male, pro-life pastor, I understand some people view those three descriptors as disqualifiers from having any meaningful input into the abortion debate. It’s true, I can’t imagine being trapped like Mr. Kaser where my only option was to amputate my leg with a pocketknife. Just as I do not pretend to know the horrific trap that many women feel when trying to navigate the decision of having a child while their world is caving in all around them. My contribution to the abortion discussion is not more pontificating, but is the work of a pastor. I want to following Jesus lead in John 1:14. I want to be full of grace and truth. I want to help build a hope-filled and loving Christian community that comes alongside women and their babies. It’s advocating and working for a better story for women who feel trapped in their pregnancy.

Surveys show that the church is not the first-place women turn to when in the midst of an unwanted pregnancy. For some it’s the last place. That’s part of our problem.  But what if we could change that story?  What if we aren’t seen as dishing out condemnations for their present circumstances, but seen as a Jesus-reflecting, helpful place that leads women and children toward a better future? What if churches offered real concern, love and resources to women who feel stuck in an uncertain future? What if women came to our churches because we offered the most empathy and support?

The work of the church and the pro-life movement cannot stop caring at the baby’s birth, but must continue to provide a loving and nurturing community for moms and babies (and for everyone else, for that matter) throughout their lifetime. Let’s work for everyone’s well-being both in the present tense and in the future. Let’s fight for better present circumstances of women who feel their only option is an abortion and fight for a better life for moms and their babies in the days ahead. Maybe if the church demonstrates that both women and their unborn children are created in the image of God and their well-being matters to God, then women wouldn’t view abortion as their only option. Let’s be pro-woman, pro-baby, pro-both.